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.
I 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.
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/