This is where it all started one year ago. My return to the racing life. We’d just moved to France, I just happened to find out about this event, and just about got in using my old BCF licence. Seems like a long time ago now. A lot has happend since then. Looking along the start line at the riders then I knew no one. Looking along the start line now I know most of them. Some of them have become good friends, and it gives me great pleasure to race with them. Anyway, enough reminiscing lets get on with it.
The circuit – from what I can remember the circuit is the same as last year except this time we’re racing it clockwise. It’s one big lap of 38kms raced as seen, no pre-ride, and that’s just how I like it. The weather has been very wet lately, and heavy overnight rain on top of saturated ground isn’t going to help. I’ve put some fast tyres on and banged them up to 50psi. I’m thinking that they’ll be much faster on the tarmac and hard ground, and where the ground is soft they’ll be no slower.
The start – a huge wide start line that funnels into a twin track after about 100metres. We just ain’t all gonna fit. I’m over on the right hand side, it’s a bit gravelly. Carla is racing too. We’re all starting together. They’re counting us down from three, we’re away just after two!
There’s plenty of elbow contact, but I manage to get away near the front. Just before the first bend I pass Carla. Wow! go girl!!! I make it into the lead group containing most of the main men. On to a tarmac section, the pace is fast. We’re going off to the left into a narrow chemin, no one brakes. Into the mud, it’s absolute chaos, riders coming to an almost standstill while others run into the back of them. Charley Baborier, the current junior regional champion comes flying by on my left. I scramble through the space left by his wake. Back out onto the tarmac again, I’m still hanging onto the lead group of about 7 riders.
Dropped – the next chemin is just as chaotic and i’m just off the back by about 10metres. Jean Claude Sansonnet (my arch ‘Vet B’ rival) is just ahead of me. He manages to hang on. Slowly, painfully slowly, the group moves away. I can see Jean Claude is having to work hard to stay on. But, he’s doin it, I ain’t. We’re in a loop around a forest now, the ground is soft, it’s hard work.
As we leave the forest plantation I catch sight of a small group chasing. Back onto some firmer farm tracks now, I mash the biggest gear I can, I’m moving damn quick, those hard tyres are working. I’m moving away from the chasers, and there’s a lone rider up ahead who’s dropped off the pace. It’s Jean Claude!
It’s goin good – It takes perhaps 2km, but I catch Jean Claude. I don’t ride right up to him. I’m trying to work out the best thing to do. I know there’s going to be some more really muddy wet sections up ahead, and JC floats on water. I clang up a gear and jump as hard as I can. Straight past. I know he’s going to try and get my wheel but not if I can help it……….I get a gap, and I’m growing it!
It’s goin bad – Off into the soft stuff again. Waterlogged grass, and deep puddles. I hope it’s short, but it’s not, Jean Claude comes back, comes by, and rides away. How’s he doing that? I can see from his expression as he passes that he’s working hard, but he rides away.
I’m coming to a standstill in places, running where I think it will be faster, resolved to stick to the task, work as hard as I can and hope for enough firm ground later on to give me another chance. Down a steep descent into a stream crossing. The organisers have put a danger sign up….. danger of what? drowning? Kilometer after kilometer of hateful stuff. I’m getting frustrated at not being able to get on with it. Eventually back onto some harder ground going fast.
There’s a long straight, no sign of JC up ahead. I glance at my watch. I want to time how long it takes me to ride this straight so I’ll have an idea of how far down I am. Into a farmyard, a sharp right, I’m sliding in a slurry of sloppy cow shit and farmyard filth, chickens run for cover, it’s a bonkers scene!
Dropping into the Gartempe Valley, along a shelf by the side of the river, it’s beautiful, with carpets of bluebells. As we wind up and down the side of the valley I catch sight of a rider behind me. It’s Marcel Buisson, JC’s team mate, he’s not that far behind! I try to lift my pace.
Toujours les mêmes – Some rocky rooty sections along the riverside now. Up a short bank, and there’s JC, he’s punctured. He has his front wheel out, tube out, and it looks like he won’t be long. I have to make the most of it, I’m back in the frame! I’m worried that JC and Marcel will work together. I must try and get out of sight.
Up and down the side of the valley, it’s agony, granny ring steep in places, but so slippy it’s unrideable. On one long straight climb I use my watch to try and measure my lead. I reckon it’s around a minute. Over the top and away. 1 hr 20mins done, can’t be much left now.
Through the bends I’m hugging the side that’ll keep me out of sight the best. I’m flat out now, I cannot go faster. Down a steep descent, through a right hander then a climb almost back on myself. I hear the screech of disk brakes of someone chasing.
I can hear the commentator on the PA now. Must be close. Another little twist, another little chemin, steep unrideable, a couple of riders doing the shorter rando hold me up momentarily, and then….. into the home straight 200metres to go.
I finished 5th scratch, some 8 minutes behind the winner Jean-Philippe Menneteau who completed the course in 1:48:08. I was first Vet B, though Christian Boutin was first Vet A some four minutes ahead. Marcel finished 6th just over a minute and a half back. Jean Claude took his time with that puncture and rolled in 10minutes later. Carla finished third in the womens race.
Later that afternoon after we’d washed our bikes and eaten, we fell asleep on the sofa exhausted. As I doze I ponder whether JC would have beat me if he hadn’t punctured! 😉
Update (23rd April) – Found a great picture of Carla getting a flying start on the Briance Roselle website.