Recce of the circuit for the Departmental VTT Championships.

Reconnaître le circuit Championat Departmental!
Saint Leger La Montagne VTT-Rando-Club put out an invite as hosts of the upcoming championships to all riders wishing to take a look at their circuit. Can’t not go can I? So we loaded up the van, and set off for the mountains on a beautiful spring day.

The venue is at the ‘stade’ just below the village. It’s a beautiful spot set amongst the rolling hills north of Limoges. There’s quite a lot of riders turned out, and the host club has riders kitted up and ready to act as guides. There’s a guide who’s offering to take the faster riders round, and ‘cor blimey guv’, knock me down wiv a feather, it’s the mad bad ‘Epic’ rider I raced with at La Souterraine last year.
The ‘mad bad Epic rider’ at the top of the course
First lap – From the stade we’re into a straightforward sweeping trail with plenty of passing places. A short section of tarmac then we dive down left for 500 metres whoopy doopy before spilling out onto a bumpy slow field. Out of the field and onto a short granny ring sprint bank, some cyclo-cross style tech’ bits, now we’re on to the first climb proper. In fact, if you discount smaller banks and dips, it’s the only climb, and it’s a long one. Not steep, but tough with plenty of roots and boulders to test you.

At the top of the circuit we start to go downhill courtesty of the singletracks riders association. Yep, we’re going down their downhill course! There’s ‘huge gap’ jumps and ‘step down’, thankfully we don’t have to do those, though we do have some excellent sweeping switchbacks to ride.

Out of the trees into the open, a slight rise, then it’s pretty much downhill all the way to the finish about 3km away. Fast, open, rocky, fear inducing, all the way, and then, a final 200m granny ring grovel back to the stade. 9kms for the lap. I’ve no idea how long it took as my watch is broken. I’d like to know how long a quick lap would take, so I take a look at the time on Carla’s moby and set off.

Fast lap – Quite a few riders have set off for a ‘fast lap’, so I set off in chase. It’s not long before I’m into the back of them, and it’s great practice, looking for lines and passing places. About halfway up the main climb I come up behind the mad bad Epic rider. He senses that someone is behind him and ups the pace, so do I. At the top of the circuit he eases, “Allez, vite, a bloc, j’suivre!!!”, I shout in my ‘not very good’ french. He needs little encouragement.

Onto the downhill course, and in the singletrack switchbacks I’m holding him. Out onto the open trail he sprints away, I sprint after him, I’m right on his tail. Onto the rocky descent, I’m hoping to learn some lines, but he’s far too fast for me, dropping like a stone, he’s gone. There’s a half km drag with some stony steps. I catch him, he’s breathing hard, it’s gotta be good practice, and it’s great fun, I’m hammer past as fast as I can. I want to know how if it would be possible to hold off a fast descender on the run in.

I’m going damn quick, straight-lining, keeping the power on where I can. A short rocky drop, then a sharp left, I can hear an Epic right behind me. Onto the very last rise, I’m out of the saddle sprinting, he’s right on my wheel. I’m not gonna be able to hold him off, and I’d rather try and learn from him than be wiped out, so I wave him through.

As we dive downwards, where I’d been swinging to the right he stays tight left. I do the same, and it sets us up nicely for the off camber right. Drifting, my coach allows the edge of the trail to catch him like a berm, I do the same. The next 500 metres or so are straight forward, the we’re into some trickier stuff, now I’m losing contact. By the time I get to the final granny ring grovel he’s already half-way up. I chase hard, but I reckon I’m a good 10 metres off. We thanks each other for a fun lap. It took just 30minutes.

What the plan Stan? – It’s a tough circuit that’s for sure. In the dry, it’s gonna be fast and furious, in the wet, or even snow, I don’t want to think about it. The main problem I see is that there’s enough downhill on the run in to the finish that the race could be won or lost there. Bear in mind that I’ll be riding a hardtail, coupled with the fact that I don’t descend as well as I used to, I don’t think I can play a waiting game. There’s hardly anywhere on the circuit where riders can draft each other, so there’s no danger of towing anyone along.

My plan then is a simple one. Go hard right from the start, full on, and hope to establish a lead good enough to keep. If you have any spare karma, or tips, send ’em my way! 🙂

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