Jean Rene Bernaudeau

Overall Distance 134k Time Taken 4:04
Height Climbed 1235 m Brevet  
Distance Climbed   Position 25th o/a
Date May 2008 Country France
Entrants 500ish Region Vendee

Okay 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.

Where are we?
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.

Weather forecast?
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.

Full Gas City
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 dictated otherwise.

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 pups.

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 started.

Are 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 eating. 

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.  Mon dieu.

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.

Decision Time
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. 

My 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

Some 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 hotel. 

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 Apres Shindig
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 area, check out the shop.  It's top stuff.