La Coulainaise

Overall Distance 150k Time Taken 4:44
Height Climbed 1540 m Brevet  
Distance Climbed   Position 149th
Date April 2009 Country France
Entrants 820 Region Le Mans

What started as an innocuous conversation during a depths of winter training ride, came to fruition in early April with a mass-participation day out of flamme rouge training regulars.

A voyage of discovery for some, a chance to put in to place lessons previously learnt for others, and a normal day at the office for myself and Dianne. 

We had an eclectic bunch; comprising Commonwealth Games Athletes, Island Games Athletes, Island Champions, World Championship Triathletes, the cream of local vets and ladies, and me and the missus.  I'll introduce them all as we progress.

The same but different
The Coulainaise was the previously known La Ronde du Petite Sable, which had now outgrown it's previous location and had moved to the north of Le Mans.  It had also become far lumpier!  But first we had to get there.

So, as the various ferries arrived from Jersey, we all met up at the St Malo Ibis, where myself and Dianne stay; we have the same room booked in advance for over 20 days per year.  How sad!

First stop was lunch at La Madeleine, which was as entertaining as ever!  We may not be the best cyclists in the world but we do know how to have a good time and enjoy each other's company.

All fuelled up we set off on the two hour drive to Le Mans.  We took a short detour on the way past Rennes to visit the bike shop of Marc Gomez.  You may not know who he is, but he won Milan San Remo in 1982 and his shop was used for the Mont St Michel sportive we did in 2007.  Before we knew it we were in Le Mans and ready to go.

Despite all the "coach-led" intentions of having a pasta fuelled meal at the Ibis, cheap, cheerful and plentiful; in his absence a decision was made to go out for a meal.  Won't dwell on it too much, but needless to say, next time we'll eat at an Ibis! 

Next morning we convoyed the 3 kilometres to the signing on to collect our numbers and get ready for the off.

Fast and Furious
Nerves, anticipation, last minute toilet visits, tyre pressure checks and questions over how much food to take were all dealt with in the run up to the start.  It's a fine line between advising people of what to expect and frightening the life out of them so they don't enjoy the experience.

I tried to convey to all that the start would be a little rushed, without getting the first-timers too fazed.  Steve Whiteside (right) &  Andy Boxall (Bernard Hinault) and Chris Stephens (Lapabie) knew what to expect.  For the others, the next sixty minutes would be like the first lap of a Jersey crit.  It's time to hang on to your hats...

It's 20k in and I'm breathing a tadge harder than I'd like.  I'm pleasantly pleased to be just outside the top 20 as we hit a long false flat but I can feel myself sliding backwards.  The pressure of the big boys is beginning to take its toll.

I look up the road and see the lead cars, the police, the marshals and the leaders  turning right to head across the top of the plain and in to the wilderness and forests of northern France. 

I was begging the pain to stop and was hoping it was going to ease up as we hit the top.  I look across the junction to see a not unfamiliar sight!  It's Nick Le Cocq, (which is an appropriate phrase I used at the time) on the front, giving it big licks and lining all the Frenchies out!

Somehow I stayed with the group but was now nearer the back than the front.  To be honest, I was at the back.  The elastic began to stretch and by 40k, Nick and the leaders were up the road.  We'd covered the first very, very, lumpy 60 minutes at over 34 kph.

They never really got out of sight from the second group until the 50k mark when we hit the big climb of the day.  Nick stayed with the leaders until the final run in, when the constant attacks tailed him off.  As an IronMan Triathlete, constant attacking isn't his forte; yet!

The ride between the first feed and the second was a never ending see-saw of ups and downs.  It seemed there were far more ups, but then doesn't it always?  Then, just as we hit the second feed, the third wave came and joined the stragglers from the second.

I heard a voice behind shouting me to get the wheel.  I couldn't even see it, let alone get it.  But the voice of Matt Gambles, World Championship Triathlete competitor, spurred me on.  Then we hit an enormous long, long drag and I slid backwards as we climbed at over 35kph.  Tanks empty, I grimaced as Matt smiled and sped off after them, tanks full!.

As I went out the back, another strangely-happy voice shouted encouragement.  Chris Stephens (right), was with this massive group but felt the urge to stop at the feed and grab a cake, he then chased 10k to get back on which is where he picked me up! 

I begged him to get on the back of the group, literally 5 metres away but he put personal ambition aside and stayed with me as the group disappeared over the horizon.  With around 40 k to go, we decided to press on, although Chris was doing most of the pressing.  

We (he) picked up stragglers as they were spat out of the front group up the road and came backwards to join us. 

With 20k to go we could see a massive group approaching quite quickly from behind.  We weren't hanging around and were expending quite a bit of energy so decided to "let them catch us then jump on".  However, while we were discussing the merits of our cunning plan.  They caught us!  Then it all became crystal clear...

"Can you ride tandem!"
For our non-UK readers this was a popular catch-phrase of the 70's due to the advert with the talking chimps.  Not very politically correct now, but how we chuckled back then.

On the front of the group was Monsieur et Madam Droin; the region's prominent and fastest tandem team.  I've seen them at almost every Trophee D'Or event for the past five years.  They don't hang around.

As ever, they had a lineout of around 30 vets sitting on their wheel.  From behind came a couple of "bonjours!"  It's Messer's Andy Boxall (right, ahead of me (blue helmet)) and Andy Perree.  We now have four in this group and around half an hour to decide on a plan for the finish.  After an earlier apparition, Andy P was now in full flow in his first sportive, while Andy B was his usual unruffled self just quietly and efficiently getting on with the job in hand.

Meanwhile, at the finish, there was a lot going on...

Short & Sweet
Scott Pitcher, (right) one of Jersey's Commonwealth Games tri-athletes and physically biggest riders!, was on the return from injury and just happened to be on holiday in France on the day of the race.  He was also best man at Nick & Jo's wedding so promised to look after the girls in the 100k race. 

When their event took off at a stupidly fast pace, Scott took off with the leaders, Jo risked life and limb to go with them and Susan, while dodging crashes and bodies, did the right thing and rode within her sensibilities. 

Dianne?  Did what she does best; enjoyed her day out with the old boys at the back!

Scott's class showed through as he held on to the leaders all the way to the end.  In a group of 40 riders screaming to the finish Scott, being a triathlete lacked a full on racer's sprint, still managed to come in with an 11th place overall.  How good is that?

Very is the answer, and it was matched by that of the girls who took on a very difficult parcours for their first ever sportive and came away with a second and third!  Holding their own against some strong vets and giving them the confidence to take on the boys when they get back home.  Not that they need it, check out the Training Drills page to see last year's haul of medals and trophy's,

The girls Jo, Dianne & Susan, without their lycra!

Big Race, Big Performance
Trying not to be outdone by Scott, Nick (right) was now paying for his earlier efforts.  He'd shown his hand a little too soon to the Frenchie's and even though he's stayed with them to the dénouement he was to play no part in the final scene.

Sportives in France, especially the Trophee races are as full on as you can get.  The attacks on the run in to the finish were relentless, savage and at a pace that gives new understanding to the phrase lactate threshold.  Nick got tailed off in the run in but still managed to time trial in and hold off a chasing group of 109 riders to take 11th in the 30-39 age group.

The Grand Finale
Matt stayed with his group which eventually came in 40 seconds ahead of our marauding tandem mob.  I'd offered some advice to the boys about getting on the wheel of the tandem and staying there.  But the stupid pace, the concentration needed and the 40 odd other riders all fighting for it, meant it was easier said than done.

Rather than have a Frenchie take it, I took it myself and for the last 5 kilometres I stayed glued to the wheel and fought off all comers to my prize.  As we entered the last kilometre people tried to come up the inside, outside and over the top.  But it ain't happening. 

It is very, very difficult to get past a tandem.  They make such a massive hole in the air and drag you along so fast you think you can pull out and move past.  But once you pull out and get a 45 kph blast of air in your face, the watts and heart rate rise as fast as the speed drops.  Get there, sit there and don't move till you see the line.

We entered the outskirts of the town and hit 500 metres to go.  The rabble behind began to mass.  As usual I'd checked out the finish, and new it was uphill with two corners.  As we entered the first kink in the road the tandem pilot brushed the brakes. 

As he did, I jumped under his super-tanker cornering bike, and threw my Colnago in to the bend.  Under normal circumstances It was too far out to go, but the tandem would be so slow through the corners I thought I'd get away, get a gap, and hold it while dying on my ass all the way to the line. 

I gave it everything and looked under my arm as I crossed the line ahead of a sea of riders swamping the pantechnicon coming up the hill.  Tandems can't climb either.  There were riders everywhere and coming down the outside of them were the two Andy's!  Chris, whose never raced, was unsure of the sprinting protocol and got drifted off in the run in.  But you want to see him go in training!  Next time Chris.

Two little boys had two...
Ian Williams
(right) and Steve Whiteside found themselves drifted off in the heat of the early climbing skirmishes, but had a good solid ride with their group, working well and keeping the pace high. 

It's still early season for these two sprinters, as they both have eyes on the local season long championships.  Ian's already taken two local race wins and Steve is returning from sickness and found the distance just a little out of his comfort zone.  Still, wait until the Bernard Hinault in June.

Simon Perchard (below, preparing for his VO2max test) also had a great day out.  Not particularly rewarding in the results sense; a puncture and a fiddly fix took care of his results ambitions early on.

But once he got over the disappointment just to be on great roads in a big event, was enough to satisfy his competitive urges; for now at least. He since gone to the other extreme and sampled track racing!

Our day in the saddle
Here's the "scores on the doors", sorry another 70's catch phrase popped in there...



100 k






Scott Pitcher






Jo Le Cocq






Susan Williams





Dianne Williams ~ don't ask!






150 k






Nick Le Cocq






Matt Gambles






Tony Williams





Andy Perree





Andy Boxall





Chris Stephens





Ian Williams





Steve Whiteside





Simon Perchard




The icing on the cake...
After the race we packed the cars and went to the sports hall for our well earned post-race grub and de-brief.

As ever the French were talking at 100mph (161kph doesn't have the same ring to it) so we missed who was presenting what to whom.  After we clapped all the prize winners and everyone sat down, we realized the girls hadn't been awarded. 

So off I trotted to see the organiser, who sorted out our trophy for Jo but it seems we couldn't find the one for Susan.  A real pity for the super effort they put in.  "Look what you could've won" (enough now!)

So there we are, thirteen riders, plus the wives of Scott, Andy P and Chris, (Jo, Helene and Amanda including the Perree and Stephens' young uns) made for an absolute fantastic weekend.  Great company, a great event and a great way to spend a weekend.  We should do it more often!

website La Coulainaise

Ibis Le Mans