week before heading down to Vichy for La Roger Walkowiak, temperatures
were reaching in excess of 30 degrees in the Auvergne region. The
day we drove down to our destination, it was warm, sticky and promising
Unfortunately the promise was fulfilled and it proceeded to hammer down
for most of our first night. The following day brought more rain,
and a significant drop in temperature (think where you live on a damp
early spring day). Still, there were a couple of days before the
event, and surely it would get warmer and drier?
two days of trying to entertain two four year olds and a one year old
(the swimming pool was shut), I was left wondering whether the 172km of
'undulating' roads presented by the 'Wookie' could be any more
difficult? I would soon be put out of my misery of not knowing.
day of the event, temperatures hadn't lifted much above 15 degrees or
so, but at least it was dry. The usual ritual of removing excess
clothing, and preparing bottles and food etc was carried out, but one
big mistake was made.
The Impetuosity of Youth
The removal of leg warmers would prove to be a major error,
or as Tony would say: 'two words Chris; nigh-eve'.
Perree and I were competing in the 172km distance and were therefore
placed in the lead group of riders. Dianne was riding the 66k
event and Tony was competing in the Trophee Passion 113km race. He was
placed several pens behind us. Before we set-off I wished him a
good ride, to which the answer was: 'don't worry I'll see you before the
Here We Go,,,
We were soon off, and hurtling out of town at a reasonable
lick with the 'hills' of the Auvergne region making the horizon.
As we got closer to the 'hills', a familiar backside came into view, and
there appeared to be steam coming out of it. Sure enough it was
Tony, although how the hell he had managed to get past Andy and I: a)
without us noticing, and b) given the speed that the group was
travelling at, I'll never know.
sure there's a logical explanation, but given b), it was no wonder that
Tony was now suffering a bit. We wished our team leader well, and
continued our journey to the 'hills'.
have put the word 'hills' in inverted commas, as despite the lack of
altitude (none of the climbs were much over 1000m) each climb was long
(8 - 15km). The first 'hill' was pretty tough, and Andy and I
stuck with a decent group of riders who were happily setting a barely
half way up this climb, a sign was posted claiming that photos would be
taken in a couple of hundred metres. Spotting my chance, I surged
to the front of the group and started to set the pace. One or two
riders tried to take over, but I was not going to be beaten to the click
of the shutter.
As you can see
the resulting photo was well worth the effort, and if you can spot a
smile, it is because I was quietly chuckling to myself at my own vanity.
rest of the climb was tough after my considerable efforts to ensure a
quality holiday snap.
Wrap Up Warm?
The descent was cold. Very cold. My naivety at removing the
leg warmers meant that my teeth were chattering and legs were tightening
all the way to the bottom of the valley. It was a great descent,
but it was too cold to enjoy it fully.
to block out the cold by thinking of hot cups of tea and bacon rolls.
Before we knew it our group was at the bottom of climb number two, and
for once in my life I was glad to see the road heading upwards - at
least I could now warm-up.
from the cold, I was feeling pretty good. The legs and lungs
hadn't been hurt too much by the first climb, and I found myself
dictating the pace at the front of the group. Riders came to my
shoulder and went, no-one was shifting me from the front.
At this stage, it all seemed too easy. The numbers were good:
heart rate in a safe zone, and manageable power; and the body and mind
felt good as well. At times it felt like I was hardly breathing -
I was starting to think that this might be one of the most enjoyable
sportives I had ever taken part in. Towards the top, the effort
started to tell a bit, but still felt good going over the summit.
beginning of the ride, I’d had in mind that there was a possible escape
plan (to follow the 113km route) should the body be hurting too much to
continue. At this point in the ride, and during the descent from
the second climb, I had no inclination of turning off at the sign for
the 113km event, and we passed it without consideration.
teeth chattering and slightly more bone jangling descent was causing my
lower back to tighten. No danger, a few stretches on the way down,
and surely I'll be ok. Wrong!
The road started to go up and things start to go from bad to
worse. Andy and I were still together, but Andy was starting to suffer
from the effects of the cold as well. His leg muscles were
starting to knot on climb two, and he told me to press on to the finish.
There was a feed station at the top of this hill, and I indicated that I
would see him there.
contrast between climb two and climb three could not have been more
marked. The relative ease of climb two, was replaced by a lower
back pain which meant that every pedal stroke involved a shooting pain
through my back and down my left leg.
couldn't get comfortable and intermittently jumped from saddle to
standing and back again. Nothing worked, the pain was constant. To make
matters worse, our group had completely splintered and there were riders
all over the 'hill'.
been with the lead riders of our group, but the pain was causing me to
waver. My pace dropped and I started to slip backwards. The climb
was a war of attrition, but I resolved to press-on and stretch out at
Reaching the summit was a blessed relief and meant that I could finally
stretch the back out. It didn't seem to be working, but at least I
could refuel the body and wait for Andy; who soon arrived. We
proceeded to consume some cake, sliced orange, and salami - the hot tea
and bacon sandwich would have to wait.
was the hard work pretty much out of the way, all that was left was a
mixture of downhill and false flats to the finish. Surely that
wouldn’t be too hard. Wrong again!
back pain was increasing, particularly as it was a very bumpy descent.
I struggled to hang on to Andy's wheel as we headed downhill, and the
teeth started to chatter again.
consoled myself with the fact that we were on the home stretch, and that
a warm shower and cup of tea were within reach. A speedy descent, and
we'd be there.
Then I heard the sound that all cyclists dread. The
release of air that could only be a puncture, or an emission of bodily
gas caused by the consumption of energy bars and bananas.
Unfortunately it was the former, and whilst I bemoaned my luck, I was
glad that it was a slow puncture and not a blow out on the descent.
shouted to Andy, but he was gone (or so I thought). I rapidly repaired
the puncture and stretched my back, and started to head downhill again.
As I neared the bottom, I spotted a cyclist heading up in the opposite
noticing that I’d dropped off his wheel, Mr Perree (far left) had
slowed, and a fast advancing rider had asked him whether he was looking
for his compatriot.
answering positively, the rider told him that it was 'grave'. You
can imagine his surprise, relief, and ultimately annoyance at starting
to climb back in the wrong direction, when he saw muggins hurtling
towards him with a minor grimace that was an attempt at a smile.
crack on. As we headed down, a large bloke and an elderly bloke
(even older than Tony) both caught us up. The large bloke would
make an excellent wind break, and the old bloke would provide an 'if he
can do it' mental fillip.
and I both 'tried' to take turns on the front, but the large bloke was
near impossible to round. He was setting a decent, but not remarkable
pace, but every time I pedalled hard my back hurt, and every time Andy
pedalled hard, his muscles knotted.
at times like this that one wonders what the hell we were doing, so we
left the big guy to it, and both acknowledged that any sprint at the
finish would be his without contest.
you can imagine the relief we both felt at reaching the end after 172km
of mixed emotions and there wasn’t even an attempt at a sprint. There
had been some great climbs and descents, but the cold and the pain had
been tough to handle. All in all, a character building ride. Now where’s
that cup of tea?
Editors Note: Andy & Chris
came in 148th & 149th respectively in 6:26 and at an average speed of
26.7 kph, for the 172k race with 2450 metres of climbing, to pick up