The 19th edition of the Jaques Bossis took place in the beautiful seaside commune of Saint George de Didonne, just outside Royanne, in the Charente-Maritime region of France.
With just 5,000 inhabitants it's population was about to increase by over 25%, when the sportive for their favourite son hit town.
As ever, the weather, the location and the organisation was spot on. However you should be aware that there is no entry on the line for this event so you must ensure you're pre-registered.
And if you're not in the first 1500 forget it because that's all they're allowed to let in. It's that popular an event; as you can see from the start line shot below and the "race to the base" photo above around 15 kms in heading for the first big climb.
The Irony of it All
The bay of Saint George is remarkably similar to Jersey's St Aubin's Bay. Except it's bigger. The main road layout, the small islet in the bay, the horseshoe shape, the smaller inner road, a cycle track, everything; it's all exactly the same, just bigger.
So to get there on a Saturday morning to find the whole area closed and blocked off by Gendarmes to all traffic, for the whole day, to allow 1500 cyclists to have a race, a meal and a presentation, was somewhat refreshing.
The screams reverberated around Jersey for a month when we closed the Avenue for a wet, mid-week, morning for the stars of the future to undertake a prologue for this year's Tour of Bretagne. We're similar in many ways to the French but culturally British when it comes to cycling. How sad! Click the link above and read the remarks for a laugh! Then look at the results top three...
To the Race
Okay, getting to the start was, as usual, a little fraught. As you can see it was quite a turnout and not, as yet, unduly warm; although in the end it did reach 15 degrees. So it's gilet's and arm warmers to the fore for the start and this week I will be mainly riding my C40 with 52x39 gearing and my new Shamal Ultra wheels.
When the man said go, they went. The start heads out down a one kilometre straight road before turning left in to a long incline through the woods. Of course it's a race to get to the bottom of the climb first. Because after that there's a one car wide, 3 kilometre technical section out of town heading to the open road and the 11k ride to Medis.
So it's flat out from the gun, and ever so slightly uphill all the way until we reach Medis. Where there's a sharp right and a flat out blast for 5k before we turn for Saujon. Every single point so far was on closed roads and all the junctions were marshalled by Gendarmes. This was impressive stuff.
Hold That Wheel!
The speed from the outset was just the right side of ridiculously high. And soon an early sort out began to take place.
The Bossis is the second round of the UFOLEP National Trophee, so it's fast, it's furious and it has loads of young pups in it racing with a purpose.
The French super-fast vets hang on in there. Me? I was breathing through my exhaust but was somehow managing to hold my own. /p>
As we reach the 50k marker at Thaimes, there's the first of a long big-ring drag, then another, and another, etc, etc, etc. Until at St Fort, and 80 kilometres, the elastic snapped and on the last of a succession of 30 kilometres of ups and downs, I, along with loads of others, was shelled out the back.
Until that point we'd been a massive group of around 400 riders. To me, it looked like we'd split in to two equal sized groups. The front group just seemed to edge away while we in the second tranche formed echelons, through and offed, and used every other trick we knew to try and close a gap of around 20 seconds.
We seemed to peg the distance for around the next ten, flat kilometres. Then, they just disappeared. The cumulative affect of the rolling countryside just seemed to take it's toll on us.
The combination of the heavy, leg-sapping, dead, back roads, and the perfectly surfaced main roads meant you were either flying or riding through treacle. It was a strange experience. The only constant was the speed. And the fact that all of the ride until now had been in the big ring.
Then the reason for the front groups disappearance became obvious. At Tire-Cul, there was a hill. A big one! One kilometre at 17%. Everyone wants to be at the front for the big climbs so the speed goes up and up and up until you're virtually sprinting to get to the bottom of the climb.
I began to sense an air of trepidation and movement within our group, as it became obvious I was having to fight much harder to hold my position near the front of the pack.
At this point I still don't know there's a hill. I always take my cue from those around me, I never question why everyone goes to the front, or drops to the little ring, or begins to eat. Like a sheep (a black one to some) I just follow suit and follow the herd, or should that be flock?.
We turn a corner, dive through a quintessential French hamlet, then there it is. A wall of tarmac right in front of us, with a nice little sign to inform us of the pain we're about to endure.
There's a crowd lining the road from the bottom to the top. I'm having a good day it seems. With a crowd to please, I dive for the gutter and just put my head down and go.
This is a typical Jersey style hill, so a type I'm used to climbing every week; okay it's a bit steeper but the length, for me, is just right.
I ascend right on my climbing threshold of 345 watts, at 198 bpm for the next two and a half minutes and line everyone out.
Luckily, the official photographer took this shot or no one would have believed it. Me on the front on a climb!
When we get to the top I'm second wheel and surprisingly ready to push on. We lose a lot of people over the summit and a group of around 100 get away and start the 30k run in to the finish.
Now it begins to get interesting. Obviously there's a routine to this event that the locals understand and I'm having to learn quickly.
Quick, Quick, Slow, Slow, Quick
After the initial furore of the start, the mid-ride sort out and the peloton-breaking climbs, we now have the calm before the storm. Gels, get ingested, drinks get knocked, back and shoe straps get tightened. Something is about to kick off and I want to make sure I'm part of it.
One of the "oversights" of the organisers, in my opinion, was the lack of countdown markers towards the back end of the event. I know everyone has computers these days but it would be nice just to have a sign on a lamp post saying, 20k, 10k, 5k, etc. It just helps either ease the mind if you're flying or ease the pain if you're suffering. Every little helps.
After a respectable period of less-quick, you could hardly call it slow, the finale begins. And it starts with another hill. At Talmont there's a slight dip and then a largish 750m climb at around 6-8%.
Once more, a typical Jersey hill. And once more I found myself in the top five as we crested it and still in the big ring! With 15k to go no one was in a mood to hang around, so off we went.
This Could Get Messy
Screaming across the sea-view plateau above the finish town, a long, long, line out developed with a group of super strong vets driving the engine up front. Me? I stayed around 10 back.
As ever, each event I do is for the first time, so I had no idea where we where, what was ahead or how long to the end. And I wasn't too interested in finding out.
So for me it's save energy and bide my time until I get my bearings. Then a roundabout marshal shouted "arrive dix kilometres!" Okay. Now it's time to join in.
The final run in did get a little messy; but it was about to get a tad messier. A series of roundabouts, ninety degree turns and small hills caused the pack to keep in a long, single-file line for the next eight kilometres.
With around two k to go, we hit a 400 metre long, sprinters type hill. We hit it at 50kph and powered over in the big ring, barely losing any speed over the top, but opening that killer bike length and a half between each wheel.
A longish descent followed that caused the following roundabouts to be straight lined as everyone willed themselves not to touch their brakes and scrub off their hard earned speed.
Then, without any notice at all, we turned sharp left, then sharp right and found ourselves eight-tenths down the kilometer long, start straight, which is now an 800 metre finishing straight. It was all about to get interesting, and not in a nice way!
Feeling Lucky Punk?
For the last 9k everyone had fought so hard to hold the wheel and maintain their speed and position without letting anyone else in. But as soon as we entered the arrow straight finishing boulevard, where we could see the finish, no one wanted to be on the front! The speed dropped and an unruly crowd began to develop at the head of affairs.
I took a gamble and went to the front at 75% sprint pace. Forcing others to follow, then lead. You could hardly call it an attack but it did cause those with higher aspirations than fitness, to drift backwards.
We're now 400 metres to go, 10 wide and funnelling in to an 8 bike wide gap. I line up with the edge of the proposed funnel and ride just off the gutter on my right hand side. There are three riders from the shorter course in front of us, minding their own business coasting to the finish. Probably riding 20 kph slower than us!
From nowhere a punk comes up the inside, sprinting and tries to squeeze between me and the gutter. If I stay where I am, he'll hit the edge of the funnel and cause chaos. If I move, I'll lose my place and disappear in to the masses.
I don't want to see anyone hurt and If I thought it'd only be him I'd hold my line. He obviously knows what he's doing because it's clear to everyone where the road goes. I ease off the pedals, drift my line and let him in, losing three places in the process.
He then dies and swerves across the front of us all as we're winding up for the last 300 metres and the three rando-sportive riders. Everyone and I mean everyone, screams at him to point out the error of his ways. Not sure what they said but I got the tone! I wish I'd had a Magnum 44 with me!
With everyone distracted, out of the corner of my eye I see a couple on my left taking a flyer. I'm on it, third wheel and looking good. Frenchie number one wilts and Frenchie number two unleashes his sprint with 200 metres to the line.
'm now number two, feeling as pleased as punch as I'm getting an armchair ride to the line. Just as I get out of the saddle my lead out man pulls his foot out!
I'm swamped, I get round him as three pass me on my left, we then hit a speed bump, collect the three rando's (who wisely stay over to the left) and come to the line all as one. My moment of glory has been stolen and I'm fifth in the sprint. (That's me just left of centre, the gilet's now come off!)
We cross the line a 100 strong group and people begin to congratulate each other, coast to a halt or go to have words with our lemming friend. At one point I thought it was going to get ugly. But it was all handbags at dawn so I went to find Dianne, a drink and a cake.
Final Thoughts & Stats
A fantastic, very fast and very well organised event. The meal at the end was very French with, spicy sausage, oysters and Pineau wine. Although there were alternatives! It all took place on the main road into the centre of town and it was a fantastic setting with loads of atmosphere and a massive crowd at the finish to welcome us back.
Fifth in a sprint of around 100 was fine by me. You can tell this was an out and out race because I was well back at 161st overall, yet managed to be the 25th vet. There are a lot of "youngsters" that do these National Trophee events. But it doesn't make it any less enjoyable for that.
Over 23% of the ride was at Anaerobic Capacity and the average speed for the lumpy 151k, was 35kph.
The highest of the season so far, showing my programme for progression is right on track.
So for me, a good job well done. Despite the hiatus at the end!
Dianne rode the untimed, 80 kilometre Yoyo, rando-sportive and as usual had a succession of groups to accompany her and "experts" to advise her.
As you can see they breed them hard in Newcastle. No gilet, no arm warmers, no overshoes. Maybe I need to toughen up a bit!
All in all another great day and perfect preparation for the Jodet/Brocelliande double header to come.