La Morbihannaise

Overall Distance 104k Time Taken 3:13
Height Climbed   Brevet  
Distance Climbed   Position 1st, 2nd & 81st
Date May 2009 Country France
Entrants 450 Region Plumelec

The Morbihannaise is the sportive of the Morbihan town of Plumelec in Northwest France.  It's a couple of hours from St Malo and is in the heart of King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone country. 

On the Saturday there is the GP Plumelec, a Coupe du France race and on Sunday there's the sportive.  The start and finish is on the iconic Cote de Cadoudal which has held a stage finish of the Tour four times in the recent past and has been used three times for the French National Championships.  It's that good.  So we thought we'd give it a go and try yet another new course.

How it's done.
This was to be a cosy little trip with Jo and Nik le Cocq, team flamme rouge (me and the missus) and Jo's mum and dad who live just down the road and came to offer support.  On Saturday we sat out in the (baking) sun watching the pro's race build to a crescendo as they tackled the huge climb thirteen times.  It was a great day, with Jeremie Galland beating all the top pro's to the line. Watch out for him this year.  As you can see below, it was a hot, hot day.

Classic French Organisation
These events fit in to two camps.  Race admin is either world class or shambolic.  Today, they opted for the latter.  When we go there to register, we were third and fourth in the queue.  Twenty minutes later we had three of us in but no Dianne.  So we registered her again. 

All accredited up, we drove the twenty minutes to Vannes and the nearest "proper" hotel.  This place really is out in the countryside. But what fantastic countryside it is.  The perfect setting or a race.

Le Grand Depart
Next morning we were up early at six, to eat and leave for seven, ready for the start at eight.  We drove straight to the course, parked in pole position and was bemused by the lack of activity.  That's because the start was at nine.  At least we could get a good hour's warm up!  I suggested to the sleep deprived team, trying to build morale...

Echapee Folly
As we didn't want to get too knackered warming up, myself and Jo (she's the skinny one above) found ourselves at the front of the field getting ready for the off.  Jo's done a few of these now and knows how to handle herself but some of the French riders are less than gentlemanly when trying to get, hold or sneak a wheel.

I'm quite good at finding and taking gaps and after 10k found myself at the head of the field.  There had been no real hills yet!  But, as usual, the pace was quite relentless which saw us cover 35 kilometres of rolling countryside in the first hour.

The course itself covers a figure of eight, everyone diving out on a 30k loop before coming back through the town and disappearing off in to the back of beyond.  I wasn't feeling too good as we came through the town but I was hanging on thinking it was going to be a long day. 

I was doing the 104k event, as I'd only got back from my previous race three days before and decided to wimp out as I was away again the following week  My next decision was made for me.  The attacks started as we left the town for the second time.

After the third chase it was apparent I was having a "jour sans".  I ended up with two French riders and we did a bit of through and off to try and get back to the group but it was obvious they were more sapped than I.  So we called a truce, riding hi-speed tempo and waiting for the second wave.

The Catch
We were about 10k down the road when a group emerged behind us, it looked like five riders and they were travelling quite fast.  We took a drink and some food and prepared to be caught.  As the first rider went past I got out of the saddle and picked up my speed to jump on the back.  "Hello Toe-neeee"  It was Jo!

She'd stayed with the big boys of her group but they sort of muscled her to the back and kept her out of the way.  We carried on for another 10k or so and had a little team talk.  We were coming along the top of a valley and it was obvious we'd be going down it and out the only road up the other side.  It looked long and it looked steep.

I grabbed Jo and we went to the front of what was now a 25-30 strong group.  It was going to kick off on the hill and I wanted her to be near the front when the fast boys went.  Hopefully, at least she'd be able to keep out of trouble through getting blocked and maybe hang on to a group when the inevitable split came.  We gelled up and waited for the pain to begin...

The Split
Didn't go exactly to plan.  My last words to Jo were, "get in a good gear that will spin you up the hill and don't race it.  Keep at your level not thier's and don't go too far in to the red".  A good plan I thought.

I took the lead on the hill, as it often calms people down if they have someone to follow, they they all wait to jump you at the top.  If you stay calm you can always get back on them when they do jump (amongst my peers anyway) as you've boxed clever and not blown yourself up.

A few riders came on my shoulder and a few drifted past.  Then there was a gap; the split was beginning to take place.  Then Jo came past; in the big ring on the outside of all of us!  It was mayhem and chaos wrapped up in a devastation blanket. 

The crunching of gears and the contortion of bodies as everyone, and I mean everyone, fought, struggled and turned themselves inside out to get her wheel had to be seen to be believed.  Over half of them never made it.  Not for the first time this year, I was one of them.

Jo dishing the pain on the finishing climb

Seeing as I was left behind, I'll have to leave Jo until the end and report on my effort from here on in.

We're now around 30k from the finish and once we cleared the top of the climb we watched Jo and her group disappear in to the distance.  As try as we might, we chased but couldn't close the gap and then people stopped trying.  We capitulated to our stronger brothers, and sister, and an armistice broke out.

I went to the front a few times and did some long pulls, but it was obvious everyone was waiting for the final climb.  In the meantime, Jo was getting worked over by her group.  She said they weren't very nice to her.  "That's because you'd already hurt them Jo"

They all thought she was some neo-pro (there was one in the race) so left her to do the work on the front.  Some were even reluctant to tell her how far the finish was in case she attacked them!  So she waited until they got there, then attacked anyway.  As you can see above.

The Finale
The old SRM was working perfectly and from about 10k out I could see the tented village sitting atop the Cote de Cadoudal.  I knew exactly how far there was to go and I knew exactly were the hill was, and the kilometres leading up to it, as we'd driven and ridden it a couple of hours before.  The only thing I wasn't sure about was how much I had left in the tank.

At the foot of the descent leading on to the Cote, I'd decided I wasn't going to brake at the tight right hand corner and attack for all I was worth (which wasn't much) coming out of it on to the early slopes. 

As usual, I'd descend quite well and got in to the corner with a 20 metre lead, skimming the spectators as I left the bend, praying there was no musette waiting to snag my handlebars.  The gap was nearly 40 by time I'd looked under my arm after my first dig.  All I have to do now is hang on!

You'll see from the SRM stats that I hit the corner at just under 40kph.  Almost 1800 metres and six an a half minutes later, I crossed the line still sprinting (mainly through fear of getting caught) and putting out a fatigued 555 watts.

As usual max heart rate was well over 200 bpm, but for once I managed to keep the average with a 19 at the beginning instead of a 20 or 21. 

I held off the chasing pack to come in after 3:12 to finish 81st.  To be honest I was pretty chuffed with the 6 minute average because it's not far off what I'm usually capable of in a VO2max test.

Jo was already sitting down and recovered by the time I'd finished.  She came in an incredible 2nd lady (behind a rider from Nicole Cooke's Vision 1 team) and 61st overall in 3:05.  Her group took 7 minutes off us in 30k!  Incredible riding.

However there is still more to tell..

The Travesty
After the debacle of signing on it transpired that Dianne's new number wasn't allocated to her name.  She had a fantastic ride and really mixed it up with her group.

It always seems to disarm people that she doesn't have dropped bars so they don't take her seriously.  But she left a few of her group at the bottom of the hill and plugged away to the finish line, hot bothered but having had a "brilliant ride".  No idea where she came but she enjoyed it and that's all that mattered.

After, I'd recovered and everyone waited for me to get ready we sauntered to the marquee for our food and a gander a the results.

Finding Jo's number wasn't hard, she was near the top of the sheets, I was near the bottom, but still managed to sneak on to the first page!  We couldn't find Dianne's name anywhere then realised there was a blank name at 57th place.  It was Dianne's number but no name. 

Then the presentations took place, massive country hampers.  The sponsor is local food producer and it was an impressive prize but only the category winners got one.

We went back to look at the sheets and the lady presented with the prize was Nicole Corvez, presented as first lady of a certain age in 2:39.  Dianne (number 1049) finished in 2:24 and was robbed of her food parcel by an administrative oversight.  But we're not bitter!  Next year we'll be back.

As ever a fantastic event in a fantastic setting.  Now I know it starts at 9:00 am, and we know where it is and how to get there, I'm sure we'll be back with a larger crowd.  Despite the admin limitations it's a great race and well worth visiting.

Thanks to Nik, for taking the photo's.  He didn't ride as he was preparing for the IronMan Championships in Austria the following week.  He relaxed by going for a 10k run in the woods.  It must of worked because he qualified for the IronMan World Championships.

website La Morbihannaise

Ibis Vannes