Ist ride out of 2010…

First of all….. Happy New Year!!! I hope you all have a great season.
Premiere sortie 2010
Right, so first outing of 2010 was with the ROCC boys on the road. I checked on their website to see where they were going, and decided that I’d go on my mountainbike. Why? Because i’d stay warmer working that bit harder to keep up, and I could cut the circuit short at St Martin de Jussac. I persuaded my visiting friend Marcus to do the same.

We met up with the guys at the usual meeting place near the Chateau in Rochechouart. Evryone was in jovial mood, greetings exchanged, and so on, then off we went…… yeah, but not on the published route, oh no, somewhere bleedin’ else. Certain riders voiced there concerns about not following the published circuit. The answer was that the published circuit was too hard!!!

As the ride progressed, certain riders began to push the pace. It became very brisk. Certain riders began hammering very hard. This is not good early season training in my book. We pulled out, with certain riders being noted for a damn good kicking later in the season! 😉

We rode home steady. We’d done two hours forty five, plenty. We cracked open a can of beer, and talked about who should be top of the hit list amongst the ‘certain’ riders. 😉

Les Mégalithes – 16éme édition – VTT Rando

Les Megalithes - JaverdatLes Mégalithes, it’s the one where we started, the first Rando we ever did when we moved to France. Today was the fourth time I’ve ridden it, and it’s still one of my favourites.

42 kms around the western end of the Monts de Blond taking in some trails that I just love. There’s no “grand depart”, you’re free to start any time between 08:45 and 09:00. You ride at your own speed. It’s not a race. But on such a beautiful morning, on fast dry trails, riding my race bike, I can’t stop myself.

What is it about ‘Les Mégalithes’? Every time I’ve ridden it I’ve felt just great. For the first few kilometers I ride brisk, but steady. There’s some greeting and handshaking to be done. Then the pace picks up. On the first long climb, I’m breathing hard, and my legs are stinging. Feels great! On the first big descent, foot out, throwing some random shapes, I’m all over the place. Awesome.

In what seems like no time at all I’m hammering down the wide tracks back into Javerdat, in my biggest gear and mashing like a good ‘un. I rode it as hard as I’d race it, while still showing some courtesy to other riders. 42 kms blitzed out in 1:50. I’m euphoric! Just had my fix!

Many many thanks to A. C. Oradour-sur-Glane, and A. S. Saint-Junien Cyclo for a superb rando. As usual Les Mégalithes = Nickel!.

A big “Hello!!!!”, to Stephane of the Ambazac Sprinter Club, and Marco of the Saint Leger la Montagne. Haven’t seen you guys in a while. It was great to ride with you again.

Preparation is Everything…

3 steps to perfect preparation!

Step 1 – Saturday afternoon road ride with the ROCC. It’s a tough 95 km loop down around Montbron. Normally there’s around 30 riders to share the work, but with a lot away on a touring trip, a few on holiday, plus the very hot weather, the fast group is just 6 of us. All the way to St Mathieu a young lad from the St Junien club sets a tough pace, then he turns off! He’s racing next day and is just doing a brisk hour. We continue at a more sensible pace until we hit the climbs after Montbron when the competitive streak kicks in. We race up the climbs, then regroup at the top. On the way home, down the last 20 kms or so, the pace lifts. By the time we get to St Gervais there’s just three of us, and it’s tough. The one lad who’s been inflicting pain seems to be weakening. It’s pay back time. I move to the front and start turning the screw. The sun is on our backs now, so I can see the shadow of the following rider. I ride hard, very hard, even down the last descent into Rochechouart, no brakes, topping out.

Step 2 – Sunday – Rando du Menhir, a 56 km VTT rando organized by Briance Roselle Aventure. Just to make things a little tougher I’m late for the start. The tail end of 250 riders is just leaving when I jump on. My legs are a little jaded, so I spin rather than shove for the first few kilometers. These randos aren’t races, though there’s always a bunch who like to ride fast, me included.

I work my way through the back markers. As my legs loosen I’m going quicker and quicker. After one hour chasing hard I reach the first ravito (food stop) just as some of my racing buddies are leaving. I’d like to catch them if I can. I grab some food, fill my bottle, and give chase. I’m gaining, but painfully slowly, and while I’m working hard, they look like they’re cruising. It takes me a further 30 minutes to finally latch onto a group containing Nantiat riders Jean-Phi and Lionel. I stay at the back, eat some food, and try to recover. The pace is steady fast.

It’s all going well until a rider from the Ambazac Sprinter Club starts jumping about on the climbs. I was OK with the steady fast, but the steady fast with accelerations on the climbs finishes me. I’m yo-yoing off the back, and then I’m gone. I continue to work hard on my own, and I can always see the group not far ahead, but I don’t catch them until they stop at the final ravito.

Yep, and at the final ravito the organizers have put on a bit of a spread, on top of the usual stuff there’s hot sausages, ham, and wine. I know if I stop I’ll struggle to go again, and although Lionel is telling me how good the sausages are, I refill my bottle, grab a handful of sweets, and roll on. With 2:45 on the clock I’m thinking I can’t be far from home. Rattling down a descent something flies into my mouth, and stings me. I spit it out, but I’m going to fast to see what it is. Whatever it is it ain’t very pleasant. Just adds to the preparation eh?

Step 3 – Monday – Chasing the Tour de France. The TDF is racing out of Limoges on Tuesday. Monday is a rest day. My buddy Eric suggests that we ride into Limoges on Monday to see if we can spot any of the pro teams out loosening their legs. Cruising around Limoges looking for the TDF sounds great to me, there’ll probably be loads of riders out doing the same thing. I put my best kit on, and away we go. Only thing is, Eric’s idea is a little different to mine, and instead of the gentle cruise I had in mind we end up tearing around Limoges like nutters in search of something that we never find. Not one team car, not one rider, nothing. Some kids cheer as we ride by, maybe they’re mistaking us for pro’s (bloody wishful thinking that eh?). Whatever, it lights Eric up, and as the lights up ahead turn to red he sprints through them, I check both ways before following. Eric does the same through the next two sets of lights. Sprinting down the middle of the road like a madman. Eventually, at the fourth set of lights we have to stop cos’ were going left. A police car pulls alongside Eric and the Gendarme reminds him that red lights are for cyclists too.

I cannot face riding back through Limoges and home via Veyrac. I suggest to Eric that we follow the valley road along the banks of the Vienne to Aixe, cross the river there, then follow the opposite bank to St Martin de Jussac before climbing out of the valley for home. Eric agrees. The heat along the valley is intense. I’m absolutely cooked. I won’t be riding tomorrow cos’ I’m gonna go watch ‘Le Tour’. Getting low on water too. At times like this it’d be so easy to crash down through the gears and continue at a snails pace, but that just prolongs the agony. I cut the remainder of the ride into sections in my mind to make it more manageable. Valley to Aixe, Aixe to St Victurnien, St Vic to St Martin, St Martin to home.

Through Aixe I keep my eye open for a tap. I’m dry. Nothing. We cross the river, and continue along the other bank. It’s hillier on this side. I stand on the climbs to give my backside a break. I’m gonna stop at St Martin de Jussac for water. I tell Eric.

All that preparation, three days of tough riding, worth every second for….at St Martin de Jussac there’s a natural spring, and it’s drinkable. We stop. I rinse my bottle, then drink. Undoubtedly the best water I have ever tasted.

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.

Mrs Stratobiker down!

Mrs Stratobiker crashed her bike yesterday. She doesn’t crash very often, but when she does….. we were haring down a farm track, it’s a bright sunny day, I’m on the front, Mrs S is close behind. Flying around a corner, there’s some big tractor ruts, we’re trapped in the right hand one, oh no, there’s water and mud! I compress the bike, unweight it, flick of the wrists and I’m up and out onto the dry centre section. I expect you can guess what’s coming next. Mrs S does the same but catches her back wheel on the edge and goes down……. in the rut…..slides along it she does… it’s not funny! She’s covered in it, it’s all in her helmet her hair, she can’t see ‘cos her glasses are covered. She can’t decide whether to laugh or cry, and she’s very sore.

I had to go on the front all the way home. Made her strip off outside, sent her in the shower, gave her a large glass of whiskey. Looked after her proper. She’s a bit sore today, but she’s OK. Gave her the lecture. You know the one about being selfish, and who’s gonna look after me if she’s injured. 😉

No pictures, ‘cos it’s just not right to show a cyclist when they’re down.

Cognac la Foret sur les Chemins

One of my favourite training rides is a loop up around Cognac la Foret. I use it for an easy spin, a balls-out loop, and it sections off nicely for interval traing. Straight out of the door riden briskly it’s roughly 2 hours in total. It goes summat like this……….

Through the chemin at the bottom of our road and onto the tarmac. Through L’Age then along the valley road towards St Auvent. Cross the foot bridge then climb the old Pavé, tough! Through the pretty village of St Auvent, and onto St Cyr. After St Cyr there’s an open track that leads right the way through to almost the top of the forest. A couple of tricky granny ring climbs, and you’re there, halfway round at the highest point of the ride. Dive down some swoopy stuff, some nice flowing forest trails before a fast blast across open farmland drops you onto the tarmac 2kms from home. I normally play time trialists here, seeing if I can stay on top of my gear on the drags. There’s a final singletrack descent into the village, and that’s it.

Why not give it a try yourself?…………………..

Monts de Blond encore!

Magical Mystical Monts de Blond
You knows I loves it up there dontcha? and I goes up there on me road bike and me mountainbike? Well last week I went up there no less than four times (2*VTT, 2*Road). I dunno what it is about the place, I just love it there. The magical mystical Monts de Blond have cast a spell over me such that yesterday I set off for a ride and just ended up there, by magic!

It was a lovely sunny afternoon. I set of with nowhere in mind really. Haven’t been up by Brigueuil for ages. It’s nice there. So when Carla asked me where I was headed that’s where I told her.

Muse de Corot, also known as the Carlabout!

Dropped down through St Junien, up past the cheeky “Muse de Corot”, then on towards Brigueuil. The road climbs steadily kilometer after kilometer. I’m in no rush, and as I amble along, my mind drifts. This was one of the first roads I ever rode in the area. I remember riding it with some lads from AS St-Junien. I don’t remember who they were, I was on holiday then, but I probably know them quite well now. I pass the road crossing point from the Departmentals a couple of weeks back, then the St Junien – St Junien VTT race. Into Brigueuil village, I remember we looked at a house here, once……..

I take the turn for St Christophe for no reason whatsoever. The Spring flowers along the side of the road are fabulous. The countryside looks so green and lush. I’m still gaining height. At St Christophe I take the Nouic road. Been there once before. As I drift along aimlessly on the deserted roads it occurs to me that drifting along aimlessly isn’t such a bad thing.

Still climbing towards the ridge up ahead. At the ridge there’s a road that looks as though it runs along it. I turn right. A few kilometers further on there’s a view point with views all the way back past St Junien to the South, and Bellac to the North. A road sign tells me I’m headed towards Salomon. I know where I am now. I cross the GR Mandragore trail. Yes, the very same one where I crashed last year in the VTT Rando Marathon en route to the Monts de Blond!

Just past Salomon I hit the main Bellac – St Junien road. I turn left for Mortemart. The super smooth road dives down through the trees on the North side of the hills. I’m topped out spinning. Into the old town of Mortemart, then right off the main road towards Blond. I’m now on the dead straight roller-coaster that runs along the back of the Monts de Blond. There’s old paint on the road from the 2007 “Tour du Limousin” pro’ bike race. I remember spending a happy afternoon watching that with Carla.

At Blond I turn right for Cieux. It’s a long climb back up over the Monts, not steep, just long. As I climb I pass other landmarks that remind me of races or rides that I’ve done. I’ve been in France full-time for two years now. That’s a lot of riding.

Along the top there are pear trees in full blossom. The bright pink against the blue sky and verdant green of the hills is beautiful. The road turns downhill now. Some fast sweeping bends with a vista over the sparkling lakes near Cieux. I glance at my watch. The spell is broken. I have two and a half hours on the clock, I told Carla I’d be three. Time to up the pace for home.

Cieux to Javerdat is a tough road. It’s a ‘rural’ surface with some tough ramps. I keep it in the big ring and power up them. My legs sting. Through Javerdat where the road is blocked by the bread van and a couple of dogs waiting for their owner who’s buying bread. I slow down a moment. The next section is fast. It’d be great if a moped would come along now so that I could try and get it’s wheel, but nothing.

Into St Junien, the traffic quite heavy as I race down through the town. I can see a cyclist ahead. He’s moving quite quick. He gets held up at the lights. It’s James from the ROCC. We exchange greetings. He tells me “J’ai été dans les Monts de Blond aujourd’hui. Il est très beau là-bas”. I agree 😉

A fast moving bunch…

Fast moving bunch
There’s a fast moving bunch of around thirty cyclists bowling along effortlessly on deserted country lanes of rural France. It’s a beautiful warm spring day. They chat about nothing in particular, everything in general. There are carpets of spring flower along the verges, and early blossom on the trees. This is the Wednesday afternoon ride out first half.

Same scene some three hours later. Now the bunch are moving much quicker. The legs are doing the talking now. The strong men have moved to the front and are taking it in turns to tow the bunch along. On the long drags the pace picks up even higher. Those who cannot hang on any longer are dropped. Inside the last five kilometers to home, just eight riders left.

A fantastic afternoon training with the FFC club riders from North Limoges. I really enjoy these workouts, they’re tough. Whooshing along in a hardworking bunch of cyclists mixing pain with adrenaline…… and after? a jam and banana sandwich with fizzy water. Awesome.

12̩me Bonnac X-Tr̩me РVTT Rando

It’s 40kms, yay! It’s a mass start. yay! The circuit has a profile like sharks teeth!, whoooooo!!!

I much prefer the mass start to the dribble away anytime you like between x and y hours. It’s more fun. I’m right up near the front so that I’ll get shoved along by all the riders behind me. We’re away bang on 9am.

Lionel from the US Nantiat is making the pace. I get his wheel. We’re going quick, and my legs still feel a bit tired from yesterdays efforts, but I’m OK. On to the first climb, there’s a couple of sharp bends. Lionel has towed us away, quite a gap, just Stephane the big Ambazac Sprinter Club rider making his way to join us.

The next 10kms or so are superb. Excellent trails, we seem to be going quicker and quicker. Lionel and Stephane are chatting away, even on the climbs. I’m suffering a bit. How can they climb so fast while holding a conversation? Anyway, they’re so busy chatting, and I’m so busy hanging on that we miss a turn, and a couple of kilometers later we’ve come to a dead end!

Back on track, Pierre Barateau (Ambazac Sprinter Club) is up ahead. We catch him, and the four of us ride together. We’re high up in the hills above Compregniac now. I recognise some of these trails from the Thouron rando a few weeks back. We make a right turn into a forest descent. It’s a good one, flowing, twisty rollercoaster stuff.

Chaos ensues. Lionel catches a root, gets crossed up, but manages to hang on by the skin of his teeth, Pierre’s front skewer comes undone, and Stephane takes off like a bullet shot from a high powered rifle. Lionel gives chase, I chase Lionel, and Pierre, having tightened his skewer chases me.

Now we’re going like the clappers, totally ‘a bloc’, and so it continues for the next 30mins. I manage to catch Lionel by virtue of the fact that I remember a couple of desents from previous randos. But it’s as if Stephane has disappeared.

Two hours on the clock, we must be almost home. We’re in the traffic of riders tackling the shorter circuits now. We’re actually riding part of the circuit used for the 24hrs de Bonnac, it’s in good condition considering we’re just coming out of winter.

We hammer the last couple of kms. There at the bike wash is Stephane. He reckons that he just carried on riding at normal pace and it must have been us that slowed down!!!

Here’s a gratuitous pic of me on the trails……
SB on the trails

Reconnaissance de circuit VTT Departmental 2009

The VTT Departmental Championships are being held in St Junien this year, just 10mins away. Plus, just like any other year, the host club gives riders a couple of chances to make a reconnaissance of the circuit 3 and 1 week ahead of the race. This is great because it you can tailor your last minute training to suit.

The first lap is ridden en masse

Last Saturday was the first of two dates for St Junien, and as it was dry, I went along, yeah, so did just about everyone!

First lap is ridden en masse, with St Junien riders explaining anything that needs explaining. After that you’re free to do as many laps as you like.

Right, the start is fast, very fast. There’s a 200metre straight away before doubling back along the top of a steep escarpment. Next a fast descent down to the riverside, we’ll be like lemmings on the day.

Heading downstream over fast rocky ground, then sharp right past some old mills, then hook left, right, and onto the first climb. It’s not steep, but at race pace it’s gonna be tough, and lasts about 3 minutes. There’s a brief respite before climbing again. A short descent, then 90 left onto a very steep ramp 100metres to the top. Traction is key here, lose it and you’ll waste a lot of energy. Over the top, through a dip and onto the second ramp, not quite as steep, but slightly longer.

Still climbing, but only just, we cross the bridge over the Limoges-Angoulême road. A sharp right, another short climb, and we’re at the top of the circuit. The next few kms are mostly downhill, and very fast. Arriving back at the river, we turn right then wind our way along the valley side on sweet singletrack.

At the top of thye circuit. All downhill from here!

Almost home now, just two steep ramps to complete the 9km lap. These are tough. You wouldn’t want to be in a ‘head to head’ here. That would hurt!

So, sighting lap done, I do the next 2 laps with Jerome and the flying Baborier brothers. These boys are fast, I’m sure we’re going faster than race pace. Yeah, we must be, ‘cos the third lap the pace is a bit more sensible.

To sum the course up. Very fast, not overly technical, though you’ll need to be skillful to ride it superfast. It’s dry at the moment, and due to the rocky ground it could take a fair bit of rain and still be quick. A course for the strong and the brave. 🙂