La Ronde du Petit Sable ~ 2007

Overall Distance 155k Time Taken 4:29
Height Climbed 955 metres Brevet  
Distance Climbed   Category Position 59th
Date April 2007 Country France
Entrants 364 Region Le Mans

Strange event this one, but strange in a good sense!  It starts at 12:00 noon, in the middle of the town of Sable sur Sarthe, right alongside the river.  Signing on and number collection takes place in the town's sports hall.  And before the event there's cake and biscuits for all, with coffee or soft drinks. 
How civilised is that.

Another plus, is La Ronde forms part of the Trophee Label D'Or and the Trophee De L'Ouest.  Two championship cracks for the price of one.  Then, as the icing on the cake, there is an extra ladies category for those of a certain age.  Or, the Hot Flush Group, as I very unpolitically correctly called it.  So Dianne's signed up for that group and I'm in with the "men who should know better" category.

Only four hours to go!
When you do a normal sportive you get up at six, eat at 6:30, leave the hotel at 7:00, get the bike prepped for 7:30 and get to the line for 7:45 for a start at 8:00; you know exactly where you are and when you need to be there!  When an event starts at noon it throws your mental countdown clock out completely. 

So after a fashionably late breakfast we sauntered to the start town and parked up in the massive, dedicated car park, alongside the start pens and made ourselves comfortable.  Having prepped the bikes and preened ourselves we loitered waiting for the start and when the masses started to gather, we decided to gather with them. 

Easy Cowboy!
I was a little alarmed to see three men in the car behind me all with their fingers up their jacksies!  Their own, not each others you understand.  Now I've seen people popping the old ProPlus tablets in the past, and everyone (except me, (gastric distress and all that)) at the signing on was throwing espresso's down their throats like their life depended on it.  But to see people shoving caffeine suppositories up themselves suggested some were taking this far too seriously for their own good.

Me?  I prepared as I always prepare.  If it's wet; baby oil the legs to keep the water off.  If it's cold; baby oil the legs to keep the wind out.  If it's hot; baby oil the legs and top up the tan.  I did think of pretending to do something but the missus caught me with my hand down my shorts so I sorted myself out sharpish and got back on the bike.

Mistake Number One!
So I find myself in my pen along with nearly everyone else almost 30 minutes before the start.  You had to get there early or you'd end up at the back of your pen, losing another 100 more places than you need to.  So what do you do when you've got 30 minutes to kill?  Sip your drink and nibble your food, that's what.  That, and listen to the Euro Pop coming over the tannoy system.

High Noon
Right on the noon day gun, which still fires in the Channel Isles, we shipped out, down the two kilometre, straight as a a die road leading out of town.  Just like La 77, speed appeared to be of the essence.  No warm up here then, it's big ring, little gear, maximum revs.  Then the braking started!

We're a kilometre out, dodging street furniture and someone takes a tumble.  Boy was he not happy!  As people dodged around him, and just before I got to him, during a mad Gallic rant he picked up his bike and threw it "Bjarne Riis like" across the road onto the grass.  Possibly one too many supps up the jacksie!

Here we go again
Anyway, we crack on to the first climb.  It's a windy day, like the first event of the year, but there isn't a cloud in the sky and it's 22 degrees.  Remember, it's the first week of April!  The heat is on in more ways than one.  Once again I manage to thread my way to the front of the group, only for it to be lined out on the hill. I hang on and the already severed peloton splits once more with a third up front and two thirds left behind.  Luckily, I'm in the front bit.

The first hour is the fastest of the ride and once again, with the incessant attacks on the undulations, I get drifted off the front group of around 30 young pups and super fast vets. 

There's now around a hundred of us in group two and the chase is on to catch back up with the lead riders.  I'm more a spectator than an active participant at this stage.

Consequences of actions
Then, after an hour, someone decides enough is enough and we settle down to a spot of fast-tempo, rather than all-out, riding .  Until after around 30 minutes of tempo someone got bored and it all kicks off again.  I take a drink just as it starts to wind up and get a shock!  We're an hour in and my first bottle is empty.  The time spent sitting on the start line, sipping my drink to prevent de-hydration, now means I'm on a hiding to nothing.

The hills come thick and fast, although they're not really hills, more undulations.  The whole ride was cracked off in the big ring and the main battle was the wind (not mine) and the speed.  Our group broke apart once more.  A charge went on an hour before the end just as my remaining bottle was on it's last dregs.  I hung on for all I was worth literally sprinting to get to the front on the flats to enable me to hang on on the climbs.  Eventually the inevitable happened.

How did that happen?
I actually got tailed off on a motorway flyover!  We approached it at 50 kph and when we hit the bottom of it the speed seemed to increase!  I got shelled out just before the crest, but wasn't the first to go, which is hardly any conciliation.  I got that horrible feeling you all know, you fight as hard as you can to get back on but they never seem to  get any closer.

As the group rode off in to the distance I could see riders being shelled out the back.  I just kept riding at my limit and kept picking people up so our group got bigger and bigger.  The bigger it got the more momentum we seemed to pick up.  As we headed for the finale we had a group of around 30 most of which seemed to want to contribute.  However, the closer we got to the finish the less people wanted to, or could, work.

It was now very, very hot.  I'd been without drink for the last 20k and I could see those around me also had empty bottles.  As we dropped down the last hill, the first on the way out, I knew we were around five k to the finish.

Some of the more foolhardy, or brave, courers tried to take a flyer in the final kilometres and two dangled off the front.  Me? I was feeling strong and was ready for a sprint.  I chased a few attacks down then sat in watching for others.  As we passed the flamme rouge (yes they did have one) I ended up fourth wheel and was still waiting for it to kick off.

La Champs de Sarthe
With 500 metres to go, someone's nerve went and they took a flyer from behind us.  The rider immediately in front of me reacted and chased the wheel down.  Dragging me and the two others with him in the process.  We caught our flyer just as the two previous front runners blew.  With 200 metres to go my tow eased off for a fraction so I went for all I was worth.

Job done, bunch sprint in the bag!  It's always nice to take a sprint even if it is for the minor placings!   59th Vet.  The group I was tailed off from on the flyover contained 74 riders, 30 of them in my category; the 40-49 age group!  I'm 47.  They only finished three minutes up the road and all of that was lost in the last 20 k.  I need to go away and address my speed; or get some caff supps for the posterior!!!

The stats showed this was a tougher event than the previous week's La 77.  The ride consisted of 21%, or 49 minutes, at or above my anaerobic capacity.  The Training Stress Score was 379 and the Intensity Factor was 0.919 giving a training load of 348. way above La 77's training load of 270.

So race done It was time to get back to the car put the bike away and get ready for Dianne to come in from the 92 k event.

Dianne's Race

To be honest Dianne was a little concerned that 92k was a bit past her comfort zone.  She regularly rides 80k events but the thought that the extra distance, the heat and the fact that this was part of a championship spooked her slightly.

But she's always one to meet a challenge.  She rode off, 15 minutes  after we started and gave it her all to hang in with some of the faster, fitter but older men.

When I got back to the car I got my second shock of the day as she was already there putting her bike back in to the car!  A little tired and weary but extremely happy that she'd got round and hadn't embarrassed herself.

We sat in the shade and talked about our races, what we'd seen, how fast it was, how hot it was and how we thought we'd done.  We cleaned up and sauntered (we did a lot of sauntering this weekend) back to the admin block for the results and our food.

I found my name and position and was quietly chuffed with my performance as my stats above showed it was a high-speed and full-on event.  Kept looking for Dianne's name but we couldn't see it.  Looked a little harder and there it was.  Ladies of a certain age ~ SECOND.  How fantastic was that?  A good weekend has now turned in to a great weekend.  I might have to extend the trophy cabinet.  Between her and the dog I'm feeling a bit left out!

Overall Distance 92 Time Taken 3:56
Height Climbed   Brevet  
Distance Climbed   Position 2nd W3
Date April 2007 Country France
Entrants 162 Region Le Mans

Final Thoughts
This was only the third edition of La Ronde Sable and to be honest the organisation was impeccable; you'd think they'd have been doing it for twenty years.  Everything was spot on, from the signing on, the marshalling, the results and most of all the food.  The banquet that was laid on at the end was amazing.  A fantastic end to a fantastic day.

This event is a two hour drive from St Malo.  It's on a Saturday lunchtime and you can be there and back over the weekend and not lose any time off work.  Four people in a car can have a fantastic weekend for around 75 each.  Why not challenge yourself to some full on racing, for normal mortals, French style?

website Ronde Sable

Campanile Sable sur Sarthe