If you’ve been following the story you’ll know that Carla and I both qualified to represent the Haute Vienne at the 2008 MTB Championships in Mazamet. You’ll know that the path to selection was a tough one, and that we’ve worked hard. Also know how much we’ve been looking forward to this weekend, and how honoured we feel to be invited to race.
How’d it go? Well, we both came away with gold medals, but that’s only part of the story…
We travelled down to Mazamet in the Tarn on Thursday, camped at the minicipal campsite, and were up at the race venue mid morning on Friday to pre-ride the circuit. A bright sunny day, we felt good, and the circuit was superb. A wide start lead to a tarmac climb before diving into a superfast descent, plenty of space and time to move up. Lots of swooping singletrack, fast middle ring climbs, technical descents, and the lap finished off with a blast alongside the huge lake. I did two laps steady with Carla where we stopped and looked at lines, and one lap fast to test gearing on climbs. We were very happy, we felt the circuit suited us.
Meanwhile, far away in another part of the land (this bit is fiction, but it could have an element of truth) Mudmeister Jean Claude Sansonnet was on the phone to God, “Mon Dieu – Rain SVP!”. In the early hours of the morning we were woken by the sound of heavy rain on the tent, and it wasn’t just a passing shower.
Back at the race venue on Saturday to watch the start of the young vets (40-49yrs). It was wet, and most racers had switched to mud tyres. Watching them come through on their first lap they were filthy, though they still made the half-hour-ish per lap as specified by the UFOLEP rules.
We changed tyres. Off came the fast dusty tyres from the day before to be replaced with mud tyres. On went the thick gloopy lube, cassette and chainrings coated. I warmed up in my cape, with full gloves, and waterproof trousers, I wasn’t warm.
The race actual – We were called to the start line by name, with riders who placed 1st in their respective departmental champs first, then seconds, and so on. I made the third line, there’s 94 of us. Minutes turned to hours waiting to go, then countdown from 5 and we’re away. I made up a few places across the field, and a few more on the first bank to the tarmac. Once on the tarmac I clanged up a couple of gears and moved up some more. As the gradient eased I knew riders were getting my wheel, but I pushed on. By the time we turned off the tarmac into the first descent I was in third place!
What had been a fast flowing course had now turned into a cyclo-cross style mud fest. Trying to keep the bike on line was comical, and some climbs had become unrideable. We pushed on. Around the back of the course things were a little better. I was still in third, and feeling OK. On the last long drag JC comes past, and I get his wheel. So now I’m in fourth, but it’s OK we’re only seconds off the leader, and progress is good.
On the second lap someone else is riding my bike. I don’t know who it is, but it certainly isn’t me. This idiot is all over the place, making a right hash of it, going nowhere fast. Riders come past like I’m standing still. I chase, but hard….. I’m in danger of not even making the top ten.
I manage to regain control of my bike. I work hard and make up a couple of places. Now I’m in 7th, with a rider on my wheel. There’s a short tarmac section with a sharp right hander, I’m conscious that I’m towing someone. Into the sharp right hander I ride hard, keep pedaling, and drag the back brake cyclo-cross style. I hear my passenger go down. I push on.
I make it almost to the wheel of 6th place, but he has enough to hold me off, and 7th is where I finish. I’m a little disappointed. JC by the way made it up to second! That’s his tenth time on the podium in 10 years! Chappeau Jean Claude!!!
Putting it in perspective – The winner Roland Guillermin is home in 1:37:04, I’m just under 4 minutes off the pace at 1:40:52, JC was home in 1:38:24, and third place went to Jean Claude Laskowsky in 1:38:53. The gaps weren’t big. Nobody with a higher number plate, thereby ranked higher than me, finished in front of me. So maybe things weren’t so bad……..
By the time Carla raced things had dried out a little and the mud had turned to stiff porridge making the going even tougher. I’ll leave her to tell you how she got on. I’ll just say that she done good, and showed great courage and determination. She could hardly stand at the finish.
So what about these gold medals then? – Well, as well as individual medals there are also team medals for each category based on the first three riders home for each department. Carla and I were both second placed home, and our team placed first. As I stood on the podium at the prize ceremony that evening I felt very proud. Not only had I made it onto the top step, but I stood there as a member of a French team. To live and race in France, and be part of a winning French team… that’s a dream come true that is.
With our races done we were able to enjoy the rest of the weekend watching and supporting. We joined in with all the other bell ringers, horn blowers, cheerers, and photographers that made the race atmoshere electric. The noise from supporters on the first climb out of the arena was incredible. Special mention to Marcel Buisson of the US Natiat club who couldn’t race so spent the whole weekend making an din cranking an old washing machine drum full of junk!
It truly was a weekend to remember and…
Je suis super heureux d’avoir participé à cette manifestation et à cette fête qui permet à tous de prendre le départ d’un National, de discuter, d’échanger sans prise de tête, quelque soit son VTT, sa région, son niveau voir même son look. Encore BRAVO au club de Mazamet et aux 200 bénévoles, vous pouvez être fier de votre travail et vive l’UFOLEP, une autre idée du sport.
Aussi, BRAVO et merci beaucoup à tous les coureurs et supporters et responsables de Haute Vienne…. J’espère vous voir a velo bientôt 🙂