11th Raid des Feuillardiers at Flavignac

I’m woken at 4am by the sound of the rain. Peering through the window I can see that it’s hammering down. It just can’t rain much harder than it is. I lie awake for the next two hours listening to the rain, and wondering if the event will even be on, or if i’ll even be able to get to Flavignac. We’ve been having heavy rain showers over the last few days, and more rain is not gonna help.

By 6am I’m up, and having breakfast. The rain has eased, and I’m looking forward to a wet race. Carla thinks I’m mad. Not mad, just compulsive. By 7am I’m on my way. It’s starting to get light. Over the high ground near Cognac le Foret I’m looking out on a huge storm filled sky. But, there are gaps when the sun shines through!

Down the last few miles I’m looking for signs that something is happening. Wondering why I’m not part of a convoy of vehicles on their way to the race. Arriving at Flavignac, the signs are good. There’s a few riders unloading bikes in the car park. There’s activity at the Salle d Fete, riders signing on!

Away from the start - thats me on the far right

There’s a cold blustery wind blowing, a thorough warm up is going to be essential. I’m on my bike well before 8:30 ready for the 8:50 start. At first there’s only three of us riding up and down the start straight, but as start time approaches there’s loads. All the usual suspects are there. 5 minutes to go, and the organiser calls us to the start line. I manage to get a place on the front row. A few words from the promoting club president and we’re on our way!

Hammering up the tarmac and onto the grass. I’m in the first ten, it’s very wet, there’s a bit of shoving and some friendly banter 🙂 Back onto the tarmac to race out of town, I shift to a bigger gear and kick. My chain starts to jump! It’s a new chain, and I had tested it. It’s jumping on the lower end of the block (smaller sprockets). There’s no debris in it. I shift back up to find a gear that works and spin. This is not a great start.

Crossing a small wooden bridge and the St Junien rider in front of me goes down hard! He’s OK, but he’s holding us up, there’s no way around. He’s back on his bike in 10 seconds, but now there’s a 10 second gap to make up. I press on, my gears jump.

Into the real off-road stuff now. Long rocky climbs cascading with water, like riding up a stream bed. Long descents with huge puddles and mud. I’m holding my place, but i’ve lost contact with the leaders. We’re firing down a huge hillside, rocks and ruts hidden by water, the blustery wind not making it any easier to hold line, and now it starts to rain. A sharp left, I grab my brakes, they hardly work, I overshoot, but manage to catch myself on the edge of the trail. This is not going well.

Just when things weren’t going well, they went worse. On a sharp bend I catch a glimpse of my arch-rival Jean-Claude Sansonnet, he’s almost on me. I spend the next twenty minutes trying to lose him and I cant. We pull out onto a tarmac climb, I lift the pace, but I’m going nowhere. Jean-Claude Sansonnet comes past me. For the next twenty minutes it’s Jean-Claude Sansonnet trying to lose me. We’re back in the hills, now it’s raining hard, very hard, it’s turning to hail, I’m cold, very cold, and slowly, very slowly, he’s moving away.

To sum up, at this point – I’m cold, my feet and hands are numb, my back brake doesn’t work, my gears keep jumping, and I’m taking a pasting. Now don’t get me wrong, don’t for one second think that I’m complaining or not enjoying this. I wouldn’t swap a moment of it. I’m privileged, one way or another I’ve come a long way to be here today.

I’m working as hard as I can, but it’s still not enough to catch Jean-Claude, or to keep warm. As I get colder I make the descision to stop and put my cape on. I’m throwing 30 seconds away. Cape on, I push on, trying to limit my loses. I can still see Jean-Claude up ahead. Over the last few kms I get closer, then I lose a bit, and that’s how it ends.

11th place, 10 minutes off the pace, and 40 seconds down on the first Vet B, Jean-Claude. Some 45 minutes later I’m collecting my prize for second Vet B, standing on the podium next to Jean-Claude. It’s a tough one.

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.

On the podium in the 16th Frederic Mistral VVT Raid

It was very cold at the 8:30 start in the Frederic Mistral 2007
It’s a ‘full on’ race. One big 42km lap with around 400 riders, all starting together. There are category prizes. I’ve trained very hard, and I’m ‘up for it’. I know it’s gonig to be tough, I’m after a top 10 finish, and a category win.

Checkout the Start – I look at the first couple of kilometers while I warm up. A nightmare! A wide bumpy grassy start, 200m into a bottleneck of a ditch crossing where they’ve put some wood covered in carpet. Another 200m to the next bottleneck before we go 90 left onto the road for a half kilometer dash to the single file chemin. The first climb is a rockstrewn granny ring affair that you’d be lucky to ride up on your own, on a good day. It’s gonna hurt!

My Plan – Give it everything out of the field and down the road. I’m not even gonna try and ride the first climb, I’ve sussed a good running line, and I’ll drop to the granny and dismount as soon as we get there.

The Off – With just over 5mins to go I ride backwards along the course to the start line. I’ve had a good warm-up, and I’m sweating a little. The line is already full with riders 4 or 5 deep in places. As the course bends right almost all the way to the road, that’s the side that most riders have chosen. I’m thinking that’s the side with the biggest potential for chaos. I find a place right on the front, but right out to the far side away from trouble. I’ve already made up my mind that if there’s chaos at the ditch crossing I’m ducking under the tapes and going the long way around.

The commissaire is giving the usual spiel on the microphone, everyone is getting a bit twitchy. The tape is taken down, there’s some creeping forward, the commissaire counts us down from 5, were gone by two! I get my foot in first time and I’m away. While all the riders on the inside are busy banging elbows and getting in each others way I get a clear run. Through the ditch, there’s a rider leaning on me trying to take my line, I lean back, only harder, he gives in. Onto the road in the top 10. My legs are stinging, but I throw the bike in a big gear, lock the forks out, and kick. I hold my place along the road, a couple of fast starting young lads go backwards. Into the chemin singlefile. I wobble about a bit ‘track stylee’ to deter anyone from trying to pass. Onto the climb, and off the bike, here comes the serious pain.

Progress – My running line on the right hand side is working well. It keeps my bike out of the way. There’s bikes and riders everywhere as some try to ride, then slip, then dismount. Back on the bike and into unseen territory. More rocky climbing, more running. No one’s come past me, and I’ve picked up a few places. It’s hard to tell, but I reckon I’m in the top 6.

For the next hour and a half we race on some of the hardest, fastest, unforgiving, fabulous trails in the Limousin. There’s lots of action as riders come and go. I’m climbing well enough, and I’m fine on the technical stuff, but on some of the fast descents I’m just hanging on. In places there are boulders under the leaves. I’ve given up covering my brakes with one finger, I’m happier with my whole hand holding the bars. It’s scary fast as we rattle across the rocky sections.

Over the last few kilometers I’m in a three way battle. There’s one smooth stylish rider, one animal of a man, and me. I’ve attacked them a couple of times, even got a gap at one point, but they catch me again on the descents. The animal descends like a complete nutter, and he has a nice buckle in his back wheel to prove it. I don’t rate my chances against him in the downhill finish. He has a habit of hacking along in a massive gear, then being caught in the wrong gear when there’s a sudden switch or climb. He’s mashed his chain across the whole block at least 6 times.His luck runs out, there’s a sudden left-hander into a steep chemin. His chain disintegrates under the abuse it recieves. He’s gone.

The smooth rider seems to be slowing a little, but there’s no place to get past anyway. We get caught by one other just before the run-up to the ‘Frederick Mistral’ memorial. The smooth rider has had bottles handed up along the way, and his helper is there at the top of the run-up with another bottle. He shouts something to his rider, but I can’t catch what it is. Whatever it is, the pace suddenly lifts.

On the downhill run into the finish I’m just about hanging on. I dare not run the risk of moving off line even if I had the speed to try and pass, and that’s how we finish. Smoothie crosses the line about 10 meters ahead of me.

I got a super trophyConfusion, a result – I’m trying to ask the finish marshals how many vets in the over 50s category have finished. He tells me “only three, you’re third”, spoken in French of course. Then I realise that he means there’s only three riders in, I’m third! This is my best result in a long time, I am well pleased, and you know how it is when you do well…. I don’t feel tired at all. It gives me great pleasure to climb onto the podiums with the young guns.

Choise of weapon – I rode my Specialized Stumpjumper Comp with Rock Shox SID World Cups. I ran Hutchinson Piranha Tubeless tires at 2.5bar (35psi). I carried a tube and CO2 cannister just in case, also a SRAM quick link, and a small micro tool. I used a bottle and cage with a 500ml bottle of water with gear mixed in. I carried no food. I knew from previous years results that the race was about two hours long.

You can find out more about this great race at GuidonBellchon.

Sometimes it just ain’t meant to be…

Like in the road race at Arnac le Poste…
It’s a straight forward course but a dodgy finish. I don’t want to be in a bunch sprint, I’d like to get things sorted a lot sooner than that, but, I’m struggling to see where I can make a sucessful escape. On the second of six laps there’s a flurry of attacks and counter attacks and three of us go clear. One of the three is a big bloke, he looks like a sprinter. I’m thinking that he’ll eat me alive if he makes it to the finish with us. As we climb the drag back up into the town I go to the front and apply some pressure. I’m going hard to test the big fella. As we roll through the narrow street into town he’s a good few bike lengths back. So that’s OK then! 🙂

Out of town, the three of us regrouped and working well. A quick glance back, no sign of the bunch. I think we’ve cracked it, and I’m feeling good. Bang! and my back tyre is flat!!!! 🙁

Like next day in the road race at Roussac…
Where on earth did they find a circuit that’s downhill all the way around? OK, I know it can’t be really, but it feels like it. How’s a man supposed to escape here? I don’t do bunch sprints remember. There a few attacks, and I attack a few times, but nothin’ doin. Then, after a flurry of attacks two riders drift off the front. Now, there’s at least four Nantiat riders, and it’s not one of theirs. There’s at least three Nieul riders, and it’s not one of theirs. Surely they won’t let them go. But they do. I make repeated attacks, but I’m shadowed, and I ain’t towing the bunch.

The two stay away, there’s a bunch sprint for third (I don’t do bunch sprints), and I go home unplaced, disappointed and frustrated…

Sometimes it just ain’t meant to be…

Second French Road Race win!!!

I can’t believe I got the chance to win again. This time at Fromental. Here’s how it went…
The early 5 man break.
On the first climb there’s a break of four going clear. I jump across. We’re working, but we’re not working really hard, yet we still go clear. At the end of the first lap we have 25seconds. I’m just tapping through trying to go unnoticed. There’s two St Junien riders, two from another club, and me. One of the St Junien contributes nothing, he looks like he’s only just hanging on anyway, so I don’t worry about him. The other St Junien rider looks strong, but it’s the two from the other club that look the bigger danger.

The laps go by, now we’re on lap 4 with two to go. The two stronger riders have started putting in soft attacks to see who’s got the legs. I’m feeling good, but playing it cool. There’s a climb around the back of the course, not long, but long enough and steep enough to make legs sting. One of the stronger riders puts in a proper attack, his mate, sitting second in line, sits up. I jump hard, and chase, we are away.

Now there’s just the two of us, we’re motoring, and for the first few minutes I’m thinkin’ we’ve cracked it, but then I get the feeling that my ‘friend’ is not giving his all. What’d’ya know, here comes his buddy! Now there’s me, and the two of them.

On the next lap they mess me about. If I’m on the back, one will let a gap go, If I’m in the middle, the one behind attacks, and if I’m on the front, I’m doin all the work. I decide that working hard is preferable to constant attacks so I spend most of the time on the front going fast enough to keep them happy. I’ve got plenty of miles in my legs, I dont mind.

Out onto the last lap. With about 3 km to go I put in three hard attacks one after the other, but I can’t shake them. This is gonna be tricky. With 1 km to go, I’m on the front, and I swing across to get off the front. One rider rolls through then stalls, while the other attacks. I’m having to back up around one wheel to chase the other. But I’m being held in, as the blocking rider brakes hard forcing me toward the grass!

In trying to give his team mate a hand he’s given me the wind up I need, a red mist comes up. I come to an almost stop to get around his back wheel then I jump hard to chase after his mate. I catch him with 500metres to go, I go straight past, meanwhile the blocking rider is chasing me. There’s a slight ‘S’ bend into the finish straight, I make sure I use all the road, through the final dip, out of the saddle, and sprint…… Gotcha’s 5 lengths clear… take that punk!!!

I’m directed off the finish into a little side street where I try to catch my breath whist trying not to throw up. That was hard!