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.
I love this race. It has everything. It’s tough, technical, some of the descents are tougher than some of the climbs, there’s some super fast stuff, and the scenery is beautiful!!!
Preparation for this race started months back with extra training rides in the area. A couple of weeks ago a group of us spent a happy afternoon on the trails pre-riding what we thought was the probable circuit.
Imagine my surprise then when we’re on the start line, and Antoine of the Guidon Bellachon announces that we’re racing a completely new circuit today!
The start – Counted down from 5 we’re away on 2 ish! A dash down the start field and back before turning onto the tarmac. I’m fully expecting to turn left, we turn right!!! 50 metres then left, for the first climb. Rocky, steep, but rideable, chaos, someone slips, and we’re all off and running. I’m well back in around 30th place.
Over the top and away. I’m managing to move up a couple of places here and there, it’s very tough, and very fast. With about 3 kms done we hit a section of pavé. Jean Claude Sansonnet comes by on my right. I need to keep him in sight.
Through the tiny hamlet of Le Charlet, and onto a wall of a climb. JC is piling the pressure on. By the top of the climb he only has a few seconds on me. On fast rocky trails now, I’m chasing hard, and there’s JC with his back tyre flat! It won’t take him long to fix it, I push on.
We hook up right, a short climb, and we’re on the top of the Monts de Blond. The trail leads along a ridge here, there’s big rocky steps, two riders ahead of me are on foot. I shout to them that I’m coming past. I’m desperate.
Complètement fou! – As we drop off the ridge, I’ve opened a gap on the riders behind me, and I cannot see the riders ahead. Something doesn’t seem right. There’s lots of tyre marks on the trail, but no arrows, or tape. I ease a touch. Right at that moment a bunch of around 20 riders comes towards me. We’ve all gone the wrong way!!! I’ve only lost a few seconds, but some of these riders must have lost a lot more. I make a U turn.
Now we’re back on track, but running into the back of riders who hadn’t gone wrong. The next few kilometres are a bit fraught to say the least. I have no way of knowing what my position is now, but I feel reasonably confident that I’m leading Vet B. There’s no choice but to keep pushing on.
Some of the trails we’re riding are brutal. Some of them I’ve seen before, and some of them are new to me. I keep thinking I know where we going, and then there’s a turning that I wasn’t expecting. I’m in a group of four riders, were going quick, I’m starting to suffer. My own words come back to haunt me…
Any fool can ride a bike when they’re feeling fine fresh and funky. But when you feel like sh*t, and someone’s turning the screw, that when it counts!
With 1 hr 45 mins on my watch I’m guessing that we have about 30 mins to go. We’re on a rocky descent, I can hear a rider behind me. He comes past. I recognise him. He’s the full-sus rider that was first home in the Mandragore earlier in the year. He looks old enough to be a vet, maybe even old enough to be a Vet B, like me. Just when I thought all I had to do was hang on for the finish, now I’m gonna have to raise my game.
I’m sat just off the back of the group trying to come up with a plan. We’re heading down the road towards the Frederic Mistral monument. It’s a run up. I suss that we must pass it, then descend down the far side to get home. I dismount early for the run up and stay to the right. By the top I have a few seconds gap. I didn’t really want to be first down the descent, but I jump back on and go for it. It fast, it’s loose, it’s steep, with some big drop offs, and some tight rutty corners. I make it to the bottom in one piece, still at the front.
A tricky stream crossing, I jump off and run it. I can hear shouting and swearing behind me, I don’t look back. Now a road crossing, then a steep ramp up a trail to the right. I lock my forks out and sprint it. It’s agony. A quick glance over my shoulder. The chasers are on the ramp.
I’m committed now. No fingers covering the brakes, I hold the bars tight and go for it. My S-Works hardtail comes to life, and I rattle over the rocks like a man possessed. We’re almost home, they’re taking us down the way we came out! Down the last rocky descent going for it. Sprinting across the finish field to the dead stop turn 50 metres from the line. There’s no one there. I’ve got it. I hope!!!
Wrap up – I’m 15th scratch, but first Vet B. Turns out that the late arrival was a Vet B. I managed to put one minute into him in that last dash. Not much, but enough.
JC fixed his puncture, but punctured again and had to abandon.
Many many thanks to all at Guidon Bellechon for another superb Fréderic Mistral.
Copy of the results here.