After a week home in London, I remembered how bad riding a bicycle is and in the end I returned to Nancy for some more peaceful roads. But before I got too comfortable cruising around the gloriously empty local countryside, we were on the road for 12 days, including a trip to Canada for the Tour de Beauce.
First we had two days driving, with a stop-off in Clermont-Ferrand.
Then we arrived in Villefranche-du-Perigord (about 150km east of Bordeaux) which would host the DN3 Coupe de France race the following day. We had a very long and expensive lunch in an unusually classy restaurant before going out to recce the course.
Maybe it was the steak bleu or the long drive but my legs didn’t feel great on the punchy climbs which dominated the 15km circuit. I decided to turn in early and hope for the best tomorrow.
* * *
Coupe de France, DN3
I slept for 11 hours that night, and was probably still half-asleep at midday since I started the race at the back.
Unfortunately the neutral section lasted 200m and the flag was dropped as the peloton hit the first climb.
After absolutely burying myself from the gun, I found myself on the back foot for each successive climb. Every one felt like it took more out of me than the last, my heart rate hitting 190bpm multiple times.
I was repeatedly dropped but managed to chase back on through the convoy several times.
However, it reached a point where I could barely turn the pedals and when the broom wagon drove up along side me to ask if I was finished I could only agree.
It was a kick in the teeth to DNF a race for a change and I only gathered small consolation that half the peloton had done likewise.
* * *
There followed a disgustingly sweaty drive from Villefranche to Paris, where I collapsed onto a Campanille bed in the early hours of Monday morning.
Seemingly moments afterwards I was woken by my DS. I was to go to breakfast immediately before a short spin with the team. After nibbling some baguette and pressing the double espresso button on the coffee machine quite a lot of times, I was ready to go.
We then “rode” through Paris in rush hour, which apparently is the only place I’ve ridden worse than London – we did more waiting in lights than actual riding.
Soon enough we back in the endless traffic jam, but this time in the team van, destination: Quebec, Canada via Paris Orly Airport.
20 hours later we arrived (midnight local time) in St. Georges – a small city which would be our home for the next six days.
We awoke the next morning to find everything had been supersized; the buffet breakfasts with endless bacon and French toast to the pick-up trucks which would be classified as monster trucks in Europe.
The language was another thing that had been Americanized – French spoken with a encryptive twang. We had just a day to adjust to the scale, time zone and language before the start of Tour de Beauce UCI 2.2 on Wednesday.
* * *
Tour de Beauce, UCI 2.2
Given the pencil-straight roads, we had to negotiate just a handful of corners over the 180km course of stage one – another big change from racing back in France.
After a speedy start, a break of three was established. The pace in the bunch lulled and I rolled off the front in pursuit of the chasers. Although I felt strong, I knew that there was no chance of catching the breakaway on my own. I was hoping another rider or two would jump across to me, but no one else felt aggressive and I ended up riding 30km alone. I’d “kept the chain tight” but not wasted myself.
As a result, when the team of Floyd’s Pro Cycling decided they wanted a sprint finish, I was able to hold with the front group as they caught me and then caught the other three others away.
Although I wouldn’t gain much at the finish, I picked up a few KOM points and felt like I’d learned from trying something different by rolling the dice.
With the first stage finishing in a sprint from a small group, it was a different story the next day.
Every year stage two finishes with a climb up to Mont-Megantic. Apparently, every year it rains, and James Picolli (the local hero) wins solo.
This year Flloyd’s Pro Cycling wanted to change that conclusion meaning that the first half-hour of the race was flat-out.
Unfortunately they couldn’t stop the weather, which was spectacular, raining so hard it hurt my arms – and seeing anything was seriously tricky.
I was dropped on the first of the big KOM climbs of the day with a small grupetto, but up the road Picolli would go on to claim victory. I was pleased to finish the stage alive. My teammate Yordan had done better than that; riding out of his skin to finish 21st in strong company.
Friday started with a 18km TT in the morning and a road stage in the afternoon.
I was pleased with my race against the clock, but with no TT specific bike I was never going to be competitive against the likes of Flloyd’s, Rally or Hincape – the trio of American teams who were dominating the race.
It was Flloyd’s who drove the afternoon stage along at a blistering 44kph, and I was easily distanced on the final steep sprint to the line.
Perhaps I was already feeling the effects of illness, for when I woke up the next morning I had a nasty cold…
I decided to start the day’s stage (a criterium in the centre of Quebec City) but was doubtful about how it would end.
I managed to finish the race but it had not been pretty – I’d coughed up a lot of crap and had lost my voice completely.
Despite the wonderful Mexican buffet that evening, I still felt rough in the morning and decided it was not woth starting the last stage. It would surely aggrevate the illness, being the hardest stage of the race. And since the majority of starters often fail to finish the day, I would need to be in top condition to do so anyway.
I went for a lazy spin down the river before cheering on Yordan around the streets of St. George.
* * *
The combination of the anticlimatic end to my Tour de Beauce, combined with the jet lag and fatigue of travel meant that the next week was mentally tough.
Yordan had gone back to Bulgaria for a month, meaning I was alone and sick in Nancy in the middle of a savage heatwave. I felt how depressing full-time cycling can be when things aren’t going well.
A few days on and I’m more upbeat. I’m just about over the cold and have joined a local gym to mix things up. I’m trying to work on explosive power; thankfully I won’t be racing up any mountains again soon.
But best of all was news from Bulgaria – Yordan had won the National Championships road race, off the back of his results in Canada. His work ethic and attitude is unbelievable and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of success.
July is criterium season in France – the exception being a rather famous three-week long bike race! I should be lucky enough to see le Tour when it visits Nancy on the 9th. Hopefully it will give me some inspiration when I’m sprinting for primes in the town centre nocturnes…