On the podium in the 16th Frederic Mistral VVT Raid

It was very cold at the 8:30 start in the Frederic Mistral 2007
It’s a ‘full on’ race. One big 42km lap with around 400 riders, all starting together. There are category prizes. I’ve trained very hard, and I’m ‘up for it’. I know it’s gonig to be tough, I’m after a top 10 finish, and a category win.

Checkout the Start – I look at the first couple of kilometers while I warm up. A nightmare! A wide bumpy grassy start, 200m into a bottleneck of a ditch crossing where they’ve put some wood covered in carpet. Another 200m to the next bottleneck before we go 90 left onto the road for a half kilometer dash to the single file chemin. The first climb is a rockstrewn granny ring affair that you’d be lucky to ride up on your own, on a good day. It’s gonna hurt!

My Plan – Give it everything out of the field and down the road. I’m not even gonna try and ride the first climb, I’ve sussed a good running line, and I’ll drop to the granny and dismount as soon as we get there.

The Off – With just over 5mins to go I ride backwards along the course to the start line. I’ve had a good warm-up, and I’m sweating a little. The line is already full with riders 4 or 5 deep in places. As the course bends right almost all the way to the road, that’s the side that most riders have chosen. I’m thinking that’s the side with the biggest potential for chaos. I find a place right on the front, but right out to the far side away from trouble. I’ve already made up my mind that if there’s chaos at the ditch crossing I’m ducking under the tapes and going the long way around.

The commissaire is giving the usual spiel on the microphone, everyone is getting a bit twitchy. The tape is taken down, there’s some creeping forward, the commissaire counts us down from 5, were gone by two! I get my foot in first time and I’m away. While all the riders on the inside are busy banging elbows and getting in each others way I get a clear run. Through the ditch, there’s a rider leaning on me trying to take my line, I lean back, only harder, he gives in. Onto the road in the top 10. My legs are stinging, but I throw the bike in a big gear, lock the forks out, and kick. I hold my place along the road, a couple of fast starting young lads go backwards. Into the chemin singlefile. I wobble about a bit ‘track stylee’ to deter anyone from trying to pass. Onto the climb, and off the bike, here comes the serious pain.

Progress – My running line on the right hand side is working well. It keeps my bike out of the way. There’s bikes and riders everywhere as some try to ride, then slip, then dismount. Back on the bike and into unseen territory. More rocky climbing, more running. No one’s come past me, and I’ve picked up a few places. It’s hard to tell, but I reckon I’m in the top 6.

For the next hour and a half we race on some of the hardest, fastest, unforgiving, fabulous trails in the Limousin. There’s lots of action as riders come and go. I’m climbing well enough, and I’m fine on the technical stuff, but on some of the fast descents I’m just hanging on. In places there are boulders under the leaves. I’ve given up covering my brakes with one finger, I’m happier with my whole hand holding the bars. It’s scary fast as we rattle across the rocky sections.

Over the last few kilometers I’m in a three way battle. There’s one smooth stylish rider, one animal of a man, and me. I’ve attacked them a couple of times, even got a gap at one point, but they catch me again on the descents. The animal descends like a complete nutter, and he has a nice buckle in his back wheel to prove it. I don’t rate my chances against him in the downhill finish. He has a habit of hacking along in a massive gear, then being caught in the wrong gear when there’s a sudden switch or climb. He’s mashed his chain across the whole block at least 6 times.His luck runs out, there’s a sudden left-hander into a steep chemin. His chain disintegrates under the abuse it recieves. He’s gone.

The smooth rider seems to be slowing a little, but there’s no place to get past anyway. We get caught by one other just before the run-up to the ‘Frederick Mistral’ memorial. The smooth rider has had bottles handed up along the way, and his helper is there at the top of the run-up with another bottle. He shouts something to his rider, but I can’t catch what it is. Whatever it is, the pace suddenly lifts.

On the downhill run into the finish I’m just about hanging on. I dare not run the risk of moving off line even if I had the speed to try and pass, and that’s how we finish. Smoothie crosses the line about 10 meters ahead of me.

I got a super trophyConfusion, a result – I’m trying to ask the finish marshals how many vets in the over 50s category have finished. He tells me “only three, you’re third”, spoken in French of course. Then I realise that he means there’s only three riders in, I’m third! This is my best result in a long time, I am well pleased, and you know how it is when you do well…. I don’t feel tired at all. It gives me great pleasure to climb onto the podiums with the young guns.

Choise of weapon – I rode my Specialized Stumpjumper Comp with Rock Shox SID World Cups. I ran Hutchinson Piranha Tubeless tires at 2.5bar (35psi). I carried a tube and CO2 cannister just in case, also a SRAM quick link, and a small micro tool. I used a bottle and cage with a 500ml bottle of water with gear mixed in. I carried no food. I knew from previous years results that the race was about two hours long.

You can find out more about this great race at GuidonBellchon.

A long Limousin weekend – The return of Supawal

When my brother Supawal and I get together it’s always the same – excessive! We drink too much, eat too much, play music too loud, and ride our bikes until we can hardly stand. Why? well it could be because neither of us will admit to being tired/full/pi55ed, or it could be because it’s tradition, but actually it’s because we just do.

Supawal builds his HummerThursday afternoon – we picked Supawal up from Limoges airport. Within a couple of hours he’d eaten, put his bike together, and we headed off towards Congnac le Foret in the autumn sun. Mostly tarmac on the way out, then trails to the top of the forest. From the high point to St Cyr is about 5km, slightly downhill all the way. On through to St Auvent where we went down the rocky descent that leads to the pont ancien (old bridge). A bit tricky in places as the dappled sunlight on the autumn leaves hid the rocks. Carla decided that she’d done enough and set off for home. I pursuaded Supawal that we should do a quick loop in the forest of Rochechouart. We’d done two and a half hours by the time we swooped back through L’Age and onto the final climb. Naturally, we rode it hard.

Supawal rails it!Friday – With a big ride in the Monts de Blond planned we were up early. Van packed, breakfasted, and gone. Just the two of us today. The route I had in mind would take us down the north side of the hills, along a shelf, and up to the old chapel above Vaulry. However, as we drove up to park near Boscartus we found ourselves driving out of the early morning sun and into the mist. It was cold! A quick change of plan, and we were rattling down the rocky desents back towards the sun.

Supawal was riding his Hummer with Rock Shox Revalations set at about 120, he was hoooooning effortlessly down the descents. I was riding my Epic, doing my best to keep up in a ragged sketchy sort of style!

We’d been out for a couple of hours before we climbed back up to the van to eat some lunch. By now the mist had lifted, and it was glorious, not too hot, just perfect riding weather. I was gonna save some of my lunch to eat after our ride, but in the blink of an eye I’d scoffed the lot!
Back on the bikes, down the north side, and along the shelf. It’s fairly straight forward in a rocky rollercoaster sort of way, but it’s hard. By the time we reached the old chapel I could tell that Supawal was tiring.

We raced down the hillside towards Rousset. I’m on the front, I know the trail a little. Supawal is banging on my back wheel. I know there’s a tight left with a huge rut and rocks hidden under the leaves. I’m fighting hard to not fall into it. Supawal can’t see it, and just hammers on. I make it around the corner, but only just. Supawal manages to miss my back wheel, but only just! We laugh.

Traversing now, up and down along the south side. Supawal is spent, but with four and a half hours done we’re back at the van. We’ve had a great day out.

Supawal gets his legs zapped with the CompexLater that evening I put the Compex on Supawal’s legs in the hope that a miracle will happen.

Saturday – a gentle ride around the chemins south of Rochechouart. It’s one of my favourite rides, it goes straight from home, and takes a couple of hours. There’s no big hills, it’s easy riding, and is best taken at a fairly brisk pace. Supawal seems to be going fairly well at first, Carla is out with us, and we’re both sitting on his wheel. Carla has had enough by Rochechouart and loops back home. With Carla gone Supawal’s strength deserts his and we’re crawling along. I believe that Supawal believes that chewy bars can fix any amount of fatigue. He eats all that he’s carrying, then starts on dodgy crab apples! We’re home in three.
Champers anyone?

Sunday – It’s 8am and we’re a little hungover and signing on at the 12th Randnnee des Deux Eglises at Champiniers et Reilhac. It’s 48kms for us. The terrain is a little gentler in this area, and I’m expecting an easier ride. Supawal is just looking to get round. Carla is the only woman doing the 48km option. There’s no ‘grande depart’ as such, but we’re on our way just after 9am, it’s chilly, but looks like it’s going to be another glorious day.

Not long after the start Carla gets cross rutted, hooks a bramble, and crashes. It’s a soft landing and she’s back on the bike straight away. She doesn’t crash very often. The last one I can remember was on the Malverns in 1993!

A couple of French riders come through. “See you at the finish”, says Carla in a sort of ‘Off you go and leave us in peace’ sort of way. I do as I’m told. Given free rein, with the bit between my teeth, I gallop off (prrrrppp), and in no time at all I get myself into a battle with some other like minded idiots. It’s great, and we hammer along as if our lives depended on it. Stopping only at the second Ravitalment long enough to fill my bottle and take some kit off, I hammer on. The circuit is a lot harder than I expected, but it’s got some excellent whoopee stuff. The last few kilometers are pure agony/bliss and I’m back in two and a half hours. Carla is next home, Supawal arrives some time later riding a bike with a very short chain and carrying a pocketful of chain links.

Stream crossing in the Monts de BlondMonday – We’re pretty much biked out now, but it’s Supawal’s last day, and the sun is shining. Monts de Blond again!!!?? Yes, of course 😉 A loop of the lakes near Arnac, a visit to the Rupestre Oratoire (cave paintings, chapel), a rock of the rock (huge megalith that can be rocked). We stop at the restaurant in Blond where we’ve never been served yet ‘cos it’s always busy, we ride on to ‘La Belle Equipe’ bar in Montrol Senard where we have excellent coffee, and the lovely waitress gives us a free cake (pour vous forte) for our strength.

All to soon it’s time for the last blast of the day from Peyrelade down across the rocks and on toward Arnac. Supawal takes the lead, and despite being totally biked out manages to launch himself into the air at every available opportunity down the final descent. That evening we recount the highlight of the weekend whist drinking too much. Because we can 🙂

Supawal by the lake

La Souterraine – St Goussard VTT rando

It’s in La Creuse so you know it’s gonna be tough. 90 gruelling kms with big climbs, big descents, big rocks, big ruts, mud, sun, farmyard dogs, wild goats and a couple of tractors! This was the first running of a new event, and around 150 riders turned up to take it on.

At the 8am start I spied ‘me old mates’ Spesh and ROC from the sharp end of the Mandragore, so I can guess what’s coming. The start will be a bit frantic, then it’ll settle down with technical sections taken at full tilt, and easier sections or tarmac taken at leisure.

The promoting club have put a bunch of youths on the front, for photo purposes, amazingly enough they seem more interested in being photographed than racing, and they do a good job of blocking until we get out of sight. With no one to see, there’s a somewhat rough removal of the youths, and it’s ‘game on’. The pace becomes frantic.

“If I can just weather the storm, just hang on until they settle, I’ll be OK”, I tell myself. But I’m struggling and I feel like shit. This is hard. After a while, a group of around 8 riders is established at the front, and I’m there, but only just……and who’s turning the screws? You guessed it, Spesh and ROC. Why do they climb so fast to then not push on over the top? I dunno, I just suffer.

By the first ravitalment we are down to 5. The tower above St Goussard looms in the distance high above us. There’s a lot of climbing to do. By the second ravitalment high in the hills at 60kms we are down to 4, with me dangling off the back by 10 seconds. I force feed myself as fast as I can to make sure I don’t get left behind. I fill my bottle, my pockets, and lube my chain.

As we ride away my legs complain. I spin a low gear trying to be kind. There’s a rider in green on a Specialized Epic he takes the lead on the descents that follow. Dropping like a stone, riding like a nutter, he blows his front tyre out. I’m relieved! Spesh and ROC are no slouches on the descents, but I can just about stay with them. Over the next kilometers I’m dropped on the climbs, gapped on the descents, but manage to claw my way back on in between.

I just can’t go any faster, but I have so much base fitness that I’m sure I won’t slow down. I’m hoping Spesh and ROC will. With three and a half hours gone I notice that they don’t seem to be moving away so fast on the climbs, and just like at the Mandragore I notice that ROC gets frustrated at steep technical climbs. I don’t see it as a glimmer of hope, I’m just thankful that it slows his pace.

At the final ravitalment with 15kms to go. I know that if I stop, I’ll struggle to get going again. Spesh seems to be having trouble deciding where to lean his bike, he looks rough. I just fill my bottle and go. I’m thinking I can ride a little easier on my own, and they’ll catch me anyway.

Riding at my own pace, I eat a little, drink, and I start to feel OK. I start to push on. Now, the course marking isn’t the best I’ve seen, and I don’t want to miss any turns. A couple of times it crosses my mind that I could move markers so that I won’t be caught. That’s baaaaaaad, and I don’t. I make a couple of little mistakes, but nothing that costs me more than a few seconds, and I reckon Spesh and ROC will do the same anyway.

Over four hours on the clock, I aint bin caught, and now I have aspirations of being first rider home. It can’t be much further, and on every crest I’m scanning the skyline for La Souterraine. I climb into a small village, there’s no arrows, i’ve gone wrong! Merde! As I look back down the valley I can see a lone rider heading my way. I turn back in the hope that I’ll find the arrows before he does, but I don’t. It’s ROC, we back track together.

Back on track with a couple of minutes wasted I notice another rider approaching. It’s the Epic rider who blew his front tyre out. My hopes of being first rider home are dashed. We’re on the outskirts of La Souterraine, and sensing the finish Epic pushes on hard, ROC goes after him, I’m hanging on the back. A stroke of luck, the run in to the finish is the same one as was used for the Grand Traverse Limousin in May. I half remember it, it’s very fast, with a nasty bend somewhere. Epic is descending like a total nutter again, were going damn fast. Debris flys up from Epic’s wheels as he brakes hard and turns right, ROC can’t make it and crashes off the trail. Yep, nasty bend that, nearly crashed there myself in earlier in the year! 😉

Down to just the two of us, I’m right on him. We come to a road crossing. No marshals. Epic jumps across the road between a car and a van. Bloody mad! The van driver is furious. A safe gap in the traffic I take up the chase. Epic has a few bike lengths on me now. As we ride around the edge of the lake to the finish he thinks it’s in the bag. I put my head down and sprint. Epic spots me at the last minute. We cross the line together! First riders home. It wasn’t a ‘race’ anyway was it. 🙂

A shower in the ‘stade’ then repas. The food is laid out in such a way that I’m confused as to where to start. I ask. “First”, says the nice madame, “would you like a beer?”……. what an angel. The cold beer is like nectar….