Le Pruneau

Overall Distance 140 kilometres Time Taken 4:02
Height Climbed 600 m Overall Position  
Distance Climbed   Brevet Gold (just!)
Date March 2005 Country France
Entrants 2,000 Region Agen

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Well here we are, another season in Europe.  Before tackling the Belgian Classics I thought I'd do a warm up event in the South of France.  Le Pruneau (yes it translates to what you think it is) seemed the best on offer.  A UFOLEP event that's round one of the Trophee National and with this being the fifteenth edition, we all got a commemorative jersey.

The first event of 2005 carried on were the last of 2004 finished; in the rain.  After a five hour, Good Friday drive from St Malo to Agen, with the temperature rising steadily to a balmy 22 degrees it looked good for a nice weekend.  Easter Sunday however was a cool, grey, although windless, 13 degrees.  With the clocks going forward and the subsequent hour’s less sleep it was hard to get over motivated for what was in effect a warm-up event for those to come later in the Spring.

Having been ill for the two weeks previous to the event I wasn’t too keen on "racing" the 140 kilometers to come.  I’d only ridden four times for a total of 100 miles in the whole of March, which is the distance I’d normally ride on a Saturday morning.  Devoid of any training, my strategy was to hang on for as long as I could, come in with the laughing group and have an enjoyable morning's ride.

Dianne took her new Orbea Mitis (fresh from Pedal Power), which I'd completed building the day before we set off.  Having steadily built up distance all winter she had ridden 45 hilly miles, her longest ever, just two weeks previous to the event.  Her target for the weekend would be the Passegoise, 82 kilometers, with 200 metres of climbing.  However, at signing on we were told there were road works on the course and her race would be extended to 95 kilometers!  The tactics would now be stop at the feed, eat and drink, fill her pockets, but don’t hang around and get back on the bike as quickly as possible. 

A little nervous, she set off with a couple of hundred others, 20 minutes after the “big-boys”.  After a slight wrong turn, following the long route, she was back on track and riding strongly in her group, who waited for her to turn around and get back on.  Feeling good, she even went to the front for stretches at a time while all the men sat on her wheel!  She arrived at the feed still feeling strong but stopped for a bottle refill and a quick snack as planned. 

Then the trek back to the finish started just as fatigue began to kick in.  What didn’t help matters was the placement of the 20k to go banner.  True, it was placed 20 kilometers from the finish, but the fact that is was placed at the start of the longest, straightest, road in the world (looking far longer than 20k long) didn’t help motivation.  By now the rain had started and it was beginning to feel cold.

The final hill ascents seemed far easier on her new, lightweight Orbea than those climbed on her heavy winter bike and the descents passed by without too much incident as she paid a little more attention to the “dangerous descent” signs than most.   With temperature dropping but spirits rising, Dianne dropped her previous riding companions and picked up the pace for the run in to the finish.  Crossing the line in 3:52 and covering the 57 miles at an average speed of 15 mph.  Not bad for someone who has been riding for less than a year.

Somehow I managed to get an early start number which placed me in the first group of 300 starters.  With almost 2000 taking part this was a massive advantage and, as we set off at 9:00 am on fully closed roads, it was apparent that this was the group from which the winners would come.  There was a lot of nervousness in the bunch with loads of concertina riding ~ flat out for a kilometer or two, followed by massive heavy braking, resulting in loads of people bouncing off other riders and for some, the road. 

With two crashes in front of me early on, I decided to move to the head of the group.  I was in the first 40 or so when the third crash, in the first ten miles, happened at a road island.  Almost immediately a gap opened up behind me and the pace went to flat out and stayed there.  There were about 50 riders in the group all vying for position as we turned off the main road at Serignac to head down the country lanes and over a few narrow humped bridges, the biggest climbs so far.

We passed through Saint Laurent and 28k, with 42 minutes on the clock.  I’d decided to ride this event on my C40 with it’s SRM power measuring system; the post-ride data made interesting reading!  The ride remained pretty uneventful but still at a high pace until Anzex at 56 kilometers, where the strong boys obviously felt warmed up enough to attack.  Three went off the front and everyone else went for the chase.  I went to change up but found I was already in top gear doing 32 mph before I could decide what to do someone, somewhere decided to let them go.  With my heart rate at 223bpm, I couldn’t see any reason to disagree.  The pace quietened slightly and we hit the feed station at Vianne and 85k in just under two hours.  Unsurprisingly, not a single person stopped.

After 100k we hit the first of the hills, and the rain.  I was about sixth wheel as we hit the slope and one by one they slipped by.  My total lack of form was now about to display itself.  Just as we hit the crest, of what can best be described as a very long St Aubin’s, I was last wheel.  Everyone sat up to eat; I used the opportunity to scream to the front on the descent.  Then the next hill came and the scenario played itself out again.  The third hill; yep same again and it would have probably happened on the fourth but I didn’t get back on so we’ll never know.  We were now one Jersey rider short of a peleton. 

By now I’d eaten all my food but did have an emergency pate d’amande.  Once I’d stopped seeing stars I popped it in my mouth but just couldn’t seem to get it down.  I knew I had to eat it but I also knew I had to breath.  After what seemed like ten minutes I managed to accomplish both.  It was going to be a long, uneventful, lonely 30k back to the finish.  Especially as each group was coming past so fast I couldn’t even grab a wheel.  As always, you perk up in the last 10k and find the energy to come in at a respectable speed, just in case anyone’s watching.  I crossed the line in 4:02.  Three minutes inside the Gold time cut-off.  How lucky was that?  Very, is the answer.

Dianne came in 15 minutes later, which meant she beat me by five minutes!  Bikes in the car, drive the mile back to the hotel in wet clothes, a quick shower, a trip to McDonalds next door to pick up lunch (I know!), then sitting in the room, eating lunch, watching the Criterium International on French TV.  Is there a better way to spend an Easter Sunday? 

website La Pruneau ~ now called Le Passegoise
hotel Campanile Agen