The GTL is a three day mountainbike stage race for teams of four across the mountains in the Creuse France. Now in it’s 5th year, I first heard of it two years ago, and this year I finally got the chance to ride it.
Our team consisted of Pete Harris (Pearce Cycles), Phil Roach (Rugby Velo), Ben Roach (Rugby Velo), and me. We were registered as Pearce Cycles/Rugby Velo, but as the days went on we became known as “Equipe Anglaise”, more on that later.
Signing on was at the Stade le Cheix in La Souterraine. This was also where we would finish three days later. The actual ‘retrait des plaques’ couldn’t have been easier. As well as our race number we got a goody bag with T shirt, powders, and info’ about the area. Once race numbers were fitted our next job was to load our bags and our bikes onto the waiting lorries, sounds like it’s gonna be stressful, but it was easy.
A lunch of pasta, cheese, ham, pate, bread, coffee, orange juice, and water followed. With 75km of tough racing ahead of us we ate well. Our bikes and kit went off in the lorries leaving us to climb aboard the waiting coaches in our race kit for the journey down to the start at Lac St Pardoux. The coach journey was very pleasant, Pete even managed a little power nap!
By the time we arrived at the lake the bikes had already been unloaded and were layed down in rows on the grass. We found our bikes easily, and we were ready for the off. A short speech (in French of course) from the organiser telling us to ride with care, a quick “bon courage” all round. The “Grande Depart” was right on time. Racing point to point on unseen terrain is a gas, and for the next four hours plus we raced over some spectacular tracks….. rocky, rooty, sandy, steep, sweeping, switchbacking, and a few stream crossings for good measure. The course marking and marshalling were excellent, leaving you to concentrate on riding. A team of bikers on enduro bikes worked a relay system to keep an eye on riders, and there were ambulances on standby should they be needed. We were well looked after. At road crossings the traffic was stopped for us, and as we raced through some of the tiny villages along the way people clapped and cheered!!!
Did I mention our team strategy? Right, as time for the team was taken on the first three team members to cross the line each day we decided that three would race, and the fourth would be the mule who would ride at an easier pace while carrying the team rucksack which contained all our spares.
We’d also decided that the racing three would stay pretty much together to spur each other on. Day one racers were Ben, Pete, and Me. Young Ben got a flyer of a start, and although Pete got away faster than me I could always see him up ahead. By the time we reached the first revitalment (food station @ 20km) Pete and I were riding together. Ben would wait for us from time to time, and tell us â€œIâ€™ve been waiting here three minutes for you two!â€?, then his youthful exuberance would get the better of him, and heâ€™d be gone again.
With four hours and twenty minutes on the clock Pete and I raced down into Bourganeuf town to face a stinging climb up to the race finish in the town center. The road was closed to traffic, and had barriers each side leading to the finish line. We crossed the line together to the applause of the crowd! Ben was already there waiting for us. We grabbed some food from the revitalment and sat in the sun to soak up the atmosphere. Phil arrived with the rucksack over an hour later!
Herbegements (accommodation) for racers overnight was a sports hall. There was plenty of bike washing facilities, and showers, so once we had got our bags and sorted some team space we set about cleaning ourselves up. Once clean there was time for to relax before Repas (dinner).
A starter of carrots and boiled eggs was followed by a huge steak with potatoes and veggies, all washed down with wine of course. This was followed by a selection of cheese, in turn followed by cake and coffee. We went to bed tired, but well fed. Lights out at 10:30.