Les Gantiers – 16th edition – VTT Raid, St Junien

Race actionIt’s the 16th running of the ‘Glovemakers’ mountainbike race at St Junien. It’s a comparatively flat, non technical 40km race that is usually run off at blistering speed. Here’s how it went…

The start – It’s about 3km of tarmac before we cross a ditch into the first off-road section. It’s one bike wide going in! I’m guessing that there’s gonna be loads of big roadies blasting the tarmac section and it’s gonna be chaos.

I’ve had a good warm up, and get a good spot on the front line for the start. The organiser keeps us on the start line for 10 minutes! He’s not happy that some riders have not respected the start line, and he calls all the promoting clubs riders to the front of the grid! OK now I’m on the third line.

The Off
– They do the “3-2-1” thing, and we’re away. Diving around the St Junien riders I’m second in line as we hit the first climb. We don’t seem to be going that fast, and I’m worried that we’re gonna get swamped. A couple of riders put in a surge, but I’m able to cover it. Now we are on the top road, a quick look over my shoulder, we’re fairly lined out, I wait. 500m to go to the bottleneck, a big rider attacks, I go after him. We are almost there, and he’s dying, I glance over my shoulder, here comes the charge. I didn’t really want to be in this position, but there’s no choice. I jump hard, and i’m first off-road.

The Escape – Riding the first off-road section blind with a couple of hundred riders breathing down my neck. I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m listening hard, there’s no one right on my wheel, but they’re not far off. Back onto the tarmac, a big rider from the Ambazac Sprinter Club comes past. I get his wheel.

My old racing buddy Spesh (Jean Phillipe) arrives at the front. I sus that he did’nt arrive there just then for no good reason. We go left onto a steep narrow rooty bank. Jean Phillipe takes the lead, I’m third in. As we power up over roots, it’s tricky and I can hear riders behind slipping and unclipping. Jean Phillipe can hear it too, and he puts the hammer down. Ambazac is chasing hard, but he’s letting a gap grow. I can’t get past because there’s now way of knowing what’s under the leaves off the racing line. A short section of fire road. I jump around Ambazac, and a Nieul CC rider (Olivier) jumps around me. Into the singletrack again. In no time Olivier has caught Jean Phillipe, i’m dangling. We’re climbing out of a valley, short ramps and banks, but all the time trending uphill. It’s agony, I’m making painfully slow progress. Onto tarmac again, the gradient eases. It’s now or never, I give all i’ve got, and join the two leaders. A quick glance back, there’s no one in sight.

A big roadie arrives – It takes me a couple of minutes to recover, but I’m OK. We’re going pretty quick, Olivier seems quite happy to do the lions share of the work. I’m starting to think I can make the podium when a big roadie joins us. I don’t know that he’s a roadie, I’m just guessing that his is by his size, and the way he is on his bike. He’s strong, and on the tarmac sections he goes to the front and tries to ride us off his wheel! It’s like sitting behind a derny.

With four of us in the group someone is going to be disappointed. I’m looking for signs of weakness in the other three. Olivier is looking comfortable, though when our roadie jumps he seems a bit slow to respond. Jean Phillipe looks good too, though I notice him fighting a bit on some of the steeper ramps. Roadie is strong, young, and keen, though he doesn’t seem so sure of himself in the singletrack. Surely I can beat one of them to get on the podium.

Shakedown 1 – With about an hour done, we’re heading back in the general direction of St Junien. Time is running out. Roadie has just put in a couple of hard attacks. Jean Phillipe is waving me to go through. We turn into a narrow windy chemin, I take the lead, and turn it on. I go hard, very hard, stamping up each rise, and pushing on. The chemin is like a roller coaster with some tricky holes, roots, and ruts all cleverly concealed with a carpet of leaves. Back onto the tarmac, I glance over my shoulder. Olivier is on my wheel, he looks fine, Jean Phillipe is next, fine, but roadie is off. I keep up the pressure and were into the next chemin for more of the same. By the time we come back out roadie is nowhere to be seen. I’m keen for him not to get back on, Olivier must be too because he goes to the front to keep the pace high. We can’t have more than a few km left to do now, and were flying along.

Shakedown 2
– We cross under the main auto-route which means we are about 5km from home. Olivier is going for it, we’re just hanging on. On the final descent Olivier drops like a stone and is gone! I’m chasing hard, with Jean Phillipe chasing me. Along the River Glane valley the track is a little wider. I move across and Jean Phillipe comes through. I can see the finish now through the trees up above us. We burst out of the trees onto the final climb, it’s steep and gravelly, I’m stuck in my middle ring. Jean Phillipe kicks hard, so hard that he loses traction, I pull alongside, then slowly pass him. By the time we crest the climb I have twenty metres. I clang up a couple of gears and kick again. It’s agony. On to the tarmac in the last 500m, a quick glance, he’s not there, I look again in case i’ve missed him. One final ramp to the line.

2nd rider home! Gotta be first ‘Veteran B’ 🙂 1hr 34mins.

Analysis – It felt fantastic to be at the front of the race. To be there doing it, making a contribution rather than being on the recieving end all the time. Yes it hurt, yes it was hard, but if it wasn’t hard there’d be no point doin’ it.

Back in the car park I took a look at Jean Phillipe’s bike. His tyres were no harder or softer than mine. He was running a Schwalbe Nobby Nic. I was running Hutchinson Piranhas. Maybe I was lucky to be stuck in the middle ring on that last climb. Maybe the shallower tread on my Piranhas hooked up better in the shallow gravel on that last climb. I dunno.

Later that evening I studied the results, then did a search through the results for last year’s UFOLEP events. Turns out that Olivier has just turned 40, so he’s ‘veteran A’. Last year he was second in the regional championships. Meanwhile my old mate Jean Phillipe (Spesh) was the departmental and regional champion. Good company!

I’m thrilled with this result, and can’t believe my form. But like I said to my friend Theodore (same age as me), “S’il est possible à moi, il est possible à toi également!”.

Meanwhile – Carla is first woman home in the 40kms rando! She doesn’t like racing.

2 thoughts on “Les Gantiers – 16th edition – VTT Raid, St Junien

  1. Hi.

    “Félicitations” on your race result!

    Really enjoy your blog and look forward to reading it as it is well written, and also enjoy the photographs on your site.

    We did some riding this year in Swiss Normandy and have booked to go back there next year – your life makes us so jealous!! 😉 I guess we’ll have to work hard and save our pennies like you did… but the bike bling keeps on calling.

    Looking forward to next month’s instalment.

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