GuÃ©ret – La Souterraine 60kms
After a great nights sleep it’s an early start for the final stage. Crawling out of my sleeping bag I feel pretty good, nowhere near as stiff and tired as I was expecting. It’s now 6am, and what happens in the next hour and a half is nothing short of amazing. By 7:30am over 250 riders have been fed, their bags packed, and the hall cleared. We joke that there must be a basketball match on at eight.
We are on our bikes rolling along in a neutralised sort of way through the town of GuÃ©ret enroute to the start. Our plan today? Every man for himself! After two days of waiting for the ‘old fellas’ Ben is keen to race near the front. I’m keen to measure myself also as this is my first big race for years. The obligatory speech from the organiser and we’re on our way.
It’s uphill out of the town, but it’s not too bad as it climbs then eases then climbs again. The pace is high, and it’s hard to move up. On the higher ground the terrain is more rolling. I’ve managed to claw my way onto the back of a group of ten riders being dragged along by a couple of engines. I cannot believe how fast we are going as the two engines batter against each other. Why? I know not, maybe it’s personal.
We cover the first 20k to the revitalment in 50mins. One of the engines goes straight past without stopping. I grab a quick pocketful of apricots a chase after him spurred on by the fact that Pete and Phil have just arrived. Back with engine number one, we are a much smaller group of six with an hour and a quarter gone. I’m feeling great, and I move to the front along a tarmac section to make my contribution. We hit a rise, the pain starts, and I’m wishing I’d stayed where I was. I press hard on the pedals, I don’t want to be swamped. In my best Limousin style I get out of the saddle to finish the climb off. A quick glance under my arm, and I’m off the front of the group!!! I push on.
For the next forty minutes I’m racing hard. Haven’t felt this good in ages, I’m really racing. I catch lots of riders, especially on the long drags. All those training miles come flooding out. It’s getting hot now, just under two and a half hours gone. I look back to see engine number one chasing me, he’s gaining, he catches me just as I catch two others. The bigger of the two that we have just caught doesn’t like it and tries to break the group by sprinting up the shorter climbs. The engine is comfy, the fourth struggles on the climbs, but gets back on on the descents. We continue like this for a while. It’s starting to hurt now.
Big lad blows, the engine rides away, I scramble after him but cannot catch him, number four chases me. The terrain is much more rural now, and there some stream beds and stinking muddy sections to break rhythm. I’ve got around 30secs on number four, and I’d really like to keep it that way. I’m looking for some sort of sign that we are near to the finish. A big fishing lake with lots of anglers, they cheer us on. A road crossing, the marshal shouts 5km to go. Just 5km, no point in saving anything now I give my all. Into a tight corner my front wheel washes out, I loose all my speed, that’ll have cost me, mustn’t get ragged.
The last couple of kms are slightly down hill and the trails are super fast. There’s more people around, cheering and clapping. I’m enjoying it so much I almost dont want it to end!!! After three hours and four minutes I cross the finish line. What a race!