Grand Prix de Plouay

Overall Distance 145 kilometres Time Taken 4:46
Height Climbed more than enough Overall Position 311th
Distance Climbed most of it Category Position 112th
Date August 2006 Country France
Entrants 2,239 Region Morbihan

Well here we are, eleven weeks after the Queen of the Classics, Paris Roubaix with unrelenting heat we find ourselves in north west France for the cool, damp Grand Prix de Plouay Cyclo.  The contrast couldn't be greater.

To be honest I'd let myself go a bit during the summer hiatus.  I'd told myself to throttle back to enter the final end of season events with a flourish.  What I did enter them with was a bit of a spare tyre.  I'd put on nearly three kilos and due to a multitude of factors I didn't put in the miles I should have. 

Still no problem, I'd entered the 145k event so I'd just change it on the day and ride the 100k event for training.  I could then do the forthcoming 135k Ronde Picarde to fine tune my form and wind down with the 110k Giro Lombardia at season's end.  Happy days.

With this fantastic new plan in mind we turned up at Plouay to sunshine, heat and not a breath of wind.  Signing on was a doddle, where we met John Derrien and Liz.  Evidently a large contingent of CCC riders were down for the weekend and John was the first to arrive.  We had a spot of lunch together, chatted like only cyclists can then went and found a bike shop!  Two brand new CX's later and we're heading back to our respective hotels to prepare for tomorrow's battle. 

Damp Jour
Event day, Friday, arrived cold, damp and breezy.  As usual I arrive with about ten minutes to go and park at the foot of the first descent around 400 metres from the start.  By the time I'm fuelled up, dressed up and pumped up (the tyres) it's two minutes to go and the commentator's whipping the riders in to a frenzy.  I ride up the hill to be met at the start line by a by countdown to unleash the 2000 riders my way.

The gun goes off, everyone surges forward, a gap opens so I throw my bike over the barrier, hop on and get going in the first hundred or so.  I'm in the top thirty by the time I reach the base of the descent and back to around hundredth as we crest the first rise. 

The legs feel heavy, the breathing is laboured and already my heart is over 200 bpm.  We're four minutes in and my power output is over 640 watts with a heart rate of 207.  It would be 17 minutes into the ride before my heart drops below 200 bpm.  The first ten lumpy miles are covered at an average of 20 mph.  This is Jersey race pace, and a bit more.  It's going to be a quick 100k!

About fifteen miles in Gary de Gruchy turns up on my shoulder.  We exchange pleasantries (which is a change! we must be mellowing in our old age) and we work at the front of our group for the next half hour or so.  Gary (as usual) is up for a ride but not all of our group appears too keen and we shed loads as we pick up others who are rapidly dropping off from the leading pack. 

Coming off a long, right handed descent there are a small group of riders on the equally long climb ahead.  My "Plouay training plan" is to push as hard on the hills as I can until I blow, then hang on.  I ride hard to get Gary within touching distance of the riders ahead and blow just as we reach them.  Gary jumps across, goes to the front and that's the last I saw of him!

Deja Vu Again
Time to calm down regroup and get some food down me.  About 30 miles in and another CCC rider appears on my shoulder, closely followed by a third!  They're like buses, you wait ages for one to come along then they all come at once!  John Derrien and John De Feu are line astern and riding strong at the front of their group. 

The rain is beginning to fall more consistently now and the road shows no sign of drying anytime soon.  I may have mentioned this before (only once or twice!), the French don't like descending and they don't like the wet.  So wet descents really freak them out.  Myself and J de F give them a master class in descending, cornering and just plain getting on with it, while the French, along with the two John's, show me how to climb like real cyclists; fast.

Rule #1; Pay attention!
As each climb passes, and there were a few, the elastic begins to stretch.  My objective of riding the 100k event to conserve energy and face, took a turn for the worse, along with myself. 

Not wanting to get caught up in some slow motion Gallic brake-fest, I took to the front every time we came to a hill (down obviously) or a village.  There's lots of street furniture in this part of the world so I wanted to be at the front where I could see it.  However, in my attempt to line everyone out going through the feed village of Ploerdut (it's much safer, trust me) I failed to see signs indicating the split for the two rides. 

So, I'm riding along and I hear the two Johns discussing the fact that we're 60 miles in.  Not far now I thought.  Ten miles later, it dawned on me.  Bugger.  To add insult to injury the hills were now coming thick and fast.  At 75.5 miles and 3 hours 29 minutes, we came to a long, not overly steep, hill.  It's time to bid adieu to my companions.  I get a gel out and charge up, but not the hill.  It's a dispiriting sight as your companions ride off without so much as a look back.

Move 'em on, Move 'em up, Rawhide!
With everyone gone, no one to impress and feeling lonely I get out of the saddle and honk over the top only to find cyclists everywhere.  Stopped with their feet down, at least 50 of them.  At the front a kerrambalage de vache or as we say, a stampede, has blocked the road.  I pick my way to the front where I find the two Johns, three very big cows and an even bigger french farm femme.  They look enormous when you're close up to them, the cows not the farm ladies, and with full udders they all looked a bit frisky to me; still talking about the cows!

Somehow, order was maintained and they managed to get the cows back in to the field before the other thirty or so came out to join them.  The chart on the right shows the 30 seconds we lost as all telemetry went to zero.  Then, once more it was race on.  Now we have three CCC riders on the front and a big, long line out behind us.  We all went through and off for a couple of miles then the Johns went through and I just went off.  Game over.

Time Trial Tone
Not for the first time this year I was riding in on my own and out of puff.  This is where I got dropped.  82.5 miles.  I'm trying to maintain my power but the speed is dropping and my heart rate isn't responding.  I've hit the wall.  The stats are; Power 160 watts, Speed 22 mph, Cadence 84 rpm, Heart 157 bpm.  I try one last kick up to 377 watts then it's damage limitation and a long ride home.  Chaz Knight the last CCC rider I'll see today fly's past and I try to hang on to his group but it ain't happening.  The tank's empty.  I try to get my power back to 200 watts.

Sham Sprinting
I come in with a splutter but do manage to sprint in at 32 mph down the finishing slope and hold 31 mph all the way to the line to finish with a heart rate of 220 bpm and a finishing wattage of 404 watts.  How sad is that?  I'm very tired, miffed at missing the turn but quite chuffed that I threw in a 91 mile ride.  This means I can have a starter and a desert for dinner.  You see you have to look for the positives.

Who did what?
The other lads all did extremely well,  Gary came in with a time of 4:14 and 19th vet.  The John's came in together at 4:28 with Mr Derrien 83rd vet, and Mr de Feu 41st in his 50+ age group.  Chaz came in with 4:37 and 108th vet, while I brought up the Jersey rear with a very sad 4:46 and 112th.  You'll see from the haunted look on my little fat face that I was a tadge jaded at the finish.

Meanwhile Dianne was having the time of her life cruising round her ride at a grand old pace.  She said it was the "best ever".  She felt good, overtook loads of people on the hills, rode with and dropped some of the old boys because they were "holding her back" and even came in with a sprint across the line.  They had her down for winning the ladies prize in the 100k event.  But it wasn't quite right so we sloped off.

What next?
Well it's back to the drawing board for some training tweaks, like doing some, and a cut back on treats.  I've got two weeks to gain some form, shed some weight and get ready for La Ronde Picarde.  To have one bad event is unfortunate to have two would be careless. 

The season's coming to an end but I don't want to go out with a whimper.  It would be a shame to spoil a fantastic year for a lack of discipline.  I'll let Dave Whitt and Steve Goaziou give me a kicking and get me in to shape.  They're already training for next year's Amstel Gold, but I think it's just to wind me up.

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