Tro Bro Leon
the debacle of last year I was determined that come what may I was
going to have another bash at the infamous Tro Bro Leon, Brittany's
answer to Paris Roubaix and
If I was to complete the
trick I would need it on my CV. So here we are in April 2010 for
another bash. With Dianne still sidelined from her
indiscretion it was left to Chris Stephens and myself to uphold Jersey's honour
in the race (quite literally) at the edge of the world.
to logistics of travelling, and Mrs Stephens being 7/9ths of the way
through becoming a mum for the second time, I found myself alone in
St Malo on Friday. To help in endurance preparations for
Lyon-Mont Blanc-Lyon, I decided to cycle a day return trip to (it
says on their blurb) the wonder of the western world, that is
Mont St Michel.
From the Ibis, to the
front gate of the citadel, then a little loop on the way back gave
me 175 kilometres. Mid-afternoon I'm back at the hotel looking for
the revitalising sustenance that is room service. A shower, a micro-waved lasagne and a cup of tea later and I'm all ready to pick up
Chris from the harbour. He arrives at eight, we're back at the
hotel for half past and eating dinner at nine, planning our
race strategy for Saturday. We always talk a good race.
A Good Start
a two hour drive from St Malo to Llanlis. So with the race
starting at 13:30 we can take a perfect, no rush breakfast before a steady-eddie
drive across the western tip of France to the Brest
We arrive well early and amble to
the registration area to pick up our numbers. Chris is number one, and
I'm number two; how good is that? We amble back to the
bus, stick our numbers on and settle down for our pre race
toilet-jersey on-undress-toilet-jersey back on (repeat as required), routine.
We've all done it, so you get the
Unfazed by our seeding we gather
at the start with the four hundred or so other riders who are all ready for the
off. It's sunny, still slightly cool but it'll get warm later, so arm warmers it is.
After the usual 15 minutes of high speed French chatter from
the commentator, we're sent on our way to criss-cross the region as
laid out below. The ribonou (the bumpy bits) are in white.
I've got the start covered; I did 20k last
year remember, but for Chris it was a trip in to the unknown...
Never being afraid to
hand out advice and opinion (I'm a Scouser, can't stop myself) I advised Chris where to be
and by when. It's important to get lined up on the right side of the road
to avoid the traps of the street furniture, roundabouts and junctions we were about to encounter
in the first five clicks.
Then we left the start
and immediately took a different route from last year! As
usual, should of kept my mouth shut. It seems it was a trip in
to the unknown for both of us...
I could swear some of
these boys had the
motorised specials off t'internet. The speed
was right up there with the best of them as everyone fought to be near the
front for the first section of the eighteen ribonou we would
Steady the Bus
I was caught out slightly
and with the legs still dead from yesterday was struggling to keep
my place in the pack. After
about 10k someone came tumbling backwards towards me out of the
bunch. How everyone missed him I don't know. We were screaming
down a big, wide, arrow straight road when he must of touched a wheel and took
I found myself on the outside of the group and moving
forward just as Chris came in to view. "See that?" I said, "Yeh, he
just went down on his own. I was right next to him." replied
Chris. For peace of mind, and our own protection we decided we needed to move up nearer the
front. Just to be on the safe side, in light of my new-found
crash information, I gave Chris a bit more room than usual!
As we accelerated forward
down the still big, long, wide, arrow straight road the leaders started to
brake and took a sharp left, literally in to a French farmer's field. I
dived up the inside, making about 20 places, with Chris on my
We filed through in to
what can only be described as a
tractor test track.
was stones down each side with a huge grass mound down the middle. You chose a
side and stuck to it and hoped you didn't get stuck behind anyone
going too slow.
At least on cobbles you have a
(granted not very high) consistency of
grip but on this stuff you had no inclination of what the bike was
doing beneath you..
Diving across the crown of the "road" moving from stone to
grass to stone, has to be done as a last resort and with a committed purpose if
it's to be successful. This is no place for the indecisive,
feint-hearted or ill at ease. Confidence, bravery and just a
hint of stupidity are the key to survival and making places.
Somehow we all managed to stay upright and
made it to the exit on the far side of the, very, very, very big field.
A few riders have already punctured.
Okay, we've survived the first ribonou and made up ground to
boot. Then there came a (second) element of confusion. I was just
pointing out to Chris that this is where I was unceremoniously
dumped out of last year's event. "Get ready to turn right" I
said, just as half the field turned right.
However, the other half
turned left and chaos ensued as cycles and moto marshals tried to work out the
correct direction. It quickly became apparent that left it was and we're now
going very slowly at the foot of a very long drag, being attacked at full speed by those that
got it right and hit it with momentum.
The disorientated chasers were left racing to get back on and an
split occurred. The big boys, of which Chris (ploughing a lone
furrow above) was one, stretched the elastic and I found myself
tailed off with the men-of-a-certain-age, the confused and the
bewildered. Chris and the Galacticos
had gone and left us Gregarios to our own devices.
Just Showing Off
making good progress, picking off riders as they got spat out the
back but to be honest the legs were complaining a little. I caught
a group just as we hit the base of the King of the Mountains Climb.
The next day was to be the Pro's race and this was to be an added
test for them, or maybe it wasn't.
were five of us climbing, in the little ring, making slow but steady
progress the way only vets can. Deep breathing, rhythmic cadence,
1000 yard stare, total silence.
Behind us we heard
rapid-fire chatting and the unmistakable rip of carbon deep rimmed wheels
being bent out of shape. Then there was a flash of colour to
our left. Two Sojasun pros blasted past us in the big ring, testing the climb
out for the 'morrows race.
chatting, they shouted encouragement which was nice but they went
past so quick we couldn't even say "merci". It must be fantastic to have
such talent. But it seems BBox's Alexandre Pichot has
more; he came away with the Sunday's KoM prize.
we'd cleared the climb, my legs seemed to open up and I began to
make some pace, catching and dropping riders at a good rate.
I caught around 30 riders (who'd obviously eased back) at the
coastal pinch point of the Chapelle de Meneham (below) and worked my
way to the middle of the group on the road.
I used the following few ribonou to get to the front
of the group. Then, in an effort to reduce the embarrassing
gap between Chris and myself, I pressed on alone to open a gap as we hit a nice piece of tarmac with a
huge tail wind. However my echapee folly was short-lived.
At the next entrance to hell I
left the smooth, tail-wind assisted tarmac in to a blind field
entrance at 45kph thinking perhaps I should scrub some speed off
here. As I flew off the road in to the field edge, I saw what can only be
described as a quarry reject section.
A whole kilometre of farm track laid with the large white aggregate they use on the motorways as
foundation for tarmac. Except it hadn't been rolled flat. BANG!
Front wheel gone immediately. Not three metres in and I'm looking
for somewhere to bail out.
Unfortunately, all the places had gone.
There must of been around 10 or 12 riders (or standers as they now
were) all, in the words of Nellie Pledge, stood standing at the
side of the road in various states of puncture repairary.
Those that I'd just passed, that didn't puncture, rode past me
While I faffed with my flat, I began to realise what a good idea it was
to hide the key under the wheel of the bus for Chris to pick up when
he got back to the finish. He was long gone and I was expecting him
to have to wait quite a while for me.
couple of minutes wasted, watching new repairees take the places
of those departing, and I'm on my way.
half hour, and loads more adventures later, and I'm diving
downhill, on one of the worst roads you can imagine, skipping from
rock to rock behind some massive chateau. I scrabble around the
bend at the bottom of a hill thanking my lucky stars that I managed to survive it in one
Once you reach a certain speed, braking isn't an option and
I was amazed I didn't see loads more people with punctures because
it was by far the worst section of the day. To be honest,
you'd think twice about taking your best mountain bike down it.
Having cleared the worst of the smashed pave I rode
through a small tree lined section with much needed shelter from the
now baking afternoon sun. As I rounded a corner before me, in
the air, was a familiar
backside hunched (for once
ingloriously) over an upturned bike. I'd spent so much time
following it all winter that I'd recognise it anywhere.
Can't believe I just typed that!
had already punctured twice and was trying to work out how he could
square the circle of being one innnertube short of a bike. For
wasn't much of an ethical dilemma. I pulled to a stop and offered
assistance. Well not assistance as such, didn't want to get my
hands dirty, but I gave him my second spare tube and gas canister.
I say chaps...
At this point a Frenchie walker appeared from nowhere and came up to
chat to us. In his best franglaise he commented on the fact that number one
and two stopped at the roadside, the iconic roads, the chateau, the crevasion (puncture) and the camaraderie of friends. It was almost
a Pimm's O'clock moment.
It was at this point that I noticed a soft
front wheel on my Colnago. It seemed I hadn't escaped after all!
With Chris all fettled and primed, we blasted what was left of the gas
canister Chris had just used in to my tyre and headed off up the
Ahead of us was a forlorn figure of an "ex-rider" pushing his bike;
all out of tubes and
air. Unfortunately, so were we. Officially there was 15k to go but we were only
three arrow straight kilometres from the finish. Above the
roof and hill tops we could see the massive spire of the town church
beneath which was the race HQ and our transit home.
Very quickly we decided that we'd accept the beating we'd been given and come back
to fight another day. We rode on the lovely smooth tarmac, route one to the
Five puncture between two riders, roads you wouldn't want
to walk over, and some fantastic countryside in which to ride, made
it one of the best days ever. Doesn't matter that we never
finished, at least we started. It also means we have to come back
for yet another visit to finish the job off.
the finish we were allowed to keep our numbers (you should hand them
in to get your food and goody bag) but the organiser was glad to see
us come from Jersey and remembered Dianne from last year (they
What a mistaka to maka
asked why we came all the way from Jersey and I said, "How can you not come? A fantastic event,
brilliant people, a course to die for, beautiful weather, great food
and we're racing in France." "France! France! You're not in
France, this is Brittany! Brittany! This isn't France!" It's a mistake you only make the once.
Keltic, the organiser with a very appropriate name, is keen to
establish links to get riders from Cornwall over for the event as
regionally they are culturally related. So if you're in Cornwall
and reading this, send me an email and I'll make some
introductions. Just get some 25c tyres, wheels with loads of spokes
and a few tubes and gas canisters for a weekend you'll never forget.