Equipe Flamme Rouge  

Trophee Passion 3 ~ Roger Walkowiak

Trophee Passion 2011I went in to round three of the championship defending my second place but with a fair amount of trepidation.  We're now leaving the flatlands of the north and heading in to volcano country. 

It seems, my fears were well founded.

gomez team

All for one...
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 exceptionaly 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 know. 

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.

A Family Affair
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 it proved. 

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!

Eisel, Cook, DiGregario, Dianne, Mengin ~ Alp D'Huez Training Camp

The roads were those dead, grippy, leg sapping, mid-France  monstrosities that make you thankful you bought a Colnago. 

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 isn't good. 

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
Roger Walkowiak 2011One 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 back! 

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 sometimes needs must.

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 congregate 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. 

Dianne's Ride
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.

Roger Walkowiak and friends...As 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 the table.

Sitting next to him was Dianne's "Claude" deep in life-long-friend conversation with Roger. 

She 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 anyway), but a great day.

Post Mortem
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 stairs.

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,  Character building!

Next stop, two weeks, Bernard Hinault Sportive.  Let's see...

Event Stats...      
Overall Distance 113 km Time Taken  
Height Climbed Overall Position
Distance Climbed   Category Position 21st
Date June Country France
Entrants 655 Region Auvergne
       
Website Trophee Passion    


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