Nantiat -> Bénévent L’Abbaye – 75kms
I’ve been waiting months for this one. Three days racing my bike across one of the most beautiful regions of France. Yeah but the weather has been awful, and the trails are gonna be a bit mucky. Well, the forecast for the three days is good, and I don’t care.
Down at the start line I see lots of familiar faces. There’s a good hanful of local riders who are just doing the first stage. Stéphane Bernard from the Ambazac Sprinter Club joins me for a start line photo. “I want to be on your blog!”…..Bonjour Stéphane! 🙂
I line up close to the front. I have no expectations for this race, and my plan is to get into the fastest group I can and stay there as long as I possible. We’re away, behind a lead car, neutralised for the first km. The car pulls away, the pace hots up, I’m sitting in the top 20.
There’s a lot of climbing out of Nantiat, and as we swing off the tarmac the trail is greasy, it’s hard work, but I’m OK. Over the top, just one long string of riders, racing, fast, it’s great! The kms fly by, and little gaps start to appear, I’m in a group containing Jean-Philippe Meneteau (US Nantiat), and Christian Boutin (ACRR), good company.
There’s a rider in green who’s giving me a few problems. He’s a fast climber, but not so good on the descents. I keep ending up behind him. He takes us off the back of the group going down, I chase on the flats to get back on, he comes flying past on the climbs, and I’m stuck behind him again. Where I can I pass him, but often there only one line. Eventually he drops of the back of the group, and I can relax a little.
We’ve done about two hours now. The Creuse Oxgéne train comes through. That’s 5 young riders from the Creuse Oxygéne team, all working together, going like the clappers. Impressive! Within a couple of minutes they’re out of sight. Jean-Philippe has aslo flown, while Christian has lost ground. I’m riding on my own now. The terrain is tough. I’m not feeling as fresh as I was. One of the marshals tells me I’m in 13th position.
Over three hours gone, and around one more to do. Now it’s hard. Christian has caught me. I’m hanging on his wheel. Little twinges of cramp in my legs, just what I don’t need. Christian shows his skill climbing a wet rocky trail. He’s gone, I’m back on my own again. Now Stéphane catches me, I’m just hanging on. On some of the steeper ground I dismount and run, trying to use my legs in a different way so as not to cramp.
First real cramp. It just won’t let go, i’m forced to stop and stretch, it’s bad, it gives, i continue, a few minutes later it starts again. Riders are catching me now, i’m losing places, but try to maintain the fastest pace I can.
With 4:13:20.39 on the clock I climb up into Bénévent L’Abbaye to take 17th place.
Meanwhile my young friend ‘Pricer’, who’s doing the GTL for the first time is still out there, as is my brother Supawal. Pricer arrives looking a little shell-shocked in 4:33:26.55 for 31st place.
We wait for the arrival of Supawal, he’s taking his time to enjoy his ride. He doesn’t need to rush because he’s chosen to ride as a randoneur, sans classment. He rolls in, tired but happy, with stage one under his belt.