I’m woken at 4am by the sound of the rain. Peering through the window I can see that it’s hammering down. It just can’t rain much harder than it is. I lie awake for the next two hours listening to the rain, and wondering if the event will even be on, or if i’ll even be able to get to Flavignac. We’ve been having heavy rain showers over the last few days, and more rain is not gonna help.
By 6am I’m up, and having breakfast. The rain has eased, and I’m looking forward to a wet race. Carla thinks I’m mad. Not mad, just compulsive. By 7am I’m on my way. It’s starting to get light. Over the high ground near Cognac le Foret I’m looking out on a huge storm filled sky. But, there are gaps when the sun shines through!
Down the last few miles I’m looking for signs that something is happening. Wondering why I’m not part of a convoy of vehicles on their way to the race. Arriving at Flavignac, the signs are good. There’s a few riders unloading bikes in the car park. There’s activity at the Salle d Fete, riders signing on!
There’s a cold blustery wind blowing, a thorough warm up is going to be essential. I’m on my bike well before 8:30 ready for the 8:50 start. At first there’s only three of us riding up and down the start straight, but as start time approaches there’s loads. All the usual suspects are there. 5 minutes to go, and the organiser calls us to the start line. I manage to get a place on the front row. A few words from the promoting club president and we’re on our way!
Hammering up the tarmac and onto the grass. I’m in the first ten, it’s very wet, there’s a bit of shoving and some friendly banter 🙂 Back onto the tarmac to race out of town, I shift to a bigger gear and kick. My chain starts to jump! It’s a new chain, and I had tested it. It’s jumping on the lower end of the block (smaller sprockets). There’s no debris in it. I shift back up to find a gear that works and spin. This is not a great start.
Crossing a small wooden bridge and the St Junien rider in front of me goes down hard! He’s OK, but he’s holding us up, there’s no way around. He’s back on his bike in 10 seconds, but now there’s a 10 second gap to make up. I press on, my gears jump.
Into the real off-road stuff now. Long rocky climbs cascading with water, like riding up a stream bed. Long descents with huge puddles and mud. I’m holding my place, but i’ve lost contact with the leaders. We’re firing down a huge hillside, rocks and ruts hidden by water, the blustery wind not making it any easier to hold line, and now it starts to rain. A sharp left, I grab my brakes, they hardly work, I overshoot, but manage to catch myself on the edge of the trail. This is not going well.
Just when things weren’t going well, they went worse. On a sharp bend I catch a glimpse of my arch-rival Jean-Claude Sansonnet, he’s almost on me. I spend the next twenty minutes trying to lose him and I cant. We pull out onto a tarmac climb, I lift the pace, but I’m going nowhere. Jean-Claude Sansonnet comes past me. For the next twenty minutes it’s Jean-Claude Sansonnet trying to lose me. We’re back in the hills, now it’s raining hard, very hard, it’s turning to hail, I’m cold, very cold, and slowly, very slowly, he’s moving away.
To sum up, at this point – I’m cold, my feet and hands are numb, my back brake doesn’t work, my gears keep jumping, and I’m taking a pasting. Now don’t get me wrong, don’t for one second think that I’m complaining or not enjoying this. I wouldn’t swap a moment of it. I’m privileged, one way or another I’ve come a long way to be here today.
I’m working as hard as I can, but it’s still not enough to catch Jean-Claude, or to keep warm. As I get colder I make the descision to stop and put my cape on. I’m throwing 30 seconds away. Cape on, I push on, trying to limit my loses. I can still see Jean-Claude up ahead. Over the last few kms I get closer, then I lose a bit, and that’s how it ends.
11th place, 10 minutes off the pace, and 40 seconds down on the first Vet B, Jean-Claude. Some 45 minutes later I’m collecting my prize for second Vet B, standing on the podium next to Jean-Claude. It’s a tough one.