Trophee Passion 5 ~ Pour Le Paix
The rounds are quickly ticking by and this week we move to Chailly sur Armancon for the mid point of the season. I'm four points off the championship lead and slightly nervous as once more I go head to head with Bernard Hinault in the "Race for Peace"
So, there I am. Under the iconic arch of the Chateau Chailly on the front row with Hinault and two of the riding organisers.
Our camera was in the car (typical!) and there were about twenty people all taking photo's for their albums. Do you think I can find one on the internet? An an opportunity missed; again. I really need a press officer!
Still, come the start I'm first away and lead out through the village on to the open road. As we turned left out of Pouilly-en Auxois I felt the headwind so dived back in to the group for shelter and protection. And it stayed that way for nearly 20k. I have a plan remember!
For a fleeting moment a tandem came screaming past the lot of us, put their nose in the front and held their hands aloft. Bit dramatic I thought, but it made us all laugh and they were beating Bernard Hinault, even if fleetingly. Okay, playtime over, game on...
As we headed for the first big climb of the day, gaps started to appear within the front group.
I was around four back, not wanting to put my nose in the wind just yet, when a gap appeared to the left front of me.
I was just thinking "should I take that wheel or keep the one I've got" when, whoosh!
I feel a clip on my shoulder and in a flash the wheel's gone. It's the blaireau himself.
The speed picks up, I'm riding shoulder to shoulder with Bernard Hinault and an attack goes on the far left. I'm almost sprinting, pushing 650 watts in the race to the base thinking, this isn't good when the gaps start to appear a couple of wheels in front of me.
I sit down, ease off and Hinault jumps the gap in the blink of an eye, leaving me behind without a second thought.
The attacks continue on the hill and I stick to my pace, my plan and my limits. The group is all together, just fragmented and not what you'd call cohesive. The elastic's stretching but not snapped. Until we hit the 12% part of the hill and it all goes pear shaped.
I'm there or thereabouts but the gaps have opened to around 30 metres and I know I can't jump across on the hill. Being a sprinter, I'm too big boned! Some would say fat, but that's just cruel.
The gap opens to 50 metres as we crest the first challenge. It's pointless chasing them down as I know I'll get dropped later, so I keep my powder dry for now.
A second group sets up in the valley, along with a tandem, and the chase is on. And it went on, and on and on over all the lumpy bits. A core group of around 20 assembled, of which ten worked like lunatics. Me? I went to the front every third turn and tended to lose myself for five minutes at a time to recuperate. I played this game until the 70k mark.
We needed to break the group up, there were too many sitting in. How ironic is that coming from me? I didn't want to take a load to the end because I'd done this event in 2007 and knew the run in quite well. If we take too many to the top of the last climb it could get messy.
At 70k there was a steep and technical descent, followed by a longish climb. I knew the tandem would struggle here (descending, climbing and cornering aren't their strong point) but as they generally bring stragglers back in the flat bits I needed to put in a downhill dig and distance them.
The group split in half. The front section saw all the stronger vets and a few switched on younger ones; the rear the tandem and those waiting for it to bring them back. Our lead was a tenuous one.
The tenacious tandem and his cohorts kept us in sight for the next 15k. The pressure didn't let up for a second. In the words of David Harmon, it was getting quite nervous.
On the penultimate climb a selection of four of us got away, including the gentleman behind me above, Jacques Bricogne. We'd been together for the whole of the race and he was super strong.
But at the top of the climb we were attacked by two younger riders who opened a fifty metre gap on us. We had to get back across, otherwise we'd fall back in to the clutches of those chasing us.
We were 20 metres off them when Jacques faltered ever so slightly. I built up my speed from behind and as I got alongside him, almost sprinting, I stuck my hand on his backside and pushed for all I was worth. I went past him and he tucked in. Then, as I faded, he got on top of his gear came past, I jumped his wheel.
It was like a team pursuit. The wily old foxes against the young pups. We never panicked, we just knew we'd be stronger together than alone so we chased them down without a word being spoken.
A minute later, in considerable oxygen debt, we were back on. We dived to the front once each, to let them know we needed to keep going, then sat in! We anxiously glanced behind to see if the tandem and its entourage were coming after us. They were, but very, very slowly.
Onwards, Upwards, Downwards
We survived the valley, picked up a few stragglers from the first group and seven of us hit the last climb together with a thirty second gap on our chasers.
The stragglers we picked up were jettisoned immediately. Then Jacques attacked and took one one of the younger riders with him! The second younger one looked at me. No chance, mon ami, no chance.
We climbed at our limits and no more. There's little point going over threshold, blowing and getting caught with a k to go. The descent however is a different thing all together. Spinning out my 53x12 gear, I gave it everything on the 3k descent.
As the finish approached we picked up two more people, including the young rider that attacked us, but just couldn't get back to Jacques. I closed the gap when I sprinted off alone with 500 metres to go but didn't make the catch. He beat me to the line by a valiant 11 seconds.
I was a little disappointed with 19th place, but this was a top field and I managed to pick up a gold standard again and some more points which is always nice. I didn't realise how nice until I got home.
With a seven hour drive, we had to leave almost immediately after the race to make sure we could get back at a decent time for the ferry home. When the results were published on Tuesday, it seems the championship leader didn't score any points at all, and I crept in to the lead by four points.
For the Pierre Chany, round six, I would be wearing the Trophee Passion leader's black jersey! Who'd of thought...
Oh yes, nearly forgot. The tandem?
An absolute storming effort by the little and large, father and son team, piloted by Bruno Fereire and stoked by his eleven year old protégé Mateo. They were epic, and this truly is how cycling should be.
I was so warmed by them that I grabbed a photo straight after we all crossed the line. You can see (on the adults anyway) how hard it was and the pain we're in, with our mouths pouting like Andre Gripel's in a Cavendish led sprint.
By the way, I'm just six foot, so you can see how big Bruno is. He does Nordic skiing in the winter; rock hard, he is, rock hard.
I almost felt ashamed to have to beat them, but soon got rid of that thought! Man up kid. You'll be a champion one day, some of us haven't got much time left...