It’s in La Creuse so you know it’s gonna be tough. 90 gruelling kms with big climbs, big descents, big rocks, big ruts, mud, sun, farmyard dogs, wild goats and a couple of tractors! This was the first running of a new event, and around 150 riders turned up to take it on.
At the 8am start I spied ‘me old mates’ Spesh and ROC from the sharp end of the Mandragore, so I can guess what’s coming. The start will be a bit frantic, then it’ll settle down with technical sections taken at full tilt, and easier sections or tarmac taken at leisure.
The promoting club have put a bunch of youths on the front, for photo purposes, amazingly enough they seem more interested in being photographed than racing, and they do a good job of blocking until we get out of sight. With no one to see, there’s a somewhat rough removal of the youths, and it’s ‘game on’. The pace becomes frantic.
“If I can just weather the storm, just hang on until they settle, I’ll be OK”, I tell myself. But I’m struggling and I feel like shit. This is hard. After a while, a group of around 8 riders is established at the front, and I’m there, but only just……and who’s turning the screws? You guessed it, Spesh and ROC. Why do they climb so fast to then not push on over the top? I dunno, I just suffer.
By the first ravitalment we are down to 5. The tower above St Goussard looms in the distance high above us. There’s a lot of climbing to do. By the second ravitalment high in the hills at 60kms we are down to 4, with me dangling off the back by 10 seconds. I force feed myself as fast as I can to make sure I don’t get left behind. I fill my bottle, my pockets, and lube my chain.
As we ride away my legs complain. I spin a low gear trying to be kind. There’s a rider in green on a Specialized Epic he takes the lead on the descents that follow. Dropping like a stone, riding like a nutter, he blows his front tyre out. I’m relieved! Spesh and ROC are no slouches on the descents, but I can just about stay with them. Over the next kilometers I’m dropped on the climbs, gapped on the descents, but manage to claw my way back on in between.
I just can’t go any faster, but I have so much base fitness that I’m sure I won’t slow down. I’m hoping Spesh and ROC will. With three and a half hours gone I notice that they don’t seem to be moving away so fast on the climbs, and just like at the Mandragore I notice that ROC gets frustrated at steep technical climbs. I don’t see it as a glimmer of hope, I’m just thankful that it slows his pace.
At the final ravitalment with 15kms to go. I know that if I stop, I’ll struggle to get going again. Spesh seems to be having trouble deciding where to lean his bike, he looks rough. I just fill my bottle and go. I’m thinking I can ride a little easier on my own, and they’ll catch me anyway.
Riding at my own pace, I eat a little, drink, and I start to feel OK. I start to push on. Now, the course marking isn’t the best I’ve seen, and I don’t want to miss any turns. A couple of times it crosses my mind that I could move markers so that I won’t be caught. That’s baaaaaaad, and I don’t. I make a couple of little mistakes, but nothing that costs me more than a few seconds, and I reckon Spesh and ROC will do the same anyway.
Over four hours on the clock, I aint bin caught, and now I have aspirations of being first rider home. It can’t be much further, and on every crest I’m scanning the skyline for La Souterraine. I climb into a small village, there’s no arrows, i’ve gone wrong! Merde! As I look back down the valley I can see a lone rider heading my way. I turn back in the hope that I’ll find the arrows before he does, but I don’t. It’s ROC, we back track together.
Back on track with a couple of minutes wasted I notice another rider approaching. It’s the Epic rider who blew his front tyre out. My hopes of being first rider home are dashed. We’re on the outskirts of La Souterraine, and sensing the finish Epic pushes on hard, ROC goes after him, I’m hanging on the back. A stroke of luck, the run in to the finish is the same one as was used for the Grand Traverse Limousin in May. I half remember it, it’s very fast, with a nasty bend somewhere. Epic is descending like a total nutter again, were going damn fast. Debris flys up from Epic’s wheels as he brakes hard and turns right, ROC can’t make it and crashes off the trail. Yep, nasty bend that, nearly crashed there myself in earlier in the year! 😉
Down to just the two of us, I’m right on him. We come to a road crossing. No marshals. Epic jumps across the road between a car and a van. Bloody mad! The van driver is furious. A safe gap in the traffic I take up the chase. Epic has a few bike lengths on me now. As we ride around the edge of the lake to the finish he thinks it’s in the bag. I put my head down and sprint. Epic spots me at the last minute. We cross the line together! First riders home. It wasn’t a ‘race’ anyway was it. 🙂
A shower in the ‘stade’ then repas. The food is laid out in such a way that I’m confused as to where to start. I ask. “First”, says the nice madame, “would you like a beer?”……. what an angel. The cold beer is like nectar….