La Ble D'Or

Overall Distance 93k Time Taken 2:31
Height Climbed not a lot Brevet Gold
Distance Climbed   Category Position 25th
Date May 2008 Country France
Entrants 580 Region Eure-et-Loire

La Ble D'Or (The Golden Corn) took place on the Sunday after the monstrously challenging Steven Rooks Classic.  It was to be a day of mixed emotions that, unknowingly, ended with a controversy of Pro Tour proportions. 

To find out how a super fast beautiful event, in a sleepy little town, caused such a storm in the sportive world, read on...

Where are we?
If it's Saturday it must be Chartres.  Sitting in the Ibis, behind the famous cathedral, alongside the sleepy riverbank with the sun shining, the birds singing and a shandy going down nicely, it really doesn't get much better.  Really don't feel like moving but move we must to collect the dossards for tomorrow's event.  Just five more minutes in the sun then we'll go, maybe ten.

A kilometre or so from the hotel is the event start in the small hamlet of Leves, which consists of a crossroads, a shop, a hairdressers and a garage.  All of which are closed on on a Saturday afternoon!  There's also a fantastic sports stadium whose size is out of all proportion to the surrounding populace.  All in all a typical French town!

We picked up our numbers no problem then on the way back found a cycle shop that mirrored the status of the stadium.  More Colnago's, Record equipment and top end titanium and carbon stuff than you could shake a composite stick at.  An Aladdin's cave in the middle of nowhere!  As luck would have it I didn't have my wallet,  Ironically, seeing as it was the only place open, it was window shopping only.

So it's back to the hotel to have a power nap, a shower and to pasta up for tomorrow's start; sunny weather is promised but with a breeze.  Sun I like, breeze's I can take or leave.

At last sunshine
It seemed to be a long time coming but this was to be the first time all year that I could ride without carrying arm warmers and a gilet.  We'd signed up for the 91k route as logistically I don't think we could do the big ride and get back to the boat in time for the evenings sailing.

So I whimped out.  Besides, the thought of doing two full monty sportives in less than a week didn't appeal.  Then I read my new mate Morgan's Blog on the Tour of Sardinia and felt so inadequate.  Must go away and reassess my definition of hard.

Once all the dignitaries had their photo's taken (I managed to sneak a Flamme Rouge sleeve in to the front page of the local rag) and the speeches were over, the gun went off and I went with it.  Somehow I managed to be two riders from the front line.  I was still there 500 metres later when we started climbing at what I thought was a slightly inappropriate pace.

However, this was a round of the Trophee Passion and the Label D'Or championships.  Speed is a pre-requisite and warm-up periods are deemed irrelevant.  You warn up by riding the first hill, just one minute in remember, at 30kph and 400 watts.  Still by time I got to the top I was thoroughly warmed up, still in the top twenty, and feeling surprisingly sprightly.

Dianne, after her valiant efforts and heroics on the Steven Rooks, decided to sit this one out.  We couldn't take the chance of her missing the turn, doing the big ride and us missing the boat home!  So she went for a 40k amble in the French countryside.

Me?  I went for a 40kph scream up false flats with a full-on peloton that seemed to have put it in the 53x11 and then cut the cable.  There was no let up and the echelons and lineout's formed furiously as wind direction deemed appropriate.  This was going to be a hot morning's work; that's if I could keep up.

Bang... In both senses
Then 30k in the elastic snapped; not me you understand, it was someone else.  There were no real hills to speak of just long drags ridden at increasingly ridiculous speeds.  Someone near the front let a wheel go and a very small group broke away and opened a 200 metre gap on the rest of us.  And that's where it stayed.  Well at least it did for as long as I was there because at 40k my heart, along with the pressure in my front tyre, sank.

This cannot be happening!  I've not had a puncture in five years and almost 50 European sportives.  And to be honest, I wasn't having one now.  The tyre didn't go down, it just lost half it's air then stayed where it was.  How bizarre?

This event criss-crosses the French countryside and main roads.  Every few kilometres you dive off a main road and on to a smaller, grit covered road that often has a ridge or a drop on to or off the main carriageway. 

I was riding fine, feeling fine, easily holding my position in the second group echelons and lineout's when the front washed out in a corner.  I brought the bike upright, sussed out what was going on and quickly pulled out of the line and dropped the front wheel out.

The screen stats from Cycling Peaks on the right show the fastest 60 minutes from the ride.  One hour at an average 37.9 kph.  And this included my puncture fix!!!

To get the tyre off I had to fully deflate the tube.  I then did a super fast change and got the tyre in just as the third group sped past; bugger.  I fired the gas cylinder in, got the tyre up and was just placing it back in the forks when a fourth group, of around 10 riders screamed through; double bugger. 

Three minutes lost, I mounted up and started to chase after them; they're around 200 metres up the road and I'm not making much impression.  I look under my arm and see another small group around a 100 metres behind.  I'll chase for another 3k and see what happens, If I haven't caught them by the next town I'll reassess.

I've reassessed...
Anyway come the next town, me and the fifth group are now chasing the fourth!  They took a bit of cajoling to get through and off-ing and I had to do some mighty turns on the front to embarrass a few in to working, but eventually they did and at 70k, after 25k of full on chasing, we all came together.

Once we'd all done our introductions and sussed each other out one of the triathletes in our initial group ( I know he was a triathlete because he had aero bars on ~ how was that allowed to happen?) went to the front and just lined everyone out for the next 10k!  He'd either just warmed up or his gel had kicked in because we'd hardly seen him all morning, then he get's all Jens Voigt on us!

Whatever caused it I was grateful because I sat on his wheel and even though I tried, he wouldn't let me come through and spoil his rhythm, so I sat there.  Others tried to attack and go up the road but he just pulled them back on his own. 

To be honest he was a God-send, he allowed me time to eat my last half of my energy bar and swig a few sips of drink.  I also managed to recover and get a second wind.  I was really looking forward to the finale although there were one or two strong riders that seemed to have, shall we say, kept their powder dry.  Craftiness or laziness, I'd not decided.  I'll see how they go at the finish.

I took the opportunity to phone Dianne and tell her I'm on the final run in.  At this point she told me the finish wasn't where we started, it was on the other side of town at the top of a big hill.  Double bugger and bugger again!  This explains the reticence of our "local" riders.

The End Game
With 10 k to go some of the more fresher riders in the group start moving to the front and I allow myself to slip back to fifth wheel.  I look behind and there are still around 20 riders in the pack.  Time for a plan.

Lo and behold, with 8k to go a level crossing presents itself and as expected everyone slows to bimble across the rails.  I'm already up to full sprinting speed as I pass the head of the line, I hit the rails at 50kph and 700 watts.  A gap opens and I settle to a medium fast pace hoping someone will join me and the others will sit up.

Two riders come to join the party.  They were two I had concerns about anyway as they always seemed to be there or thereabouts at the front without actually sticking their nose in to the wind.  After a kilometre on the front, and having no assistance from my rear-guards, I sat up.  Within twenty seconds we became a single entity again.

It's now 5k to go and the speed begins to build as we pass through the outskirts of Leves and begin dodging mini roundabouts and street furniture.  We begin a descent and all of a sudden people start trying to get in front of me.  This can mean only one thing...

I fought myself to the front on the 60kph descent and moved as far to the left as I could for the T junction and right turn I could see at the end of the road.  I was still in my biggest gear as I hit the apex of the corner only to find it was the base of the finishing climb!

The finish is at the summit 600 metres away, I fear I've peaked too soon.  My cadence drops to 45rpm as I stamp on the pedals to get on top of the gear.  I back off to allow a quick downshift or two (see the flat line and first peak in the graph above) and get back up to the high 90's.  My stereotype of foreign riders (can't descend and corner at the same time!) is reinforced when I look under my arm and see everyone is already 50 metres behind me.  I decide to push on just below threshold and wait for to be caught before sprinting.  They never came; but I sprinted anyway.

I rolled in over the line in a respectable time that would have given me a scratch gold if I hadn't punctured (missed it by a minute) but well inside the vets target time for a gold.  85th overall, 25th vet and an average speed of 34.9 kph.  Happy days.

It's back down the hill, load the car and a three hour drive back to St Malo for the evening ferry back home.  Off the ferry at 8:15 pm, down to the Beaumont Road chippy and the best fish, chips and curry sauce in the Island.  What better way to end a weekend's racing?

Le Scandal Grande
A few days later I log on to the old t'internet to pick up the results and the thoughts of some of the riders on the Velo 101 event booking site.  All is not what it seems.

The local paper carried a full centre spread of the event with a report, photos, results the lot.  It arrived on my door mat the day after I read the forum.  The winner of our (shorter) event and his team were given prominence with a headline group photo.  Which turned out to be their downfall.

In fourth place, after giving his team mate a race winning lead-out, was Vincent Lambert, allegedly.  He was identified from his photo as being Vincent Flemal who failed a dope test in Belgium in 2007 and was suspended from competition for 2008. 

Seeing as the Trophee Passion is an FFC (French Cycling Federation) event run under UCI controls, this has sparked a controversy of Pro Tour proportions in the world of French sportives.  How was he allowed to enter and how did he get in under a false name or a "borrowed" licence?

Gentleman racers, leisure rides?  Think again.  Some people take this stuff far too seriously!

See you in two weeks at the Jean Rene Bernadeau...


Ibis Chartres