Roger Walkowiak ~ TP Round 3
went in to round three of the championship defending my second place but
with a fair amount of trepidation. We're leaving the flatlands of
the north and heading in to volcano country.
It seems, my fears
were well founded.
Those that had captured the team
prize only two weeks previous at La Marc Gomez,
trekked the 6 hour drive south to take on the best sportive riders central France
has to offer.
Everyone was riding well, feeling well and looking
well. We do, by any standards, have an exceptional bling bike
collection. A de Rosa Idol, a Wilier Centro Uno Di2, a Colnago
CX-1 and a Colnago C59 Di2. Would our legs be able to do the bikes
justice? The volcano inspired roads around Vichy would soon let us
The race took place on
Ascension Day, I had to look it up, which is a public holiday in France
and was a Thursday. I'll race any day they ask but it was a little
"strange" having not gone through the pre-week training/recovery/train
routine; then race at the weekend.
As luck would have it the families Perree and Stephens were
staying in Vichy on a little holiday. Helene Perree had stopped
off on the way down to run a stupidly fast time in the Mont St Michel
Marathon. So Andy was under a little pressure to perform.
Chris, luckily had no
pressure from his wife Amanda, so cooked the pre-event evening meal
where we all talked tactics for the next day. In the end it boiled
down to one strategy, that of survival. It's strange how prophetic
Dianne was to take part in
the skimmed 66k event, I was in the semi-skimmed 113k race and the boys in the full-fat 172k
triple-climb killer. The wives were all Tom-Tom-ed up and off with
the kids to a dinosaur park. Everyone was happy.
Except for me. Unfortunately, all the
events left the start line at the same time. When there's an event that starts
in the middle of town they need to close all the roads and get everyone out
as quickly and cleanly as possible. They do this by starting everyone together.
For us old boys racing in the
"classic distance" it means we get ripped to shreds by having to try to
hold on to the big race Category Z riders who are full blown licensed
riders that are all but professional in name. Speed is just the wrong side
of eyes-bleeding fast.
I just put my head down and
hung on for 20 kilometres. Riding as hard as I could to make up
places on the corners, descents, sharp rises and where possible do
anything to keep myself with the main group. When I looked up I
had worked my way to within twenty riders of the front. 20k in and I haven't
even taken a drink from my bottle yet.
Climb Climb Climb
We hit the first climb of
significance and at around 22k Chris and Andy came sailing up to me and,
as usual, kept going. Wouldn't see them again until Saturday!
I desperately tried to keep with the group but I was going backwards
through the bunch quicker than Bernie Eisel after he's dropped Cav
off with 600 metres to go. Bernie's another of Dianne's mates,
they once shared breakfast!
The roads were those dead,
grippy, leg sapping, mid-France monstrosities that make you wonder
why you bought a Colnago in the first place. I can't begin to
imagine what these roads feel like on bikes that are less "forgiving".
On the second climb I got
dropped from "our" group and could see, under the helmets, all the grey
haired riders easing away from me on the now damp roads. This
The effort I'm putting in and
the pain I'm suffering is out of all proportion to the speed coming out.
Not sure what's wrong as this is the first mountain I've climbed since
my big off. I knew I was going to suffer but on a scale of
one-to-ten, this was eleven. At the top, I'm on my own and 200
metres off the back.
I descended on the now wet
roads like Cunego in
this year's Tour de Suisse Stage three. More than once I was
within a centimetre or two of the edge of the road but had no intention
of easing up. At least I
know there's no mental after effects from last
years huge crash in the Alps. Is there a physical one?
I got within five metres of
the back of the group as we started the third climb. As soon as we
hit the slope the commissars car, that had been sitting behind me coming
off the climb, came past. They look out of the window at me and
give a smile, I look back at them and we both know it's all over.
There's no more soulful sight,
it was like watching the last lifeboat sail away over the horizon.
(Who writes this rubbish?) The
previous uphill back-pedalling scenario was repeated.
I thought I would hang with
them until the top, then I saw the sign that said "Sommet 5K". I'm
now in damage limitation, we're 60k in, half-way, it's 5k to the summit
and I'm dropped big style. Something ain't right and my right leg
seems to be a passenger. There's no power in the engine and I'm
feeling sorry for myself.
I manage to pick a few riders
up on the way to the the top of the climb. I can't believe I've
been distanced by too much and know there's a 15k descent, and an
opportunity to claw back time, before the next kick. With 500
metres to the top, I take a "flyer" (although I use the term loosely) as
depicted in last
months factsheet, two come with me and we set off up the road
and down the hill.
Dive Dive Dive
of the riders was, I discovered later, a gentleman by the name of Claude
Duffour. He was to be my saviour, attacking partner, downhill
champion challenger and the man I would ultimately stab in the
Now Claude, not
as good as me obviously!, could descend. We left our other (younger but more
self-preservation-aware) friend behind and went off to see who we could
pick up. It wasn't until we got to the final plateau that we swept
up, and kept hold of, some other rider to assist us in our quest.
Finally, the hell was over
and we had a group of seven that we felt was workable. The pace
began to pick up and the chase was on. But alas it was too late. Claude was doing
50% of the work (with a huge grin on his face), I was doing 30% and
suffering, and the rest were contributing 20%. It wasn't ideal but
I decided if we didn't see
anyone with 10k to go, I'd back off. It was important to pick up
points but not at any cost. In the group we had, I reckon four were
in my age group and the others were younger, much younger, so I could
use them as a lead out if need be. We'd picked up and lost a few
in the process of making progress.
Sprint Sprint Sprint
With 5k to go I did one long,
thousand meter pull on the front then went to the middle of the pack,
which now numbered nine. With one k to go, just as in the script
of last month,
riders started to try and congregrate near the front.
I was confident I could take
them all except Claude. We'd been taking in franglais for nearly
an hour and seemed to have sussed each other out. I sure I was
more afraid of him than he was of me. At least it seemed that way,
he never stopped smiling. The classic double bluff!
Claude has been working like
a Trojan and expended far too much energy. Surely he can't sprint
as well? With 400 metres to go I'm fourth wheel and Claude is
third. As expected, a young pup, he must of been nearly forty,
took a flyer from behind us in the right hand gutter. Claude was
on him in a flash. I'm on Claude, no one's on me.
Breath deep, slow it all
down, don't do anything rash. Matey boy blew his nuts off with 200
to go. Claude winds it up and winds it up and winds it up, then
with 75 metres to go I come off his wheel, up his inside and take the
line honours. As we come to the parc ferme I turn around and
immediately apologise to Claude who's patting me on the back and saying
"well done English, well done". Chapeau it most
definitely was not. I wasn't proud of my actions.
I mention championship points
and he's not bothered, he just wanted to have a good race. Next he
reaches over my shoulder and grabs the person standing behind me and
introduces me to him. Roger, Roger, meet Monsieur Flamme Rouge!
It's only Roger "bloody" Walkowiak! That's not his name by the
way, I put the "bloody" in the there. Where's the photographers
when you need them? We have a disjointed chat,
Monsieur Walkowiak comments on the Flamme Rouge kit and, as it's quite
chilly, we all agree we should go and get some food. I get a shot
of some Inverse kitted riders for someone I know and head to the food
I eventually find Dianne, who's had the "best ride ever". She
always says that but I think this time she meant it.
She had a great ride with a
load of "really strong" old boys who helped her on the hills while she
drove it on the flats. As they came to the finish they made her
get to the front to, she thought, lead them over the line. But
once a racer, always a racer and they jumped her with 100 metres to go.
She still picked up first lady though, so all was well.
we eat our fantastic post-race meal I mentioned Claude and Roger
Walkowiak. Didn't' find Claude but I said there's Roger sitting at
Sitting next to him was
Dianne's "Claude" deep in life-long-friend conversation with
waved and introduced herself, as she now wasn't in her racing kit, and he was "ahhhh,
Roger, ici Champion Madame Flamme Rouge" it was kisses all round and a
group photo to round off a great day. Not a great result (for me
but a great day.
It was that bad I couldn't even see my name on the results
sheet as they only produced the first 20 finishers by the time we got
there. It was
beginning to look grim. Okay, no problem there's a dropped score
then! Lets get home, there's a boat to catch.
However, something just
didn't feel right and I had massive pins and needles in my right leg and
was finding it difficult to drive on the six hour journey home.
Then when I got home, I couldn't lift my leg properly to climb the
Next stop, chiropractor..
But before then, I got the results; 21st place and a Silver brevet.
The first time for a very long time I've not picked up a Gold time.
Also, four other points grabbing riders were in the same finishing group as me, so it's a good job
I can still sprint.
We had to leave before the
big ride boys and their families returned from their day out. For the sake of completeness,
the boys will soon report on their big adventure. But Chris
punctured on a descent. Andy didn't know until he got to the
bottom and had to turn around and ride back up to find him,
Next stop, two weeks, Bernard
Hinault Sportive. Let's see...