On the podium in the 17th Frederic Mistral VTT Raid

On the podium in La Frederic Mistral
One of the best races of the season. I’ve been looking forward to this one. A ‘full on’ mass start race. One big 42km loop. Raced as seen. Last year I finished 3rd scratch, and won my category. I ain’t got that sort of form this year, but I’m gonna race hard for a category podium place.

The start – they’ve changed the start this year. This time instead of an out and back around a field, it’s an uphill start on a bumpy field for 200m a sharp left, a 200m dash along the top of the field before diving down for a sharp right onto the tarmac with greasy wet tyres! 🙂

My Plan – Flat out for the first 5kms to try and get myself into the best fast moving group I can. Then ‘economique’ – try and stay there.

The Off – You just know it’s gonna be chaos on the inside of the first bend as everyone squeezes in. I line up further out to the right. My clubmate Eric lets me in on the front line just in front of him. The tape goes down. A few words from the commissaire. A countdown from 5. We’re away on two. As I climb onto the pedals Eric gives me an almighty shove! Thanks Eric 🙂

Up around the first bend with the leaders. Hold my place along the top. Left down towards the tarmac. Easy onto the road. Lock the forks out and kick. Jean-Phillipe (Nantiat) comes by, I get his wheel. We’re hammering up the short road section all desperate to get into the first narrow off-road in the best position we can. I dive past a couple of rider as we go in.

Onto the rocky climb now. Chances of riding it are slim. Slippy damp rocks and leaves. I don’t even try. I dismount and run up the right-hand side to keep my bike out of the way. It’s chaos. There’s a lot of ‘jovial banter’ as bikes and bodies clash.

We’re over the top and away. I reckon I’m in the top twenty-ish. Not great, but I’m in good company. Stephane (Ambazac), Lionel (Nantiat), and me old mate Jean Claude (Nantiat). All good riders.

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……

Well, on some of the fast descents I’m losing ground. Still lacking a little confidence. But that’s OK ‘cos I’m going like the clappers on the flat, and i’m able to motor back onto the group.

Over half distance now, and just like the last race Jean Claude edges away ever so slowly. It’s tough now, and there are some steep rock strewn granny ring climbs. Lionel slips, curses, remounts, and curses some more. Up ahead I can see Christian Boutin, we’re catching him. Over the top, then a short descent. Lionel is dropped, i’m on the wheel of Christian, Stephane has a 50meter gap.

We turn onto a tarmac section. I want to chase Stephane, but I don’t want to tow Christian up, he’s a vet, and a fast descender, he’ll beat me if I don’t get rid of him. I jump past hard and go after Stephane. There’s no response from Christian. He must have blown.

Stephane of the Ambazac Sprinter ClubI work together with Stephane, we catch Marko (St Leger La Montagne) another demon descender. I ride past him as hard as I can. I’m feeling pretty good. I stay on the front, I open up a gap on the two.
Not a big enough gap though as they both catch me on the descent from the Frederic Mistral memorial. We’re almost home now, and it’s mostly downhill. Marko comes flying past making the most of his Specialized Epic. Stephane gives chase. I chase Stephane. We ain’t gonna beat Marko, but if I can stay in contact I’ll have a sprint against Stephane.

I push my lack of downhill confidence out of my mind. Wrap my fingers around the bars and ride hard. We’re really motoring. There’s a huge mud hole up ahead. Marko goes right. Stephane goes left, catches an edge and shoots himself into the bushes. I manage to miss Stephane’s rear wheel.
I ease to see if he’s OK. He’s back on his bike and chasing.

Into the finish, a couple of zig-zags, a sprint to the line. I’m 11th scratch, and second Vet B (over 50). Jean Claude Sansonnet is first Vet B in 8th scratch.There’s only one other vet in, that’s Bernard Soulier (AC Cosnac), a Vet A (over 40), he’s 3rd scratch!!!

Wrap up – I’m happy with my ride. My form is on the up, there’s more to come. I’m just two minutes down on Jean Claude, and I’m well ahead of some of the riders who’ve been beating me lately. I come away with a nice trohpy, and I’m looking forward to my next race already.
Got a nice trophy

Choise of weapon – I rode my Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper Hardtail with some new Rock Shox SID World Cups (100mm). I ran Hutchinson Piranha Tubeless tires at 2.5bar (35psi) with sealant. I carried no tube or CO2 cannister just in case! But I did carry 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.

Find out more about this great race here http://www.guidonbellachon.org/

17éme Sentiers des Etangs – Nantiat

Racing my S-Works Stumpjumper HTFirst race of the season – The Mountainbike season here in France runs from September to September. So far there’s only been one competitive event, and that was the Chrono (MTB time trial), at Panazol. So this’ll be the first chance to see who’s hot and who’s not. It’s 45kms, one big loop, ridden as seen.

Let me set the scene – I’m still on my way up form wise. Nowhere near as fit, or light, as I was when I broke my collarbone in June. I’ve been struggling this week. Sometimes when I overdo it some of the muscles around my good/bad shoulder get really stiff. From Wednesday onward I’m ramrod stiff, and despite the team masseuse doing her best, and me topping up with anti-inflammatories it just won’t let go. During the night before the race I wake up many times uncomfortable. I decide not to race as the outcome is bound to be a negative one.

On the day – We are up early and on our way. It’s a cold crisp morning. Carla is racing, I’m just doing the rando. At the race site, in the bustle of activity, I go into auto pilot…. sign on, number on bike, warm up, and as if by magic, I’m on the front row of the grid, the starter is counting us down from 5, we’re away on 3. There’s some pushing and shoving as we funnel into the first trail. I’m sitting just near the back of the lead group, we’re going fast!!!

On the first climb, I pass a few, a few pass me. It’s tough, and I don’t feel good at all. I’m starting to lose ground. Some of my Veteran B rivals come past Jean-Claude Sansonnet (Nantiat), Marcel Buisson (Nantiat), Dominique Vrignaud (EC Ambazac), Jean Luc Gromet (Beauvallet). This is going horribly wrong.

When you’re going backwards and you feel like sh*t it’s easy to back off, you need a strategy. Here’s what I do…

Stay calm, stay focused, stick to the task. I tell myself that’s what I’m doing (self talk?). Often, when I’ve been going really well I’ll have a tune going round and round in my head. Not always the same tune, but one tune that’s worked for me on many an occasion is Kylie’sCan’t get you out of my head‘!. Not the whole song, just the “La la la, la la la la la, la la la” bit. I call on Kylie voodoo to help me out, I focus on what I’m doing, and push on.

I seem to be going OK on the descents, and I’m gaining on Jean Luc. There’s a tricky section with big rocks as we drop onto a road. Jean Luc over cooks it and crashes. He’s OK, it’s a low speed tumble. I squeeze by. On the tarmac now, chasing to get the wheel of Marcel. I catch him as we go off-road. It’s Marcel who’s set the circuit. He knows every twist and turn of these trails, and it shows. Firing into blind bends at the perfect speed and line for the exit. I put my faith in Marcel and follow as tight as I can.

We catch Jean Claude! As we pass I ask him if he’s OK. He says he cannot breathe, the air is so cold. Onto big wide tracks now heading in the direction of Lac St Pardoux. Jean Marc Restoin (AS St Junien) arrives. He’s a strong roadie and on the open trails he’s going like a train. Only thing is, he’s towed Jean Claude back up!

Marcel has dropped off, we’ve caught Dominique. Jean Marc is doing the lions share of the work, and the kilometers are flying by. As we get into the narrow technical stuff JC thanks Jean Marc by diving in front of him. Down a rocky descent Jean Marc struggles, Dominique and I give chase.

On the twisty singletrack by the lake (St Pardoux), JC on the front, me glued to his wheel, Dominique glued to mine. It’s quick, but not desperate. I glance at my watch, one hour done, I reckon we’re halfway. Turning away from the lake, climbing what seems like a forever climb JC edges ever so slowly away. I try to go after him and get rid of Dominique, I can’t. Dominique tries to get rid of me, he can’t. JC stays in sight, just up ahead.

Almost two hours on the clock, and I’m really struggling, I’ve had enough, I’m looking for the finish. There’s a sharp right, and a granny ring climb, I hear Dominique miss his gears, I kick hard. I can hear the PA system announcing riders home. The finish can only be just around the corner. Dominique is back. I recognize where we are. A short twisty 500metres to go. I give it my all, and as we drop out onto the short finishing straight I sprint. No one comes past.

Wrap up – So, seeing as how I wasn’t gonna race. It didn’t actually turn out too bad. I’m second Vet B around a minute and a half down on JC (who’s been going extremely well). I’m 14th scratch out of 106 finishers, again, no too bad. I’m exhausted, it’s been a tough one.

Thanks to the Nantiat club who hosted the race, and Marcel for a superb circuit (course). Thanks to my fellow racers for a great workout, and thanks to Kylie – “La la la, la la la la la, la la la”. 🙂

BTW – Carla came 4th in the ladies race.
A copy results in Excel is here.

Takin’ the nasty medicine…

You know what it’s like. Trying to get some form. Taking the nasty medicine that is hard training. Coming back from rides with aching legs, sore back, head done in. But you just know it’s got to be done. This is when you pay for the good days.

Like yesterday, working hard, going nowhere, can’t seem to get on top of the gear, off the pace, behind schedule, headwind all the way around, chewin’ on the handlebars. Big races coming up, want to do well. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing would it? Plus, the pleasure and satisfaction will be directly proportional to the pain and dis-satifaction I have right now. Push on! 🙂

Les Mégalithes – 15éme édition – VTT Rando

This is the one we started with 3 years ago. This is my favourite rando, a 42km tour of the western end of the Monts de Blond. It’s an early start, an’ it’s bloomin’ chilly, though we’ll warm up soon enough. I spot a few of the ‘usual suspects’ signing on. Remember, it’s not a race, you just ride at your own speed. 😉

There’s no ‘Grand Depart’ this year. Instead you can leave anytime you like after 08:45. This means that by 08:45 just about everyone is gone. I set off at a brisk pace, picking my way through the traffic. By the time I reach Arnac i’m too hot so make a quick stop to remove Buff and scarf. I’m feeling pretty good, and you know what it’s like, when you’re feeling good the pain feels good, the faster you go the better the pain. I’m blasting along, pretty much full on.

Along the tops now, heading in the direction of Montrol Senard. There’s a rider catching me from behind. I’m goin’ damn quick, he’s goin’ even quicker! He catches me, it’s Jean-Phillipe, we’ve ridden together loads, usually with me groveling on his wheel. We exchange greetings, then, as per normal, i’m chasing his wheel. I manage to stay with him all the way into Montrol Senard village, though it’s a struggle. I’m not descending as well as I was, a little cautious.

We head out of the village and swing right onto the steep chemin towards Montmezerie. Jean-Phillipe slowy edges away. It’s steep and rocky, but I make it all the way to the top with just one dab. The next section if very fast, with plenty of rocks and roots to keep you focused. The dappled sunlight through the trees add to the sense of speed. I spot a rider up ahead, i’m gaining slowly. It’s Nico from the Nantiat club. I almost catch him but the trail turns downhill, and Nico drops like a stone.

I’m at the ravito (food stop) now. There’s one rider who I haven’t seen, though I know he’s here somewhere, Christian….. he must be ahead somewhere. Away from the ravito with Jean-Phillipe and Nico. We head down across the slabs on one of the best descents in the Monts. A sharp left, drop over the road, and down again. Fast, rocky, twisty, bermy, scary, this one has it all. I can’t stay with the boys, by the time I get to the lake at Les Petite Hors they’re out of site.

I push on, hard. Nico in sight again, and I’m gaining on him. The long granny ring climb back up to Boscartus. I catch him just before the summit. There’s a couple of kilometers of tarmac, i’m on the front. I know where were going, and what’s coming next. I don’t want to spoil Nico’s fun so I wave him through at the top of the last big descent. Again, I hang on to the fast descending Nico as long as I can, but in the steeper stony stuff I can’t stay with him. When we spill out onto the road at the bottom Nico has some 200metres on me.

We’re off the Monts now, and i know it’s a rolling run in to the finish. I’m chewin’ on the handlebars, riding like a man possesed. I catch Nico, he stays with me for a while. I lose him in some traffic. On very familiar ground now, the singletrack through to Le Pic. Hammering. There’s a stream, with a bridge, normally I take the bridge, but someone is on it, I don’t want to be held up, I blast through the water – not like me at all. Can’t be more than 3km to go now. A rider up ahead, I recognise his style though not his bike. It’s Christian!!!

So…… today was brilliant, I enjoyed every pedal turn. I feel like i have some form coming, but still some work to do to get ‘race fit’. I’m not climbing as well as I was – need to lose the 2kgs i’ve put on, and I’m not descending well – still a bit cautious after my fall in the Mandragore. I’ll keep taking the nasty medicine that is hard training. I’ve got two weeks, then it’s two big races in a row. Time enough, but only just.