FFC stands for La Fédération Française de Cyclisme, its the organisation that aspiring young riders join, but as I found out today it can stand for a lot more than that. 🙂
Fine Forecast on the Cards – With good weather forecast I telephoned my friend Eric to see if the usual Wednesday afternoon session was on. Eric’s son Maxime answered the phone. He told me that Eric has to work, but he’s going over to train with the Limoges FFC clubs, and why don’t I go along.
I meet Max in the square at St Junien as arranged. He tells me it’s 30km to the meeting place so we’ll need to ride fairly briskly to make the 2pm start. Oh yeah, and there’s a slight headwind, and there’s a lot of uphill. We work hard (especially Max), and we’re the first to arrive, with 10mins to spare.
A Few Flash Cyclists – As riders start to turn up I can’t help but notice that some of them are riding exotic machinery. There’s more than a few pairs of deep-section carbon wheels, most are on carbon bikes, and for the most part they are extremely well turned out. Cerevelo, Time, Vitus, Look, they’re all here. There’s even a Colnago CT2 in world champion colours. I’ve only ever seen one of those before in real life under Paul the Painter. Some of these riders look like they’ve dropped straight out of the pro’ peleton. There’s a lot of young riders, and from clubs all over the Limoges area. By the time we roll away at 2pm sharp there must be a crew of at least 50.
Fast Friendly Chat – The pace is brisk, but easy. As we bowl effortlessly along there’s much jovial banter. At road junctions cars stop to let us through. Most riders give a wave as a thank you. There’s a young rider in yellow, and after every junction he sits up, gets his mobile out and calls someone explaining where we’ve gone. I dunno why. The kilometers roll by, we seem to be heading north, the pace slowly but surely picking up.
St Jouvent -> Thouron -> Roussac -> on towards Chateauponsac……..
Fierce Fast Climbing – There’s been a few sprints for village signs, and a few charges, but good natured stuff. There’s been some long drags, and it certainly ain’t flat around here. There’s even a few gone off the back! We’re riding along a valley, I can see Chateauponsac looming high above us. As we start the long climb up to the town the pace picks up dramatically. There’s riders going backwards as fast as there’s riders going forwards. I’m thinking we’re just sprinting for the town sign, but it comes and goes and there’s no let up.
Backwards and forwards across the switchbacks I can see Max right up at the front pushing the pace. He’s going well. At last, in the very top of the town the pace eases and we regroup.
Far From Civilisation – We’re high up in the Creuse now, one of the least populated areas of France. Through the Gartempe valley, we’re now on a dead straight road heading east, it goes on and on and on. There’s a cross-wind blowing, some bunch engines are taking perverse pleasure in driving it along, and I’m stuck in the gutter wondering if it will ever end. At this point i’m starting to have doubts in my ability to hang on. However, thoughts of having to ride home on my own drive me on.
I’m as tight on the wheels in front of me as I can possibly be. From time to time there’s a surge as someone leaves a gap ‘cos they can’t stand it any longer, and we all jump around. It’s no good waiting until the rider in fron’t surges, you have to look three or four riders ahead. It’s no good asking yourself to do it you just have to do it……. and why do those nasty engines ride in the gutter? Don’t they know it’s killing us! 😉
At last, there’s a junction up ahead, we turn right. With a cross-tailwind we’re motoring down towards Bessines running parralel to the A20. It’s downhill, it’s fast, I now have a rough idea of where we are. There’s a lot of climbing to do to get back to Limoges.
Fragmented Fatigued Clutching at wheels – We’re now headed south, following what I think is the old main road to Limoges. Every now and then I catch a glimpse of the A20 running off to the side. Long climbs of 3 to 5km, not steep, but draining, especially when you’re hanging on. Some riders are looking a little tired now and gaps appear. I’m just about with it, clutching at wheels. I spot a sign – Limoges 35km.
Fabulous Fractionné Chaps – On the long climbs there’s a couple of riders doing entraînement fractionné (intervals). They take it in turns to hammer off the front for a couple of hundred metres like nutters then they sit up. As soon as the one sits up the other goes. It’s impressive stuff, these boys are damn fit.
Finally Found Cheers – Over the highest point at Razes, a rider joins us from the right. There’s a lot of shouting and cheering and jeering. Remember the lad on the mobile, he’d been telling his mate who was late for the start where we’d gone. Eventually he’d found us!
Looking out at the vista I can see Limoges in the distance. We’ve still a way to go, and there’s one tough climb left to do. We’re spread out in twos and threes. I decide to push on so that I’ll be nearer the front. As I pass riders they jump on, a couple of them start to help out, we’re motoring along nicely. I’m recognising the run in from the ‘La Limousine‘ sportive I did last year.
You FFC! – Swear words mate. Onto the last climb, and one of the engines decides he’s gonna come through and show everyone how strong he is. Mashing a massive gear he opens a gap of 20metres. But it all goes horribly wrong and he comes back to us as fast as he went away.
Flowing Fast Chase – The last 10kms are slighly downhill. There’s a few rises, but generally we’re trending down. The road is silky smooth and the pace is high. Into the outskirts of Limoges now, I’m on 50*12 spinning fast. I’m guessing we’re going for the City road sign. A rider looking like the stylish young Ken Jones kicks. There’s a chase. Then another kick, and chase. A roundabout now, three get across while the rest of us are held up by a car. We chase. The sign for Limoges comes into view. We sprint! Wow, that was fast. From the original huge group I reckon there’s only about 15 left.
The pace eases, though not much, big ring steady now, but easy enough. As we roll into the city riders peel off for home. Eventually there’s just Max and me making our way back 30kms to St Junien, only now it’s mostly downhill with a slight tailwind. We ride purposefully, but easy.
Max points out that we’re now on the circuit of the St Junien – St Junien road race with it tough finish into home. Yeah, but we’re gonna ride it easy ain’t we Max. Nope, we gotta ride it hard, it’s good for your strength…. and so Max sprints it, I chase with what’s left of my legs. Max turns off, and I head up towards the car park where I left my van. All of a sudden riding alone I can hardly turn the pedals.
Five hours done, totally Fatigued, Can’t wait until next time! It’s been a great ride, much better than training on your own, and the kind of thing that drags form out of you screaming. Thanks guys, and thanks Max. Not only did he do the lions share of the work on the way out, he also came to check on me a couple of times during the ride to make sure I was OK….and when I had nothing to drink he gave me one of his bottles.
Later that evening FFC stood for Fridge Fresh Can of beer. 🙂