La Mandragore VTT Marathon 2008

La Mandragore 2008100kms, one way only, along the best trails in the area from Confolens to Nieul, including mulitiple crossings of the Monts de Blond. Not a race, it’s much harder than that! I was 4th rider home last year in 5 hours 15mins, I’d like to come home with the leading riders again this year. With a hot day forecast, and the ground hard and dry it’s gonna be fast and tough.

At 8.45, we roll out behind the lead car for a quick tour of Confolens. All the usual suspects are near the front. Across the old bridge, over the Vienne, hundreds strong in the early morning sun, alongside the river before crossing back via the new bridge to climb the ramparts to the old chateau. Through the chateau grounds now and there are supporters dressed as medieval knights to cheer us on our way. Quite a spectacle, though my attention is fixed on what’s ahead and maintaining my position near the front.

The lead car peels off and it’s “game on!” ‘Marco Solo’, that’s Jean-Marc the St Leger la Montagne rider who won the solo class at the “24 heures de Bonnac” takes off like a man posessed. Guess who’s on his wheel …

Onto a disused railway line out of town and Marco is going like a train. Marco’s choice of weapon is a Specialized Epic, and he puts it to good use powering over the rough sections like he’s on tarmac. I’m getting battered on my hardtail but I’m thinking it will pay dividends later on.

With hardly 5 minutes gone, Marco has ridden us clear. That’s Marco, me, then Lionel Lebraud (US Nantiat). Staying with Marco on the climbs is ok, but on the technical rocky stuff alongside the river, he floats away. A small gap opens, it crosses my mind that he might be trying to establish a good lead early on as a buffer for the tough climbs in the second half.

We’re about 20 seconds down, chasing hard. We hook up out of the valley onto a steady climb. It’s like Marco vanished, but in actual fact we’ve missed the turn! Doh! With at least a minute thrown away, we’re back on track. Lionel is annoyed at our mistake and is setting a blistering pace. I’m hanging on. We pass a few riders and catch a group containing Jean-Philippe Menneteau (US Nantiat) and young Davy Barborier (Briance Roselle Aventure).

At the first ravitalement, I ride straight through without stopping along with Lionel, Jean-Phi and Davy. Cor blimey guv – just like the old days! The pace is brisk with the off-road sections taken much faster than the tarmac ones. I’m feeling good and contribute to the pace.

Nearly two hours done and we’re starting to get into hillier terrain. Davy is having some trouble with his cassette and is yo-yo-ing off the back. I’m still ok, though it’s hard work. Dropping down toward Montrol Senard now, a fast woodland track with dappled sunlight. Jean-Phi is leading Lionel in second, then me. There’s a hole with a big rock in it and I’m straight over the bars. I land in a heap and in that split second I know I’m finished! I felt it go, a quick check confirms my collarbone is broken…

to be continued 🙁

24 Heures de Bonnac

24hrs_de_bonnac_logo We raced hard, we battled right to the last lap, but we were beaten into second place by “Les Blaireaux”, a bunch of desperados from the Dordogne! Chapeau guys! Hey, it was so tough, i’ve been ill ever since! But, it was a great event, and i rode with a great team (US Nantiat)………. and, and, we finished ahead of our mates in the Culture Velo team, but only just. 😉

Right from the start the team from the Dordogne took the lead. We’d planned on doing two laps each, but switched to one in an affort to peg them back. As the afternoon wore on their lead grew, and we found ourselves fighting for second place with the Culture Velo boys. It really was close.

24hrs_de_bonnac first lap action

Then luck ran out for the boys in blue. A string of punctures saw the Culture Velo team a lap down. We’d switched back to two laps each by now, as we raced through the night. By early morning the Dordogne team were well clear, only a mechanical would stop them now, though we kept hoping they’d gone too hard too soon, and would blow-up!

Into the last three hours and the Culture Velo boys rallied and began to gain on us. Stop watches were checked, riders timed, calculations made. We stuck to the task, and finished ahead of our friends by about the time it takes to mend three punctures. A very close match!

24hrs_de_bonnac_pearce_riderMost memorable laps for me were the one where I got dropped in around 10seconds behind my old mate Jean Claude Sansonnet. Thinking he was on a second lap, and I was only doing one I chased like a nutter. As I passed our team camp I got a cheer that said, “there he is, this is the lap you’ve been waiting for, GGGOOO!”. I managed to catch JC and get past him, though at the end of the lap I was ready to collapse.

Then there were the two laps I did with Fabrice from the Briance Roselle Aventure club. We rode bit and bit sharing the work, absolutley flying along. Merci Fabrice. It made me wonder if we should have offered to make a pact with the VC boys to work together to chase the Dordogne team.

I don’t know which lap was my fastest, but one of them must have been the lap I did glued to the back wheel of Charley. That boy is fast, and so smooth. I just hung on. I don’t reckon I could have done two.


I was very proud to stand on the podium alongside my French team mates. Thanks for having me lads it really was a pleasure to ride with you, and a weekend to remember.

La Limousine Andre Dufraisse 2008

The “La Limousine Andre Dufraisse“, remember when I did it last year? Well I did it again this year. See. but this year I knew what to expect! 🙂

La Limosine 2008

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 ComitĂ© 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.

la limosine 2008 podium

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… 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’espĂšre rouler avec vous l’annĂ©e prochaine a La Limousine Andre Dufraisse 2009″.

la limosine 2008 trophy

Saint-Martin-de-Jussac Road Race

It’s only a few kilometers from home. I know the circuit like the back of my hand (aaarrrgghhh! what’s that 🙂 ). Almost half a lap uphill then half a lap downhill. The climbs aren’t steep, but they are long. It’s a tough circuit, and it’s seven laps.

First and second category riders are going off together. I dunno whether that’s a good idea or not. Firsts are wearing black numbers, seconds including me have red numbers. Oh, and firsts are doing one more lap. The promoting club is the ASSJ (St Junien), and they have all their riders out today. I’d say there’s more ASSJ than any other club.

Saint-Martin-de-Jussac Road Race

The start is a fairly civilised affair. One of the ASSJs goes to the front and sets a sensible pace all the way up to the top of the circuit. There’s one or two attacks along the top, then we’re into the descent all the way back down. It’s narrow, there’s lots of gravel, and a couple of greasy corners. Back in the bottom of the valley there’s a short flat run, then a short climb through the finish to start the second lap. We’re still all together.

Second time up the climb it’s a little more serious as some of the first cats flex their muscles, but it’s manageable. Along the top road there’s a flurry of attacks. A group of riders are caught, I’m coming up fast, there’s a gap, I shoot through and attack myself. I’m away! Maybe the first cats aren’t interested, and the second cats are waiting for the firsts to respond? I dunno, I get comfy and work hard, not flat out, but hard. A rider comes across to join me, it’s Jean-Marc from the ASSJ, he’s a second cat too, i’ve ridden with him before, he’s a hard worker, we push on together.

On the climb going out for the third lap, we’re still away, but only just. Carla shouts, “10 seconds!”. As the climb bites we work hard, and at the top were still away, but joined by another rider, a first cat. We’re working hard now, just managing to stay clear. A quick glance, I can see another rider coming across, a big powerhouse, he takes a few seconds breather on the back then comes through driving hard. Down the descent I’m topped out, bouncing in the saddle, 50*12.

Back up again. We’re staying away, but not far enough. On the top of the circuit we’re joined by four more riders. The whole peleton is almost on us, and then we gel, everyone goes through, and we’re gone. They won’t see us again.

Now here’s the best part. There’s only three second cats here, so that’s the podium sorted. We have three Rochechouart riders, Eric (1st cat), David (2nd cat), and me. It’s in our/my interests to work hard so this group stays away.

With two laps to go the infighting starts. As we climb, one of the first cats attacks, another goes after him. I’m feeling OK, as if I could go after them, but I might get eaten alive, I stay where I am. I go to the front and work hard. Some of the riders seem to be tiring. By the top of the course we’re down to five. We still have three second cats, and two first cats, we’re still working hard, and we’re still well clear. It’s looking like we’re gonna stay away.

Saint-Martin-de-Jussac Road Race - last lap climb

I need a plan. If it comes to a sprint I reckon Jean-Marc is gonna take it. David seems to be goin OK but he’s stretching his back a lot, and doesn’t look comfy. Last time up the climb now. I’m feeling pretty good. I give plenty. As we ride along the top of the course Eric comes alongside, and gives me the thumbs up. I’m hoping he’s right.

On the desent now for the last time. It’s getting a bit cagey, I’m sitting second in line behind Eric, I know exactly what I’m gonna do. At the greasy corners it’s hard to get any power down until you’re back out onto the straight, there’s a slight rise here. Into the corner I carry as much speed as I dare, then jump hard, really hard. The road here is narrow, Jean-Marc and David are held up behind the two first cats. I hear Jean-Marc shout. Now, neither Eric or the other first cat are gonna chase me, and David my clubmate ain’t gonna chase me, and if Jean-Marc chases he’ll be throwing any chance of the win away as David will be right on his wheel. It’s a win-win situation for the Rochechouart. I’m hoping it’s a win for me.

Down the descent like a nutter, spinning for all I’m worth. There’s a sharp left at full tilt (whoa! steady dude), then a sharp gravelly right (don’t stuff it up now!) onto the finish road. A quick glance under my arm, it’s Jean-Marc who leading the chase. I’m gonna win it, but just in case the tar melts, my tyres go flat, or the finish line moves away faster than I can move towards it as time becomes elastic, I get out of the saddle and sprint. Got it! David takes second, Jean-Marc third.

Thanks to my team mates Eric and David for their help. Thanks to Jean-Marc for working so hard, and thanks to all the ASSJ riders who worked to make sure that Jean-Marc stayed away, and to the ASSJ for putting on a great race. It really couldn’t have gone any better………. and then it did…at the prize ceremony I was given a spectacular Pelargonium (it’s a plant – Carla loves it), and, and, there was whiskey and chocolate biscuits. Carla drove home 🙂

Meanwhile – well done to my friend Davy who won the third cat race, and well done to all the Rochechouart riders. With prizes going down to 5th for each category almost every Rochechouart rider who raced was a winner.

Haute Vienne Championnat Departemental 2008 – Rochechouart

It’s right on my doorstep, hosted by my adopted club ROC Cyclo, I’m doing it! Five laps of a fast undulating 9.5km circuit. I’d like to get in an early break with a couple of others if I can. I plan to go early.

departmental road champs rochechouart 08

Just over half way around the first lap, not a single card played. There’s some fit looking riders, and a few riders who obviously know what they’re doing. An attack, a lone rider goes, nobody responds, he’s actually moving away. I jump after him. “Allez!”, I pass him and show that I’m keen to work, but he just lets me go. I’m away on my own. Not what I really had in mind. I ride hard, but not flat out. A quick glance under my arm, I have a good gap.

Back into Rochechouart to complete the first lap, I’m hugging the inside of the bends trying to stay out of sight. Up the long finish straight. Carla shouts that it’s a 20 second gap. Another quick glance, I can see the chase is on as the peleton is lined out. At the top of the circuit I’m almost caught, I ease up. I’m hoping there’ll be a counter attack, but there isn’t.

Laps 2 and 3 are uneventful. Lots of watching and waiting going on. Towards the end of lap three a big St Junien rider has a good dig. We chase. Now the counter attack. We’re breathing hard. Three of us go clear. We’re going damn fast, we have a good gap. This is more like it. Surely they won’t see us again. But actually they do. I dunno who’s doin the chasing, but we are caught. I’m miffed!

Back to watching and waiting, a few little digs, and a few more, we’re away again, same three. Surely this time we’ve cracked it. Fully commited, goin’ like the clappers, nope, we are caught again! Heading out on the last lap now. The sky over Bill’s mothers has gone black, it’s gonna rain. As the rain starts I’m sat near the back trying to work out what to do. I really don’t want to be sprinting in the wet. With about 1km to go I try one last time, as hard as I can. I get maybe 50 metres clear but I’m chased down.

I’m a bit annoyed now, so I’m gonna damn well sprint. Sitting in about 6th on a wheel that I think is a good one, 300m to go, wobblin a bit to make some space, 200m and we’re goin’ quicker. A St Junien rider opens up the sprint, I’m in fourth, I pass one, I’m up to third, halfway up second, flat out. The St Junien rider takes it by a couple of bike lengths. I’m in third just half a bike length down on second. Betcha can’t guess who the second placed rider is? Betcha can!

Thanks to everyone at the Rochechouart Olympic Club Cyclo for putting on a great race. With such good organisation it felt like we were racing on closed roads.

Gold in the French Mountains!!! 2008 UFOLEP VTT Champs at Mazamet

If you’ve been following the story you’ll know that Carla and I both qualified to represent the Haute Vienne at the 2008 MTB Championships in Mazamet. You’ll know that the path to selection was a tough one, and that we’ve worked hard. Also know how much we’ve been looking forward to this weekend, and how honoured we feel to be invited to race.

How’d it go? Well, we both came away with gold medals, but that’s only part of the story…

Carla with her Red White Blue bouquet and medal

We travelled down to Mazamet in the Tarn on Thursday, camped at the minicipal campsite, and were up at the race venue mid morning on Friday to pre-ride the circuit. A bright sunny day, we felt good, and the circuit was superb. A wide start lead to a tarmac climb before diving into a superfast descent, plenty of space and time to move up. Lots of swooping singletrack, fast middle ring climbs, technical descents, and the lap finished off with a blast alongside the huge lake. I did two laps steady with Carla where we stopped and looked at lines, and one lap fast to test gearing on climbs. We were very happy, we felt the circuit suited us.

Meanwhile, far away in another part of the land (this bit is fiction, but it could have an element of truth) Mudmeister Jean Claude Sansonnet was on the phone to God, “Mon Dieu – Rain SVP!”. In the early hours of the morning we were woken by the sound of heavy rain on the tent, and it wasn’t just a passing shower.

Back at the race venue on Saturday to watch the start of the young vets (40-49yrs). It was wet, and most racers had switched to mud tyres. Watching them come through on their first lap they were filthy, though they still made the half-hour-ish per lap as specified by the UFOLEP rules.

We changed tyres. Off came the fast dusty tyres from the day before to be replaced with mud tyres. On went the thick gloopy lube, cassette and chainrings coated. I warmed up in my cape, with full gloves, and waterproof trousers, I wasn’t warm.

The first climb out of the arena

The race actual – We were called to the start line by name, with riders who placed 1st in their respective departmental champs first, then seconds, and so on. I made the third line, there’s 94 of us. Minutes turned to hours waiting to go, then countdown from 5 and we’re away. I made up a few places across the field, and a few more on the first bank to the tarmac. Once on the tarmac I clanged up a couple of gears and moved up some more. As the gradient eased I knew riders were getting my wheel, but I pushed on. By the time we turned off the tarmac into the first descent I was in third place!

What had been a fast flowing course had now turned into a cyclo-cross style mud fest. Trying to keep the bike on line was comical, and some climbs had become unrideable. We pushed on. Around the back of the course things were a little better. I was still in third, and feeling OK. On the last long drag JC comes past, and I get his wheel. So now I’m in fourth, but it’s OK we’re only seconds off the leader, and progress is good.

Race Action

On the second lap someone else is riding my bike. I don’t know who it is, but it certainly isn’t me. This idiot is all over the place, making a right hash of it, going nowhere fast. Riders come past like I’m standing still. I chase, but hard….. I’m in danger of not even making the top ten.

I manage to regain control of my bike. I work hard and make up a couple of places. Now I’m in 7th, with a rider on my wheel. There’s a short tarmac section with a sharp right hander, I’m conscious that I’m towing someone. Into the sharp right hander I ride hard, keep pedaling, and drag the back brake cyclo-cross style. I hear my passenger go down. I push on.

Enroute, it hurts

I make it almost to the wheel of 6th place, but he has enough to hold me off, and 7th is where I finish. I’m a little disappointed. JC by the way made it up to second! That’s his tenth time on the podium in 10 years! Chappeau Jean Claude!!!

Putting it in perspective – The winner Roland Guillermin is home in 1:37:04, I’m just under 4 minutes off the pace at 1:40:52, JC was home in 1:38:24, and third place went to Jean Claude Laskowsky in 1:38:53. The gaps weren’t big. Nobody with a higher number plate, thereby ranked higher than me, finished in front of me. So maybe things weren’t so bad……..

By the time Carla raced things had dried out a little and the mud had turned to stiff porridge making the going even tougher. I’ll leave her to tell you how she got on. I’ll just say that she done good, and showed great courage and determination. She could hardly stand at the finish.

So what about these gold medals then? – Well, as well as individual medals there are also team medals for each category based on the first three riders home for each department. Carla and I were both second placed home, and our team placed first. As I stood on the podium at the prize ceremony that evening I felt very proud. Not only had I made it onto the top step, but I stood there as a member of a French team. To live and race in France, and be part of a winning French team… that’s a dream come true that is.

my poor bike after the race

With our races done we were able to enjoy the rest of the weekend watching and supporting. We joined in with all the other bell ringers, horn blowers, cheerers, and photographers that made the race atmoshere electric. The noise from supporters on the first climb out of the arena was incredible. Special mention to Marcel Buisson of the US Natiat club who couldn’t race so spent the whole weekend making an din cranking an old washing machine drum full of junk!

race supporters

It truly was a weekend to remember and
Je suis super heureux d’avoir participĂ© Ă  cette manifestation et Ă  cette fĂȘte qui permet Ă  tous de prendre le dĂ©part d’un National, de discuter, d’Ă©changer sans prise de tĂȘte, quelque soit son VTT, sa rĂ©gion, son niveau voir mĂȘme son look. Encore BRAVO au club de Mazamet et aux 200 bĂ©nĂ©voles, vous pouvez ĂȘtre fier de votre travail et vive l’UFOLEP, une autre idĂ©e du sport.

Aussi, BRAVO et merci beaucoup Ă  tous les coureurs et supporters et responsables de Haute Vienne
. J’espĂšre vous voir a velo bientĂŽt 🙂

Grande TraversĂ©e du Limousin 2008 – Results, analysis, thanks, and things…

Results and analysis…
I finished 3rd in the ‘Master 2’ category. That’s riders over 40yrs old (vets). I was 18th overall, and nobody younger than me finished in front of me. For an old bloke with a dodgy shoulder that’s a result I’m happy with.

vets podium - that is me on the right

The first and second placed vets finished around 30 minutes ahead of me! Even more amazing, the first placed vet, Gilles Audger, rode a rigid bike with V brakes!!! Fourth and fifth placed vets were only just behind me. With FrĂ©dĂ©ric Auracombe just over a minute back. After 200kms of racing that was close. Looking at the times for the top riders overall…..those young guns are incredibly fast. See for yourself, the full results are on the Creuse Oxygene website here.

Thanks to – Alain Menut and the team at Creuse Oxygene for a fabulous event. Described as ‘200kms de pur plaisir’, it really is that good. In all the years i’ve raced this is one of the best organised, hardest, bestest, beautiful races i’ve ever taken part in. No contrived loops, no manicured trails, no punches pulled. Extensive racing, one way, on natural, fabulous terrain.

Thanks to – Raymond for bringing the Sunday Riders over from the UK to race. I’m thrilled that you all enjoyed it so much, and your comments about the event, and about the beauty of this area of France made me proud, not only to be a Brit, but to be a Brit living and racing here. Oh, and well done for pursuading KB to take part.

Thanks toKeith Bontrager for taking part. It really meant something special for Creuse Oxygene. It was great to meet you, thanks for all the equipment tips, and the recipe for tyre sealant. I hope to meet you again later in the year.

Waiting to start in the GTL 2008

Well done Pricer and Supawal! Racing will never be the same again will it? I reckon Pricer will be unbeatable next season…watchout! Supawal is falling in love with French racing, wouldn’t suprise me if he wasn’t planning his next adventure right now.

For an authentic French GTL report with some excellent pictures, visit zag-rider’s website (Bonjour Charles). While the Creuse Oxygene’s pictures for the three days are here.

For the anoraks – I rode a Specialized Stumpjumper Hardtail on a pair of Bontrager wheels running Hutchinson tubeless tyres. I’d fitted a new cassette and chain, and new disc pads. By the end of the three days the chain was shot, and the rear pads were almost gone!

Finally – This was my second GTL and this time round I enjoyed it more for the simple reason that I speak a little French now. I could enjoy the camaraderie and banter amongst the riders. Last year I felt embarrased having to say ‘je suis desole, j’en comprend pas!’. This year I could join in.

La Grande Traversee du Limousin is a fabulous race, and part of what I love about it is it’s Frenchness. Racing with French racers in a French race in France is experience not to be missed. To me, the fact that the entry forms, the communications, the website, the briefings, are all conducted in French enhance the experience. It’s not that hard to get yourself on the start line. Once you’re there the rest is easy!

Grande TraversĂ©e du Limousin – Stage 2

BĂ©nĂ©vent L’Abbaye -> GuĂ©ret – 60kms

After a fantastic nights sleep on the floor of a gymnasium with hundreds of other cyclists I’m ready for stage 2. No, really, I slept like a baby. With fresh kit on, bike cleaned and lubed, i’m turning my legs over in the car park waiting to start. Results wise i’m sitting in 3rd master B (that’s 40yrs and over) despite losing places in the last few kms yesterday. I don’t really want to pressure myself, and my legs do feel a little tired, but the early morning sun feels good, and maybe I could make the podium. A good solid ride is called for, concentration, efficiency, economy, and fingers crossed.

Right on time they motor us all through town. Next we’re called to the start line in order of yesterdays finish. Five minutes later we’re on our way. Ten minutes later I’m going daft hard trying to establish myself in a fast group. Fifteen minutes later I’m in a group containing Johnathan Cormier, he’s a rider i’ve raced with before, he’s a hard worker, he placed 11th on day one. If I can stick with this group I’ll be OK.

Last year day two was the toughest, and this year is the same. In places the terrain is brutal, extreme, beautiful, fast, flowing, and all points in between. After mud filled tractor ruts, and river crossings too deep to ride we are rewarded with fabulous singletrack descents that go on and on. The carpets of spring flowers and the stunning beauty of the countryside are a distraction. Must stick to the task.

Enroute etape 2Two and a half hours done, i’ve been yo-yo-ing off the back of the group and now I’m dropped, riding alone, with little twinges of cramp coming on. I’m expecting just over three hours today, and I know that the last few kms are mostly downhill. At last I can see GuĂ©ret well below us through a gap in the trees. Diving downwards in the twisty singletrack I spot a sign – “LabrynthĂ©”, and it really feels like riding one. Twists, turns, rocks, roots, racing downhill, a couple of mistakes, but I’m still upright, and then I’n not. I catch an edge and slide out on a corner. Nothing serious, but trying to unclip and get the bike off my legs cramp. Ouch!

I remount, and after another 500m drop out onto a smooth super fast road. Downwards again, I remember this bit from last year, another 5mins and I’ll be home. Just before I turn off the tarmac I look behind me. In the distance I can see two riders chasing, I don’t think they’re gonna catch me. It’s the last climb, the sting in the tail, I’m halfway up when the chasers are at the bottom. I’m giving my all, and bang, cramp! It ain’t gonna let go, I’m off and running, they catch me, they pass me. 🙁

Into the finish in 3:20:10.18 for 19th place, and 5th master 2. That, was, hard!

With two puncture under his belt Pricer comes home in 33rd place. He looks exhausted, and spends most of the afternoon fast asleep. What you have to know with Pricer is that this is only his first season racing XC after a nasty crash last year put an end to his Downhill racing. He’s young, and skillful, but lacking in experience. I know he’s put in months of traning for this event, and I know he’d like to beat the old bugger (me), but I can’t slow down can I?

Meanwhile Supawal snapped his seatpost just after the first Ravitalment and had to retire. He’s dissapointed. However, there’s a neutral race mechanic expected at the overnight stop late afternoon, he might have a spare one, and if he hasn’t then Keith Bontrager (yes the real KB!) has offered to lend him one. Despite the disappointment of snapping his post Supawal tells me about the camaraderie of the French riders who stopped to make sure he was OK and wouldn’t leave him until he’d been rescued. Chapeau guys! 🙂

Grande TraversĂ©e du Limousin – Stage 1

Nantiat -> BĂ©nĂ©vent L’Abbaye – 75kms

On the start line of the 2008 GTLI’ve been waiting months for this one. Three days racing my bike across one of the most beautiful regions of France. Yeah but the weather has been awful, and the trails are gonna be a bit mucky. Well, the forecast for the three days is good, and I don’t care.

Down at the start line I see lots of familiar faces. There’s a good hanful of local riders who are just doing the first stage. StĂ©phane Bernard from the Ambazac Sprinter Club joins me for a start line photo. “I want to be on your blog!”…..Bonjour StĂ©phane! 🙂

I line up close to the front. I have no expectations for this race, and my plan is to get into the fastest group I can and stay there as long as I possible. We’re away, behind a lead car, neutralised for the first km. The car pulls away, the pace hots up, I’m sitting in the top 20.

Neutralised start GTL 2008

There’s a lot of climbing out of Nantiat, and as we swing off the tarmac the trail is greasy, it’s hard work, but I’m OK. Over the top, just one long string of riders, racing, fast, it’s great! The kms fly by, and little gaps start to appear, I’m in a group containing Jean-Philippe Meneteau (US Nantiat), and Christian Boutin (ACRR), good company.

There’s a rider in green who’s giving me a few problems. He’s a fast climber, but not so good on the descents. I keep ending up behind him. He takes us off the back of the group going down, I chase on the flats to get back on, he comes flying past on the climbs, and I’m stuck behind him again. Where I can I pass him, but often there only one line. Eventually he drops of the back of the group, and I can relax a little.

We’ve done about two hours now. The Creuse OxgĂ©ne train comes through. That’s 5 young riders from the Creuse OxygĂ©ne team, all working together, going like the clappers. Impressive! Within a couple of minutes they’re out of sight. Jean-Philippe has aslo flown, while Christian has lost ground. I’m riding on my own now. The terrain is tough. I’m not feeling as fresh as I was. One of the marshals tells me I’m in 13th position.

Over three hours gone, and around one more to do. Now it’s hard. Christian has caught me. I’m hanging on his wheel. Little twinges of cramp in my legs, just what I don’t need. Christian shows his skill climbing a wet rocky trail. He’s gone, I’m back on my own again. Now StĂ©phane catches me, I’m just hanging on. On some of the steeper ground I dismount and run, trying to use my legs in a different way so as not to cramp.

First real cramp. It just won’t let go, i’m forced to stop and stretch, it’s bad, it gives, i continue, a few minutes later it starts again. Riders are catching me now, i’m losing places, but try to maintain the fastest pace I can.

With 4:13:20.39 on the clock I climb up into BĂ©nĂ©vent L’Abbaye to take 17th place.

PricerMeanwhile my young friend ‘Pricer’, who’s doing the GTL for the first time is still out there, as is my brother Supawal. Pricer arrives looking a little shell-shocked in 4:33:26.55 for 31st place.

We wait for the arrival of Supawal, he’s taking his time to enjoy his ride. He doesn’t need to rush because he’s chosen to ride as a randoneur, sans classment. He rolls in, tired but happy, with stage one under his belt.

Fast, Aggressive, going for it….

Fast, aggressive, going for it…. that’s the wife! Here she is hammering away from the start at the Busiere Pontivine Raid last weekend. She’s the one on the front with the yellow bike. Meanwhile i’m back in about 8th on the far side, while the eventual winner sits around 15th. Incredible!

Carla leads the field away at Bussiere Pontivine

Ever since she did the departmental champs, where she came second, she’s been training hard, and it’s certainly paying off. Keep it up Carla! 🙂

BTW – I found the picture on the Briance Roselle website. I’m sure they won’t mind me borrowing it.