3 steps to perfect preparation!
Step 1 – Saturday afternoon road ride with the ROCC. It’s a tough 95 km loop down around Montbron. Normally there’s around 30 riders to share the work, but with a lot away on a touring trip, a few on holiday, plus the very hot weather, the fast group is just 6 of us. All the way to St Mathieu a young lad from the St Junien club sets a tough pace, then he turns off! He’s racing next day and is just doing a brisk hour. We continue at a more sensible pace until we hit the climbs after Montbron when the competitive streak kicks in. We race up the climbs, then regroup at the top. On the way home, down the last 20 kms or so, the pace lifts. By the time we get to St Gervais there’s just three of us, and it’s tough. The one lad who’s been inflicting pain seems to be weakening. It’s pay back time. I move to the front and start turning the screw. The sun is on our backs now, so I can see the shadow of the following rider. I ride hard, very hard, even down the last descent into Rochechouart, no brakes, topping out.
Step 2 – Sunday – Rando du Menhir, a 56 km VTT rando organized by Briance Roselle Aventure. Just to make things a little tougher I’m late for the start. The tail end of 250 riders is just leaving when I jump on. My legs are a little jaded, so I spin rather than shove for the first few kilometers. These randos aren’t races, though there’s always a bunch who like to ride fast, me included.
I work my way through the back markers. As my legs loosen I’m going quicker and quicker. After one hour chasing hard I reach the first ravito (food stop) just as some of my racing buddies are leaving. I’d like to catch them if I can. I grab some food, fill my bottle, and give chase. I’m gaining, but painfully slowly, and while I’m working hard, they look like they’re cruising. It takes me a further 30 minutes to finally latch onto a group containing Nantiat riders Jean-Phi and Lionel. I stay at the back, eat some food, and try to recover. The pace is steady fast.
It’s all going well until a rider from the Ambazac Sprinter Club starts jumping about on the climbs. I was OK with the steady fast, but the steady fast with accelerations on the climbs finishes me. I’m yo-yoing off the back, and then I’m gone. I continue to work hard on my own, and I can always see the group not far ahead, but I don’t catch them until they stop at the final ravito.
Yep, and at the final ravito the organizers have put on a bit of a spread, on top of the usual stuff there’s hot sausages, ham, and wine. I know if I stop I’ll struggle to go again, and although Lionel is telling me how good the sausages are, I refill my bottle, grab a handful of sweets, and roll on. With 2:45 on the clock I’m thinking I can’t be far from home. Rattling down a descent something flies into my mouth, and stings me. I spit it out, but I’m going to fast to see what it is. Whatever it is it ain’t very pleasant. Just adds to the preparation eh?
Step 3 – Monday – Chasing the Tour de France. The TDF is racing out of Limoges on Tuesday. Monday is a rest day. My buddy Eric suggests that we ride into Limoges on Monday to see if we can spot any of the pro teams out loosening their legs. Cruising around Limoges looking for the TDF sounds great to me, there’ll probably be loads of riders out doing the same thing. I put my best kit on, and away we go. Only thing is, Eric’s idea is a little different to mine, and instead of the gentle cruise I had in mind we end up tearing around Limoges like nutters in search of something that we never find. Not one team car, not one rider, nothing. Some kids cheer as we ride by, maybe they’re mistaking us for pro’s (bloody wishful thinking that eh?). Whatever, it lights Eric up, and as the lights up ahead turn to red he sprints through them, I check both ways before following. Eric does the same through the next two sets of lights. Sprinting down the middle of the road like a madman. Eventually, at the fourth set of lights we have to stop cos’ were going left. A police car pulls alongside Eric and the Gendarme reminds him that red lights are for cyclists too.
I cannot face riding back through Limoges and home via Veyrac. I suggest to Eric that we follow the valley road along the banks of the Vienne to Aixe, cross the river there, then follow the opposite bank to St Martin de Jussac before climbing out of the valley for home. Eric agrees. The heat along the valley is intense. I’m absolutely cooked. I won’t be riding tomorrow cos’ I’m gonna go watch ‘Le Tour’. Getting low on water too. At times like this it’d be so easy to crash down through the gears and continue at a snails pace, but that just prolongs the agony. I cut the remainder of the ride into sections in my mind to make it more manageable. Valley to Aixe, Aixe to St Victurnien, St Vic to St Martin, St Martin to home.
Through Aixe I keep my eye open for a tap. I’m dry. Nothing. We cross the river, and continue along the other bank. It’s hillier on this side. I stand on the climbs to give my backside a break. I’m gonna stop at St Martin de Jussac for water. I tell Eric.
All that preparation, three days of tough riding, worth every second for….at St Martin de Jussac there’s a natural spring, and it’s drinkable. We stop. I rinse my bottle, then drink. Undoubtedly the best water I have ever tasted.