Laurent Desbiens may not be
the most famous rider you've ever heard of, but in these parts (Lille,
Northern France) he's a local hero. He's won the Four days of
Dunkirk, a stage of the Tour and held the yellow jersey for two days in
1998. He's not a legend in the true sense of the word, but he's no
slouch and this event qualifies for our riders' sportives category!
The Ch'Ti Bike Tour is a two
day event with a massive sportive on Saturday and an even bigger
Sportive/Randonee, with family rides, over some very challenging courses
on the Sunday. It's very well attended and extremely well
organised. Which is more than can be said for myself!
To cut a long story short, Dianne and myself
stayed in the centre of Lille and Richard, who was joining us for
another double header, stayed at the event HQ in his passion wagon.
A big Merc all kitted out for travelling and passion; on this occasion
he was on his own!
We'd all got sorted and ready
for the off, then Dianne decided she needed a comfort break! By
the time she came back, my event had started and the field of 600 had
left for their 10k neutralised ride to the start proper. I chased
like a lunatic to catch them, hoping to get on the back of someone so I
wouldn't be riding the day on my own.
After a 16 minute chase,
averaging 36kph, I saw a group up the road standing still with a police
escort and the road blocked off. Just as I got to the back, the
Commisaire's car moved from the back of the group down to the front;
seeing an opportunity, I dived behind it and cruised to the front.
Then, without stopping, the car accelerated away, the flag dropped and I find myself on the front
of nearly 600 others, all heading for the first hill.
Noir ~ The Black Hill
I decided to back off and find a place around 20 riders back
to take a bit of a tow to the first hill. In my opinion I'd
already worked harder than I'd have liked just to make the start.
We hit the hill at speed and
I throttled off to climb at my threshold but still made it to the top in the first 30 or so. Then as we rounded the
final bend, the
back washed out! A flat, or rather a softie. The tyre had
lost a load of pressure but wasn't flat. Quandry number one.
Do I blast a canister in
to it and hope for the best, or do I change the tube. It's too
early to waste a canister, so change it is. I'm just putting it
all back together when Mr Davy joins me. Despite me urging him to
crack on, he sacrifices his chances and waits. A real team-mate.
With a big, barking dog to
focus the mind, I carried out a Formula One type pit stop and we remounted
with some of the field still passing us. Now for the second chase
of the day and we have some hares for us to chase.
for one and ...
Well we through-ed and off-ed
picking up and dropping riders for the next 60k. We screamed
through the first feed and saw a large group of riders in the distance.
We could get these no probs in the next five k. Then catastrophe
(Drama Queen!) number three. There were flashing lights and
sounding horns; it can mean only one of two things. And it was the
The level crossing we were
approaching was closing before our very eyes! We were at the gate
for about 10 seconds when a TGV screamed through, almost in silence. Thoughts of
our last level crossing encounter (the Pierre Jodet) went through my mind, and
Richard's. He took great delight in reminding me of my ribbing of
his over cautious attitude to level crossings!
So, chase number three it is.
Although now we have a few people, who joined us at the crossing, to help us. So we thought!
It ended up a long and lonely trawl at the front, waiting for people to
come through. Then we seemed to pick up a few riders ahead of us,
that wanted to contribute. It was all going so well.
Peloton of Two Halves
Somehow, and unknown to me as
we were going too fast to take the time to glance back, our group broke
in to two sections of around twenty riders each. I ended up in the front group and Richard, who
got trapped behind a slower wheel, ended up stranded, and the lone
chaser, in the back.
It was echelon city for
kilometre after kilometre. Hitting the rises and the dips at an
ever increasing speed began to take it's toll on the front group as
members began to slide, only to be caught by the back group. Finally, after around
half an hour, the elastic snapped.
As we hit a motorway flyover
the two neo-pro riders who were our main engine and obviously having a
jolly day out,
as their levels of fitness and speed were way above ours, just went to
the front, lined it out until no one could hang on and they went away
and left us to play on our own.
I was third wheel when they
left, and was glad they drifted off. When I looked behind me it
was carnage. Only six of us, with two meter gaps between our
wheels with Richard, and his group of around twelve, a further 60 metres
I soft tapped a little on the
front, controlling the group. This, along with the disappearance
of the speedy boys, allowed Richard to bridge the gap to us on his own,
When he got back on, we picked it up again and went looking for other
victims of the gruesome twosome up front. And there they were,
shattered all over the road; remnants of larger groups that were now
coming back to us.
We pick more and more riders
up, who seem less inclined, or able, to help us keep the speed up.
Out of a group of around 16, four of us are working as we head to the
This route takes in many of
the roads and climbs of Gent Wevelgem and the Four Days of Dunkerque.
At the back end the hills come thick and fast and on Mont Cassel
Richard, who was climbing well, (that's him smiling for the camera) and myself drifted off the front and
left everyone behind.
There were three riders in close proximity.
They looked handy and we thought they'd work with us if we sat up at
the top to let them get back the 20 metres they'd lost. They
thanked us for waiting, which was a good sign, then we all began to work for the big 40k push to
the finish. At last, some Musketeer spirit.
Old Same Old
Today was just one of those days. We really were
working well and picking up lone riders and groups almost at will.
And most of them were still unprepared to work; obviously taking the
stance that if they've been caught, the catchers must be fitter, faster,
stronger, so sit on them and get a tow home seemed to be the order of
Two of those that we'd waited
for got blown out on the final climbs of the day. We now couldn't
wait for them as the bigger groups behind would have also go on.
Can't be having that!
We ended up with Richard,
myself and an old French boy with thighs like Chris Hoy. He was a
track man and just pushed the pedals in what ever the biggest gear would
get him round. It was mighty impressive with all these other,
younger, whippet, hangers-on sucking our wheels. He began to
berate a few of them to work, but got a resounding non.
As the speed began to rise even further, and the work of
others became shorter, it became apparent from our on board computers
that we were coming to the finale. As we screamed around a
junction, we heard the marshal shout "six kilometres, six kilometres" in
a comedy French accent.
At which point, Richard came
along side and asked how "my sprinting legs were". The only one
I'd be worried about would be our trackie friend. Okay, let's do
some damage, was his reply. I can rip-it for six kilometres.
So once his mind was made up to drop the hangers on and line it out, I
took a drink, fired a gel in and hung on for all I was worth.
In two kilometres we were up
to a constant 40kph in to a vicious side/head wind, and the group was
down from about 20 riders to 6. Our trackie, amongst them.
This went on and on and on, when I asked someone how far to go?
About 5k was the answer! No, surely not it was six k about ten
minutes ago. The marshal shouted! I heard...
DIX kilometres, DIX!
Came the reply. Now it's six. Okay then, plan B.
Richard dug deep, but I felt obliged to help. I went to the front,
very quickly realised the error of my ways then went back again.
Boy, is it windy up there. Richard kept up the incessant pace and
just dragged us along like a steam train. At two k to go, he eased
back and the race was on.
Trackie, being the oldest, and strongest, took a flyer and
everyone looked at me! In my opinion, he deserved everything he
got got. To me it would be no shame, finishing second to him in a
sprint; I just shrugged my shoulders as he rode away. The four
others were not impressed.
A few expletives were uttered
and they tried to close the gap to him, at a kilometre out, they
realised they wouldn't make it and eased back. He hung there, 50
metres up the road. I sorted my gears out as I now recognised the
landmarks of the finish area.
400 metres, we'd hit a T junction, turn sharp left, over a large bridge,
take a right at the crest and head to the finish line that had a 90
degree bend 150 metres from the line. As our small group started
finessing coming up to the junction, I took a full-gas run at the corner
and carried all my speed up the incline.
As I turned in to the park
finish area, I looked down the slope to see them struggling, over-geared
on the climb. Game over. I finished was two seconds behind
Trackie, to take 100th place. I congratulated him on his finish.
A respected Gallic nod, came back.
As I turned in the finish
straight Richard was steaming in just behind the faux-sprinters who
acted as though their world had ended. Some people take this far
too seriously. At least I hadn't let him down and all his hard
work hadn't been in vain.
It was a top team effort,
more like a 150k two up time trial at times than a sportive but it was a
good day all round.
Now it's back to Jersey, to
prepare for the final event of the year, with Richard again, La Charly
Gaul. Now that one is a hilly bugger.