L’Ecureuil – La Souterraine

Got a shirt and a trophy.Did the “Squirrel” cyclo-sportive last weekend up in the Creuse. That’s 160kms in 4hrs 38mins at an average speed of 34.5 kph which was good enough to get me home in 49th position, 3rd in category. It was a fantastic event with around 1500 riders starting altogether. The pace was frantic for the first 30k then it was fast!!!

The early 08:15 start meant being on the start line well before 8. The sun wasn’t up, and in the shadows it was very chilly, but the forecast was for a warm sunny day. As we queued up to get into starting pens the smell of embrocation, faltulent bike riders, and the adjacent farmyard mixed to give a heady odour. My number 468 put me in pen three (200 per pen), it looked a helluva long way to the front, but a hulluva lot further to the back.

Race numbers are allocated on a first come first served basis, so that means a few dodgy riders could be ahead. Although, those who are switched on enough to get their entries in early are generally gonna be switched on riders I could see one or two that had a look about them. Incidentally ‘me ol’ mate’ Paul Gibson sporting dossard 61 was well toward the front. 🙂

Unlike the La Limousine that I did earlier in the year where the commentator whipped the riders into a frenzy before letting them loose, the Squirrel started in silence. With about 5 mins to go the music and commentary stopped, no anouncement was made, riders were shuffling up filling in spaces, and we were away.

It’s hard trying to move up ‘cos everyone is trying to do it. I’d make a few places here and there, but then I’d loose a few places. The pace was fast, and as we concertina into bends we have to sprint like mad coming out of them. I’ve decided that although we have a long way to go I’m gonna ‘give it loads’ for the first hour to see if I can get to the front.

We hit a few ramps, and some of the big lads go backwards. I’m on the right, I’m on the left, I’m in the middle, I’m even on the grass! this is not a place for the faint-hearted. Slowly making progress, it takes me around 30minutes to work my way up to Paul. My legs are stinging a bit as we start the biggest climb of the day. At first it’s chaos, but as the climb starts to bite gaps start to appear. I reckon that if I don’t make it to the front before the top of the climb I won’t make it to the front.

I’m breathing very hard, the needle’s hit the stop and I’m red lining. It’s hard, and it hurts. But, I’m still moving forward, concentrating hard on holding form. 1km to go to the summit, just a few minutes more, 500m to go, blimey, there’s even a crowd of supporters.

Over the top and away. I’m still not at the front, but I’m tantalising close, I can see them on the road about 30seconds ahead. Hoping that they’re going to be coasting the descent I slap it in the big ring and pedal. I’m not the only one, there’s four of us chasing like mad in a now or never dash to get on before it’s too late. We’re going damn fast, but so are they. As they hit the next climb we scramble onto the back.

Golden rule – when you make it back to the bunch don’t sit on the back, move up as soon as possible. I wonder how fast theyre gonna go on the climb. It’s OK, not to bad at all. Hey, I’m comfy, I move up. There’s the motorbikes. I’ve made it, or at least I think I have. Almost two hours done.

The next two hours are bliss. I have time to eat, drink, and enjoy the fabulous scenery. The warmth of the sun just adds to the pleasure as we bowl along through the beautiful French countryside. In the pretty little villages people cheer us along. We use all the road. There’s no traffic for us. One of the motorcycle outriders even fetches bottles for us. It don’t get much better than this, I feel great. Four hours done.

I’m starting to take note of who’s in our group. We are about thirty strong, and I’m looking to see how many ‘Gs’ there are. That’s how many riders in the same category as me, they’re the ones I need to beat. There’s at least 6. I know the run in to the finish is fairly flat, but I’m thinking we have at least one climb left out of La Celle Dunoise. I’m not wrong.

It’s a tough climb and there’s a few riders putting pressure on. There’s also a few tired legs and gaps appear. A strong looking rider makes a move, I go after him, he’s piling it on, I’m looking for help, 5 of us go clear over the top. I roll through and put in a turn, as do a couple of the others. We have a good gap, I’m the only G, I want this to work, but there’s a lack of commitment. We’re there just off the front. We are caught.

A sign says 6k to go. It’s a big road, we’re going fast, things are getting a bit twitchy. At 3k things are twitchier still. There’s a big roundabout ahead, we’re going left, all hell breaks loose. From riding 10-12 abreast we’re now funneled into a tiny lane hardly wide enough for 5. A little group clip off, I wanna go after them but I can’t get through. There’s much banging of elbows and shouting. 1k to go, we’re in the outskirts of La Souterraine.

I don’t do bunch sprints, but having come this far, and worked this hard to be here, I ain’t backing down. The road widens slightly, and I’m going down the left-hand side. I’m just about on the tarmac, there’s no kerb, there’s lots of potholes, and there’s a few spectators having to jump out of the way. There’s a G a few bike lengths up and I’m gaining, I pass him. A sharp right, and there’s the finish. With my elbows out as far as they’ll go, chewin’ on the handlebars I give my all. It’s madness!

The madness doesn’t end there either, after we’ve crossed the line we’re squeezed into single file by the barriers to get our chip read. There’s riders trying to make a place or two. I find myself doin’ as much shoutin’n’shoving as the rest. As the official reads my chip I relax and thank them. Carla is waiting just a few feet away with a cold beer!!!

It turns out that I never made it to the front after all. Turns out there was another group of around twenty who I never saw. The winning G was in that group. Frustratingly the second place G has the same finish time as me. I never saw him. So I’m third G, 49th overall.

The Repas (post race meal) is excellent, and as usual there’s wine. An excellent day in the saddle, I’m tired but happy, slightly drunk on wine, I feel great. It don’t get much better than this. How did Paul get on? Best ask him yourself.

2 thoughts on “L’Ecureuil – La Souterraine

  1. hi steven.
    i would like to ask you why you have named your site “stratobiker” ?!! is it in relation with guitars, i have seen you weared a fender t-shirt, at rocc meeting… I love guitars too, i own a schecter stratocaster 1987′ (mark knopfler’s guitar).
    see you soon on bike…i begin competition in second ufolep’s category.

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