La Broceliande Classique 06

Overall Distance 110 kilometres Time Taken 3:40
Height Climbed n/a Overall Position  
Distance Climbed   Category Position 77th
Date May 2006 Country France
Entrants 650 Region Brittany

The Broceliande Classique takes place in the heart of Brittany and is less than an hours drive from St Malo.  Which means it's doable in a weekend without having to take a single day off work.  Don't be fooled by it's cyclosportive overtones, it's an out and out race.  With a hotel on the outskirts of Rennes, just 10K from the start, and a boat leaving for home Sunday afternoon, four people could have a great weekend away and a race for less than a £100 each.  The biggest cost is the ferry.

This was the 11th edition of the race and as usual it took place on the rolling roads, through the mystic forests of Brittany.  Legend has it that this is the place where Viviane (the lady in the lake) enchanted Merlin in an attempt to destabilise King Arthur.  The ForÍt de Paimpont is also said to hide within it, Merlin's Tomb, the lake where Excalibur was forged and the Spring of Eternal Youth.  The way some of the vets were riding I think they'd all put its water in their bidons.  It's a most beautiful setting for a road race, so race we did.

Days of Old
Collecting numbers the day before was a formality.  As I returned to our bus there was a Renault Alpine alongside.  The last time I saw one was the last time I drove one in 1986.  After a little reminisce we went and checked out the last three kilometres of the course back to the finish line.  Or at least I thought we did.  With a good job well done, its back to the hotel for a strategy meeting, or as others call them, a tea and cake frenzy. 

Back at the hotel the car park was full of classic sports cars from golden days gone by.  There were Ferrari's. Jaguar's, Maserati's and loads of others, even the odd Matra Bagheera thrown in. 

A classic car treasure hunt was stopping off at the hotel for the evening.  Treasure hunt's I can do without, but the thirty or so cars from the golden age of motoring, were a delight to behold.  The cars I dreamt of as a child, watched race as an adolescent, then got to drive in my mid-twenty's brought back memories and feelings I've long suppressed. 

I was getting quite nostalgic for the smell of Castrol R and almost went to the kart track next door to get it out of my system, but I didn't.  After a fantastic evening meal at the hotel, before bed we had a final walk around the cars, how sad am I?  There sitting amongst them was the Renault Alpine, my day was complete.  We retired for an early night to prepare ourselves for the next day.  Which usually consists of another cup of (proper) tea and a small cake!

What's the rush?
With a 9:00 am start we had a civilised paced breakfast and headed for the depart.  As ever, my thoughts were, we're on holiday so we can saunter about a bit at our leisure.  So, once again we found ourselves dead last at the start.  Half the problem was the fact that it was thick fog and everything, and everyone, was slightly chilled and unsure of what to wear.  As with the day before warmish temperatures were expected so it was a case of layer up and be prepared to shed as the day wears on.

As with all these races the start was an explosion of noise through the village, with commentators, car horns, motorbike marshals and cheering crowds adding to the atmosphere.  That's before you add in a few hundred cleats clicking in to pedals. 

The first few kilometres were neutralised, allowing me to work my way to mid field.  Then the "panic attacks" begin; when someone at the front brushes their brake and people a hundred places back have wheels locked and white knuckles.  By the time we reached the first big village of Maure de Bretagne I can see the front.  I'm breathing heavily, but I can at least see it. 

Allez Allez
Then the proper attacks came thick and fast.  Leaving La Chapelle Bouexic a group of five riders had broken free, with dribs and drabs trying to get across to them. 

I was one of the drabs. With all three distances, 160k, 110k and 55k, all starting together it was a bit hit and miss as to who you should be chasing or leaving.  I know you should chase everyone but I was still getting my fitness back and didn't want to peak too soon(!) like I did the fortnight before in the Danguillaume.  Because everyone had gillet's on you couldn't see any numbers so I played the waiting game and tried not to go over threshold for too long.

At the top of the climb heading to St Thurial I got tailed off the main group of around fifty riders.  Once at the crest I spotted the descent in to the town and began taking back places.  There were a series of roundabouts ahead and I knew I could make up globs of time on them.  At the second of three roundabouts I'm back on the front.  What I didn't bargain for was the Commissaire's car following me down.

This could get nasty
Obviously with Flamme Rouge on my clothing the Commissaire, understandably, mistook me for a Frenchie.  He thought I'd brake at two hundred metres before the final large roundabout.  So he came alongside around 50 mph, accelerated ahead of me and started to brake about 50 metres from the Rond Point.  At twenty metres I came alongside him, braked as hard as I dare, then aimed for the first apex.

I dived underneath him as he reached the turn in and we went in to the entrance side by side.  Our exit was the third turn.  We went past the first turn with me leaning on his rear passenger door and his sills dragging on the floor.  As we go through the second phase and approach the exit, I'm leaning on his front passenger door and hoping he's going to bale out because if he turn's he's going to lose his door mirror at best or destroy a Colnago at worst.

Luckily, he looked across, I think more out of concern for his screaming passenger who could see their reflection in my Oakleys, saw me, pulled out and carried on around as I flicked over for my apex.  A quick glance saw the nose of the car diving to the ground as he braked hard to prevent sideswiping the other riders who were now entering the roundabout.  Who'd have thought you could have so much fun in such a short space of time?

The inevitable split
Once all of the excitement had died down, we headed for Treffendel where Dianne's 55K ride peeled off to head back to Loheac.  We carried on through some fantastic scenery, woodland and villages to head for the glorious ForÍt de Paimpont.  It was here that I finally succumbed to the dreaded threshold paralysis.  Or as it's commonly known, "ability falling short of ambition".

The first fifteen lumpy miles had been covered at an average of 26 mph.  We'd been riding for a little over an hour and a half and were just under 40 miles into the race.  For the previous five miles I'd been breathing through my exhaust as the pace rarely dropped below 28 mph.  The elastic stretched and stretched as we passed through the undulating forest roads and it finally snapped on a massive, straight, inclined, fire-break road.  Discretion being the better part of slackness, I eased up before I threw up.

I could see another group around 500 metres behind me so I sat up, drank and eat, rode tempo and waited for them to catch me.  I waited and waited and waited.  It seemed they were leaving me out to dry.  Yeah, like I'm that important!

Heading through La Saudrais I spotted the worlds biggest ever lavender field.  As far as the eye could see was this surreal field of magical purple.  How pretty, I thought.  Until I got closer and realised it was a field of three foot high thistles.  Gillions of them!  Unsure if I was hallucinating or not, or if the siren Viviane had drawn me in to her lair, the bunch came past at speed, woke me up and broke the spell.  I threw a gel down my throat and jumped on.

Down to Business
Now it's time to concentrate and get down to some slower-paced racing (if that's not an oxymoron) for the last 30 miles.  A group of around thirty of us worked together, well ten of the thirty did, in a sort of through and off, French style.  Which is more off than through.  Every time we came to a hill we'd lose one or two.  As we passed the feed at La Maritinais it was obvious who were the serious ones as another three dropped off.

Through the undulating countryside and villages the gaps between wheels closed and expanded as everyone tried to pace themselves to the finish and save some energy.  As for me?  I was feeling quite sprightly but had decided after my recent illness that I'd rather do 110K and finish feeling strong, than do the 160K and come back battered.  With only two weeks to the 190K Fleche Wallone I wanted to take some good morale with me.

By the time we returned through the closed crossroads at La Chapelle Bouexic there were only ten of us left and 8K to the finish.  Now the soft tapping was setting in and turns were being missed.  At 5K to go I put in a very hard and very long turn, we lost another two but I noticed that two of the shall we say, less committed riders, came across rather too easily for my liking.

The Finale
From my earlier recce, I calculated Loheac's massive water tower as around 1K to the finish.  I'd already decided I'd attack there just to see what would happen.  I wasn't here to do anything; if I blew, what have I lost?  If I got away to solo in on my own, what have I won?  Either way the answer was nothing!

As I passed the tower on a rising road,  I went.  With my head down and bum up I realized I'd created a big, big gap and caught everyone napping.  Then from the corner of my eye I saw a sign in the hedge saying 2K to the finish.  Doh!  I looked under my arm and everyone appeared to be looking at everyone else.  So I cracked on.

The last bit is slightly downhill so I was able to carry quite a bit of speed through the Flamme Rouge.  I could see a large crowd gathered at the crossroads ahead.  This is where the field splits.  The 160K riders go right and the 110K riders go straight on.  As I closed in on the crowd they all started screaming at the top of their voices "a droit, a droit".  I shot through them at 36 mph in to an empty road with a barrier ahead. 

Unsure of what to do, trust my judgement or listen to 50 screaming frogs, I slammed my brakes on and turned in the road.  I returned to the crossroads to check out what was happening when the screams started again.  As I went to head down the direction the crowd were pointing "my group" hurtled past me and headed down the empty road towards the hidden finish.  The moral of this tale is, how can you trust people who eat snails?

I turned and chased but it was too late.  Four left turns later and I'm in the finishing straight with a largish group hunting me down.  Coming out of the final hairpin I popped another sprint in to come over the line in 77th place.  Happy with my ride and ready for something to eat. 

Dianne had completed her ride through the countryside and was at the finish line as I came over.  Congratulating me on my sprint (that's what a wife does; mainly just to humour us) I explained what had happened and how I'd easily have been ten places higher if I hadn't have been duped.  That's what racers/husbands/losers do; we always have an excuse.

Risk, what risk?
Back to the car, a quick wash, put the bikes away and back to the finish line to get my result and free meal.  Just as we get to the last corner the leaders of the 160K race came round the corner.  Around twenty very fit, very fast riders came screaming round the hairpin for a full-on sprint for the line, which culminated in a funnel made of barriers and a girl at the end taking numbers to get the finishing order.  No fancy electronic timing here.

How everyone stayed up, stayed alive and braked before killing her, less than 20 meters from the finish line, is something I still haven't worked out.  A BCF Risk Assessor would close the place down,  The French, they just get on with it.

A great day, beautiful countryside, fantastic marshalling on some closed roads close to home and a full-on race if you want one.  Dave Le Breton told me it was flat!  It was anything but, but you can ride the whole lot on the big ring and at speed.  It really should be on your list of things to do before you retire.  Dave Le Breton, as ever, was spot on.  Make a date for next year, 13th May, it beats a 25 mile time trial any day.

PS.  In the photo, it's my gilet up my jersey not my belly!  And I'm sitting on my crossbar cause it's what the pro's do and they look cool.  Although now I'm not so sure.


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