La Mandragore VTT Marathon 2009

Mandragore Limousin - VTT Marathon
La Mandragore VTT Marathon – that’s 100 kms across the Haute Vienne from Confolens to Nieul on some of the best trails in the area including a thrash around the Monts de Blond. I was 4th rider home in 2007, but never made it home in 2008 ‘cos I crashed out. I’m hoping to go well this year, but I’ve not shown any real form this year so far. The forecast is for a hot day, and the trails have been dry for weeks.

The Mandragore is like a ride of two halves with a bit added on. The first half is on open countryside. The trails are wide and rolling. It’s possible to ride ‘roadie’ style in big groups sharing the work. The second half is tough, and technical, along the trails of the Monts de Blond. Once you leave the Monts you have the final dash cross-country to Nieul.

Racing down through the town of Confolens
My plan – go hard for the first 30 minutes to establish myself in the best group I can, then hang on. A simple plan eh?

It’s not a race – though it has the look and feel of one. We’re counted away at the start, and ride the first kilometre behind a lead car in a neutralised sort of way. Then the car pulls over, and it’s game on. I’ve made sure I’m near the front.

A steep tarmac ramp takes us out of town. I’m on it in third position, I get off it in about twentieth, breathing hard. There’s riders moving forwards, and a few coming backwards, as we sort ourselves out. I’m with the lead group, there’s about twenty of us. Each time we dive off road there’s a shake down, and the group shrinks. Each time we hit the tarmac there’s a few frantic moments as riders fight for wheels. I’m trying to stay cool, trying to ride super-economically.

The first 20 kms fly by, at the first ravito (feed station), nobody stops. Were down to about 10 riders now. Another off-road shakedown, there’s a split, and four riders go clear. I ain’t one of them! I chase hard, nobody helps. It’s tough. They have a gap of about 30 seconds.

On familiar trails near Montrol Senard

We’re into some familiar territory now, it’s a trail that I know well, and I make the most of it. By the time we drop out into Montrol Senard, and the second ravito, I’m almost back on. I grab a handful of food, re-fill my bottle, and I’m away. The ravito is busy, as we’re sharing this one with the roadies, in the confusion i’m not sure who’s where. I ride steady, and try to eat.

On the long technical climb out of Montrol Senard things become a little clearer. I’m with the lead group, there’s seven of us :- David Thely (US Bessines Cyclo), Davy Baborier (Briance Rosselle Aventure), Lionel Lebraud (US Nantiat), Jean Luc Grommet (CC Beauvallet), a St Léger La Montagne rider, and another strong looking rider I’ve never seen before. I reckon I’m the weakest. However, all those hours spent riding in the Monts de Blond are paying off. I know where we are, and I know what’s coming next. I’m able to stay in contact, just.

On a long climb on the South side of the hills, it’s very hot. I pass Jean Luc, then David, and in just a few seconds they are gone. We don’t see them again. By the top of the climb I’m off the back. Down the descent from Boscartus, I know I’m not far behind as I’m riding through the dust kicked up by the riders ahead. A sharp left, a short section by a lake, a hook up right, I can see the group ahead through the trees, they’ve been caught out by the tricky transition, I flick to my granny gear, and I’m back on.

We’re climbing all the way back up again to pass by the old Chapel. The St Léger La Montagne rider gets an attack of cramp, and has to dismount. A quick glance at my watch. I reckon we still have at least an hour and a half to do. He’s cooked. This is tough. I stay in contact as long as I can, but by the top I’m on my own. A tarmac section, I eat, drink, and try to maintain some pace.

A few minutes later I find Davy stopped by the side of the trail. He has bad cramp, he’s in agony. He tells me to carry on. Incidentally, it was Davy who found me last year when I crashed.

So now there’s just two riders ahead, Lionel, and the guy I’ve never seen before. I’m thinking that I won’t see them again before the finish. Then, at the ravito at Vaulry, there they are, they’ve stopped for food. We’re nearly done in the Monts de Blond now, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to stay with them to Nieul.

They ride quick, I’m tired, but I’m just about hanging on. I reckon we have about 10 kms left to go. At Peyrilhac there’s a short steep bank. I get out of the saddle and my legs buckle. I’m gone.

Over the last few agonising kilometres I lose close on five minutes. I cross the line third rider home, in just under 5 hours. I’m very happy with that….. and anyway, it’s not a race!

Thanks to all at Cyclo-Club Nieul for a fantastic event. Thanks to all the guys I rode with for their camaraderie. Thanks to my wonderful wife Carla for dropping me off at the start, and meeting me at the finish with a cold beer. What a woman! I know she worries about me a little when I don’t arrive on schedule, but today was OK. I reckon she was just as pleased with my ride as I was.

On the podium – 24 Heures de Bonnac 2009

24hrs de VTT Bonnac podium 2009
The sun shone, it was hot, we raced hard, it was tough. It went dark, it was still hot, we raced hard, it was tough. It got light again, we were tired, we raced hard, it was tough. We made it onto the podium behind our great friends and rivals. 3rd place out of over 50 teams.

This year they ran the circuit the other way round. There were a few small changes, the most noticeable being that there seemed to be more downhill than uphill. How did they do that? It really was a super fast, super flowing mix of trails. You could get almost all the way round the lap in the big ring. Average time for a lap for me was around 15mins.

Just like last year, a team took it on right from the start leaving us to battle with ‘Culture Velo‘. This year it was the young guns from Briance Roselle Aventure who took it on. We were hoping they’d gone off too fast. So there’s us, ‘La bande à Marcel’, Culture Velo, and ‘Les singlespeed attack’ mixin’ it up for the podium. Should mention here that those crazy singlespeed guys have the current Vet National Champ riding with them.

As the day wears on we slip to 4th place, we’re three minutes down on Culture Velo, who are themselves down on the singlespeeders! There’s no let up, were racing incredibly hard, something’s got to give. We’re doing two laps a piece, and we’re knocking ’em out like a machine.

Racing into the night, we’re gaining. I’m out on a lap battling with one of the singlespeeders, and a rider from another team. The rider from whatever team doesn’t have good lights and is trying to use us to get round. We’re trying to drop him. Over a slight rise, the singlespeeder dives through going like a nutter. I chase after him. Surely he’s going to fast for the turn? In spite of the fact that there is a triple set of tapes together with reflective arrows all pointing left he goes straight on through the tape!!! Those singlespeeders – crazy guys! We’ve only been racing on the circuit for around 12 hours.

Through the second half of the night we continue to gain time. We move up into 3rd ahead of the SS team, and by sunrise we’re in second place some 3 minutes ahead of Culture Velo. The leaders BRA are over a lap ahead.

Now, while we’re riding two laps then change, Culture Velo are playing their cards a little differently. They are riding a man short most of the time. See they have a rider who cannot get to the venue before evening, and he’s going to relieve Jean Claude Sansonnet who is only riding in the day. So, just around breakfast time, JC returns after a good night’s sleep to boost his team. It starts to work, and slowly Culture Velo are pegging us back. With just three hours left to go we’re racing harder than ever. It’s tough.

In the end, we couldn’t hang on. Culture Velo catch us in the last few laps and push us into third. Sometimes though, it’s not where you came, it’s how you got there. We’re happy with third, it’s been a great race, we accept our beating with humility. Like I said at the top, we’re on the podium behind our great friends and rivals, we’ve shared a great weekend. Chapeau guys!

Many thanks, and Bravo to all at Bonnac for a great weekend. Felicitations and Bravo to all the riders, and ‘High 5’, and special thanks to my team mates Marcel (Nantiat), Jean-Phi (Nantiat), Lionel (Nantiat), Seb (Ambazac), Stephane (Ambazac). It was my great pleasure to race with you. Thanks for having me.