La Mandragore VTT Marathon

around half distance in La Mandragore
La Mandragore VTT – that’s 100kms from Confolens to Nieul, one way, racing on unseen tracks. Yes there’s shorter options, and yes there’s a road option, and yes I know it’s my last big ride before the L2P and I don’t wanna risk an injury, but I’m doin’ it anyway!

Carla drops me off at the start, there’s hundreds of riders, this looks like a popular event. I make sure I’m right near the front for the dodgy downhill through the narrow Confolens streets start. It’s quick, lots of wheel locking and squirming tyres through the tight bends. We hit the first ramp, it’s steep, a different noise now, crashing of gears. I’ve already decided to ‘spend some’ for the first few kilometres to stay near the front. My legs are stinging, and I’m breathing hard as we crest the climb, I’m in the lead group.

A few frantic kilometres fly by. I’m in a lead group of 5 riders, two I’ve seen before…..Nantiat rider (Spesh) on a Spesh Carbon hardtail (he rode the nocturne the other night, he’s very strong), and a Rochechouart ROC rider (ROC) (I saw him race at the St Sylvestre race, he goes well)….The two I haven’t seen before are…the current FFC national junior XC champion (looks like he’s hardly trying, he’s wearing his champions yellow jersey), and another tall Nantiat rider who looks OK. I stay off the front and try to conserve energy.

A pattern evolves, everytime we are off-road the pace is frantic. Even wet muddy sections are taken at full tilt. On the tarmac sections the pace is fast, but bearable. I’m doin’ OK, but I know things are gonna get tough when we start crossing the Monts de Blond.

At the second ravitalment stop there’s some confusion as we get mixed up with a bunch of roadies. The tall Nantiat rider goes missing never to be seen again, and the champion also goes missing. The three of us carry on, things are getting tough. Spesh seems untroubled, but on the steeper climbs I’m suffering, and on the steep technical climbs ROC struggles.

Spesh builds a short lead, and ROC is getting frustrated at the technical climbs. Frequent slips, and dabs, he’s cursing a lot. In my best French I ask him if he’s “Heureux?” (happy?), and give him a big smile 😉 , “Oui oui!!!”, he says through clenched teeth.

Down a technical descent, and I can hear a bike behind, it’s the young champion, he flies by and is gone, his skill is awesome. Spesh, Roc, and I are back together. I’m suffering with cramp, and yo-yo off the back. With 10km to go the cramp down the front of my left leg won’t give and I’m force to stop and stretch. Dropped on my own I make an massive effort to get back on on the tarmac sections. A stroke of good luck, Spesh and Roc miss a turn, and I’m back on.

Down the last few kilometres I’m hanging by the skin of my teeth. Champion is well clear, Spesh and Roc are sensing the end. A short steep bank, I get out of the saddle, my legs buckle, I’m gone. I nurse myself home. Champion is first with around 5minutes to spare, Spesh is second, Roc is a close third, I’m 4th home at around 45 seconds more. Total time for me is 5hrs 10minutes. It was hard, very very hard, but I’m happy with my ride, and my free T shirt!!!

La Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale

La Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale is the womens Tour de France, and stage 2 is finishing just down the road at the Lacs de Haute Charante. My chance to go and see the worlds best women road racers in action.

The normally deserted causeway across the lake has been transformed into a 500m finishing straight complete with banners, podium, sound system, souvenir stall, and hundreds of people. The commentator tells us that the girls are around 30km away. Nicole Cooke and Priska Doppmann are off the front working hard together with a gap of 35seconds. There’s heavy showers, and as Celine Deone’s double entertains the crowd with songs I wonder if Nicole is enjoying the almost Welsh weather.

Current cycling champions of the Charente are presented for the crowds appreciation. Raymond Poulidor is there, along with a host of other cycling stars. Hey, and dont forget the mayor and the other dignified guests. All there to add weight and authenticity to the event.

Nicole Cooke after stage twoLead cars and motorbikes start to arrive, the atmoshere becomes electric. The head of the race drops onto the causeway. You can hardly see the two escapees for all the vehicules. They race toward the line. Cooke allows the higher placed overall Doppmann to take the win. No fuss, no bother, it’s teamwork, job done!

It’s over a minute before Alona Andruk brings home the bunch. OK, now it’s chaos. Riders everywhere with at least five languages going on at the same time, amonst photographers, motorbikes, helpers, coaches, and idiots like me! Oh, and a group of young French lads chasing after the girls asking if they can have their bidons.

I spot Nicole Cooke coming back along the road. Every few feet she pauses for photographers. She looks clean, fresh, and very happy. You’d never guess that shed just completed over 100km in heavy showers along rural French roads. The worlds number 1 ranked woman cyclist, what a star.
Doppman and Cooke cross the line

Hey, I’m riding with Kelly and Museeuw!!!

A while back I entered the London to Paris 3 day cycling event. When you enter you have to specify which of three groups you want to ride in. Group one being the fastest, containing all the ex-pros, group three being the slowest. I put myself down for group two.

Now as the months have gone by the organisers of the event have held training rides, and have used these as a guide to form. Because I haven’t been able to attend any of these rides I was worried that I might get misplaced groupwise. So, I sent a copy of my “Gold” certificate from the La Limousine as proof of my form. A couple of days later I got an email back saying that I had been put in group 1. 🙂 Better than a birthday!!!
So I’ll be riding with two of the toughest men that ever rode a bike, namely Sean Kelly, and Johan Museeuw, not to mention a host of other pros and ex pros. At last, I made it into the professional peleton! I’m chuffed to bits 🙂

Out with ‘Big Bird’ on a Friday night!

It’s the 10th Semi Nocture VTT Rando just down the road at Verneuil sur Vienne, they’ve got “Saucisses frites a l’arrive”, and at just 28kms it sounds like fun. I decide it’s time to take ‘Big Bird’ out for an evening.

Big Bird is my Kona Coiler. I bought her for a trip to the Magavalnche later in the year. She’s a freeride bike really, not suited to XC type stuff, but she rolls suprisingly well, she’s very comfortable, and she’s great fun.

Big Bird - she fliesSome French riders in the car park suggest that I may be over biked. Yeah, I know that. I also know that the first half of the course has a lot of downhill in it, so I line up near the front. This gives further amusement, and scoffing. I don’t mind.

Off we go. 500metres to a T junction, and suprise suprise, we turn up hill! It’s only a short climb, I hold my place, we turn right, and now it is downhill. Yaaaaaayyyyy!!!! Big Bird flies! She gains maximum speed (topped out with no big ring ‘cos I got a bash guard fitted), she soaks up the bumps, I’m flying, straight into second place.

We zig-zag through some tight wooded sections, cross some ditches, there’s a few rises, Big Bird is hard work, but I’m still there. With half distance done the climbs start. There’s a group of 5 of us now, well clear. As we fly along the valley road I know things are gonna go horribly wrong. 4 XC hardtail riders, and one idiot on a huge full susser.

My race numberI move to the front (yeah, that old tactic 😉 ), but as the ground gets steeper, I drift back, and off. I work as hard as I can to limit the damage, and I manage to get back on. In the technical section I just point and pedal making the most of Big Birds assets.

Onto the final climb. It’s long and it’s steep. The frisky lad on the S-works carbon hardtail makes his move, the others give chase, I’m dropped. 5th rider home.

Back at the car park I’m washed, and packed, Carla is back as well, as we go to get our sausages and chips we notice that the car belonging to the mockers is still there, with no sign of them. Too bad, because I wanted to tell them I’d broken a couple of spokes in my back wheel 😉

10th Bonnac Xtreme Rando VTT avec Contre la Montre

It’s the day after La Limousin, and I’m doing the rando at Bonnac La Cote. While I’m signing on I see that there is also a “chrono” option. It’s an off-road climb of the ‘Col de la Sablonnade’ against the clock. I just can’t stop myself, I sign up for it.

Here’s how it works. Riding the 40km option at “allure libre” (your own speed), you follow the red arrows. After 11km there will be a split, and those who have signed up for the chrono race up the col.

The grand depart is a fairly steady affair, so I use the first 11km to spin my legs. Suprisingly, although they have 155km of road in them from yesterday they don’t feel too bad. It’s the brain that is having trouble. I’ve forgotten my bottle, my mitts are still in the van, i’ve gone for long sleeves, and I’m far too hot. I bounce off a few rocks, that seems to bring me around a little.

This way for pain!Arriving at the start of the chrono section I find a short queue of riders waiting to start. I take a pee while I try to work out where I want to be. I don’t want to be behind riders who look slow ‘cos I might get held up, and I don’t want fast looking riders behind me as it’ll be demoralising. After a few minutes I just get in the queue anyway.

It’s a simple start. One foot on the ground, the timekeeper counts you down, and away you go for a few kilometres of pain. The faster you go, the sooner the pain ends, and if you don’t feel sick, you aint tryin hard enough, I tell myself. “3 – 2 – 1 – partez”, with only thirty second intervals between riders I can see the rider ahead as we race around the edge of a lake.

There’s some “whoopy doopy” stuff before we get onto the climb, I’m gaining on the rider in front so I’m able to use him to see which way we go. Onto the climb, he’s not far ahead. Now I’m caught by a rider who storms past, climbing like a man posessed. I can’t match that!

The ascent of the Col de la Sablonnade is agony, steep rocky sections with false flats to sap your will. I’m goin’ OK, and although I got caught my my 30second man I go on to catch 9 riders! The line comes into sight. I sprint for an imaginary one beyond it. That hurt.

There’s a feed station just a wobble away, I gulp down some juice and water. All of a sudden I feel absolutely exhausted. On the remainder of the ride I find it hard to make any pace at all, no matter because the scenery is fabulous. I stop to admire the view a few times.

Back at the start I check the results. 18th, but 3rd in >50s category!!! Not bad for a tired bloke. I’m happy with that.

La Limousine Andre Dufraisse

A 155 kilometre French cyclo-sportive, not for the faint-hearted or those of a nervous disposition. 1200 cyclists are sent 4km back from the official start line to a staged “Grand Depart” in the centre of Limoges, 15 minutes is set aside for the riders to cover the 4km back to the real start. This is done by taking 15mins off everyones finish time (hope you’re following this). So if you cover the 4km faster than 15mins you’ve bought yourself some extra time for the 155km. Got it? This explains why the first few kilometres are ridden at such a breakneck speed. Here’s how it went for me…

Although I’d sent my entry in at the last minute I got number 103. This meant that I was allowed into the 1-200 pen. There’s around 1800 cyclists altogether of which 1200 are doing the full 155km distance (there were shorter options). The cyclists were held back by a fleet of motorcycle outriders and official cars. As the final minutes are counted down the commentator whips everyone into a frenzy, and then, partez!!!!

The pace was unbelieveable, you’d have thought the finish was just around the corner, I’ve been in slower criteriums!!! It was mad, and I was in the first 200, I can’t imagine what it was like further back. Anyway, we raced up through the official start where hundreds of screaming kids had been bused in to add to the atmosphere, armed with flags and baloons, a deafening spectacle.

Out into the hills, I reckoned that the safest place to be was near the front, and I tried to move up as best I could. But, so does every other rider. 10km gone and near the bottom of a tricky descent there’s a crash, bikes and bodies everywhere, possibly 20 – 30 riders down, and some of them look bad. There’s one in particular that looks like he’s slid down the storm drain, covered from top to toe in mud. There’s shouts of “bon courage” as we pick our way through.

Up ahead I can see a split in the field. That’ll do, I spend some energy to move up. We’re climbing now, a lot, there’s riders coming backwards, riders going forwards as the climbs bite. There’s even some riders from the crash, bloodied and muddied, but back in the action. I’m near the front of the second group on the road, there’s a long long way to go. Things seem to be settling down a bit now, we’ve been riding for 40 minutes.

The kilomtres fly past, the pace remains high, there’s no shortage of workers, and glancing over my shoulder I see there’s no shortage of sitters on either. After a while I start to recognise the riders that like to climb, and the ones that like to descend (like nutters). In what seems like no time at all we’re on the climb to Bursac, the half-way point. I’m expecting a bottle from Carla at the top so I stay right near the front. The climbs are long, but not steep, and I’m enjoying them!!!

Dependable as ever, my lover is waiting for me at a perfect place. I take a bottle and some encouragement. Over the top, we race down towards Silord the village of Andre Dufraisse, as we enter the village there are placards, one for each year of Andre Dufraisse’s reign as world champion, or French champion. It’s an impressive display. There’s crowds in the village to cheer us on.

After Chateauponsac now, and we are on our way home, there’s some tired legs, and still some big hills to climb. The final big climb after Compreignac is a tough one. I’m in a group of 7 as we yo-yo back and forth false flat after false flat.

A long fast descent then a sliky smooth rollercoaster, someone flicks a switch and we tap through like pro’s. The last 30 kilometres seem effortless as we float along. A motorcycle outrider clears traffic for us as we race into the outskirts of Limoges, he is brilliant. Into the “Arrive” at Panazol we sprint for the line 🙂 what a day!!!

Statistically, I was 62nd rider home, 5th in category. I’d ridden the 155km (with 2287metres of climbing) in 04:43:59:06 with an average speed of 32.748kph.

My S-Works Roubaix had performed faultlessly, a great bike for the job. I’d got through 3 * 500ml bottles containing High 5, and eaten 1 bannana and half a jam sandwich. Oh and half a small bottle of plain water that had been handed up at a water station.

The Repas at the “Arrive” was excellent. Food always tastes better when you’ve earned it, and to top off the perfect day I met Andre Dufraisse in person. He might be a very old man now, but he’s been there, done that!