The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Specialized-Boucles du Sud Ardèche

I present to you the understatement of my 2011 so far: last weekend’s race didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The Specialized-Boucles du Sud Ardèche, the 2nd race of my life, was full of promise. The weather was great, I was fully carbo loaded, and I think I was better prepared than last race (I did 800 training km in February).

As you know, Karsten, a friend from Paris, hopped on the TGV to come down for the race. We rented a car, got up stupidly early, and drove through the dark garrigue, north to Ruoms, just across the ‘border’ in the Rhône Alps region. Here are the ‘before’ photos.

The Good – So it all started perfectly. Got to Ruoms in plenty of time and picked up our numbers, free t-shirts and bottles of wine. We even had time to take a good warm-up spin before the race began. This race had two distances: 73km and 100km. We were signed up for the shorter version and our group began 15 minutes after the longer race. Unlike the race I did 3 weeks ago, the start pace was not as violent and I could pretty easily stay with the front group on the flat. I think there were two or three other groups that splintered off behind. Karsten, enjoying the scenery, was in one of those.

At the first climb (3.5 km @ 3.3%) both of our groups splintered again and I was far from keeping up with the maniacs in the front. Not too bad though and it was short and not very steep. At around 30 km we hit the 2nd climb (7 km @ 4.6%) and this one really strung out the crowd. Even by the time I hit the bottom of it I was in a group of only 3 or 4 guys , having spent about 10 km trying to find someone (bicycle racing is far lonelier than I had imagined!) and finally getting a group that I could work with. Well, lost them again right off the bat when the road went up. I’m totally convinced now that losing more weight is an urgent matter if I want to improve much more.  I can handle myself reasonably well on the flats and descents, but as soon as the road turns upwards, gravity starts tugging at my Lycra. But I must say that after a couple km of climbing I was getting into a groove and started passing people. I was feeling good. That is until I heard beside me, ‘hey dude’ (or some similar moniker), and there was Karsten prancing up the mountain like he had just been injected with EPO. Either he was being kind or I got a 2nd wind, but we more or less finished that climb together. Well OK, I could still see him in the distance…

Things were looking pretty decent at this point. I checked my average speed somewhere after the top of the climb and we were over 30 kph. Not too shabby, I was thinking.

The Bad – Then things went all wrong. We had regrouped after the climb and found ourselves with a group of about 4 or 5 and Karsten stopped at the food station to fill up. I decided to keep going, having my pockets filled with fruit cake and still plenty of water left in the bidon. I flew along the top of this mountain with my group for a few km till I noticed a sign that said ‘100 km’. I asked the guy next to me which distance he was doing and he said ‘100’. I started to panic. I told him I was doing the 73 km and he said reassuringly, ‘ah, c’est bon, c’est bon’. Well, you must know by now that it wasn’t ‘bon’ at all, and a few minutes later that same guy came rolling up to me saying, ‘I made a mistake. You missed the 73’. I started swearing in both French and English, while he began encouraging me to stay with them and do the 100 (I was pulling hard for the group while ‘c’est bon, c’est bon’ was spending most of his time in the back).

Nope, I pulled over and turned around, pissed at myself for missing what I thought must have been an obvious sign. Then, who do I see coming down the road towards me but Karsten! We slow down, talk about what route we were on (he didn’t see any sign at the food station), and decide that maybe we really are on the 73 after all. Turn back, gun it down the road again, where we passed a couple of guys. They confirmed that indeed we were on the 100 km route. By now any hopes of getting a time I could live with was shot and I didn’t feel like turning back. We kept going, resigned to just do well in the 100, even though it wouldn’t be official.

The Ugly – once we made the decision to continue we made good time and passed quite a few riders, feeling pretty good about ourselves since anyone we passed had started 15 minutes before us. Added to that, the longer route cut through the beautiful Ardèche Gorge and the scenery was stunning.

This went on for 20 km or so I think and then, on a wickedly fast left-hand turn, I heard and awful scraping/skidding sound behind me. Karsten had hit a rough spot on the turn, locked up the rear wheel, and road-burned into the gravel shoulder. The first thought that came to my mind was ‘shit, I knew I should have memorized the ambulance number for France’. My 2nd thought was, ‘my, Karsten looks like he’s in a world of pain’. My 3rd thought was ‘I wonder if he’d mind me taking a few photos for my blog’…but as you’ll see I didn’t act on that last thought till a bit later.

But he was in a bunch of pain and rightly so. We took that turn fast, so he obviously didn’t just fall and stop. Here is the first of several shots of Karsten’s butt.

After a while, once we got our wits together, Karsten took a look at his rim (bent) and tire (blown) and thought he might be able to ride if he changed the tube, keeping the back brakes loosened.

This is the scene of the crime. It doesn’t look steep, and it wasn’t, but it was a very, very fast corner.

Many minutes later Karsten gingerly got back on his bike and we rode for another 20 km or so before being swept up by the voiture balai, or the broom wagon. They stopped off at a fire hall to pick up a wrecked bike from another crash victim and at the same time found a guy to look at Karsten’s road rash. If blood (or naked bums) make you queasy, skip ahead.

The two guys operating the broom wagon were pretty jovial and made jokes about amputating his leg (‘without anesthesia. Canadians are tough’) for a while. Karsten, meanwhile, was suffering (and bleeding) on their backseat. We had a long ride with them because, being the broom wagon, they need to finish the race last. At one point on the final climb of the day (2 km @ 7.8%…nearly glad we didn’t need to do this one!) they stopped the van and told me to take a photo of the view. So I did.

After we finished we shook everyone’s hand, promising to come back next year to finish what we started, then we took our free lunch tickets and hobbled to the town hall for a decent buffet. Then to the pharmacy for bandages. Then back to the town hall, where I took one more photo – The trophies we didn’t earn and the bike we didn’t win.

Next race – March 27. Goal: finish.

20 thoughts on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Specialized-Boucles du Sud Ardèche

  1. Sorry to hear things didn’t go as planned. Hope Karsten is feeling better now. I’m a great believer in third time lucky so hopefully it’ll be your day on your next race.
    Bon courage,

  2. Hi Gerry,
    Sorry about your friend and I’m sure you would have preferred to have stayed on course and done really well but… it does make for a better story!! Some of the very best memories are the ones where things really hit the shitter instead of going according to plan.

    I’ve enjoyed your blogs and your pictures.

    Take good care!!

  3. Karsten is one tough dude. You gotta admire a guy who leaves a fair portion of his arse on a French hillside and still wants to carry on with his bent rim. And you’re a good friend to stick with him and not abandon him to his fate in the name of a competitive time. You lived my great fear – getting lost on a ride. I’ve only done a couple of organized events (none of them races) and I’ve spent a lot of energy studying the route for fear of missing a turn.

    But the most intriguing note from your story is that French races hand out bottles of wine with their T-Shirts. Brilliant! I need to see how I can encourage that practice here in the States!

    Best of luck on the 27th.

    • Well, he had the keys to the car – what choice did I have??

      And yeah, the wine was even pretty drinkable. The race was sponsored by Specialized, hence the shirts. But still, a good deal of free things for the price.

      It was a good learning lesson for future races. Need to keep a close eye out for signs. I think it was the brass band at the food station that distracted us, to be honest…

  4. Sounds like you had a ‘fun’ adventure, I often ride with Karsten and if someone has a problem he is always the first to help and will stay with you till the end, so i’m glad you showed the same kindness to him.

    A note for the future, I have done 2 competition rides with Karsten, the first time we ended up doing about 15km extra due to missing a turn. The second time he got lost and ended up crossing the finish line 1hr later in the wrong direction…….just saying.

  5. Nick, I’d love to blame Karsten, but I was the first one to make the wrong turn. Make a mental note: don’t do any races with Karsten AND Gerry. You’ll have no hope of reaching the finish line.

  6. Owwwe! Is there nothing worse than gravel rash? Hope Karsten gets a speedy recovery. Nice first photo of the damaged lycra, I bet Karsten enjoyed having to pose for that! And he gets to pump up his tyre!
    Having been lucky enough to visit the Ardeche, a 30 km/h average is mighty respectable. Well Done.
    Making said mental note: If we get a chance to do a ride with you, it sounds like it will be a full day!
    Oh and is there any French wine that is not drinkable?? : )

  7. Steve, I actually did take over the pumping duties shortly after snapping that shot. I just have to put that on the record!

    Luckily I think it was more of a bitumen rash, so not many stones lodged in there. I used to think 30 kph was more than respectable, too. Doesn’t seem to be the case in these races, though. I’ll persevere though. At the very least, it gets me out of the house.

    And yes, you’re right of course. Most of the grog over here is quite palatable.

  8. Pain!! But I sure admired the both of you for sticking it out together. Your “3rd thought” made me howl! Spoken like a true blogger. Best of luck on the next race and I look forward to any report.

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