La Charmante Britannique Carla Bennett!

Carla has her picture in the local paper. Following the first place of the Haute Vienne at the nationals at Mazamet a local reporter showed up at the Ronde des Sangliers VTT rando. Carla had her picture taken, and had a short interview (in French). The article describes her as “La charmante britannique Carla Bennett!”. I think i’d agree with that! 🙂
La Charmante Britannique Carla Bennett!

Haute Vienne Championnat Departemental 2008 – Rochechouart

It’s right on my doorstep, hosted by my adopted club ROC Cyclo, I’m doing it! Five laps of a fast undulating 9.5km circuit. I’d like to get in an early break with a couple of others if I can. I plan to go early.

departmental road champs rochechouart 08

Just over half way around the first lap, not a single card played. There’s some fit looking riders, and a few riders who obviously know what they’re doing. An attack, a lone rider goes, nobody responds, he’s actually moving away. I jump after him. “Allez!”, I pass him and show that I’m keen to work, but he just lets me go. I’m away on my own. Not what I really had in mind. I ride hard, but not flat out. A quick glance under my arm, I have a good gap.

Back into Rochechouart to complete the first lap, I’m hugging the inside of the bends trying to stay out of sight. Up the long finish straight. Carla shouts that it’s a 20 second gap. Another quick glance, I can see the chase is on as the peleton is lined out. At the top of the circuit I’m almost caught, I ease up. I’m hoping there’ll be a counter attack, but there isn’t.

Laps 2 and 3 are uneventful. Lots of watching and waiting going on. Towards the end of lap three a big St Junien rider has a good dig. We chase. Now the counter attack. We’re breathing hard. Three of us go clear. We’re going damn fast, we have a good gap. This is more like it. Surely they won’t see us again. But actually they do. I dunno who’s doin the chasing, but we are caught. I’m miffed!

Back to watching and waiting, a few little digs, and a few more, we’re away again, same three. Surely this time we’ve cracked it. Fully commited, goin’ like the clappers, nope, we are caught again! Heading out on the last lap now. The sky over Bill’s mothers has gone black, it’s gonna rain. As the rain starts I’m sat near the back trying to work out what to do. I really don’t want to be sprinting in the wet. With about 1km to go I try one last time, as hard as I can. I get maybe 50 metres clear but I’m chased down.

I’m a bit annoyed now, so I’m gonna damn well sprint. Sitting in about 6th on a wheel that I think is a good one, 300m to go, wobblin a bit to make some space, 200m and we’re goin’ quicker. A St Junien rider opens up the sprint, I’m in fourth, I pass one, I’m up to third, halfway up second, flat out. The St Junien rider takes it by a couple of bike lengths. I’m in third just half a bike length down on second. Betcha can’t guess who the second placed rider is? Betcha can!

Thanks to everyone at the Rochechouart Olympic Club Cyclo for putting on a great race. With such good organisation it felt like we were racing on closed roads.

Aimlessly drifting along…

aimlessly drifting along...
We’ve been doing some hard training, and hard racing lately. I’ve been telling Carla that even on a recovery ride it’s important to have something to work/focus on. Maybe braking technique, or lines into corners, or perhaps some aspect of reading the terrain, anything, just so long as you’re not riding along day dreaming.

aimlessly drifting along

However, just every now and then it’s nice to treat tired legs, body and brain to a gentle aimless drift of a ride……. going nowhere fast in particular, mind in neutral, stopping here and there to look and listen…. no time scale, it takes as long as it takes. Sheer self indulgent luxury. 🙂

aimlessly drifting along

Gold in the French Mountains!!! 2008 UFOLEP VTT Champs at Mazamet

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…

Carla with her Red White Blue bouquet and medal

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 first climb out of the arena

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.

Race Action

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.

Enroute, it hurts

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.

my poor bike after the race

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!

race supporters

It truly was a weekend to remember and
Je suis super heureux d’avoir participĂ© Ă  cette manifestation et Ă  cette fĂȘte qui permet Ă  tous de prendre le dĂ©part d’un National, de discuter, d’Ă©changer sans prise de tĂȘte, quelque soit son VTT, sa rĂ©gion, son niveau voir mĂȘme son look. Encore BRAVO au club de Mazamet et aux 200 bĂ©nĂ©voles, vous pouvez ĂȘtre fier de votre travail et vive l’UFOLEP, une autre idĂ©e du sport.

Aussi, BRAVO et merci beaucoup Ă  tous les coureurs et supporters et responsables de Haute Vienne
. J’espĂšre vous voir a velo bientĂŽt 🙂

Grande TraversĂ©e du Limousin 2008 – Results, analysis, thanks, and things…

Results and analysis…
I finished 3rd in the ‘Master 2’ category. That’s riders over 40yrs old (vets). I was 18th overall, and nobody younger than me finished in front of me. For an old bloke with a dodgy shoulder that’s a result I’m happy with.

vets podium - that is me on the right

The first and second placed vets finished around 30 minutes ahead of me! Even more amazing, the first placed vet, Gilles Audger, rode a rigid bike with V brakes!!! Fourth and fifth placed vets were only just behind me. With FrĂ©dĂ©ric Auracombe just over a minute back. After 200kms of racing that was close. Looking at the times for the top riders overall…..those young guns are incredibly fast. See for yourself, the full results are on the Creuse Oxygene website here.

Thanks to – Alain Menut and the team at Creuse Oxygene for a fabulous event. Described as ‘200kms de pur plaisir’, it really is that good. In all the years i’ve raced this is one of the best organised, hardest, bestest, beautiful races i’ve ever taken part in. No contrived loops, no manicured trails, no punches pulled. Extensive racing, one way, on natural, fabulous terrain.

Thanks to – Raymond for bringing the Sunday Riders over from the UK to race. I’m thrilled that you all enjoyed it so much, and your comments about the event, and about the beauty of this area of France made me proud, not only to be a Brit, but to be a Brit living and racing here. Oh, and well done for pursuading KB to take part.

Thanks toKeith Bontrager for taking part. It really meant something special for Creuse Oxygene. It was great to meet you, thanks for all the equipment tips, and the recipe for tyre sealant. I hope to meet you again later in the year.

Waiting to start in the GTL 2008

Well done Pricer and Supawal! Racing will never be the same again will it? I reckon Pricer will be unbeatable next season…watchout! Supawal is falling in love with French racing, wouldn’t suprise me if he wasn’t planning his next adventure right now.

For an authentic French GTL report with some excellent pictures, visit zag-rider’s website (Bonjour Charles). While the Creuse Oxygene’s pictures for the three days are here.

For the anoraks – I rode a Specialized Stumpjumper Hardtail on a pair of Bontrager wheels running Hutchinson tubeless tyres. I’d fitted a new cassette and chain, and new disc pads. By the end of the three days the chain was shot, and the rear pads were almost gone!

Finally – This was my second GTL and this time round I enjoyed it more for the simple reason that I speak a little French now. I could enjoy the camaraderie and banter amongst the riders. Last year I felt embarrased having to say ‘je suis desole, j’en comprend pas!’. This year I could join in.

La Grande Traversee du Limousin is a fabulous race, and part of what I love about it is it’s Frenchness. Racing with French racers in a French race in France is experience not to be missed. To me, the fact that the entry forms, the communications, the website, the briefings, are all conducted in French enhance the experience. It’s not that hard to get yourself on the start line. Once you’re there the rest is easy!

Grande TraversĂ©e du Limousin – Final Stage

GuĂ©ret -> ChĂątelus-Malvaleix – 60kms

There’s good news, and bad news. First the good – Supawal has a new seatpost! He’s looking forward to riding the last stage, and has donned his best French kit to ride in. Now me – despite losing ground in the last few kms of both the earlier stages I’m still in line for 3rd on the podium in the over 40s category. Now the bad – the 1st and 2nd placed riders are so far ahead that it would take a mechanical or a miracle to catch them. Meanwhile there are quite a few ‘old fellas’ very close behind me. Which means it’s far from sewn up. Today is gonna be tough, no margin for errors or slacking if I want to hold my place.

gtl 2008 neutralised depart

Young Pricer has been telling me that he’s finding it difficult to judge pace. With his limited racing experience he’s used to doing laps, and knowing what’s coming next. I tell him that the most important thing is simply to ‘stick to the task’, work hard, concentrate, and not be disuaded. He’s got plenty of miles in his legs, it’s the last stage, all he has to do is let them out.

It’s an early start today. After a 5am breakfast, and a 7:30 round-up we’re riding behind the cars down to the 8am start in GuĂ©ret. The sun is shining, and it’s gonna be a hot one. We get a final briefing, then with a minimum amount of fuss, we’re off.

Tha pace is steady at first as we climb out of GuĂ©ret, then there’s a steep ramp that takes us to the first off-road section. The young guns sprint it, going like the finish was just around the corner. How do they do that? I go as hard as I can, trying to hold my place.

Next we’re on a shelf that runs the side of the hills. It’s fast sweeping roller coaster stuff. Bursting out onto the tarmac, and climbing again, there’s a rider glued to my wheel. Onto a long open track, still climbing, he comes past. It’s Pricer, and he’s going quick. Next Johnathan Cormier comes past. He taps me on the shoulder, I jump onto the small group he’s riding with.

Some steep tricky climbs now, and Johnathan has pushed on leaving three of us working together. A rider catches us from behind, now we are four. The big rider on the Cannondale is doing the lions share of the work, and he doesn’t like it. He’s a superfast descender, and every now and then he opens a gap, we claw our way back on.

Dropping out of the woods onto a fast farm track the big Cannondale rider has a good gap, and he’s going for it. We chase hard. He’s so busy trying to get away, and we’re so busy chasing him that we miss a turn. We fire straight on down to a road, there are no markings, now we know we have gone wrong. There’s nothing for it but to retrace our steps. It’s a blow, and my own words come back to haunt me, “stick to the task”. It’s too much for the big rider on the Cannondale, he falls to bits, disappears backwards, and is never seen again.

Back on course the three of us are working well together. We can see groups up ahead, and we’re gaining on them. We catch a rider from the VTT Gauriac club, he looks like a vet. One of our three is his team mate, but he rides right by him, I dunno what’s going on.

With over two and a half hours done we hit a long stony rutted climb. It’s baking hot, the sun is on our backs, all of a sudden I don’t feel so good. I’m staring at the wheel of the rider in front, sticking to the task with all the stickability I can muster. The younger of our three jumps to try and bridge the gap to the group in from. Me and the other fella can’t respond.

At the top of the climb there’s a welcome breeze, and a fabulous vista across the Creuse. From memory the stage profile shows a descent for the last 5kms, with a small climb to finish off. At last we start going downhill. It’s very fast, though not overly technical. Smooth fast trails puntuated with short boulder sections and zig-zag ruts. The odd water splash to cools me down. Some short tarmac sections, I crouch low, put my hand in the middle of the bars and pedal for all I’m worth. Every last half pedal turn counts.

A tricky section, I choose right, it’s wrong, I’m cross-rutted. My buddy sees it, shoots left, gets a gap and knows it. I’m suprised by the ferocity of the attack he puts in. Maybe he’s a vet, maybe he wants to take my third place. Powering along, ChĂątelus-Malvaleix comes into view, a sweeping singletrack brings us alongside the lake where we parked our cars forever ago. Up away from the lake towards the town centre, a short sprint of a climb, a right hander, a wall to climb! Spectators cheer, nearly there, I ride as hard as I can right up to the line. There’s a big cheer, as the commentator shouts “troisiĂšme’!

Grande TraversĂ©e du Limousin – Stage 2

BĂ©nĂ©vent L’Abbaye -> GuĂ©ret – 60kms

After a fantastic nights sleep on the floor of a gymnasium with hundreds of other cyclists I’m ready for stage 2. No, really, I slept like a baby. With fresh kit on, bike cleaned and lubed, i’m turning my legs over in the car park waiting to start. Results wise i’m sitting in 3rd master B (that’s 40yrs and over) despite losing places in the last few kms yesterday. I don’t really want to pressure myself, and my legs do feel a little tired, but the early morning sun feels good, and maybe I could make the podium. A good solid ride is called for, concentration, efficiency, economy, and fingers crossed.

Right on time they motor us all through town. Next we’re called to the start line in order of yesterdays finish. Five minutes later we’re on our way. Ten minutes later I’m going daft hard trying to establish myself in a fast group. Fifteen minutes later I’m in a group containing Johnathan Cormier, he’s a rider i’ve raced with before, he’s a hard worker, he placed 11th on day one. If I can stick with this group I’ll be OK.

Last year day two was the toughest, and this year is the same. In places the terrain is brutal, extreme, beautiful, fast, flowing, and all points in between. After mud filled tractor ruts, and river crossings too deep to ride we are rewarded with fabulous singletrack descents that go on and on. The carpets of spring flowers and the stunning beauty of the countryside are a distraction. Must stick to the task.

Enroute etape 2Two and a half hours done, i’ve been yo-yo-ing off the back of the group and now I’m dropped, riding alone, with little twinges of cramp coming on. I’m expecting just over three hours today, and I know that the last few kms are mostly downhill. At last I can see GuĂ©ret well below us through a gap in the trees. Diving downwards in the twisty singletrack I spot a sign – “LabrynthĂ©”, and it really feels like riding one. Twists, turns, rocks, roots, racing downhill, a couple of mistakes, but I’m still upright, and then I’n not. I catch an edge and slide out on a corner. Nothing serious, but trying to unclip and get the bike off my legs cramp. Ouch!

I remount, and after another 500m drop out onto a smooth super fast road. Downwards again, I remember this bit from last year, another 5mins and I’ll be home. Just before I turn off the tarmac I look behind me. In the distance I can see two riders chasing, I don’t think they’re gonna catch me. It’s the last climb, the sting in the tail, I’m halfway up when the chasers are at the bottom. I’m giving my all, and bang, cramp! It ain’t gonna let go, I’m off and running, they catch me, they pass me. 🙁

Into the finish in 3:20:10.18 for 19th place, and 5th master 2. That, was, hard!

With two puncture under his belt Pricer comes home in 33rd place. He looks exhausted, and spends most of the afternoon fast asleep. What you have to know with Pricer is that this is only his first season racing XC after a nasty crash last year put an end to his Downhill racing. He’s young, and skillful, but lacking in experience. I know he’s put in months of traning for this event, and I know he’d like to beat the old bugger (me), but I can’t slow down can I?

Meanwhile Supawal snapped his seatpost just after the first Ravitalment and had to retire. He’s dissapointed. However, there’s a neutral race mechanic expected at the overnight stop late afternoon, he might have a spare one, and if he hasn’t then Keith Bontrager (yes the real KB!) has offered to lend him one. Despite the disappointment of snapping his post Supawal tells me about the camaraderie of the French riders who stopped to make sure he was OK and wouldn’t leave him until he’d been rescued. Chapeau guys! 🙂

Grande TraversĂ©e du Limousin – Stage 1

Nantiat -> BĂ©nĂ©vent L’Abbaye – 75kms

On the start line of the 2008 GTLI’ve been waiting months for this one. Three days racing my bike across one of the most beautiful regions of France. Yeah but the weather has been awful, and the trails are gonna be a bit mucky. Well, the forecast for the three days is good, and I don’t care.

Down at the start line I see lots of familiar faces. There’s a good hanful of local riders who are just doing the first stage. StĂ©phane Bernard from the Ambazac Sprinter Club joins me for a start line photo. “I want to be on your blog!”…..Bonjour StĂ©phane! 🙂

I line up close to the front. I have no expectations for this race, and my plan is to get into the fastest group I can and stay there as long as I possible. We’re away, behind a lead car, neutralised for the first km. The car pulls away, the pace hots up, I’m sitting in the top 20.

Neutralised start GTL 2008

There’s a lot of climbing out of Nantiat, and as we swing off the tarmac the trail is greasy, it’s hard work, but I’m OK. Over the top, just one long string of riders, racing, fast, it’s great! The kms fly by, and little gaps start to appear, I’m in a group containing Jean-Philippe Meneteau (US Nantiat), and Christian Boutin (ACRR), good company.

There’s a rider in green who’s giving me a few problems. He’s a fast climber, but not so good on the descents. I keep ending up behind him. He takes us off the back of the group going down, I chase on the flats to get back on, he comes flying past on the climbs, and I’m stuck behind him again. Where I can I pass him, but often there only one line. Eventually he drops of the back of the group, and I can relax a little.

We’ve done about two hours now. The Creuse OxgĂ©ne train comes through. That’s 5 young riders from the Creuse OxygĂ©ne team, all working together, going like the clappers. Impressive! Within a couple of minutes they’re out of sight. Jean-Philippe has aslo flown, while Christian has lost ground. I’m riding on my own now. The terrain is tough. I’m not feeling as fresh as I was. One of the marshals tells me I’m in 13th position.

Over three hours gone, and around one more to do. Now it’s hard. Christian has caught me. I’m hanging on his wheel. Little twinges of cramp in my legs, just what I don’t need. Christian shows his skill climbing a wet rocky trail. He’s gone, I’m back on my own again. Now StĂ©phane catches me, I’m just hanging on. On some of the steeper ground I dismount and run, trying to use my legs in a different way so as not to cramp.

First real cramp. It just won’t let go, i’m forced to stop and stretch, it’s bad, it gives, i continue, a few minutes later it starts again. Riders are catching me now, i’m losing places, but try to maintain the fastest pace I can.

With 4:13:20.39 on the clock I climb up into BĂ©nĂ©vent L’Abbaye to take 17th place.

PricerMeanwhile my young friend ‘Pricer’, who’s doing the GTL for the first time is still out there, as is my brother Supawal. Pricer arrives looking a little shell-shocked in 4:33:26.55 for 31st place.

We wait for the arrival of Supawal, he’s taking his time to enjoy his ride. He doesn’t need to rush because he’s chosen to ride as a randoneur, sans classment. He rolls in, tired but happy, with stage one under his belt.