April in Le Sud means the Gran Fondo Saint Tropez. It is a ‘race’ with great allure; the always sunny Mediterranean, colorfully international contingent of riders, and the off chance of qualify for the Masters World Championships. But for me, it’s an early-season eye-opener and one that tells where I’m at and what I need to do to get to where I want to go. If you don’t want to read further, the answer I found yesterday is that I need to do much more.
The team this year was short John (family vacation) and Erik (no comment), so Anne and I drove down to Aix TGV station to pick up the Herr Kaa, who rarely passes up a chance to come down to the south to ride his bike.
On the way to our hotel at the finish line in Gassin we stopped to pre-hydrate, on the next day’s race route, as it turned out.
This liquid lunch kind of set the tone for my attitude towards this event, but the cloudless skies and summer temperatures (well, Canadian summer..) could have played a role, too.
The finish, sponsored by PowerBar.
Nearly overlooking Saint Tropez from the ‘village’ in Gassin.
Karsten gets nearly as excited about beer as I do. Anne, always the sensible one, had the Perrier.
Karsten and I spent a sleepless night, which at least meant we couldn’t hear each other snoring.
This is an event for some serious riders. Many had come from all over Europe and even North America to try and qualify for the UWCT (the Worlds for non-pros and the long of tooth). Here is one such athlete, with pouches stuffed to the gills with Ziplock bags. I’m guessing she had people along the route with bidons, too, so she wouldn’t have to unclip for the next 180 km.
Like I said above, I didn’t have a heart full of motivation for this one, but I did go out pretty hard and rolled with some fast groups up the first little climb and along the curvy coast. Once the real climbing began I just tucked into myself and ‘rode my own race’, not trying to hang on wheels too much. On the descents I was fast, but didn’t push too much either, mainly because I’m still getting used to the handling on the Colnago. More on that soon.
You know that sinking feeling you get when you swear you have one more beer in the fridge and open it to find nothing? On the ascent of the largest col – Notre Dame des Anges – I casually reached back to retrieve my own Ziplock filled with dried fruit and cake anglais and found an empty pocket instead. This, 100 km from the finish. Luckily I had a half-chewed bar and a couple of gels left, but this meant more stops than I’d planned on and for longer stints.
But I had it better than some others. I think the three of us counted 6 different ambulances on various parts of the course, with some crashes looking pretty nasty. The descents on this event are notoriously bad, with ‘Descent Dangerous’ and ‘Virages Dangeroux’ screaming at you from the top of pretty much every climb.
And then I cramped, of course, and then cramped some more. I lost 4 or 5 groups that I could not hold onto and met the Man With the Hammer in passing a few times – just another day on the road, really.
My average speed was down 2 or 3 kph from two years ago, when I did the same distance, which tells me something about the ‘where I’m at’ part. I won’t dwell on this (too long) but if I’d had the same average speed as 2013 I would have qualified for the Worlds in Copenhagen this year. As for the ‘what I need to do’ bit, I’ll be consulting Coach Rob, losing weight, and swearing off beer (right after this one).
I’ll leave you with one of the many fluorescent Italians you can see if you come to this gran fondo. It’s almost worth the price of admission.