Les Gantiers – 17th edition – VTT Raid, St Junien

Les Gantiers 2008Remember when I rode this last year? A true blast of a race. One big loop run off at road race speeds, only off-road. Thing is, last year I was flying, and had super form. I’m not quite there this year. Though I’ve been looking forward to this one for weeks.

The start – Following the startline antics from last year the organisers have made the start a little wider. Yeah, but it still goes into the same gravel strewn 90 right after 50 metres! Chaos ensues, and again after another 50 meters the 90 left onto the road. I manage to get away in the first twenty riders. It’s fast. I’m breathing hard. On the road climb out of the river valley I manage to get up to the lead group. By the time we swing off into the first Chemin I’m looking at top twenty.

Mon Taxi Parti! – A group of about 6 riders is moving clear. I should be sat on the back of them. My taxi is leaving without me! I move up where I can. I’m working with a couple of roadies. We’re sharing the work well, and we’re making progress, slowly catching riders. There’s a long drag. One of my co-workers does a big turn on the front and blows himself up! Why? So just the two of us. We’re motoring.

Into some mucky sections. My friends chain sucks up, somethin’ gives, and his chain is broke! Too bad for him, and too bad for me. I’m on my own now. Two kms further on I spot one of the main contenders fixin’ a puncture. I’m hoping he gets it fixed fast so I can catch him when he comes flying past. He never does.

Economique – Looking ahead down some of the long straights at what must be two to three minutes into the future I can see half a dozen riders, though the nearest looks at least a minute ahead. There’s nobody close behind. I’m riding as fast as I can. 100% concentration so that not even half a pedal turn is wasted. It’s tough.
Les Gantiers 2008 - I made the vets podium
Into the last few kms. I’ve made a little progress, and I’m closer to the rider ahead than I was, but I ain’t gonna catch him. I cross the finish line in 15th position. I’m second Vet B. Beaten again by Jean Claude Sansonnet (US Nantiat). The first 7 riders are home together! With Jean Phillipe Menneteau (US Nantiat) taking the win. I’m some 5 minutes off the pace. It’s OK, I know what I have to do. 🙂

Specialized Stumpjumper HT Comp versus S-Works Stumpjumper Carbon HT

Stumpjumper HT Comp 2009 and S-Works Carbon HT, choose your weapon.
The Stumpjumper HT Comp is the least expensive is Spesh’s Stumpy range. I reckon it’s fantastic value for money, and good enough to race on. In fact, up until I got my S-Works carbon this year, that’s exactly what I did. Since 2005 I’ve used a standard Stumpjumper Comp as my main race bike. Had some good results too. If you can’t win on the Comp, you can’t win.

The 2009 Stumpjumper HT Comp is even better. It’s now made of the same M5 alloy that was reserved for the S-Works alloy bikes. With it’s 28 spoke front wheel, flat bars, and 90mm travel forks, this ain’t no trail bike. It’s for racing………and i’ve got one…..and I rode it for the first time this week at the Armistice day VTT rando at Isle.

Wanna know how it rides? Well, I dunno! Why? Because after the first few minutes when I had to ‘brain shift’ into SRAM mode I was so busy enjoying the ride I forgot that I was riding it. I was so busy hacking up and down the sides of the Vienne Valley on super steep climbs followed by fabulous singletrack descents strewn with damp leaves covering rocks and roots, that the bike just disappeared.

Whether the bike became transparent, or part of me, or whatever doesn’t really matter. It’s the fact that it rode so well, and I felt so at home on it. It was only when I queued up at the Lavage Velos (bike wash), that I noticed it. Ridden standard, as it came, out of the box. Oh, and ridden hard too. I was third rider home out of 300.

Compared to my XTR equipped S-Works Carbon hardtail, it’s a little heavier (though much lighter on the wallet!!!). But in terms of performance, and being a XC race tool…..If you can win, you can win on the Comp. It’s that good. 🙂

Thanks to the crew at Pearce Cycles who supplied mine.

Armistice Day

11 November 2008 will be the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day…. the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning — the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”.

Take a ride through any French town or village, and there’ll be a monument, or memorial to those lost in the First World War. Stop and read the names, and you’ll see that a lot of families lost more than one. Yet the French equivalent of the poppy, the paper cornflower whose blue colour recalls the French sky-blue uniforms, is rarely seen in the buttonholes of television presenters or politicians, and it is almost impossible to find one on sale.

Every year, a dwindling number of first world war veterans attend the Arc de Triomphe wreath-laying ceremony but this year none of the surviving 15 Frenchmen – aged between 105 and 109 – are well enough to take part.

Well, I’ll be doing my tiny bit tomorrow…. sporting a flower and a ribbon. Lest we forget.