On Sunday, while you were all watching Peter Sagan take ‘history’ away from Fabian Cancellara, I was writing another mediocre page in my own humble cycling histoire.
The Heraultaise, which I rode in 2014 as well, is a pretty big deal for the local expat cycling community over there in the department of Hérault, which means it’s a good chance to catch up with virtual friends in real life. It’s also a hard race on a beautiful parcours and, as always down here, the competition is stiff and stubborn.
How the Race Unraveled
John and I started about 100 back and stayed more or less with the front end of the peloton till it started to crack on the first riser out of town. John rolled ahead and I watched him go, happy to keep my heart out of my mouth.
Somewhere on the climb out of St. Martin de Londres (no relation) I passed a struggling Irishman, Roan, who was taken out by a French granny a few days earlier and could hardly walk, let alone ride. Still, he flew all the way down for this, so made sure he hobbled around the whole 135 km.
After a hairy descent into the Hérault Gorge on moist roads, we climbed out and on our 2nd descent I saw my only accident – a dazed and confused rider sitting in the grass with a bloodied head, motorcycle guy on the horn to the ambulance. It’s strange the things you get used to seeing in sportives.
After passing by St. Guilhem le Desert our group pounded up to the foot of the one big climb of the day – 8 km Col du Vent – where I made my first tactical mistake. I was climbing better than most in my general vicinity till that point and I don’t like riding uphill with a group for some reason, so I decided to let them go and ‘catch them on the climb’. Somehow that plan didn’t exactly pan out and I found myself ‘chasing them down’ for 8 km instead. I did catch a few, though, including Mark, who had started further up towards the front and was suffering from clubbing till 4 am the night before (or so the story goes). I think this is near the top of that climb.
I crested the pass alone, but Mark and a growing group caught me quickly on the descent and we pretty much stuck together for the next 60 km to the finish line.
And those 60 km were tough, proving again that I need to work on my muscular endurance. On one set of small climbs, nicknamed ‘The Pine Cones’ by the Irish, I found myself at the pointy end of our group and was sure I and the other guy I was working with would be dropping riders like flies. At the top they were all still there, of course, and I was once again hit by the strength of the average rider in France. Once they get a wheel to stick onto, it’s hard to shake them off. Oh, and English, too, I should say, because Mark was one of them.
And speaking of Mark, about 7 km from the arrivée, he attacked the group, using his superior TT skills and clubbing legs to put in a big gap in no time. I’d like to think that this was my 2nd tactical mistake, but I didn’t have the legs to go with him, even if I had wanted to. I was sure I had seen the winning move, but we took advantage of the wind, a slight downhill, and power in numbers, and reeled him back in a couple of km from town. Then, to spite us all, he won the sprint, finishing 8 places and 2 seconds ahead of me.
John was at the car, waiting patiently. He finished in 101st place and I was around 5 minutes back in 118th (26th in my age category). The field was nearly 400, and my result was surprisingly better than two years when I hobbled in around 140th or so. I’ll take that as a good sign, whether it is or not.
Next up, a full month of guiding clients, then to Spain and the Quebrantahuesos in early June. Will be adding sprint training to the program before then.