Big Bird under Darkening Skies

It’s a windy wild, but mild morning with the threat of rain later in the day. I’m in training, as you know, and it’s gorra be done. I decide to take Big Bird up to Cognac le Foret for a couple of hours hard graft.

I set Big Bird up XC stylee. Which means, I raise the seat and put a bottle in the cage, and I’m on my way. Down through L’Age, up past the farm shop where we get our fresh eggs and milk, and on towards St Auvent. As I pass through the farmyard the friendly old dog with the scabby eye greets with with a bark and a wag of his tail. There’s no one else around.

This way to the Ancien PavéeAfter crossing the main road there’s a nice little singletrack descent that I like to rattle down. It’s fairly easy, but usually a little different each time depending on where the weather has moved the leaves and rocks to. I spill out onto the valley road and continue toward St Auvent. About a kilometre from the village there’s an old bridge that leads onto some ancient pavée that climbs into the town. It’s granny ring steep, and quite tricky when damp. By the time I reach the top I’m breathing hard.

Through the village and left towards St Cyr. Not a soul about, not even the Donk of a dog near the bar. Donk is a huge single brain celled dog who has a little buddy who acts as lookout. Normally little buddy sounds the alarm which activates Donk’s brain cell, and thirty seconds later Donk deafens you with his bark. I’m so busy looking for them that I catch an edge and shoot myself towards the storm drain. Doh!

The final climb to the top of the forestThrough St Cyr, and from here to the top of the forest above Cognac le Forest is about 3km trending uphill all the way. It’s not steep, but with today’s headwind it’s hard work. The final climb through the clear felled section is blustery. It’s one of those days where it feels good to be out. Once at the top, I take a quick look at the panorama and point Big Bird downhill.

There’s some really nice descents from here. Today I do one that goes down past the aviation mast then climb back before racing down through the forest to the Plan d Eau at Cognac. The lake has been drained for the winter, and what is a busy beach for holiday makers in the summer is deserted.

It’s spitting rain now, and I turn for home. The rain gets heavier and heavier, but with the wind on my back Big Bird is flying, and it’s mostly downhill all the way home. Mashing along the singletrack at the edge of the forest, down past the equestrian center, hooning along at what feels like warp speed. Crossing the main road, and diving back into the singletrack, a big sweeping left hander, railing around the single rut getting whipped by overhanging branches, pain and pleasure at the same time.

Down the last couple of kilometres on the road I’m topped out, spinning a la moulinex. Just over two hours on the clock. Time for a nice cuppa while I zap my legs. Meanwhile, it’s gone black over Bill’s mother’s, and the rain falls heavy. 🙂
Rain on the patio

Back to (the) Front – Normal Service Resumed

My last couple of MTB outings in public have been horrible. I tore my rear mech off last weekend, and I’m still trying to get over the awful race at Flavignac. I’ve been feeling as though all form has deserted me, like as if the fabulous form I had at the end of last year was some kind of magic thing that could never happen again. As though I’d sucumbed to eternal mediocrity destined to slog for evermore going nowhere fast. 🙁

However, this weekend at the 11th Les Copains d’Abord 40km rando things were back to normal. I was back feeling the ‘good pain’ that comes from hammering through the chemins like a nutter trying to go faster and faster just because it feels so damn good.

I teamed up with Davey, one of the young lads from the lead group last weekend. I dunno what they feed him on, but he looks bigger and stronger everytime I see him. Anyway, despite howls of derision about it not being a race we hared off. Actually Davey hared off, and I chased after him hanging on to his wheel. The trails were very wet in places but we had great fun. Once you’re wet and mucky it doesn’t seem to matter any more. Blasting through the mud and puddles hopping that they won’t be tractor axle deep.

Young Davey had me chewing on the handlebars a couple of times when he turned on the power. I repayed him by going to the front and hammering through a couple of the singletrack sections that I know really well. We laughed through gritty teeth! 🙂

First 40km riders home in just under two hours I thanked Davey for the ‘bon entrainment’ (good training). Also, I asked Davey to remember me to his parents and to tell them that he and I had arrived ‘ensemble’.

Secret Weapon

Got myself a Compex MI-Sport! A what? An Electro Muscle Stimulation unit! Yep, like this one…
Compex MI-Sport
I first came across them when I was riding the GTL last year. At the overnight stop there were quite a few riders using them to help with their recovery. Anyways, after months of researching/reading/agonising I bought one. Had it a little while now, been using it mostly in ‘active recovery’ mode, but also trying the ‘capiliarisation’ programme, and the ‘endurance’ programme. Early days yet, but I’m sure it will help.

Compex sensorOh, forgot to say, we used it on Carla’s back after she overdid it in the garden. Worked wonders! I tried it on the way home from a race. While Carla drove I zapped my legs and had a can of beer! Decadent or what?

There’s lots of info’ about them on the Compex website. I got mine from Perform Better in the UK, they were extremely helpful. Even gave me a free pair of Linebreak tights!

Compex sessions can be carried out outside or during voluntary training (see training plan). If you wish to do both types of training at the same time, we recommend that you start with voluntary training. In some cases, particularly for resistance work, it may be beneficial to start with a Compex session in order to generate a state of “pre-fatigue” in the muscle fibres.

Pre-fatigue? Now there’s a thing. I wonder if that’s like going out training when your’e still tired from the day before?

It’s all in the mind – an example

Wednesday training session with the ROCC
Something happened on the run yesterday that really brought home to me how much cycling performance is ‘all in the mind’.

Let me set the scene – Since moving to France at the end of last March I often go on the Rochechouart club runs on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve got to know a lot of the riders and how they ride. Now, because the end of March is the start of the racing season, there are some riders who I know from racing that i’ve never seen on the club run. OK so far? Right, so as the 2008 racing looms nearer some Wednesday afternoon sessions have been organised to get base miles in. Brisk, progressive, but not fast. The first one was this Wednesday. The riders were – two racers (Maxime and Eric) one strong man from the Saturday club runs (Bernard), and me. Bernard is one of the strongest from the club runs, he loves to go on the front, and likes to dish it out, he climbs well and is ‘bunch engine strong’.

Here’s what happened – We set off, all seems well, banter and joviality as normal, no hint of any problem. The first few kms Maxime is on the front. We climb up toward Chassenon and down towards Chabanais. I roll through to take a turn on the front, and after a few more kms I move over to let someone else through. I don’t want to hog the show. When I roll around to the back Bernard waves me through to go in front of him. No problem, I’m thinking that he’s just saving himself until we get to the meat of the ride. However, as time goes on it becomes clear that he doesn’t want to go anywhere near the front. Unusual.

60kms later, and Bernard is starting to struggle, but he’s OK, and were not far from home. 10km from home the two racers Maxime and Eric peel off and head home leaving Bernard and me to ride the last few kms down to Rochechouart. At this point, to use the words of PG, Bernard ‘falls apart like a cheap watch’. Now he cannot even maintain an easy pace, and tells me to go ahead and leave him. I use his words on him saying “se necessaire pour le moral de la group arrive ensemble”, (it’s good for the moral of the group to finish the ride together). This is what we always do on a Saturday. He’s obviously blown, I slow down and try to get him chatting. The kms always seem to go be easier when chatting, even to a daft English bloke with a poor grasp of French. Bernard tells me that he didn’t know the ride was going to be so long, and so fast, that he hadn’t eaten enough, and only had one bottle!

Now here’s the thing – The ride had been no harder, faster, or further than some of the Saturday rides where Bernard had been strong. The big difference was that the racers were not there. Both Maxime and Eric are first category riders. I think, that in the company of the racers Bernards confidence in his ability deserted him. He’s easly strong enough to have coped with the ride and more. But today it really was like riding with a different man. Surely, it’s all in his mind.

La Grande Traversee du Limousin 2008

Grand Traversee du Limousin 2008200kms of pure pleasure! That’s three days racing your mountainbike across the Limousin region of France. Racing one way only on unseen terrain stopping overnight in sports halls being looked after in a way that only the French know how to do. 200kms of pure pleasure indeed!

You don’t even start and finish in the same place. Nope, they take you to the start in coaches! This years race, and it is a ‘full on’ race, starts at Nantiat in the Haute Vienne, and finishes in Chátelus-Malvaleix, by way of Benevent l’Abbaye and Guéret over a profile that looks like sharks teeth. I’ts gonna be tough. It’s gonna be great. Im in, are you?

La 5ieme Rando des Trois Clochers

It’s been raining for days, I’m starting to exhibit signs of ‘cabin fever’, I decide that I’m gonna do the La 5ieme Rando des Trois Clochers at St Leger la Montagne whatever. Plus the fact that St Leger is where the Depertmental Champs will be in March, and I want to see what the terrain is like. Carla decides that she’s gonna do it too.

I prep’ the bikes the night before. Crud guards, mud tyres, and slime tubes in my bike, don’t want puncture problems in the wet. We get an early night, and fall asleep listening the the sound of the rain lashing the shutters.

By 7:30am we’re on our way. It’s still dark, and it’s still raining. By 8am we’re climbing up out of the Vienne valley towards Razes. It had begun to get lighter, now it was getting darker! Heavy fog and mist make the going slow. Off the main A20 towards St Leger it’s brightening a little, and we’re in a convoy of cars carrying bikes. At St Leger there are marshals waiting to direct us to the car parking. Some of them use torches.

It’s wet, but it’s not cold. We get our kit on, and dead on 9am we get a few words from the club president and we’re on our way. I’m guessing there’s about 200 of us. A tarmac climb out of the village, and off into the hills.

Considering the amount of rain we’ve had the trails are in suprisingly good condition. There’s a few deep/very deep puddles, but it’s fun. I’m in the lead group, there’s about six of us, that’s me, and five young lads who all seem to know each other. They’re skipping about, and having a laugh splashing each other. I’m breathing bloody hard hanging on. One of the lads is a real lightweight and takes great pleasure in hammering up every rise just for the sheer joy of racing his mates. I’m breathing bloody hard hanging on, just.

Past the first ravitaillment station, we don’t stop. Down a fast rocky trail, we’re almost at the farthest point of the course, and……… see that picture? First time that’s happened to me in over twenty years of mountainbiking. A stick goes through my back wheel and takes my rear mech off.
XTR rear mech torn off!

I move my bike to the side of the track and just stare at it, stare at it so long I had time to take the picture. I’m trying to work out my best plan of action. Riders stop to see if I’m OK, I wave them on “oui, se bon!”. While I’m working out what to do I hear cars below me. They don’t sound far away. I decide I’ll roll down to the road, find out the shortest way back to St Leger, and make my way home along the tarmac. See, although I’m carrying a ‘quick link’ I’m not carrying a chain splitter. I can’t ‘monovitesse’ it. Doh!

At the road there’s a couple watching the riders go through. They kindly give me a lift back to the start in their van. On the way back they proudly tell me that their two sons Davy (19yrs), and Charley (16yrs) are riding today, in the lead group!

Back at the start I wash my bike and wait for Carla. She’s not long, and she’s had a geat ride.
I wash her bike while she gets changed. Did I tell you she’s being head-hunted by a local club who’s president wants her to be one of his girls? I will……