La Mont Saint Michel

Overall Distance 120 kilometres Time Taken 3:37
Height Climbed 1279 m Overall Position 60th
Distance Climbed   Category Position 25th
Date June 2007 Country France
Entrants 950 Region Brittany

The first weekend of June and another "local" event, starting just outside Rennes, the capital town of Brittany and not an hour's drive from St Malo.

Today I'm riding the medium distance event as I need to get some speed in to my legs without thrashing myself.  I'm riding three sportives this month and want to peak for the month end not end up a burnt out shell.  So I slack out and sign on at 1982 Milan San Remo winner, Marc Gomez's cycle shop and race HQ at La Chapelle des Fougeretz.  Where I meet Mike Harris. 

Three 3C's riders have come over for the weekend to give it a go.  Worryingly, Mike has ridden the course beforehand to see what he can do and where he can do it.  However, he's doing the biggie, so the pressure's off! 

Ready to roll
To be honest the organisation around the race start for this event was a little, shall we say, French.  The numbers were seeded according to the event distance.  However, I'm standing there with my distance group when I see riders that should be with us riding off in to the distance with the "big" ride.  however we didn't see them for long because the fog's appeared from nowhere!

So before we kick off, a good number of our riders have ridden into the distance to get a ten minute head start.  With no electronic timing I already feel cheated and not too happy.  Still, I'm here to enjoy myself so that's what I'm going to do.  Especially as this fog's a little chilly and I've got my gilet and arm warmers on and everyone else appears to be freezing.  Which is strange, because when we left the car five minutes and not 200 metres ago, it was boiling hot.

Anyway, the countdown finishes and we hare out of the industrial estate and on to the main road with a police escort.  A kilometre up the road and we turn sharp right to disappear out in to the countryside.  The speed is impressively high and I fight to hold wheels near the front.

Warm up's over!
It's a brisk run to the first major obstacle of the day, the Cote de St Germaine.  At 10k in the speed picks up noticeably and now I'm really fighting to hold my position.  I'm the only one in a gilet.  I think everyone else is just cold and is trying to keep warm; Me?, I'm glowing!

At 14k we hit the foot of the 1 kilometre, 8% climb of St Germaine.  I'm feeling remarkably sprightly and climb out of the saddle and at the front.  I'm fourth rider over the top and breathing heavy but happy to get the first hill out of the way.  We turn a vicious hairpin left at the top of the climb and I sit down to metaphorically pat myself on the back, as the first attack of the day goes off the front.

A long, long, long false flat draws away from the top of the climb and I'm holding wheels as the speed goes from fast to stupid over the course of  400 metres.  I'm a bit warm now!  But the speed is high and it's one big lineout, so there's no chance of de-gileting just yet.

Sort out number one
After 5 k someone called a truce as the damage had been done.  That's the first hill of the day, the first attack of the day and the first sort out of the day, all within 15 minutes of action.  Around a hundred of us are away and it seems as though everyone is content with their world.  A fast tempo session begins.

Looking at the route map I don't expect anything else to happen until the 25% Cote de Villais (gulp) so for me it's sit in, eat, drink, take my gilet off and hang on for the ride.  There's a few more long drags and short sharp leg breakers but at this early stage no one wants to go it alone.  So we all stick together as we fly through the feed at Feins.

The big one
Sort out number two came at 50k, when the speed picked up once more.  Riders were sprinting to the front and I fought to stay in the top ten or fifteen.  As we descended a long drag, I took a drink and glanced at my computer.  54.5k it read.  I could see a marshals motorbike down the road and something just clicked in my head.  I changed on to the small ring and prepared myself. 

Within a flash we turned left up a blind junction and within 10 metres we were on the 25%-er of the Villais.  I'm about the tenth person on the hill and I'm on the inside.  Most of the riders in front of me are on the big ring.  The horrible, horrible noise of rear Carbon Cosmic's  trying to change down under full load was merciless.  A chain goes, as does the rider.  I skirt around the body and do a wall of death brushing a patch of stinging nettles in the process.

There's chaos on the hill as the whippets, who've been like coiled springs all morning, unleash hell.  To quote a famous gladiator. 

The lineout to end all lineout's begins as the one kilometre climb rips the field apart.  Ignore the heart rate, my monitor played up, but you can see from the other stats, it wasn't nice.  Nearly 700 watts max and a three minute average of   300 watts at 18kph.  It hurt as much as you imagine it did.

I get over the top with the leading thirty or so then someone thought it would be funny to attack.  It's at this point I made my excuses and left by the back door.  Time to look for some new friends.

Take Two
Those of us that survived the climb but not the attack, around forty I guess, set about chasing the first group but they stubbornly remained around 20 seconds up the road.  We echeloned, we through-ed and off-ed and some of the strong ones even tried to jump the gap.  All to no avail.  It was going to be one of those mornings.

After a while, and few more climbs we settled at our own pace.  Then, when we weren't paying attention, it looked like we might actually bring them back.  It looked more like them slowing than us catching, but whatever it was morale was boosted.  Then we hit the 13%, Cote de Pont a Vis.  When we cleared the summit, they were gone, well most of them, and we were spread out like a jet's vapour trail.  They lost a few, we picked up a few, and we lost a few out the back.  So our net gain was almost zero, just a few changed faces and the same old same old.

There began a truce, or a realisation of expectations,  as nearly all the riders in our group appeared to be working together for the greater good.  I though we might all stay together until the end and fight it out over the last 10k of climbs,  But as ever, my aspirations failed to match my abilities and at 105k, fifteen to go, at the Cote de Quatre Chemins I, along with a few others, said goodbye to the second group.

It's warm now
The gilet and arm warmers are long gone and the sun is now beating down.  I've just run out of drink as I throw my last gel down my throat and try to work out how to survive the last 15k with my fellow drop-ees to make sure any bigger groups behind don't catch us.

We try to work together but it's obvious some are more willing or able than others.  With each horrible rise, they can hardly be called climbs, we lose another person.  Until with 5k to go we reach La Meziere.

The route map fails to tell the whole story.  From the card it tells us it's almost a flat run in.  It's anything but.  Our group of six now begin attacking one another as we twist and turn out of the villages and through these interminable undulating false flats.

With 2k to go, two riders attack.  I chase, well ponce about out the saddle for 100 metres, but they don't seem to be getting closer so I sit back down.  Another two places lost!

Then, in a fit of bravado, with 1 k to go I take a flyer and leave my small group of French chums.  Luckily they don't take the bait because I'm running on fumes.  The final climb to the finish starts; on it is one of the earlier escapees.  He's cramping badly and is in an awful lot of pain.  I shout encouragement to him as I sail past.  It seemed the honourable thing to do.

The final 500 metres are flat and I sprint to prevent two riders behind, who are now trying to close me down, from getting too near.  I cross the line in 3:37 for 60th overall and 25th vet. 

Post Mortem
While sitting in the massive sports hall having our post-race meal we reflected on our rides.  Dianne had a great time on the de Prisa, 80k ride, riding with two lads nearly the whole way round.  I reflected less graciously on my ride.  Once more I'm happy with the result, I rightly or wrongly consider anything in the top 10% as a result.  It's my staying power and speed endurance (or limitations of them) that bug me. 

I really wish I could just hang with the second group until the end because I know I can win sprints against them.  I know I can't stay with the first group as these are out and out racers, but what can you do.  It seems this is as good as I'm going to get.  I'll have to wait until I move to the next age group in a couple of years.  Then I'll be the youngest!  There's always an excuse and you have to look for the positives.

While we ate, we were entertained by a fantastic live band playing the old Breton squeeze box.  They sounded like a cross between The Wurzels and The Pogues.  I thought they were great, although we seemed to be the only ones that clapped when they finished a song.  Maybe it's because we didn't understand the words!

It wasn't one of the greatest sportives I've done but it was fast, had good roads, is close to home and is better training than riding in Jersey.  And for that fact alone, it's probably worth a second visit; maybe!

For now, it's back home and prepare for the Pyrenees.

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