As a cycling athlete I have a natural tendency to check out men (and women, you’ll be glad to know) in tight shorts when I see them. It was thanks to this habit that it slowly dawned on me yesterday afternoon that, ‘Toto, we’re not in the Etape anymore!’. Everywhere I looked were slim guys with that serious cyclist’s air to them. It’s hard to explain, but once you’ve seen it, you know it.
Yes Dorothy, I was back to local France racing.
This short race, you’ll remember from my last post, was a 28km pound up to the summit of Mont Aigoual, some 1200m of elevation gain. The particular nature of this race, therefore, was tailor-made to the slim and serious cyclist. Fearing I belonged to neither group I found a spot in the front of the starting pen to gain every advantage I could.
Here is a shot, taken by Shoko, of the starting village – Valleraugues – a pretty place in a very pretty area for cycling.
Back to the race: getting myself near the front at the start is the opposite of my usual ‘strategy’ of being late for the race and starting behind, then fighting my way through the ranks of riders till I find my natural spot in the peloton. Here, I was already up front and found myself struggling from the beginning to hold on for dear life. I did for probably the first 8 km or so, then the race went vertical and some natural selection was quickly established.
It was odd though, because although I drifted back from the front group, I wasn’t passed by many behind – a sort of limbo that I’d never experienced before. The rest of the race I just tried to keep my heart from exploding and enjoyed the mostly-tailwind we had all the way up. I had little dramas, like being dropped off the back of a group, then, surprisingly, being able to fight my way back, only to be spit out again.
There were successes, too, however. A group of three caught me and decided I was the right speed for some wheel sucking. I pulled them up for a long while, listening to their breath with great curiosity (and wondering how they could be breathing like a hoarse banshee and still have the legs to keep up the pace). I picked up my speed, thanks to a favorable gradient (my favorite – around 6%) and listened as the breathing behind me turned to spitting, hacking and swearing. I had managed to lose only one of them after 2 or 3 km of this and wondered at the ability to suffer of the hacker behind me. Then, as he passed me and took up the pace making, I saw that he was a kid – probably 19 or 20, tops. I wasn’t sure if I should be amazed at his stamina or mine, given the fact I’m 25 years older. In the end I ‘let’ the new generation take its place and he (along with another young gars who had come up behind) finished 30 seconds ahead of me.
And the result? First the good news: Even with an all-uphill 28km course I averaged just over 21kph, something I couldn’t have imagined before the race. The roads were very good and nothing was very steep, though, I’ll admit. I finished 58th out of 135 overall, which puts me in around the top 40%, a far cry from the near-top ten of the Etape. Where are you, chubby foreigners, when I need you!?
Finally, a video taken by Shoko of the before and after. If I’d known the camera was rolling I might have managed a wittier finish. I’ll try harder next time.