Claudio Chiappucci

Overall Distance 161k Time Taken 5:38
Height Climbed 2256m Brevet  
Distance Climbed   Category Position 84th
Date May 2008 Country France
Entrants 985 Region Burgundy

The fourth of this years legend's events saw us heading south, but not as the name suggests as far as Italy.  Not sure why but the seventh edition of the Claudio Chiappucci takes place in Arnay le Duc, just outside of Dijon.  It's a six hour drive from St Malo and it's autoroute all the way.

Claudio Chiappucci is another "grey" character.  He had three Tour podiums in '90,91 and 92.  In 1990 he attacked on Stage 1 and picked up a 10 minute lead which he held until the Stage 20 time trial.  Lemond picked him off and Claudio took second. 

His biggest moment has to be Stage 13 of the 92 Tour when he attacked from the gun and held Bugno & Indurain off all the way to Sestriere.  The Italian crowd was so big the motorbike escorts couldn't get through and Chiappucci overtook them on the climb!

Deja Vu
Last year we were in this region, not 10 kilometres away, for the Courir Pour Le Paix sportive, so knew what type of terrain to expect.  Back then we stayed at the Chateau St Sabine, used by the Astana team during the Tour de France; photos of a bandaged Vinokourov with the staff were everywhere.  This time we'd booked in to a Logis de France, the Chez Camille, family run hotel. 

As we approached we wondered what we'd booked in to.  It looked like a cross between the Moulin Rouge (not in a nice way) and the house out of Psycho!  But once inside, the ambience was absolutely fantastic, the staff amazing and the food was just so French and well worth the trip itself.  Even better it was less than a kilometre from the race start.

Once again the signing on was simplicity itself, no queuing.  Although we'd pre-entered, we hadn't paid.  So once we handed over the dosh we got our goody bag, our number and timing chip and a bottle of Claudio's very own (well his picture was on the label) Burgundy.  Had a walk around the stalls, watched them set up the hugely impressive podium and food area, then sauntered back for a rest and an aperitif.

A quick check of the weather, not needed really looking at the black clouds on the horizon, and it looked like it might be a damp start in the morning.  Where's those overshoes?

Is this the front?
As we headed for the 8:30 start, along with almost a thousand others, the clouds gathered and the skies darkened.  I'd fired in for the 161k and Dianne the 80k. 

We were just discussing where she should stand when Claudio himself came and stood next to us.  As you can see, he's beefed up a bit since his epic day in the Pyrenees, and I don't think he's had his hair cut since.  But he was there with his mates and making time to have his his photo taken with all those that requested.  He seemed as genuinely pleased to be there as everyone was to have him there.  He received his plaudits with grace and seemed to be a very nice man.  Not so sure about the dodgy haircut though!

Anyway to cut a long story short, I stayed at the front with him and Dianne got muscled back by the grizzly old pro's who didn't want to get held up by a woman.  Which was irrelevant really as there was a 5k neutralised section through the cobbled town centre and on to the town outskirts where the start gate timing mats awaited our passage.

So we've started then...
The five kilometre neutralized kick off was chaos with a capital K.  It became a sprint just to hold your position in the pack as we sped through the, five minutes previous, sleepy town centre. 

On closed roads with every shopkeeper, shopper, passer by and school child cheering us on, we screamed along at 50kph heading for the distant start rel with police escort sirens and moto marshals horns blaring.  A Saturday morning club run it was not.  Then it started raining, big time.

When we reached the timing mats the groups were split once more to go over the mats according to their chosen route.  Big route first.  By now the rain was heavy to torrential; but warm with it.  With nine, largish climbs and 2250 metres of climbing on the route, I expected the gilet zip to get a bit of a hammering today as we test it's ventilation qualities to the full.

Best of Three
Ten k in and the lineout begins as we hit the first climb of note.  I seem to be okay but this is proving to be a fast day and to be honest, my heart rate's already bouncing off the rev limiter.  It's not until the finish that I see why; but more of that later. 

As we crest the top of the climb, I'm about a hundred back but can still see the front.  I "collect" around fifty riders on the short descent which to be honest, was wet, tricky and not without drama.  The speed differential between myself and the others was in reverse proportion to our climbing abilities.  I have to make up time when I can without putting others in danger, but boy they make it hard work sometimes.

We now repeat the scenario on climb two, which was far longer and steeper but not as bad as the triple whammy at Pouilly; a climb I knew from previous encounters. 

You can see from the stats on the right that after the initial "neutralised warm-up" we hit the first three hills with a vengeance.  For 28k, my heart rate averaged 190bpm, I'd already hit nearly 700 watts and topped 72k on the sinewy, treacherous, flooded, gravel-strewn descents.  As we screamed through the feed at the top of the third climb I planned my tactics for the continuation of the ride through the fog and the mist.

Never assume because...
I needn't have bothered.  As we hit the valley floor the elastic stretched as those at the front began to apply the hurt.  The speed picked up and up until we were strung out across the whole valley floor.  Which allowed me to look up and see the glorious panorama through which we were racing.  It must be gorgeous in the sunshine.

Basically this was a race around the vineyards and chateaux of Burgundy.  You scream through a valley with vineyards on either side and a magnificent Chateau atop a magnificent hill.  Then it struck me that we were racing up all the available hills to get to all the available Chateauxses(?).  Their magnificence began to subside after a while.

The fourth major climb, there were many, many minor ones, at Civry-en-Montagne, despite the massive crowds cheering us on, saw me lose contact with the leaders.  Unfortunately, the descent wasn't long enough for me to get back on to the main group.  However I did pick up a bunch of others that had been spat out and we began to form a small combine to get us to the next major climb an undulating 20 k away.

Brain to legs...
It was at this half-way point that things began to take a turn for the worse.  I began to miss the odd pull on the front; nothing new there then!  But the difference was, this wasn't through choice.  I was genuinely beginning to struggle to hold my position.  This was my fourth event of the month and I was expecting some cumulative fatigue but I'd planned it for the end of the event not during it.

As we began the 3k climb to Chateauneuf I knew it was all over.  My, now six, companions (we'd lost a few as the speed stayed high) began to ride off in to the distance.  I knew there was no one close behind so I began to eat and pace myself for a long, wet, lonely  morning in the saddle.

Still, the sun's shining.  Oh, it's not, they're car headlights.  It was that dark.

Le Grande Pluie
To cut a long story short, I rode the remaining hilly, rain sodden 80k on my own, in total silence.  Apart from the odd "merci" to the marshals who were standing there in appalling weather, guiding me safely on my way. 

Me?  I love racing in the rain.  It really does float my boat ('scuse the pun).  And descending in the rain is just an added bonus.  But to have to stand there for a couple of hours in a monsoon to guide cyclists through the countryside takes a dedication I wish I could replicate.  A big thank you to them all.

I hadn't seen a soul for over two hours when, with 10 k to go, I spotted someone up the road.  You know what? I'm beginning to warm up!  As luck would have it, the last 10k are all ever-so-slightly down hill.  Only slightly, but enough to allow you to get on top of a big gear and "rouler", which I'm most definitely not, your way to the finish.

He was getting closer and closer but not at a great rate of knots.  At one point I didn't think I was going to catch him.  Then, with 500 metres to go, I was ten bike lengths off his back wheel.  Happy days.

Somehow I can always find a sprint finish, no matter what state I'm in.  Now, I don't know if I'm getting old, or maybe it was the fatigue talking, but I resigned myself not to steal his position and calmly ride in just off his back wheel.  He'd valiantly stayed away from me for 160.5k and didn't deserve to be hijacked on the line.  I'm getting soft in my old age.

The Final
While I was basking in my new found philanthropy, three riders shot under my arm and in to the gap between me and matey.  Whoa, hold on there!  Now it's a whole new ball game.  Then, from absolutely nowhere, three more appeared on my wheel.  Game on; Plan B. 

I'm sure, looking at their race numbers, that they were from the shorter event but I wasn't taking any chances.  We're now 400 metres from the line and the speed is 47kph, with the last 5k being soloed at 42kph.  The jostling begins as our interlopers build up the speed on the run in. 

I get to third wheel and all Gladiator-like begin to ready myself to unleash hell.  Just as I take a deep breath, the second rider jumps the first.  I dive on to his wheel but we're still 275 metres out.  I ease back and before any of the others can grab my wheel or make a move, I take a flyer with exactly 216 metres to go. 

This Cycling Peaks software is fantastic! As you can see from the sprint graphic and details on the right.!

The finish line marshals see us and a cacophony of whistle blowing, to rival any Giro or Vuelta stage finish, begins.  They're frantically waving at us to slow but we're already in full flight.  I cross the line at over 50kph with a rider each side of me.  We've now got to try and stop before we reach the timing chip taker offers.

It was a great sprint, timed to perfection in the pouring rain and the reward?  84th vet, how sad is that?  Timing chips are removed and the missus is already there waiting in the rain.  So it's back to the bus to get warm, changed, fed and to ready ourselves for the drive home.

Dianne's Ride
As I'm trying to get warm and not get mud or filthy, rain-soaked clothes all over the bus I ask Dianne about her 80k ride and 820m of climbing.

It was the usual mix of riding with the older blokes, getting dropped on the long climbs but catching them on the flats and hanging on on the long drags.  Sometimes I don't get a detailed account; it's mainly weather dependent.  Even though she's a Geordie, she doesn't do cold and rain anymore.

She got dropped on the run in to the finish as the speed picked up and came in alone with no one around her in 3:28 at an average speed of 23.02kph, which wasn't bad considering the terrain.  She was happy with her ride but to be honest doesn't take them too seriously.  She's there to have fun, ride her bike and enjoy life.

We checked out the results and got our food which coincided with the presentation ceremony.  We checked the results sheets and  Dianne was awarded 19th in Category H which surprised her somewhat seeing how hard she rode.  But hey, some of these French women are bloody fast.

We then saw why the men's race was full-gas when the winner stepped up to get his trophy.  It was my old mate from La 77, ex-Bouyges Telecom pro, Eric Lebacher.  He was holding a trophy that was almost as big as him.  It was like something out of the Indy 500 car race.  First vet was, the man himself Claudio Chiapucci.  A fine typical El Diablo attacking ride, I later read in the French mags.

Then when we got home and checked on the t'internet we found that on the day Dianne had been placed in the "H" category (men of a certain age) by mistake and was given the wrong grouping.  She had in fact won the ladies of a certain age event (Category C) by quite a substantial margin.  A pity she missed the award ceremony.  It would have made a nice photo, her and Claudio on the podium.  Maybe next time...


Okay it's back home for a regroup then the triple header of Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Fausto Coppi on consecutive weekends.  How much fun will that be?

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