RACE REPORT: METAL FOR METTLE
Yesterday was the start of a busy seven days for me as I had the first of three races which I’m scheduled to ride over this period. With temperatures infiltrating the twenties and a big, bright sun bathing the roads of Saint Cyr la Riviere, conditions were, unusually, extremely pleasant for racing. The event in question that was blessed by such glorious weather was the impressively named Grand Prix du Conseil Général de l’Essonne – essentially the regional championships for the Essonne area, the region in which I live and where the team is also based.
The race was run over 18 laps of a challenging 7.5 kilometre circuit comprising of a fairly long but gradual climb, atop which was the finish line, a tough stretch of exposed and grippy country road before a narrow, twisting decent through the streets of a small village which delivered us back at the foot of the climb. The first couple of laps went off at a pretty tasty pace as riders attempted to establish a breakaway, but with such a large amount of climbing to come during the race, as well factoring in the warm, energy-sapping conditions, I decided not to get involve in the early skirmishing, instead opting to keep my powder dry for at least the first half of the race and then start to think about making my move, if able, towards the back end of proceedings.
Pretty soon a move went clear which contained both Lucas and Fred from our team, and with riders also present from most of the other well represented outfits in the race, there was a brief (and I stress, brief) lull in the action as no one was interested in mounting a chase straight away. This allowed them to establish a slender lead however, as I mentioned, the respite in the bunch was brief and soon enough the pace had been ramped right back up. Despite this however, we made little inroads into the breakaways advantage which goes to show just how hard they must have been pushing on. Eventually though, the pace out front proved a little too much for Lucas who dropped back to join the peloton, leaving Fred as our sole representative in the escape.
After a couple more speedy laps, the break had still managed to evade re-capture and finally things settled down in the pack as those riders who’d been responsible for driving the pace ran out of steam and motivation. With this easing back, the breakaway’s advantage went out considerably and during the middle section of race it was left to the two teams without guys in the break to organise and execute the chase. As a rider who much prefers taking climbs at a consistent tempo, this was ideal for me because an organised chase meant a regular and even level of effort, as this is the most energy efficient way to ride for a team who is chasing. Equally, because I struggle with constant attacks and sudden surges of speed on climbs, just like I’d been subject to in the opening laps, I was more than grateful of the chance to recoup a little bit of energy during these middle kilometres.
With six laps to go, things began to get tough again as those riders who’d been saving their energy at the expense of the chasing teams began to get nervous of the fact that the breakaway still held a healthy advantage, and so a barrage of attacks and counter-attacks began which threatened to split the peloton on a number of occasions. To put into perspective just how hard things got, with five laps remaining the escapees still had a healthy lead of one minute forty, yet by the time we crested the top of the climb two laps later they were just thirty seconds ahead.
By this time, the numbers in peloton had been significantly reduced and each time up the hill the bunch was becoming more and more strung out. On each of the propreantepenultimate, preantepenultimate and penultimate laps (check me out with my big words …), there were big attacks on the climb followed cruelly by riders continuing to drive it over the top the hill and into the crosswind. Each time this caused fractures to appear in the fragile line and on the first occasion, I had ridden strongly to make sure I was in the first of these splits. However, with the pace getting tougher and tougher each time up the climb I found myself sliding further and further back down the line, and on the other two occasions I had to dig-deep extremely deep and come from behind to fight my way back to the front group, which I managed to do each time.
On the final lap, the race blew to pieces once more and the remnants of the breakaway were finally absorbed. Despite the onset of cramp and some serious fatigue accrued in my legs, I fought tooth and nail over every meter of the final seven and half kilometres to finish as strongly as possible but, unfortunately, the race proved to be just one climb too many for me and I hauled myself across the finish line in 31st place, absolutely on my knees. As it turns out, my endavours weren’t to be in vain and I’ve actually been very nicely rewarded for my efforts …
Whilst I knew that this race was the regional championships for the Essonne, what I hadn’t realised was that it was also an open race (so other riders and teams who weren’t from the region could, and did, enter) and that the regional championship competition formed a subplot to the overall event – a kind of race within a race if you like. So when my two team mates Ludo and Fred were called up during the prize presentation to receive 1st and 2nd place medals respectively, despite neither of them having finishing inside the top ten let alone first and second, I was rather confused as to what was going on and what they’d supposedly won. But when my name was called out and I was invited to join my two team mates and collect a medal for myself, well … you can imagine my surprise! Initially I just stood there and laughed because I thought they’d confused me for someone else – after all I’d finished 31st so there’s no way I could have won a medal or anything like that. Or so I thought. Rather bemused by what was happening and still believing it was some kind of wind-up, it took a few shouts of allez, allez and accompanying hand gestures from the team president before I eventually made way to the front and gladly accepted my medal for … wait for it … finishing 3rd in the regional championship!
Throughout the duration of the race there were many times, especially towards the end, when I was right at the end of my tether and could have easily given in and succumbed to a course that didn’t suit me, however I’m extremely glad that I didn’t and to me my bronze medal is a nice little reward for my perseverance, determination and suffering over the three and a half hours. It has to be said though, I don’t know whether the fact that I came 31st in the race yet still managed to take 3rd place in the regional competition reflects that the standard of competition across the whole event was really high, or whether in fact it demonstrates how rubbish the standard of riders in the Essonne region is!! Probably a bit of both!
Either way, it was a very pleasing and pleasantly unexpected way to end what had been a very hard yet very enjoyable day. Next up for me is the GP de Fericy, which takes place on Wednesday. After my recent rough patch at the start of the month, I’ve been feeling really positive of late and hopefully Sunday was the beginning of my return to successful ways. All I know for the moment though is that I’m loving riding my bike again, my motivation is sky-high and I’m chomping at the bit to race – I just can’t wait to get stuck into the next couple this week!