Whoops, have been rather remiss at updating the blog for a while!
Well, the weather has warmed up a bit and it feels like we’re well into the racing season already. Since my last update I’ve done a couple of road races in Guernsey (without any notable results – although I did manage to beat someone in a sprint finish for once) and a few shorter time trials, including a PB in a 5TT when the seemingly incessant wind finally abated for a day!
I had planned on making my UK racing debut with a Southern XC race at Checkendon over the Easter holidays (my wife still doesn’t believe it was a coincidence I booked a place only 2 miles up the road!), but unfortunately it was cancelled on the morning of the race due to a waterlogged car park so I was left to smashing it round the very picturesque byways and bridle paths of the Chilterns on my cross bike until I managed to hit something particularly large and put a big hole in a tubeless tyre and broke a spoke for good measure. It was fun whilst it lasted.
The next trip planned for France was the Pentecost weekend when there’s normally a race in our village on the Sunday. I had hoped to find a Cat 3 race on the Saturday, but because of the bank holiday Monday in France, finding a race within a reasonably distance was difficult and disappointingly the only race in the whole of Brittany was a D1/D2 a two hour drive away down towards the South coast.
Entering the races proved a little trickier than previously, with neither of the race organisers particularly communicative via email, and I ended up resorting to a search of Strava segments to find details of the courses.
I travelled with a mate again to split the travel costs, and there were 3 other guys from the Velo Club on the same boat over who ended up doing the same two races, albeit in the next category up. Sign on was a little easier to find this time with it being at the start/finish line both days rather than a nearby bar or sports centre but, despite my best Google translated pigeon French emails, neither of us were included in the ‘engagements’ for either race. That said, there was no problem adding our names to the bottom of the sign on sheets once we’d handed over €7 each and flashed our BC licences and letter of authority.
Saturday’s race was in Sérent, near to Plumelec where Dad & I had watched the team time trial at the Tour de France last year, and it was the usual format of an out and back loop for the main 1/2/3 race followed by several laps of the same closed road circuit that our side show D1/D2 race would be on. Once we’d done a couple of warm up laps, and the main event had headed off out of the town, the 80 or so in our race lined up and headed off at break-neck speed for 11 laps of the rolling circuit. After a mile or so I found myself near the front when the first attack came, and despite busting a gut sprinting off to join the early break, I turned round to see the whole peloton was right on my wheel! There were a couple of short sharp climbs that did nothing to spread the field our, and the roads were quite decent apart from one section of rough stuff at the top of the climb out of the town, which knocked the breath out of me every time we had to chase down an attack.
It seemed that everyone fancied having a go at getting off the front, and the pace was relentless as the peloton reacted to shut down each move until a small break got away just after half distance. I was struggling by this stage and found myself being repeatedly shouted at by a guy in a VC Rennes kit to the point that I sat up and, to para-phrase, pointed out that if he was unhappy with my pace maybe he’d prefer not to be sitting on my wheel the whole way round. I hung in for a few more laps before ended up on the wrong side of a split in the peloton and trundled round for the remaining 2½ laps somewhere towards the back of the 50 or so finishers, trying to save as much energy as possible for the next day. One of locals was grumbling on my Strava entry that it was more like a Cat 3 race than a D1/D2, so I guess I got what I wished for after all!
I was still feeling a little tired from the previous day’s 4 hours of driving, never mind the lesson in bike racing, when we woke up on Sunday but at least it only took us 10 minutes to reach Sunday’s race just outside our village of Saint-Cast-le-Guildo. Having done a couple of back-to-back races already this season, I’d remembered to fuel properly during the race the day before but the quads were still burning on the walk back up the hill from the boulangerie in the morning. We got chatting to one of the local racers at sign on who’d previously visited Guernsey, and it was interesting to learn that every weekend he drives all over Brittany to do these closed road village races – not a single time trial in sight.
Sunday’s race was a dizzying 22 laps of a much shorter 2 mile circuit, and thankfully the pace was back to my previous experience of D1/D2 racing. There were some pretty narrow lanes round the back of the circuit for the 75 riders to try and squeeze through, and I found myself boxed in as an early break of 12 or so riders got away – although to be fair I was pretty happy sitting in for the first few laps as my back was starting to ache from the not particularly sensible 120psi in my not particularly sensible 23mm tyres. The peloton was pretty disorganised and we never really got going in trying to chase down the leaders, and the slow pace meant the group was still pretty big until the inevitable crash following a touch of wheels as we lapped some back markers with 2 laps to go. I somehow managed to avoid the guy bouncing off the road right of me and, with the pace suddenly increasing, decided that the front of the group was the best place to be. Luckily I managed to time my move up through the peloton well enough to grab 4th place in the bunch sprint, and 16th overall.
After a gentle spin in the sunshine up to Matignon and back for a recovery coffee, we indulged in the customary post-race galette saucisse and traditional chat with a drunk local who insisted that their uncle once won Paris-Roubaix (seriously, this guy must have nephews in every village in France!), before watching the other Guernsey guys finish their 2/3 race and then heading back into town for quite frankly terrible pig-burger and a couple of well-earned Pelforth.
At the time I was a bit disappointed with Sunday’s result, as it wasn’t that fast and I really should have got across to the break when it was only 10 or 20 seconds ahead. It’s very different to Guernsey where seemingly every race ends in a bunch sprint, so the tactical side of reeling in a large breakaway is still something of a learning curve, but with hindsight I was quite pleased with my sprint, as it’s something that has never been one of my strengths and I have focussed on it a lot in training recently, and 16th is still my best finish in France this season. My next trip over in the summer will be for a bit longer, so it’ll be interesting to see if I can find myself at the front towards the end of races when my legs have had a few recovery days in between efforts.