A 155 kilometre French cyclo-sportive, not for the faint-hearted or those of a nervous disposition. 1200 cyclists are sent 4km back from the official start line to a staged “Grand Depart” in the centre of Limoges, 15 minutes is set aside for the riders to cover the 4km back to the real start. This is done by taking 15mins off everyones finish time (hope you’re following this). So if you cover the 4km faster than 15mins you’ve bought yourself some extra time for the 155km. Got it? This explains why the first few kilometres are ridden at such a breakneck speed.
Thanks to Theo and Christian (Le Comité d’organisation), I’m down near the front wearing number 148. My plan is to stay as near the front as possible and hang on in there. It’s the same plan as a few hundred other riders….
We’re away bang on time at 8am, it’s chilly, but the sky is blue, and the sun is shinning. We’re moving quick, we’re tightly packed, and I’m trying to hold my place. Up through the start at Panazol with hundreds of children cheering, waving balloons and banners. Climbing out of town protected by a fleet of motorbikes. It’s amazing!
Out on to the open roads now, and the first climb of the day, the 2.3kms up to Maison Brulee. We don’t slow down. If anything we’re going quicker! I can hear riders breathing hard, some going backwards, I’m OK, I move up a few places. Right now I’m sitting in the top twenty, right where I want to be. I’m comfy, I’m happy…
The kilometres fly by effortlessly. There’s riders attacking, trying to get off the front, I’m still sitting comfy near the front, but not on it. We’re on the 8km climb up to St Goussard now with 60kms behind us. A stylish rider in black is on the front putting the pressure on, it’s tough, but I’m OK, I’m holding my place. Over the top, past the Ravito (food stop), nobody stops.
Downhill now, for kilometer after kilometer, winding down across the hillsides, a sweeping rollercoaster ride. It’s cold in the shade, my hands are cold, and we’re going so fast that even in the sunny sections I don’t feel warm. I find myself slipping back a few places here, and a few places there. I’m not feeling good. I resolve to do another half-hour and then see how I feel.
At last, we’re working again, i’ve warmed up, and we’re on the climb at Maillofargueix. Now it’s tough, someone is putting the boot in. Gaps start to appear. I’m cursing for having allowed myself to fall back, i’m working flat out trying to move forward. A big group go clear, and I ain’t in it! For a few minutes i’m stuck on my own in no mans land, chasing hard, but not gaining. I sit up.
On to Razes, then Silord the home town of Andre Dufraisse. I’m in a group of around twenty riders, we’re chasing, and we’re not that far off, but not every one is working. The lead group is going full-tilt now, and every now and then we come across a rider who’s been shelled out. At Chateauponsac we’re two minutes down, with 50k to go, and some big hills to climb over. Past the Ravito without stopping. A motorcycle outrider with a cool bag between his knees comes among up asking if anyone needs water. Great service! As we hit small ramps I’m seeing tired legs. Some of these riders are suffering.
Through Compreignac then on to the 5km climb to the Sommet de la Cote de Beausoleil. This is a tough one, it’s where I fell apart last year, and I’m dreading it. I move near the front of the group so that if I start to lose ground I might still be in contact by the time we reach the top. The climb starts to bite, and you know what? I’m feeling good! Yes, it’s hard, but I’m pushing on, right at the front of the group. There’s riders going off the back, and by the time we reach the top we’re down to about 15 riders.
With the last big climb behind us we push on. I do a quick check around the group to see how many riders are in the same category as me (G cat = 50-54yrs). There’s three of us, one looks shot, but the other one looks strong, I remember him from last year. He thinks that there’s only one G rider up in front so we’re riding for 2nd on the podium. I know he’d like to beat me.
On the run in to Limoges with 10kms to go. We’re flying along. I’m thinking about how I’m gonna play my cards. Everytime I make a move my G cat buddy is there watching me. Inside the last 5kms. There’s D cat riders fighting it out, attacks thick and fast. I stay as close to the action as I can. A gutsy courageous rider from the Nieul club (Stephane) takes it on again and again. Counter attacks come from a couple of Dutch riders. On the short climb at Le Palais sur Vienne, Stephane takes it on again, stinging, stringing us out.
Into an almost dead stop turn with 150metres to the line. I go in in about 5th. Out of the saddle, sprinting hard, trying to be wide, I get past three, into the finish, we’re done. My G cat buddy is behind me.
29th rider home, 3rd G category rider home, in 04:26:45 (turns out there were two in the first group). Average speed for the 157kms with 2287metres of climbing was 35.314 kph.
The Repas was fabulous, I drank far too much red wine, and by the time my tired legs carried me onto the podium to collect my trophy I wanted to say…..”Thanks to everyone for a totally brilliant day out. To the organisers, all the helpers, everyone…..to the other riders for their camaraderie…to all the spectators who’d cheered us along the way… to the motorcycle riders who’d looked after us and kept us safe…. just everyone….Merci Beaucoup – J’espère rouler avec vous l’année prochaine a La Limousine Andre Dufraisse 2009″.