Tro Bro Leon ~ 2010
If I was to complete the "anti-road" hat 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.
Due 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
It's 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 peninsular.
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 picture!
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. p>AAfter 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 be enduring.
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 himself out.
I found myself on the outside of the group and moving forward just as Chris came in to view. "Did you see that?" I asked. "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 wheel.
We filed through in to what can only be described as a tractor test track.
It had stones down each side with a huge grass mound in the middle. You chose a side and stuck to it. Hoping 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 full commitment 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 up places in the line-out.
Somehow we all managed to stay upright and made it to the exit on the far side of the, very, very, very big field. Ribonu one, and already a few riders have 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, folowing the lead car, turned right.
However, the other half, and a few moto marshals, turned left and chaos ensued as cycles and moto's 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.
Chris giving it full-gas, a la Canellara...
The disorientated chasers were left racing to get back on and an inevitable 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. This is going to be a long afternoon.
Just Showing Off
I was 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, one and only, 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.
There 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.
Still chatting, they shouted encouragement which was nice but they went past us so quick we couldn't even say merci, au revoir or bise mon derriere.
It must be fantastic to have such talent and climbing capacity.
But it seems BBox's Alexandre Pichot has more than most, as he came away with the Sunday's KoM prize.
Once 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 and tried to get them to press on.
In an effort to reduce the embarrassing gap between Chris and myself, I ended up going off the front alone to open a gap as we hit a nice piece of tarmac with a huge, and welcome, tail wind.
However my echapee folly was short-lived.
At the next entrance to hell I left the smooth, tail-wind assisted tarmac into 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 and seconds section.
A whole kilometre of farm track laid with the large white aggregate they use as foundation for tarmac on the motorways.
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 good 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 again.
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.
A couple of minutes wasted, watching new repairees take the places of those departing, and I'm on my way.
A half hour, and loads more adventures later, I'm diving downhill, on one of the worst roads you can imagine.
Skipping from rock to rock behind some massive chateau, wishing I was on a mountain bike, not my trusted Colnago.
I scrabble around the bend at the bottom of a hill thanking my lucky stars that I managed to survive it in one piece.
Once you reach a certain speed, braking isn't an option (you have to be in contact with the ground) 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 a goat down it. (It's since been removed from the route!)
Having cleared the worst of the smashed pave I rode through a small tree lined section, that gave 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!
Chris 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 me, it 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 road.
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 finish.
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.
At 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, taking second lady position, from last year (they always do!).
What a mistaka to maka
He 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." He was smiling at us all the way until the last bit.
"France!? France!? You're not in France, this is Brittany! Brittany! This isn't France!"
It's a mistake you only make the once.
Guy 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.