Jean Rene Bernaudeau
this is another "conscience contradiction" sportive. I need the miles, they
have a race.
I'm not on any moral crusade this season but some riders' events are more
palatable to me than others. I still can't bring myself to
ride the Richard Virenque Sportive. Not because of what he did,
(there'd be precious few riders events I could attend if that was the
criteria for not participating) but the
constant denying of the facts, the writing a "best seller " book about not doing it, then owning up
to doing it and becoming a national hero! Only in France.
As regular readers know, this year's theme is rider's
events. Jean Rene Bernadeau was a professional for 10 years
between 1978 and 1988 and spent a day in the fabled yellow jersey in
1979. The fact that he's quoted (in L'Equipe 1982) as saying he "considers dope controls an infringement on his right to work"
may just be a symptom of the time. So that dilemma aside, I find myself on the start line of
his event in the town of his birth and where he still lives, runs a bike
shop and hosts his professional cycle racing team.
St Maurice Le Girand to be precise. Another tiny
town with 600 habitants, a few shops, houses a massive sports stadium and a huge French
corrugated warehouse-type store that turned out to be the biggest and
nearly the best bike shop I've ever been in.
This was Jean-Rene's
own shop and looked like his Service Corse for the Bouyges Telecom team,
of which he is the owner and Directeur Sportive. Unlike my last visit to a
French cycling emporium (Ble D'Or) I had my
credit card with me. Boy, did it get a hammering. Once we'd
bought all we could carry we went to sign on.
Found the sign on desk, 50
metres from the shop but nothing happening.
Unlike advertised in the spiel, you could only pick your numbers up on race day.
There were loads of people around, setting up, fettling and mooching
around the event-dedicated motor home park, just no one with any race
numbers. So, time for plan B.
Back to the hotel, 5k away,
to get a proper evening meal and a good nights rest. Funnily, we
were the only people at the hotel. Where is everyone else?
Normally there's a few people you recognise as cyclists in the
surrounding hostelries but here there
was no one. Just us and the hotel pooch for company.
It's 2008, the year of the cloud. When we woke in the
morning you couldn't see the houses across the road from the hotel due to thick, grey
fog. First thoughts are it's going to be cold. Second
thoughts, it'll be nice when the sun comes out and burns off the fog.
You've got to stay positive!
So we had breakfast and when
we got ready to leave for the event the fog had started clearing. To reveal dark
black clouds, with golden linings. This could go either way.
As ever the start was fast and furious and the lineouts started from the
gun. The fact that the first five k was downhill didn't help!
But I managed to hold my own and was in the first 20 when we hit the
climb at 5.1k. Oh Joy; and it was getting darker.
When we went up the climb
the speed dropped slightly, but only slightly. I managed to hang on to
the leaders but was already breathing a little heavier than I would have
liked. Once again the plan was to hang on until common sense
After 40k the elastic
snapped. Someone else's you understand not me. A gap opened
and I find myself ten off the front of the second group, with 20 riders
up the road. Which was good because I was still feeling comfortable and
was almost glad the decision had been made for me because this was
turning in to a full on race. Which is good, but I'm the wrong
side of thirty, okay forty, five, to be hanging around with the young
Ninety minutes in, there was
a sparkle of lightening and a roll of thunder; then the heavens opened
as though a dam had burst. At least I had the earlier forethought
to put my gilet on as the groups separated.
We rode for over thirty
minutes in the dark, cold, inundation. As we left Breuil the road
dried and we came out the other side in to glorious sunshine. How
strange. To compound the strangeness, other X Factor type-stuff
you watching Jean Rene...
We approached a junction and the riders at the very front
eased up and started debating the way only the French can. All arm
waving, shoulder shrugging and comedy looks of disdain. Some started
Soft lad (me) thought it was
a spat over some of them not wanting to work. I wasn't quite sure
what was going on so I moved up the five places I needed to get to the
front and started to hammer after the motorbike escort. All of a
sudden I'm on the front doing a wind assisted 45kph, tucked in behind
the motorbike with a massive lineout behind me. That stopped the
chatting. This was full on stuff, just how the pro's do it!
How come I've never been
signed up I thought. And where's everyone else? Surely
someone should be here to share the work if that's what the to-do was
about. I've been on the front for nearly 3k and rolling along at a
fair old crack, at last, on some decent roads. The previous stuff
being the dead, claggy, B-type road, brake rubbing stuff.
You've been framed
We approach another small town and the motorbike starts throttling back
and I ease off. This isn't good! There's a set of traffic
lights at the end of the road and we're in the middle of a town; a big
town. I realise something's wrong when there's not even a hint of
a marshal. The chatter begins once more.
I haven't a clue what they're
saying but it's obvious we've taken a wrong turn. This is what the
earlier debate was obviously about. And it explains why no one
came through to help; and it explains why the road was of a higher
quality than previous; and it proves that I'm the sucker of the day.
Everyone swaps around and
guess what? I'm now at the back. The previous vocal riders
scream off while the motorbike escort is on his phone trying to work out
where he should be taking us. We re-trace our steps and head back
for the course. People are not happy but it's done, we just need
to get on with it. Our moto pilot is now trying to make his way to
the front of our group. How ironic is that?
I eat, drink and work my way
back up the group of 50 or so, tucked in under the exhaust of Evel
Kinevel. Ten minutes later we come to
another T-junction. There's an arrow and a marshal waving
frantically. It's B-road country and we're back on track.
Two riders take a tumble on
the loose gravel at the corner's apex. When will they ever learn!
It's their roads! Even I know you don't apex French corners out in
the sticks. These constant hazards are just waiting to bring you
down. Just a little common sense can save so much skin.
St Michel le Couque is the decision point for the 140 or 180k ride.
I'm cold and wet and have been taken on a climbing mystery tour of the
French countryside. I decide that 140k is enough for today and
justify my decision because Dianne will be waiting cold and wet back at
the car so it's not fair to keep her waiting.
I take the slackers route and
head right up the long, long drag back to the finish. Some of the others take the
left hander to scream up yet another steep climb; good luck to them. There's around
fifteen of us and surprisingly everyone decides to through and off to
keep the speed up. Happy days.
Some riders begin to get
shelled out the back as the quite unrelenting speed appears to build and
build. Admittedly the hills have backed right off but the road
surfaces aren't exactly conducive to rolling along.
Then, without any countdown
warning whatsoever, we hit another non-descript junction and there's our
car! This is the finish! Luckily, although I'm usually
always near the front end, I'm third wheel. I know the finish, or
thought I did, so I come off the wheel of my impromtu lead out man as we
exit the corner and sprint for the depart banner 200 metres up the road.
head's down but I look up just to get my bearings only for the marshals
to turn us 90 degrees right 50 metres before the banner. Somehow
at sprinting speed I get around the corner to find myself in a tiny lane
with people walking towards us in the middle of the road!
This is the entrance to the
sports hall and the line is another 100 metres away. As everyone
else eased up before the corner I have a massive lead and I get to the
line first of our bunch. With a 871 watt sprint. The
discrepancy in numbers from my 4:04 finish time are the riding to the
start and riding back to the car. Honest!
We're all funnelled towards a
garden gazebo type tent where two old boys are sitting. There's a
few earlier finishers and it appears that you give them your number and
they give you your placing on a raffle ticket type thing! No
offence but I'd rather keep my number. They all go on the wall
back at Flamme Rouge HQ.
I duck under the rope, clock
the number of the rider behind me and get out of the queue and head back
to the bus. Making sure I don't exit down the road on which the
finishers are coming up.
I get back to the car,
disrobe from my still wet shoes and gear, although it's now quite warm
to change in to something more comfortable. I wait for Dianne, and
wait, and wait and wait. I acknowledge and applaud all the
finishers of the 90k ride, who return to the town on the road on which
our ride left. Two old boys come in together chatting away and
appear to be having a great time together. Just how it should be
significant time later Dianne arrives. As she gets out of her
cycling gear we discuss the morning. She never even got wet!
Even though she followed the first half of our route, just twenty
minutes after our start, she never even saw a damp road!
She said she rode for a while
with two old boys but left them to join another group because they were
riding too slow. I told her they finished 15 minutes ago!
She then mentioned she got dropped on a steep climb but did pass our
Can't see how as the route
never went that way. I checked her computer and she'd done 97
kilometres. Once more, dodgy road markings and lack of marshals
caused riders in the short ride to go astray also. Still as you can see
above, (showing off her new helmet bought the day before) she appears to
have had a good time.
At least some good news
We went back and checked the results. Obviously my name's not
there but the person who was behind me finished 25th. So in
reality that makes me 25th and him 26th. But whose counting? There were no classifications
for vets or age groups and they had the route as 140k whereas my SRM
clocked it at 134k; which included an unscheduled detour. Which is
why I wasn't ready for the finish! Did we miss bits out? Not
sure, but I don't think anyone else is either.
As you'll see from the
graphic above, the average speed was 32.9kph so we weren't hanging
around. But to be honest, I haven't a clue what happened or my
true finishing position. All I know is that there were loads of
riders around us and our finishing time was compatible with the what I
had on my readout. Still, it was a good workout if nothing else
and another rider's sportive in the books.
The event itself is nothing to write home about. Organisation
could have been better, direction markings were missing, marshals were
not always in place and the finish was more precarious than it needed to
be. All of these aspects were covered in great depth in the French
Forums after the event. The route was varied, interesting and
pleasant on the eye but it'll need more than that if this event is to survive.
After 20 years running the
JRB needs to raise it's game as those it competes with for entrants
are run in a far more professional fashion. On the positive side,
the food, results and award ceremonies were all as good as it gets.
But it was too little, too late. I won't be returning and I'd
recommend you look elsewhere for an event in this region, which is a
shame. But if you are in the
out the shop. It's top stuff.