I’ve been riding a few criterium and nocturne races lately; in this Blog update there’s fireworks, some good results, a trip to watch the Tour, and more ripped bib shorts…
I don’t know if I can ever forgive the person who designed the course for the criterium at Sarrebourg.
A hot-dog loop draped over a steep hill in the town center meant that each of the 60 laps involved a lung-bursting effort past the enormous BBQ at the finish line.
Then negotiating the first hairpin bend, descending back down the climb and hitting the next hairpin in a matter of seconds, before sprinting out of it to inhale more charcoal smoke.
The price of irreparable sausage-infused lung damage was the promise of a large pile of primes, the delight of the drunken crowd, and a prestigious win over a strong field of starters.
I managed to accomplish the first two by making the early break along with Dimitri Hopin, the recently crowned regional champion, and two others.
Unfortunately, after half an hour of racing I managed to over-cook the bottom hairpin and rather embarrassingly took myself from first place to last with nothing but a pair of ripped bib-shorts to show for it.
Once I’d got off the tarmac I chased on, but found it difficult to make my way through the bunch with the narrow road, high pace and a knocked cornering confidence.
I finished towards the back of a reduced bunch sprint.
After picking up my hard-earnt primes, I cleaned myself up and drove back west to Nancy enjoying a superb sunset.
* * *
With my left hip still tender, on Sunday I drove back east.
Another criterium was being held at Lamperheim, just a few kilometers from the German border near Strasbourg.
As the 70km race started at 3pm, we were riding through the hottest part of the day and there was little need to warm-up given the oven-like temperatures.
Despite the crash three days earlier, I felt strong from the gun and drilled the pace.
Over my shoulder I could see the race splintering and once I took a breather there were just seven others with me.
I then attacked solo, optimistically believing I could stay away for the remaining 50+kms alone but I was caught after a lengthy time off the front and resigned myself for the bunch sprint.
One savvy rider timed his solo attack at the right time and was not to be seen again until the podium, whilst behind I sprinted into the last corner only to be dive-bombed by a maniac.
Resultingly, he was second across the line, whilst I took third place. Given his audacity to corner like he did, I couldn’t help but admit he should finish ahead of me for sheer balls.
In hindsight I was probably the strongest in the race, but tactically the worst. Nevertheless, it was nice to make the podium.
* * *
Two days afterwards I was off to another race but this time just as a spectator; le Tour de France was coming to town.
I had a five-minute spin to the finish line in the center of Nancy where I was confronted with a horrifically large crowd. I found Jon Cooper of York Cycleworks (the world’s best bike shop), and some breathing room at the flamme rouge. We had a good catchup before watching the pros steam past for the sprint finish.
My parents came to visit Nancy the next weekend. I proudly gave my mum the bouquet I’d won at Lamperheim and tenderly cared for (placed in a jug of water) ever since.
In return they took me to some lovely restaurants, and we enjoyed the lavish fireworks display marking Bastille Day on Sunday night.
* * *
With my batteries charged up from a weekend off, I was going to need every drop of energy for a double race weekend on the 19th.
On Friday night we travelled down to Bar-Sur-Aube for the famous annual nocturne.
A small but star-studded line up (including Jeremy Cabot, ranked no.1 amateur rider in the country) made for an eye watering 46kmph average around the town center.
It didn’t help that I’d had to take my sunglasses off to see in the pitch-dark night.
My limited visibility was then halved by an invasive insect into my left eye but I managed to negotiate the two hours of racing without further mishap.
I finished 26th, winning the sprint from the group I was in, a reasonable result in that company (Cabot was 12th).
The team was given a crate of bubbly just for attending (a benefit of racing in the Champagne region), so I went home with a couple of bottles after enjoying the midnight fireworks display.
* * *
Despite not getting home until half-two in the morning, my legs felt decent the following evening at Golbey, just outside of Epinal in the Vosges.
The race didn’t start well with my teammate Arnaud crashing out, breaking his collarbone.
I managed to avoid hitting the deck too, which was rather a challenge when a thunderstorm turned the course into a skating-rink in the last hour.
Two riders slipped away with a handful of laps remaining and were not seen again.
I was swamped on the last lap and decided not to be a hero fighting for the last corner, rolling in around 20th.
On paper it was a disappointing result, but given I’d raced the previous night maybe I shouldn’t be too downbeat.
Racing back-to-back late nights is more of a mental challenge than a physical one; two hours of concentrating on tight corners is hard enough when you’re well rested.