Although the final results aren’t online yet, I can be fairly sure that I didn’t smash any records in my 6th race of the season yesterday. In fact, in terms of placing within my age category (my yardstick), it was really disappointing. But read on, I’ll attempt to justify it all in this article!
For this, my last race before the Etape on July 11th, I decided to choose the ‘long’ event. Every sportive I’ve done so far has had 2 or more distances to choose from and up till yesterday I’d always chosen the medium or short version. I figured I needed something to toughen me up a month before my big objective.
I got what I asked for, I guess.
Some race stats – The Granite Mont Lozère is 145 km long with 2640 meters (8661 feet for the metrically challenged) of climbing. So that’s my first excuse. The race was longer and higher than anything I’d done this year.
Excuse the Gerry-centric images in this post. Shoko had the camera, so I got to be the star. Here we are (all 76 of us…so few riders that the announcer didn’t even bother with a loudspeaker) awaiting the start.
As you can see, I’m in my customary position at the back. I thought this would be fine, since the group was so tiny. Well, at least that meant there weren’t any riders behind me when I realized my front wheel was on the wrong way! Yep, 200 meters after the start I looked down to see ‘0’ on my computer. After fiddling with the magnetic thing on the fork I realized my error and stopped to flip the wheel around (thank you quick release!). This turned out to be a fatal mistake because I couldn’t catch the main group on the 10% (but short) climb out of town. I did group up, but with a smaller, slower bunch and the rest were well ahead when the first climb hit about 15 km down the road. I guess that’s my 2nd excuse…
First Loop – Feelin’ Fine
The first climb (of 3) was 15 km long, but with a sane 5% I’d guess. I felt good and passed a few riders on that one, till I found a group that I could stay with and be content. I find passing people much more satisfying that being passed, I have to admit, but I’m sure my unintentional custom of starting in the back is not the best way to race. Still, after the winding, hazardous (lots of gravel on the turns) descent that went through the start town (Villefort) again, I was feeling pretty good.
Last Long Loop
Yes, pretty good, but I still hadn’t caught up with very many others and, like many a race before, never saw most of them till lunchtime after we were finished.
The last loop was much longer, with two consecutive climbs, culminating on the Col de Finiels, which is Mt. Lozère, the highest mountain in the Cévennes National Park. I had joined a bunch after Villefort and took turns at the front with these guys till the first climb where, amazingly, we stayed together for quite some time. In the group I had Les Rouleurs, two men who could really push it on the flats, not to mention create a nice windscreen for the rest of us; Le Grimpeur, the climber of the group, who was nearly always at the front when things got vertical, but who later sullied his name by bonking and drifting away behind us; finally Les Domestiques, me and another guy – we were not bad on the flats and nothing really special in the hills. Probably make excellent water boys though.
In the end, our group broke up near the top of the 2nd climb, with me behind Les Rouleurs (yes, they could climb, too) and in front of Le Grimpeur and my fellow domestique, i.e. no-man’s land. I got to the top at my own pace, stopped for water, cake and orange slices, and rode away, wondering what was in store for me on Mt. Lozère.
Nothing really good, is the short answer.
I suppose I spent nearly an hour climbing after the top of the 2nd col, then The Climb came into view. The top of Mt. Lozère is pretty much treeless, so I had the whole, sickening vista to behold – a giant stood in front of me, seemingly not too far and not too high, but I’d seen enough mountains to know the reality. There was still a whole lot of up.
I should mention here that the way I was feeling on climb #1 had deteriorated into something less than good. I had eaten / drank enough this time at least, so there was to be no bonking like on Ventoux. I was just simply running out of steam after 100 km and maybe 2000 m of climbing. I would like to use this as excuse #3, but I can’t really, since everybody else was doing the same race as me. Where do they get their stamina from??
So I tucked into myself, had my last slice of fruitcake, and slowly, steadily, made my way up the flanks of Mt. Lozère. By the end I was feeling OK again, especially since I knew the last 45 km or so were downhill.
It’s All Downhill…
But it’s never that easy, is it? The ‘downhill’, after a proper descent of maybe 5 km from the summit, was a road that gently went down, following a river. Fine, but there was a headwind for most of the way, which meant over an hour of time trialing to get myself back to Villefort before they ran out of food. I found a rider on the way who was happy to latch onto my back wheel and even do a full pulls himself, and things went a bit faster. Still, it was a hard, hard slog and everything was hurting.
The race ended with a tiny climb and I somehow found the energy to stand on the pedals for the camera.
1. This cycling game is a long-term effort and if you (or at least me..) want to improve enough to be competitive you need years, not months.
2. Local races in France are more competitive than those with a heavy foreigner presence (like Ventoux and, presumably, l’Etape du Tour).
3. French riders have a cycling gene that I need to get transplanted somehow.