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!
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.
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.
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.
gather near the front of the start pen, which is a bonus, and start
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
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
we were explaining how fast the start was likely to be; it
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
For Dianne and myself, it's a
couple of days recovery, then off to Italy for the monumental Fausto
To see the shear size and breadth of Breton
cycling, click the link below and have a quick browse.