Bernard Hinault

Overall Distance 177k Time Taken 5:41
Height Climbed 2600metres Brevet  
Distance Climbed   Category Position 42nd
Date June 2008 Country France
Entrants 1200 Region Brittany

A week after Belgium, and the event of 70's legend Eddy Merckx, we are in France to ride the race of the 80's anti-hero Bernard Hinault. 

Now, I've raced against Bernard Hinault and came within a whisker of beating him.  But I didn't, so I'll move on.  I just thought I'd get it off my chest early on! 

As with Eddy Merckx, previously, I really don't think he needs an introduction.  But if you want to be entertained, buy his book, Memories of the Peloton.  You'd think it was set in the wild west, boring it ain't.

For us in Jersey, the Bernard Hinault is as local as it gets.  It's 40 minutes from St Malo and is in terrain we know and love.  Rolling countryside and coastal skimming are what we do best.  Only the French versions are bigger, longer, higher and more exposed. 

Signing on took place in the biggest warehouse I've ever seen.  It was like a James Bond movie set.  While Mrs Hinault was handing out numbers to me, Mr Hinault was organising things with aplomb and a certain measured haste that was his riding trademark.  A mobile phone constantly pinned to his ear.

Dianne, once more found time to schmooze with the host, it's getting to be a bit of a tradition now.  Whilst having his undivided attention she got Bernard to autograph her dossard. 

That's a race number, not a region of the body.

With us he's all smiles and handshakes, a real genial host.  He posed for every photograph and met every request to sign anything that was brought to him.  Books, old photo's jerseys, numbers, nothing was too much trouble.

Two weeks later, he's duffing up protestors on a Tour de France podium.  Once a Badger, always a Badger.

Group Booking Discount?
More and more people are beginning to realize that there is a world outside the confines of riding around an island that's nine miles wide by five miles tall.  So for this trip we were joined by, in alphabetical order, Andy Boxall, Bob Cabot, Steve Whiteside and his wife Kasia, who just wants to go for a ride and has no pretentions at all as (to Dianne's relief) she's never competed on a bike at any level.

So it's up and at 'em early doors to drive the ten minutes from the ubiquitous IBIS to the race start.  As ever, we get lucky and park 25 metres from the Depart and prepare ourselves for the day's adventure.  Some are more nervous than others. 

I always get nervous.  Not nervous like you get sitting on the grid, in the rain at Silverstone; just the nervous you get when you need a wee but when you go there's only the slightest dribble.  Then you leak in your shorts, so you splash your bottle to pretend you spilt your drink; or is that just me?  Anyway!

As we fettle our trusty steeds for the 177k Classique, the early boys on the 230k tour of northern France, set off and ride past us at a rate of knots that I for one, thought was unsustainable!  Seeing the speed, it's now nerves, plus one.  We head for the line and our start slot 30 minutes later.

Downhill Start
We gather near the front of the start pen, which is a bonus, and start planning strategies. 

Mr Cabot has now undertaken a couple of events and knows what to expect.  The Hinault is a qualifying round of the Trophee Label D'or (Gold Label Trophy) and as such brings together the fast boys of the region in which it takes place. 

This is Brittany, the heartland of French Cycling.  Never mind what you read elsewhere, this is where it all happens.  There are 180 cycling clubs, organising 1200 events, in this one region alone.  And today, they've all sent their fast boys and some bloody fast old men.  Jersey?  They sent us.

Uphill Warm Up
Andy Boxall ~ HinaultAs we were explaining how fast the start was likely to be; it started. 

We sprinted downhill the 400 metres it took to get to the first corner.  It was like a Motocross race; everyone trying to get the hole shot.  Which was quite apt, because Mr Boxall (that's him on the right) is a motocross champion.  But today he wasn't on his beloved KTM so he had to rough it in the middle of the group with the rest of us.

We rounded the first corner then it went up hill.  For a long, long way.  Once we got to the top about 2k later, and across a big roundabout, the race proper started.

Attack  Attack  Attack
As expected, once we got in to open countryside, and the Commisaire's vehicles moved away, the speed picked up and up until elastic started to snap.  Around 40 riders went clear and opened a 20 second gap.  As the opening undulating kilometres passed, the chasing pack, of which we were still attached, just kept in touch.

As we hit the 30 kilometre mark, (still less than an hour in) the roads narrowed and we entered a section of undulating country byways.  The junction between the two packs was closed, almost.  Just as the front of "our" group, caught the back of "their group" we hit the base of a 400 metre long climb and a shuffle of the middle ground took place.  We swapped some of our fast riders for some of their less fast ones, and the gap opened up again; never to close.  All the Jersey boys were in the second group.

The first hour, for me, was ridden at a normalised power output of 249 watts, with a peak of 677 watts.  Once again, this was the hardest hour of the sportive.  The second hour, proved the fastest, at 35.3kph with a max 72kph recorded on one of the descents.

We'd headed North East out of St Breiuc to head for the coast and at 50k we headed in to the town of Sables D'Or les Pins.  A very photogenic, typically French coastal town. 

I used this opportunity to offload my empty "spare" bottle to a local cycle riding youth, who seemed overjoyed to receive a free gift.  There'd be no stopping today so there's no need to carry any more than actually needed.  I woofed down a few munchies and got ready for the buffeting to follow,

Let there be Light
You know when you get to the coast, it's going to be lumpy and windy.  We're now riding the Atlantic waves in the Bay of St Malo, the wind was windier and the lumps were lumpier.  We followed the coast in a subdued through and off, as the Frenchies seemed reluctant to stick their noses on the front.

As we got to the very end of the Cap Frehal peninsular and it's lighthouse , we did a full about turn to head back inland with a welcome tailwind.  Only to see our Gallic chums appear at the front once more.  Which was to be my undoing.

As we headed in to Plevenon we climbed a moderate hill, to hit a roundabout at the top.  The French don't do roundabouts.  I was third wheel, when chummy number one, turned in to head around the roundabout to take the third exit.  Chummy number two was under his wheel and I played safe (always have an escape route) and stayed to the outside of him.

Bob Cabot ~ HinaultOne, tightened his line, two slammed his brakes on, his bike stood up, which sent him heading for exit two.  I'm on the outside and get flicked down the road we didn't want to go.  I do a big uhey in the road and join back in about twentieth place.  It was at this point that Bob (right) got past.

From Plevenon it became a 100k slog back to the finish with not a flat road to be seen.  And where you were lucky enough to get a downhill, it was a head wind.  This was a tough, tough event, that befits Hinault's legendary status. It had as much climbing as an Alpine sportive.

I wasn't aware of Bob's clandestine breakaway and eased off around three hours in as I thought he was behind.  I ended up in a group of around six riders and we all seemed pretty evenly matched and prepared to work.  At the second feed the group broke up as myself and another rider powered up the long, long drag to the top of the climb and the feed. 

Not sure what was happening behind I took a quick peek to see if a regroupment was going to take place.  It wasn't so I was resigned to a two-up off the hill.  Only 50% of our "team" decided they wanted a comfort break and stopped just after at the feed!  What's all that about?  Go like a loon, then stop!  Foreigners, eh?

Baptism of Fire
Andy and Steve got tailed off in the heat of battle just before the feed.  Your first ever foreign sportive is a baptism of fire.  The climbing speed, the size of the peloton and the sheer unrelenting pace for hours on end, can be shock to the system if you're not ready for it.  Racing in Jersey you can't be, you're more than fit enough to take part but the unrelenting pace takes some getting used to.

So I'm in no mans land.  Unsure of whether to ease up and wait for Bob, or someone else to join me, I decide to crack on.  Or rather I don't as a massive headwind now combines with the dead, grippy road to ease progress. 

Timing is Everything
I prepare myself for the Cote de Bel-Air by throwing my final gel down my throat. Just enough time for it to kick in before...  Bugger, this'll be the hill then.  I must be faster than I thought!  I've reached the climb earlier than intended and now have 5k at 10% to climb with a gel sitting in my stomach.  Still, it might kick in for the descent if I get that far.

I jumped on to the wheel of two very slim, very nice young tri-athlete ladies who were obviously (I hoped) doing the shorter ride.  They were making good progress, but not quite fast enough, so reluctantly I bid them "adieu" .  I'm no Christopher Plummer but then Dianne's no Julie Andrews!  As soon as I went past I realised it was a mistake, but not wishing to lose face I cracked.... on.  Just.

Dianne ~ HinaultFantastic; downhill all the way, just this final push through another largish undulation and we're only 20k to go.  I'm now with a group of around 20 and we're picking up speed and riders as we go. 

We hit the bottom of the 1k climb and I spot Dianne cruising at her normal head down, just get on with it speed.

Didn't see Kasia and assumed she's be a little up the road.  As we reached the crest, 1k later, she's there casually drinking from her bottle and trying to decide whether to have anything to eat or not.  She looked very unflustered.

Which is more than can be said for the Williams household, and her husband Steve who's in a fair amount of pain.

No time for pleasantries, so a shouted hello, a quick wave and it's press on to the finish.

Don't Look Down
Someone has a very cruel streak in them, and I would assume it's The Badger himself.  Don't be fooled by that French charm and disarming smile in the top photo.  Remember this is the man that made Lemond work, very hard, for his Tour de France win.  he also made the 1200 riders in his sportive work very, very hard in the closing kilometres.

As you come to the top of the Breton Plain you can see St Brieuc in the distance and can almost smell the finishing line.  Then, you clear the trees and all you can see laid out before you is a massive roller-coaster of two-kilometre climbs.  Rolling their way to the finish.  This isn't going to be pretty.

Our group sheds riders as we hit the slopes.  Determined not to get left behind I fight for every wheel and make it to the final roundabout with a group of three.  One lad, in Francaise de Jeux kit has worked his socks off and I decide not to contest the sprint with him  The local rider behind me has no hope, he's cooked. 

The fourth rider has been sitting there for the last 20k and I've tolerated his lack of work ethic.  As they say in France, "He has a dirty face".  Just as I'm admiring my magnanimous philanthropy, "visage sale" takes a flyer. 

I'm right on his wheel and at 100 metres ease up to look for FdeJ, but he's not playing.  I stick in a final kick to just fend off our late-coming interlope.  He was really, really upset that he didn't get the sprint!  You'd think he's lost out on an Olympic medal.  Get real mon ami. 

Doh!
Having said that, it's very important to score maximum one-up-manship points and I intend to get changed in to civi's before Cabot gets back.  Speed is of the essence.  I grab my goody bag and head for the car. 

Guess who is already sitting there wondering where everyone is?  Somehow under cover of stealth, my evil alter-ego, nemesis and Everton supporter to boot, pulled a fast one, a very fast one looking at his time, and came in 10 minutes ahead of me.

He had that satisfied and understated look that only a winner can portray.  I was a broken man.  What a drama queen.  Still, no time to get upset, we have to get back to the finish line to get some photo's of our compatriots.

Steve Whiteside ~ HinaultMr Boxall (above) "fresh" from his honeymoon around Lake Como and with a little less than optimum quality miles in his legs arrived next.  Closely followed (although they did do a shorter course!) by the girls. 

Mr Whiteside's back had finally given out, as you can see from his pained expression on the left.  It was a valiant effort to complete the course.  Especially with those final few back-breaking hills.

He's been preparing all season for the Jersey Crit Series and has put everything in to 10 laps of flat-out racing with a super fast sprint at the end.  175k and 2000 metres of climbing were not what the doctor ordered.  Especially with his back!  But this was the start of a new adventure and you can't pick when your opportunities will arrive.

Now he's got the taste of Euro racing, ten laps of Les Quennevais will never be the same.

Our Shining Star
Kasha Whiteside ~ HinaultSo now we come to Mrs Whiteside.

Kasia just came along to have a nice bike ride and was nervous as a kitten before the start.  But once the gun went, it was a whole different ball game.  Despite all of Dianne's protestations, Kasia refused to leave her behind and travel with the faster groups.  Even though her speed and stamina were obvious to everyone but herself.

But where Kasia really came in to her own was the power climbing.  Dianne has one speed.  She's quite quick for an old bird, but she doesn't do pace changes and she climbs at her pace and no one else's.  Although she's climbed a fair few alps in her time, a climber she ain't.

Kasia on the other hand appeared to "speed up" on the climbs and the longer the better.  The way she attacked the final climbs, putting a few of the men to shame, was the revelation of the weekend.  I'm sure this won't be her last sportive.

The Cool Down
After we'd all gathered our thoughts, and our goody bags, it was back to the cars for a spruce up before visiting the food hall.

We grabbed a large plate of everything there was to offer and those not driving, partook the red wine with Hinault's picture on the label.  I grabbed an empty bottle to put with my Claudio Chiapucci one of earlier in the season.  I'm sad when it comes to mementoes.  You should see the Flamme Rouge Service Corse.

Fed and watered, we headed back to St Malo to complete another perfect cycling weekend.

The Scores on the Doors 
In the 125k "Cyclotouriste" event the girls rode a blinder with Kasia piping Dianne by 2 seconds, although it could have been at least 30 minutes, to finish with an average speed of 22.65 kph. 

In the 177k Cyclosportive, for men old enough to know better class, a happy (I think) Mr Cabot took the line honours, from a bemused myself, in front of a "wait till next time" Mr Boxall and a "I'll be alright in a minute" Mr Whiteside.

Bob Cabot ~  33rd  vet ~ 77th overall  ~  32.3 kph
Tony Williams ~ 42nd vet ~ 110th overall ~ 31.8 kph
Andy Boxall ~ 36th Senior ~ 143rd overall ~ 30.2 kph
Steve Whiteside ~ 58th vet ~ 145th overall ~ 30.1 kph

For the other's it's back to Jersey and a diet of short, fast local races with Mr Whiteside eventually taking second place in a division of the Jersey Criterium Series.

For Dianne and myself, it's a couple of days recovery, then off to Italy for the monumental Fausto Coppi.

To see the shear size and breadth of Breton cycling, click the link below and have a quick browse.

website Bernard Hinault Sportive
hotel

Ibis St Briuec