A while back John thought it might be a nice idea to do a little race in one of our backyards (Pic Saint Loup). He signed up, then I signed up, then we realized what we’d signed up for. The Tour de l’Hortus (still happening as I write this – there’s a TT that we skipped in the pm) is a sanctioned race (yes, race without the ” “) by one of the French sport federations (FSGT) and would be full of guys and girls who are categorized riders hungry for points…or something.
We went ahead with it anyway, ‘for the experience’, and bought a day licence for the race. Then we read the small print: it seems that, as part of the rules, riders from other cycling federations and those with no licence, must start with the Cat 1 and 2 group. We still don’t know the thinking behind this one, but I could gather a guess or two if put to the test. Needless to say, the FSGT Cat 1 and 2 riders were safe from these two middle-aged ringers. We were both dropped on the first climb.
We were all numbered according to category, so our 70 and 71 gave us away as serious contenders, at least till we started riding. The start was different from a sportive; we were each called by number and name and then did a little loop of the village, popping around to the street you see straight ahead in the photo. Then we took off.
The start was actually pretty tame compared to some of the gasping-fests I’ve had in sportives. These guys were cool as concombres and just ramped up the speed slowly as we left the village. John and I both were thinking hey, maybe we can hang with these boys. And then there was a hill of course. Rob warned me about this and I knew it from simple math in my head, so I really wasn’t too shocked when the big bunch in front of me started moving ahead faster than I was. I looked down at my power meter and saw 300 watts and I knew that holding this for the 4 km climb would be possible, but not wise, since it was the first of 12 climbs on the day. I backed it off a little with a couple other riders and watched John drift away with the crowd of small asses.
But then John was dropped and I caught him, thanks to someone who came out of nowhere to pull me back. I was dropped again on the last climb of the first circuit.
Second & Third Loop
Resigned to my fate, I rode alone for a lot of the time, or found one or two other stragglers, and it went that way for two circuits. My main goal during this time was to hold off the Cat 3 and 4 group, which started 10 minutes behind us. I decided I’d be happy to survive till the 3rd lap before the inevitable (a lone rider has no chance against a raging peloton – watch just about any breakaway in pro cycling for confirmation).
But by the end of the third loop I was still ‘ahead’, now rolling with a young guy from Sud Vélo, the club who runs this race. We worked reasonably well together for a long time and it was quite enjoyable, to be honest. I was getting a great workout, the sun was out, and I had a guy who didn’t mind a pull or two on the front from time to time. I began to think we may just hold the group off.
After crossing the timing mat for the penultimate time, Greg (this could be my buddy or it could be me, since someone I had just met in the morning yelled it at us) and I flew out of Valflaunès and started the 4 km climb between Hortus and the Pic. We summited, started the descent, then saw two guys with impossibly long legs cruise by, yelling ‘Allez, venez!’ They said it with such authority I thought I had no choice, so I jumped on the wheel, Greg trailing behind. This was very timely because we were just about to hit the one long, flat stretch that had a strong headwind. Legs 1 and Legs 2 took turns at the front while Greg and I hung on for dear life. I did take two token pulls, but they didn’t seem fussed about it either way.
Legs, as you may have established, were the first attackers from Group 2, and not long afterwards the inevitable inevitably happened, and we (but not Legs) were overtaken by the 40 or so riders from the main group. We stayed with them till the very last climb of the day, where I petered out (are you seeing a pattern yet?) and lost them, watching Greg ride away into the garrigues, along with Mark Van B, who is a friend from the boonies of Hérault that I’ve climbed Ventoux with.
The end began much as the beginning, and I finished the uphill sprint to the line with one other guy, feeling a bit like I’d just been dragged by one train then run over by another, but strangely feeling quite good as well.
- John finished a few minutes ahead of me AND ahead of the Cat 3 and 4 riders, so kudos to him!
- I saw a potentially awful accident right in front of me near the end of the race, when the rider in front of me clipped the back wheel of the bike in front of him, doing a major wobble then falling head first into a low concrete barrier. I think I saw out of the corner of my eye that he landed mostly on his shoulder, but it didn’t look gentle.
- We are looking into options on licences now. No, I don’t know why…