National VTT Championships at Rodez

Imagine a 4 hour car journey through some of the most beautiful countryside in France in glorious sunshine, stopping for a picnic along the way.

Imagine arriving at the race site the evening before the race and kitting up for a couple of practice laps. Know that the weather has been good for months, and the ground is bone dry.

Imagine one of the best mountaibike race circuits you have ever seen. Now imagine one better! It’s was fantastic. A great start area that favours no side leading to some moorland with sweeping off-camber corners, bombholes, super fast straightaways, the lot…..also add in that the taping/marking out are superb allowing the rider to be creative with line. Follow that with 3 kms of superb roller-coaster singletrack that draws you on faster and faster. I was looking forward to racing this circuit so much. I went to bed imagining racing, and racing well.

Imagine being woken in the early hours of the morning to the sound of thunder and torrential rain! The rain continued throughout the night. By breakfast time it was still raining. I made my way from the excellent B&B back to the race site. I changed my tyres in the back of the van. The drop in temperature from the day before was incredible I was cold…..and still it rained.

With about half an hour to go the rain stopped. With twenty minutes to go we were gridded for the start. I was on the third row. Bang on time we were away. I got a good start, held my place up the first climb, passed quite a few riders over the moorland. It was wet. Diving down towards the single track was a little slippy, and then…three kilometres of singletrack on foot. The overnight rain had made it unrideable. A total nightmare. It was a procession, impossible to pass, difficult to even stand in places. Each lap it got worse. By the final lap the mud was like glue. If you tried to carry your bike you could hardly stand, and if you pushed your bike the wheels clogged up and wouldn’t turn.

I finished well down in the twenty somethings. I was not happy. My bike was in a real state. Drivechain and disc pads trashed. To add insult to injury the sun came out!!! Imagine how I felt.

Championnat Regional VTT

Yep, it’s the Limousin region mountainbike championships, and I’m invited to ride! I don’t have great form, though I am improving. I don’t have many race miles in my legs this season. But, I’m gonna go and do my best.

The race is at Beynac in the Correze at the Etang de Miel (Lake of Honey!). It’s a beautiful spot, and the weather is fabulous. The circuit is 7kms, fast, flowing, dry. I like it very much. I’m guessing between 20 to 25 minutes a lap, and we (vet Bs) are doing 4.
Regional VTT Champs. I'm gridded on the front line!
I’m gridded on the front line! I wasn’t expecting that. We’re going off together with the Vet As. I’m sure there’s some faster guys behind me. I’ve clocked all the Vet Bs on the front line, so I know who I’m tracking.
I get a great start, and as we leave the arena I’m on the wheel of the leading Vet B.

It’s very fast. Along the fast forest track in the dust over the rocks there’s riders everywhere scrambling to get the best wheel they can before we hit the tarmac section that will take us to the first real climb.

First place seems to be easing away, but no panic, I’m sat in a group containing 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. We’re moving quick. As we continue through lap one we change positions, but nobody makes a move. Onto lap two, a rider from the Correze kicks. I go after him. Now it’s hard, very hard. My throat is burning, I haven’t tried this hard in a while. By the end of lap two we are clear. I’m looking at a podium finish.
Regional VTT Champs - It was great to race in warm sunny weather!
Then, it all goes wrong! I seem to be going backwards. Dominique from the US Nantiat comes past, I can’t hold him. As we go out for the last lap I’m gone, and within the last 2kms I drop to 5th. I’m almost 5 minutes off the pace. Ouch! What a kicking! Thanks guys! 🙂

But, it was still a great day out, and still great to see a lot of racing buddies who I haven’t seen for a while.



The picture below is a comp from a set taken by a photographer at “Les Gantiers” VTT Rando. The photographer was stood about 2 kilometers from the finish. So about 38 kilometers in. Now, which rider do you think is using a mudguard?
Guess who has a mudguard!
The trails have been a bit wet and mucky lately so I have fitted my THE Industries front mudguard. It’s a great bit of kit. It’s light, it’s easy to fit, it doesn’t mark your bike, and it does exactly what you need it to do, which is keep the muck out of your eyes. I reckon it’s the best front mudguard for XC racing out there. On the back I go for a Mr Crud Race Guard. Again, dead east to fit, and keeps your rear end dry and clean. It’s not very pleasant riding in wet shorts, and a constant spray of cold water onto your back can’t do much for the strong muscles in your lower back.
THE Industries front mudguard - the best there is.
Of course there are those who say that mudguards have no place on a mountainbike. They’ll be the ones struggling to wash mud out of their eyes while I’m enjoying a nice post rando cuppa!

Make a nice Christmas gift, some mudguards! 😉

St Junien – St Junien, on the bike, on the floor, on the podium…

On the bike – last weekend I rode one of the biggest and best road races of the Haute Vienne racing calendar. The St Junien – St Junien is one big loop of 86 kms starting just outside St Junien. A record 144 riders started this year. All categories race together, at the same time.

So, as you can imagine, with 144 riders, plus race vehicles including no less than 21 motorcycle marshals, the first few kilometres are gonna be tense. I’m sitting in the top thirty, though I can hardly see the front, and as for moving up, no chance. By the time we get to the main road that runs up towards Javerdat a small group has jumped away and the chase is on. We’re going quick, and there’s no let up.

St Junien neutralised depart Sept 2009 - click picture for more

The first climb of the day is taken in the big ring! No let up! I dunno who’s driving it, but they’re driving it hard, and it’s made harder by the concertina effect, and having to jump hard out of every corner and over every crest just to hang on. On the long climb from Cieux to Blond riders start to struggle, and I manage to move up. I can actually see the front of the peloton now.

From Blond to Vaulry then along the roller-coaster road towards Chamboret. We can see the group ahead. The pressure is on. I’m riding in the first 10-15 riders now. It’s much better here. Every now and then a rider tries to jump across the gap on their own. They don’t make it.

On the floor – The climb out of Nieul isn’t steep, but it’s long, and the pressure is on. Almost at the top, the rider in front of me touches a wheel and goes down. There’s nowhere for me to go apart from over the handlebars. I’m up in a flash, I check my bike, just one brake lever twisted. I straighten it, jump on and I’m away. I spectator gives me a good shove.

The bunch aren’t that far ahead. I chase to get back on. A motorcycle marshal who’s seen what happened signals for me to get his wheel so that he can tow me. The next 5 kms are agony. I’m topped out in 50*12 on the back of the motorbike and it takes 5 kms to rejoin the bunch! I thank the marshal and disappear into the heart of the peloton to recover.

From La Barre to St Victurnien is mostly down hill. I know these roads quite well, so I’m able to relax a little on the descents. Along the valley road now. There’s about 10 kms to go. One short ramp, then a steep climb back into St Junien and the finish. There’s still a group clear. Remember though, all categories are racing together, with prizes down to 5th for each category. I resolve to keep going. On the short ramp there’s a surge, but I’m OK.

The final climb coming up. It’s a horror. Dead straight, steep, and gets steeper as it rises. Again there’s a surge as riders take it on early. Two thirds of the way up and it’s chaos with riders coming backwards as fast as they went forwards. We’re over the top. I’m trying to stay near the front. The last right hander, I jump as hard as I can. 200 metres to the line, I manage to pass a few, and almost on the line I pass my friend and rival vet Pierre Chenaud!!!

Carla is waiting for me at the finish and packs me off to get cleaned up by a medic. I have a cut on my cheek, and some grazing on my elbow and hip. It looks quite bad, but it’s very superficial. It’s just that the wind has blown the blood across my face making me look tough and macho! 😉

On the podium – I placed 3rd in my category, and I was 3rd over 50 veteran, so got on the podium twice. I haven’t done many road races this year. This was a good one to end the season.

The 86 kms was covered in 2hrs 15mins. That’s pretty quick. Well done to all the riders. Many many thanks to all at the ASSJ CYCLO for a great race. Special thanks to the motorcycle marshal who towed me back on.

St Junien Podium 2nd Cats Sept 2009

Outcome – Closer inspection of my bike showed a slight scuff on my saddle and a tear in my bar tape. My helmet was broken and will have to be replaced. By Tuesday I had stiffened up a bit. By Wednesday I was back out with the boys on the FFC training bash.

There are some superb pictures taken by Jérôme Danlos that capture the day well. Take a look for yourself.

19 eme edtion – 12 Heures à vélo de Flavignac

A 12 hour relay road race organised by UC Flavignac.

I rode with my buddy Eric as a team of two. It is possible to race with a team of three, but we couldn’t find another rider of the right age so that we could race for the over 50s category.

Anyway, we came 2nd in category, we were 12th scratch (overall), and 3rd team of two.

12hrs Flavignac avant departIt was very very tough, as the majority of teams had three riders. Plus the afternoon temperature was 36 degrees! Quite warm and sunny. I was first out, at 06:30, and after a neutralised lap the racing started. I just could not believe how fast we were going. Average speed for the first few laps was around 37kph. During my first stint I never got off the drops, and didn’t have a chance to take a drink. It was fast.

The circuit was relatively flat, though as the hours went by it seemed to get a bit hilly. There was a tight “S” bend followed by a short rise on the back of the circuit. As you came out of it it was a short sprint every lap to stay on. Tough. Changeovers took place in the “Zone de Relais”. Protocol was that the lap before you wanted to change you raised your arm as you passed the commentary position, the commentator would then announce your number over the sound system thereby paging your team mate. This was great as it meant that you could relax a little when you weren’t racing.

12hrs Flavignac zone de relais

It was strange riding with a team mate that you didn’t speak to and hardly saw all day. It wasn’t necessary to pass a baton, or touch hands. As your team mate entered the changeover zone you could leave. The changeover zone was about 50 metres long. It worked really well, though it was best to stay alert as there were a lot of attacks here as riders with fresh legs tried to inflict damage.

We started out riding an hour a piece, but later in the day we switched to 45mins. We ended up riding in the same group as our nearest rivals. Every time they made a move we were there and vice-versa. It came down to the last lap, I had nothing left, and it fell to Eric to try to win the sprint. He stood up to go, and his legs buckled. After 12 hours of racing we got beat by a few metres.

We were more than happy with our ride, and although we didn’t win we got the better reception on the podium. The commentator asked me to say a few words in French. I thanked everyone for such a great day, and finished by saying, “Il est chaud, mais il est beau”. The crowd seemed to like this couplet, and I got a cheer and applause!
12hrs Flavignac podium avec Eric
It really was a superbly organised event, in a gorgeous spot next to the lake – “Lac Saint Fortunat”. It’s the 20th birthday of the event next year. Highly recommended. A must do.

Thanks to UC Flavignac for a great day out. Thanks to all the riders for a tough sporting race. Well ridden Eric (we shared a couple of cold beers after the race). Finally, well done to the “Chef d’equipe” Carla who looked after us both all day. Not an easy job, but she was fantastic.

On the podium – 24 Heures de Bonnac 2009

24hrs de VTT Bonnac podium 2009
The sun shone, it was hot, we raced hard, it was tough. It went dark, it was still hot, we raced hard, it was tough. It got light again, we were tired, we raced hard, it was tough. We made it onto the podium behind our great friends and rivals. 3rd place out of over 50 teams.

This year they ran the circuit the other way round. There were a few small changes, the most noticeable being that there seemed to be more downhill than uphill. How did they do that? It really was a super fast, super flowing mix of trails. You could get almost all the way round the lap in the big ring. Average time for a lap for me was around 15mins.

Just like last year, a team took it on right from the start leaving us to battle with ‘Culture Velo‘. This year it was the young guns from Briance Roselle Aventure who took it on. We were hoping they’d gone off too fast. So there’s us, ‘La bande à Marcel’, Culture Velo, and ‘Les singlespeed attack’ mixin’ it up for the podium. Should mention here that those crazy singlespeed guys have the current Vet National Champ riding with them.

As the day wears on we slip to 4th place, we’re three minutes down on Culture Velo, who are themselves down on the singlespeeders! There’s no let up, were racing incredibly hard, something’s got to give. We’re doing two laps a piece, and we’re knocking ’em out like a machine.

Racing into the night, we’re gaining. I’m out on a lap battling with one of the singlespeeders, and a rider from another team. The rider from whatever team doesn’t have good lights and is trying to use us to get round. We’re trying to drop him. Over a slight rise, the singlespeeder dives through going like a nutter. I chase after him. Surely he’s going to fast for the turn? In spite of the fact that there is a triple set of tapes together with reflective arrows all pointing left he goes straight on through the tape!!! Those singlespeeders – crazy guys! We’ve only been racing on the circuit for around 12 hours.

Through the second half of the night we continue to gain time. We move up into 3rd ahead of the SS team, and by sunrise we’re in second place some 3 minutes ahead of Culture Velo. The leaders BRA are over a lap ahead.

Now, while we’re riding two laps then change, Culture Velo are playing their cards a little differently. They are riding a man short most of the time. See they have a rider who cannot get to the venue before evening, and he’s going to relieve Jean Claude Sansonnet who is only riding in the day. So, just around breakfast time, JC returns after a good night’s sleep to boost his team. It starts to work, and slowly Culture Velo are pegging us back. With just three hours left to go we’re racing harder than ever. It’s tough.

In the end, we couldn’t hang on. Culture Velo catch us in the last few laps and push us into third. Sometimes though, it’s not where you came, it’s how you got there. We’re happy with third, it’s been a great race, we accept our beating with humility. Like I said at the top, we’re on the podium behind our great friends and rivals, we’ve shared a great weekend. Chapeau guys!

Many thanks, and Bravo to all at Bonnac for a great weekend. Felicitations and Bravo to all the riders, and ‘High 5’, and special thanks to my team mates Marcel (Nantiat), Jean-Phi (Nantiat), Lionel (Nantiat), Seb (Ambazac), Stephane (Ambazac). It was my great pleasure to race with you. Thanks for having me.

La Rochechouartaise…

First race of the season for me. The Rochechouartaise, a road race, hosted by my French club, the R.O.C.C.

I worked hard

After all the training i’ve been doing ready for the VTT Departmental Champs next weekend I went into it it looking for a good work out, something to finish off on before cutting back. I certainly got it.

There were 12 St Junien riders, and they did a great job of controlling the race. Found myself on the front closing gaps in the early stages just to give someone else a chance. I wasn’t gonna give up and just let them have it without a fight. Have to say that some of the blocking tactics were a little over the top. But that just did a great job of winding me up so that I tried harder. Got in a couple of breaks, and one time I thought we’d cracked it, but it was not to be.

It all started going pear-shaped when we got caught by two escapees from the 3rd cats race. They somehow got mixed up in our break and spoiled the rhythm. Then the whole 3rd cat bunch caught us!!! It ended up with all the 2nd cats sitting up for a lap to let them go through. Very sporting.

I worked hard, very hard

We recommenced racing with just a lap to go. Two St Junien riders get away, the rest block, and I mean block. Thinking that the two are safe, with about 3kms to go another SJ starts towing it along to deter attacks. He’s going pretty quick, and does such a good job he almost dumps us on the back wheels of his two team mates. He realises and sits up, chaos ensues.

Into the finish straight. We’re thinking that the SJ boys have blown it. Riders start sprinting. I’m on the wheel of Jean-Marc an SJ, he’s going for it, can’t believe my luck. 50metres to the line he sits up and drifts to the left, allowing his team mate to take the win. There’s no way through.

Frustrating as it might be, you gotta hand it to them, the St Junien boys did a good job, and although I didn’t get placed, I got a great workout. Merci a tous.

Reconnaissance de circuit VTT Departmental 2009

The VTT Departmental Championships are being held in St Junien this year, just 10mins away. Plus, just like any other year, the host club gives riders a couple of chances to make a reconnaissance of the circuit 3 and 1 week ahead of the race. This is great because it you can tailor your last minute training to suit.

The first lap is ridden en masse

Last Saturday was the first of two dates for St Junien, and as it was dry, I went along, yeah, so did just about everyone!

First lap is ridden en masse, with St Junien riders explaining anything that needs explaining. After that you’re free to do as many laps as you like.

Right, the start is fast, very fast. There’s a 200metre straight away before doubling back along the top of a steep escarpment. Next a fast descent down to the riverside, we’ll be like lemmings on the day.

Heading downstream over fast rocky ground, then sharp right past some old mills, then hook left, right, and onto the first climb. It’s not steep, but at race pace it’s gonna be tough, and lasts about 3 minutes. There’s a brief respite before climbing again. A short descent, then 90 left onto a very steep ramp 100metres to the top. Traction is key here, lose it and you’ll waste a lot of energy. Over the top, through a dip and onto the second ramp, not quite as steep, but slightly longer.

Still climbing, but only just, we cross the bridge over the Limoges-Angoulême road. A sharp right, another short climb, and we’re at the top of the circuit. The next few kms are mostly downhill, and very fast. Arriving back at the river, we turn right then wind our way along the valley side on sweet singletrack.

At the top of thye circuit. All downhill from here!

Almost home now, just two steep ramps to complete the 9km lap. These are tough. You wouldn’t want to be in a ‘head to head’ here. That would hurt!

So, sighting lap done, I do the next 2 laps with Jerome and the flying Baborier brothers. These boys are fast, I’m sure we’re going faster than race pace. Yeah, we must be, ‘cos the third lap the pace is a bit more sensible.

To sum the course up. Very fast, not overly technical, though you’ll need to be skillful to ride it superfast. It’s dry at the moment, and due to the rocky ground it could take a fair bit of rain and still be quick. A course for the strong and the brave. 🙂

17éme Sentiers des Etangs – Nantiat

Racing my S-Works Stumpjumper HTFirst race of the season – The Mountainbike season here in France runs from September to September. So far there’s only been one competitive event, and that was the Chrono (MTB time trial), at Panazol. So this’ll be the first chance to see who’s hot and who’s not. It’s 45kms, one big loop, ridden as seen.

Let me set the scene – I’m still on my way up form wise. Nowhere near as fit, or light, as I was when I broke my collarbone in June. I’ve been struggling this week. Sometimes when I overdo it some of the muscles around my good/bad shoulder get really stiff. From Wednesday onward I’m ramrod stiff, and despite the team masseuse doing her best, and me topping up with anti-inflammatories it just won’t let go. During the night before the race I wake up many times uncomfortable. I decide not to race as the outcome is bound to be a negative one.

On the day – We are up early and on our way. It’s a cold crisp morning. Carla is racing, I’m just doing the rando. At the race site, in the bustle of activity, I go into auto pilot…. sign on, number on bike, warm up, and as if by magic, I’m on the front row of the grid, the starter is counting us down from 5, we’re away on 3. There’s some pushing and shoving as we funnel into the first trail. I’m sitting just near the back of the lead group, we’re going fast!!!

On the first climb, I pass a few, a few pass me. It’s tough, and I don’t feel good at all. I’m starting to lose ground. Some of my Veteran B rivals come past Jean-Claude Sansonnet (Nantiat), Marcel Buisson (Nantiat), Dominique Vrignaud (EC Ambazac), Jean Luc Gromet (Beauvallet). This is going horribly wrong.

When you’re going backwards and you feel like sh*t it’s easy to back off, you need a strategy. Here’s what I do…

Stay calm, stay focused, stick to the task. I tell myself that’s what I’m doing (self talk?). Often, when I’ve been going really well I’ll have a tune going round and round in my head. Not always the same tune, but one tune that’s worked for me on many an occasion is Kylie’sCan’t get you out of my head‘!. Not the whole song, just the “La la la, la la la la la, la la la” bit. I call on Kylie voodoo to help me out, I focus on what I’m doing, and push on.

I seem to be going OK on the descents, and I’m gaining on Jean Luc. There’s a tricky section with big rocks as we drop onto a road. Jean Luc over cooks it and crashes. He’s OK, it’s a low speed tumble. I squeeze by. On the tarmac now, chasing to get the wheel of Marcel. I catch him as we go off-road. It’s Marcel who’s set the circuit. He knows every twist and turn of these trails, and it shows. Firing into blind bends at the perfect speed and line for the exit. I put my faith in Marcel and follow as tight as I can.

We catch Jean Claude! As we pass I ask him if he’s OK. He says he cannot breathe, the air is so cold. Onto big wide tracks now heading in the direction of Lac St Pardoux. Jean Marc Restoin (AS St Junien) arrives. He’s a strong roadie and on the open trails he’s going like a train. Only thing is, he’s towed Jean Claude back up!

Marcel has dropped off, we’ve caught Dominique. Jean Marc is doing the lions share of the work, and the kilometers are flying by. As we get into the narrow technical stuff JC thanks Jean Marc by diving in front of him. Down a rocky descent Jean Marc struggles, Dominique and I give chase.

On the twisty singletrack by the lake (St Pardoux), JC on the front, me glued to his wheel, Dominique glued to mine. It’s quick, but not desperate. I glance at my watch, one hour done, I reckon we’re halfway. Turning away from the lake, climbing what seems like a forever climb JC edges ever so slowly away. I try to go after him and get rid of Dominique, I can’t. Dominique tries to get rid of me, he can’t. JC stays in sight, just up ahead.

Almost two hours on the clock, and I’m really struggling, I’ve had enough, I’m looking for the finish. There’s a sharp right, and a granny ring climb, I hear Dominique miss his gears, I kick hard. I can hear the PA system announcing riders home. The finish can only be just around the corner. Dominique is back. I recognize where we are. A short twisty 500metres to go. I give it my all, and as we drop out onto the short finishing straight I sprint. No one comes past.

Wrap up – So, seeing as how I wasn’t gonna race. It didn’t actually turn out too bad. I’m second Vet B around a minute and a half down on JC (who’s been going extremely well). I’m 14th scratch out of 106 finishers, again, no too bad. I’m exhausted, it’s been a tough one.

Thanks to the Nantiat club who hosted the race, and Marcel for a superb circuit (course). Thanks to my fellow racers for a great workout, and thanks to Kylie – “La la la, la la la la la, la la la”. 🙂

BTW – Carla came 4th in the ladies race.
A copy results in Excel is here.

Chrono Catastrophe!!!

Panazol posterRode the Panazol rando yesterday. 28kms friendly with a 10km time trial (chrono) at the end. Enjoyed the rando, lovely sunny morning, a bit chilly, but a good warm up for the chrono. Stripped off arm warmers and leg warmers, and was ready.

Three short laps to make 10kms race track with riders going off at 30 second intervals. I’m off behind Christian Boutin, someone good to chase. Just over halfway around the first lap I puncture! How can it be, as I’m running tubeless with sealant? I stop and use a foam canister. It doesn’t work very well. I continue back to the start area where there is a mechanic. I shout him, and he runs over with a track pump. With my tyre pumped up hard I set off on lap two, passing some of the same riders I’d already passed.

By the end of lap two I can feel that the tyre won’t be hard enough for the last lap, I pull over at the start again. Shout the mechanic again, and bang the tyre up hard again. Out for the last lap, I give my all knowing that it’s pretty hopless.

Now, the worst part is i’ve been going on at Jean Claude Sansonnet for not using tubeless, and puncturing so often. He’s riding today, and finishes a fantastic third (scratch!)…….. on normal tyres, with tubes! Doh!