Grande Traversée 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 Frédéric 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 Traversée du Limousin – Final Stage

Guéret -> Châtelus-Malvaleix – 60kms

There’s good news, and bad news. First the good – Supawal has a new seatpost! He’s looking forward to riding the last stage, and has donned his best French kit to ride in. Now me – despite losing ground in the last few kms of both the earlier stages I’m still in line for 3rd on the podium in the over 40s category. Now the bad – the 1st and 2nd placed riders are so far ahead that it would take a mechanical or a miracle to catch them. Meanwhile there are quite a few ‘old fellas’ very close behind me. Which means it’s far from sewn up. Today is gonna be tough, no margin for errors or slacking if I want to hold my place.

gtl 2008 neutralised depart

Young Pricer has been telling me that he’s finding it difficult to judge pace. With his limited racing experience he’s used to doing laps, and knowing what’s coming next. I tell him that the most important thing is simply to ‘stick to the task’, work hard, concentrate, and not be disuaded. He’s got plenty of miles in his legs, it’s the last stage, all he has to do is let them out.

It’s an early start today. After a 5am breakfast, and a 7:30 round-up we’re riding behind the cars down to the 8am start in Guéret. The sun is shining, and it’s gonna be a hot one. We get a final briefing, then with a minimum amount of fuss, we’re off.

Tha pace is steady at first as we climb out of Guéret, then there’s a steep ramp that takes us to the first off-road section. The young guns sprint it, going like the finish was just around the corner. How do they do that? I go as hard as I can, trying to hold my place.

Next we’re on a shelf that runs the side of the hills. It’s fast sweeping roller coaster stuff. Bursting out onto the tarmac, and climbing again, there’s a rider glued to my wheel. Onto a long open track, still climbing, he comes past. It’s Pricer, and he’s going quick. Next Johnathan Cormier comes past. He taps me on the shoulder, I jump onto the small group he’s riding with.

Some steep tricky climbs now, and Johnathan has pushed on leaving three of us working together. A rider catches us from behind, now we are four. The big rider on the Cannondale is doing the lions share of the work, and he doesn’t like it. He’s a superfast descender, and every now and then he opens a gap, we claw our way back on.

Dropping out of the woods onto a fast farm track the big Cannondale rider has a good gap, and he’s going for it. We chase hard. He’s so busy trying to get away, and we’re so busy chasing him that we miss a turn. We fire straight on down to a road, there are no markings, now we know we have gone wrong. There’s nothing for it but to retrace our steps. It’s a blow, and my own words come back to haunt me, “stick to the task”. It’s too much for the big rider on the Cannondale, he falls to bits, disappears backwards, and is never seen again.

Back on course the three of us are working well together. We can see groups up ahead, and we’re gaining on them. We catch a rider from the VTT Gauriac club, he looks like a vet. One of our three is his team mate, but he rides right by him, I dunno what’s going on.

With over two and a half hours done we hit a long stony rutted climb. It’s baking hot, the sun is on our backs, all of a sudden I don’t feel so good. I’m staring at the wheel of the rider in front, sticking to the task with all the stickability I can muster. The younger of our three jumps to try and bridge the gap to the group in from. Me and the other fella can’t respond.

At the top of the climb there’s a welcome breeze, and a fabulous vista across the Creuse. From memory the stage profile shows a descent for the last 5kms, with a small climb to finish off. At last we start going downhill. It’s very fast, though not overly technical. Smooth fast trails puntuated with short boulder sections and zig-zag ruts. The odd water splash to cools me down. Some short tarmac sections, I crouch low, put my hand in the middle of the bars and pedal for all I’m worth. Every last half pedal turn counts.

A tricky section, I choose right, it’s wrong, I’m cross-rutted. My buddy sees it, shoots left, gets a gap and knows it. I’m suprised by the ferocity of the attack he puts in. Maybe he’s a vet, maybe he wants to take my third place. Powering along, Châtelus-Malvaleix comes into view, a sweeping singletrack brings us alongside the lake where we parked our cars forever ago. Up away from the lake towards the town centre, a short sprint of a climb, a right hander, a wall to climb! Spectators cheer, nearly there, I ride as hard as I can right up to the line. There’s a big cheer, as the commentator shouts “troisième’!

Grande Traversée du Limousin – Stage 2

Bénévent L’Abbaye -> Guéret – 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 Guéret well below us through a gap in the trees. Diving downwards in the twisty singletrack I spot a sign – “Labrynthé”, 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 Traversée du Limousin – Stage 1

Nantiat -> Bénévent 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. Stéphane Bernard from the Ambazac Sprinter Club joins me for a start line photo. “I want to be on your blog!”…..Bonjour Stéphane! 🙂

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 Oxgéne train comes through. That’s 5 young riders from the Creuse Oxygéne 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 Stéphane 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 Bénévent 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.