Maxxis Cup International, Les Orres, France – July 24, 2005

It’s been 6 weeks since I’ve raced my Mountain Bike so I was looking forward to the Maxxis Cup International. Traditionally the Maxxis Cup is a Spanish series but the International series has races in Spain and France for both XC and DH.

BikeNZ lent me the Scoda so I could drive myself and Carissa Wilkes to Les Orres in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, some 550km or 6 hours north east of Limoux. Les Orres is a popular ski resort at an altitude of 1650m and though only has a population of 455 residents it is very developed with monstrous hotels and chalets. It was very picturesque with the towering alps reaching close to 3,000m and the Lac de Serre Poncon below. Stage 12 of the Tour de France from Briancon to Digne-les-bains passed by this very lake.

We arrived on Friday night to our chalet and dormitory accommodation. It was perfect – had a kitchen so we could cook our meals and the best thing was that it only cost 12 Euro per person per night. On Saturday we registered, checked out the course and attended the team managers meeting (which we did think pointless since it would all be in French). Luckily one of the organisers translated the important stuff for us at the end – the time of the women’s race had changed from 10am to 12:30! Phew, lucky we went.

The course had a heap of climbing, most on 4WD loose rock and gravel roads. But the descent was wicked fun – from the top of the course at 1990m to the village at 1650m – fast, dry, hard packed but dusty singletrack, with the odd bridge and berm thrown in. Sweet.

We raced at the same time as all other grades including Elite Men, Cadets, Masters, etc. It was a 5.5km circuit but since numbers were not particularly huge, congestion wasn’t too much of an issue. We had 11 riders in the women’s field with some good depth including the recently crowned French Champ Severine Hansen, the ex junior World Champ Cecil Rode, and World Cup riders Sabrina Enaux and Cristina Mascarreras. Off the blocks I could really feel the altitude with the lactate in the legs. I backed off and sat in 6th position until I could find my rhythm but then quite quickly moved up to 2nd. Severine Hansen took off in the first lap and put a gap on the rest of the field. It was very strange being back on the mounty again after such a large block of road racing and though I felt pretty good while climbing I did notice my shortness of breath from the altitude. I loved the descent and had so much fun. On lap three Cecil, Sabrina and I were all together at the top of the climb but Cecil being an awesome descender put some time into Sabrina and I by the bottom, so we chased hard. Then I crashed on a bridge leading into the final stretch of the lap. I don’t know what happened – I had lifted my front wheel to get onto the bridge then whammo I went flying, and so did my bike. It was high speed since we were still descending. I tried not to waste too much time in getting up and going, but being a bit dazed and shocked it took a bit to find my rhythm again. I could see Sabrina up ahead and put some time into her but it wasn’t enough and she finished 35 seconds ahead of me. I finished 4th and in the money. It was a good opener to my mountain bike racing and I’m now looking forward to more time in the dirt in build up to the World Champs on September 4.

Cedric Ravanel won the Elite Men’s race, followed by Jean Christophe Peraud.

This coming weekend I’m back on the road for my final tour. It’s the 2 day, 3 stage tour of Charente Maritime consisting of an 82km road race, 5.2km individual time trial and an 80km road race. Looks like the Director of the tour is Jacky Durand (he’s a cycling legend!) Click here to see the French website (or translate using babelfish).


Excursion to the Tour de France

I finally got to see some of the Tour de France, just 60km north of Limoux, in the small town of Revel. It was here that the longest stage of the tour, Stage 17 finished after 239km of racing. The final 10km around Revel included a category 3 climb “Cote de St Ferreol” at 362m. And there was loads of action to be seen on the climb – Vinokourov set the pace leading Ulrich into the hill before Ulrich launched… but Armstrong was right there! It was awesome to be in amongst it.

A Cycling Tragedy

It is one of those totally unimaginable things, a cyclist’s worse nightmare, something beyond one’s control and a tragedy that has left the cycling world in shock. Australian cyclist Amy Gillet was killed on Monday in Germany while her and five team mates were pre-riding the Thuringen Rundfahrt time trial course. A car travelling in the opposite direction went out of control and ploughed into the 6 girls. It’s absolutely devastating. I rode with Amy last year in the Giro d’Italia and this year in Wellington, Australia and just recently, France. She was a very smiley and friendly person, always great to have in the bunch to chat to. There’s a special camaraderie that the kiwi’s share with the aussies so we too are feeling this tragic loss. My heart goes out to Amy’s husband, family and friends. The other five – Kate Nicols, Katie Brown, Lorian Graham, Alexis Rhodes, and Louise Yaxley were all seriously injured and the latter two are still unconscious. They are a great bunch of talented cyclists. My thoughts are with them all for a full and speedy recovery. It was this time last year that I was with the New Zealand team pre-riding the same time trial course for the same tour in Zuelenroda, Germany.

A couple of weeks ago there was another cycling accident on our back doorstep in Limoux which involved one of the kiwi contingent. One day after arriving to prepare for the Junior World Road Championships, while the five junior boys were descending on a training ride, Mark Langlands and Andrew Thompson were hit by an oncoming car. Andrew flew over the car and luckily came out of it pretty well with a few stitches. Unfortunately Mark wasn’t so lucky and cracked some vertebrae, so after 12 days in hospital he is now back in Limoux with a brace. He will be flying back to NZ as soon as it’s possible. I hope Mark has a speedy recovery.

Here’s the Newstalk ZB interview with Michael Flynn, the BikeNZ High Performance Director.

Tour de Bretagne – France, July 13-17, 2005

Brittany (or Bretagne) is relatively flat compared to our home base of Limoux and the weather usually a lot cooler, however unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to experience the latter! For a change of scenery we had 4 days before the tour to train in Brittany while also checking out some of the local sights including an afternoon of shopping, people watching and coffee drinking in the naval town of L’Orient, and a few hours at the beach in Guidel to get rid of the awful cycling tan lines. We also got to check out the World Cup road course in Plouay which most of the team will be doing on August 28, while I will be building up to the World Mountain Bike Champs. It was on this same course in 2000 that kiwi Jeremy Yates won the Junior World Road Champs. It is a fast, challenging and very pretty course on good roads. Our 5 day tour started near Quimper, towards the coast, and finished inland in between Rennes and Nantes. Here’s how the race panned out:

Stage 1 Wednesday July 13th: 99kms,Guengat - Guengat
It was a tough and hot 35 degree day in the office for the initial day of the tour. We had around 50km before hitting the final 8.6km circuit which we repeated 5 times. The bunch wasn’t too nervous as can usually be expected on the first day. Lots of attacks early on (many from the Dutchies) but nothing stuck. First sprint was at 13km and we all tried to help Tammy get up there – she got 4th. As it’s always a great time to attack straight after the sprint I positioned myself up front and saw Magali LeFloch launch, so I jumped on her wheel to break away from the bunch. We got a good gap then one of the Russian riders bridged up. Magali recently won the French National Road Champs and is one very strong rider. A group of 5 managed to bridge up to us and I thought “brilliant, this is a good move” however the combination was not right and the group did not work to stay away. We were away for 15km before the peloton reeled us back in. Next, a French rider Marina Jaunatre broke away solo and got over two minutes on the bunch. Tammy tried to bridge with a couple of other riders, who held mid ground between the break and the chase for quite sometime before getting reeled back in. The finishing circuit was a toughie - constantly rolling and with a few power climbs which, of course meant many attacks. Our team was riding well and always in the mix. Toni eventually succeeded in getting away with 3 laps to go. And our time gap to the leaders was increasing so we rode tempo on the front to minimise the damage, each lap dropping more and more riders until we finished with a small bunch of 16. Marina took the stage over Edwidge Pitel and Magali LeFloch gaining just under 2 minutes over Toni’s bunch. Toni came in 9th and Dale, Michelle, Carissa and I ended up 4 minutes down.

Stage 2 Thursday July 14th: Piouigneau – Yffiniac, 115kms

Boy, it was another hard day – just when we thought things were looking up with a point to point stage and a prevailing tail wind. Our team was aggressive from the outset but nothing paid off. The critical move of the day happened around 40km when the three biggest threats of the race broke away. Since we weren’t represented in the break Carissa and I got the orders to organise a chase with the Russians. It wasn’t long before the Russians stopped working and more kiwis were called to the front. We spent a good part of the next hour and a half chasing. It was hard yakka. Our tactic was to minimise the gap to the leaders then get to the finishing circuit and get Toni in a position to bridge across. Toni got in the break as planned and they managed to get within 30 seconds of the leaders. Meanwhile we were all pretty knackered from the chase and were happy to let some others come to the front. Toni ended up 11th (and 9th on GC) and the rest of us lost about 3 minutes. We’re looking forward to a shorter 71km race tomorrow.

Stage 3 Friday July 15th: Yffiniac – Frehel, 71kms
It was a slightly easier stage today with a short 71 kilometres – 45km before 5 laps of a 5.5km finishing circuit. But we still made it hard for ourselves by being aggressive. At one point Michelle, Tammy and I were in a break and driving it when we flew into a small village that was obviously not ready for our arrival. Cars were stopped mid intersection and the usual police signalling the dangerous centre medians were not setup. Luckily I was on the front and managed to point these out to our small breakaway but back in the bunch, Dale and Toni were not so lucky and both hit these at speed – Toni puncturing in the front and poor Dale double puncturing. Meanwhile back at the front a car turned right into our path nearly taking us out. And in all this mayhem the lead vehicles and police had almost come to a standstill and our group almost ended up their backsides. Needless to say that was the end of our break. Lucky there were no counters and Dale and Toni successfully got wheel changes and rejoined the pack. The next big move of the day was on the GPM when the 3 GC leaders got a gap of about 20 seconds. Toni, Tammy, Paddy and I did some hard turns to bring this one back. Then we were onto the finishing circuit which consisted of very narrow and loose gravel roads. It was a catfight to hold position and try to move up the peloton. 2 girls snuck off the front and it wasn’t until their lead was over one minute and thirty seconds that the yellow jersey’s team started to do some work. The two stayed away to the end and Michelle was set to help position Tammy for the bunch gallop. She took 2nd in the sprint thus 4th in the stage.

Stage 4 Saturday July 16th: St Meen le Grand - Pipriac, 104kms
Today was pretty fast with an average speed of 37kmph. We were pretty active in the first 50km before a break including Magali LeFloch and a Russian rider got up the road. Beatrice Thomas bridged across and the 3 got a gap of over 2 minutes. Our team rode tempo with a small amount of help from the Great Brits and the Prunes (Pruneaux d’Agean) but when we sat up there was no reaction from the other teams and the pace died. When it came to the final 2 laps of 3.6km and the break was still up the road we were given the orders to drive it hard to get Toni in a position to be able to bridge across to the break. That we did and Toni finished in 7th place, 33 seconds ahead of the bunch which moved her into 6th place in GC.

Stage 5 Sunday July 17th: Pipriac ITT, 11km

The team plan was for Toni and Dale to ride the Individual Time Trial hard while the rest of us rode tempo without being time cut. It was a tough but fast 11km circuit which we estimated the top riders to do in 16 minutes (averaging 45kmph) and with a pretty lenient 40% time cut we calculated we could ride the circuit in 20 minutes and save our legs for the afternoon stage. Quite surprisingly the two top riders Edwidge Pitel and Marina Jaunatre recorded the same time of 15 minutes 58 seconds. Tammy had a great ride finishing 8th.

Stage 6 Sunday July 17th: Allaire - St Jeran Poterie, 94kms

Last stage! And it was by no means race over, nor an easy stage. Again we missed an opportunity when an early break of 3 left the peloton in lap 2 of the 7 lap circuit race. The peloton cruised and the gap got out to over 2 minutes. It appeared that most teams were happy to cruise so we took the bull by the horns and lit it up. We attacked and countered and countered. I got up the road with a Dutch Bio Therme rider but the black jerseys were being marked and we were shut down. It eventually paid off though and Toni got in a break with a good combination of riders who had missed the first break. We rode on the front and shut down the attacks but still Toni’s group got caught so back in the offensive mode I got up the road with a rider from the Prune team. Alexandra Le Henaff was not a threat to GC being 5 minutes down. I was having trouble with my radio so couldn’t understand the orders and race progress was not being well communicated back to the Directors. I sat up but was then told to continue as the bunch had sat up and I had a time gap of 1 minute 16 seconds. In hindsight that was my tactical fau paux of the day as Alexandra bridged the 2 minutes up to the 4 man break. In the final lap and with only 6km to go since Toni’s 6th place was in jeopardy because the time gap was out to over 4 minutes, the black train went the front and drove it to the base of the final climb pulling the break back to 3 minutes. One by one we popped on the hill, hoping that Toni could take it home. That she did and retained 6th place. Wahoo!

Tour de Bretagne preview

It’s been a great week of training in Limoux, enjoying the cooler weather (a mild 19 degrees this morning) and the live French coverage of the Tour de France every afternoon. Tomorrow (Friday) we hit the road again, this time an eight hour drive to Brittany. We’re having a bit of training time pre-tour so are leaving 5 days early. Bit of a shame that we’ll be racing when the TDF comes our way. Stage 14 on Saturday July 16 passes through Couiza, which is only 16km down the road, and Quillan, where a stage of the Tour de L’aude finished. And the final col and cat 1 climb of the stage is Port de Pailhere’s at 2001m, which on Monday (after we had a thunderstorm on Sunday night) had snow. Should be interesting.

I don’t know too much about the Tour de Bretagne but apparently it’s not too hilly. Here are the stages.

Wed July 13th: 99kms,Guengat - Guengat
Thu July 14th: 115kms, Piouigneau - Yffiniac
Fri July 15th: 71kms, Yffiniac - Frehel
Sat July 16th: 104kms, St Meen le Grand - Pipriac
Sun July 17th: 11km, Pipriac ITT
Sun July 17th: 94 kms, Allaire - St Jeran Poterie

My heart goes out to all those effected in the tragic London bombings earlier today. It is so devastating.

Regional racing in L’Aude

We had a very relaxed and very enjoyable weekend of racing competing in some regional men’s races. Of course, the NZ team were the only women racing, and the rest of the fields consisted of men of all age groups and racing categories. It was one grade and mass start. Anyway, it was fantastic not to have to travel too far and with no pressure of results it was all great training.

On Saturday we rode the 30km or so to Quillan (where the Tour de France will pass through on July 16) for a 78km criterium. Yes that is right and it’s not a typo – 78km! Originally it was 60 laps of a 1.3km circuit, but our Manager for the weekend Chris Jenner managed to talk the organisers down to 50 laps, making it a 65km crit – oooh, that’s so much better… not. Usually in NZ the Women would race crits around 30 minutes not one hour and 30 minutes. We started at 5pm and it was a mere 42 degrees on the start line. To entertain us Chris decided he would race with us – his first race since retiring from professional racing with Credit Agricole two years ago. We started off at a steady state and with no attacks and all the kiwis at the front; I thought this ain’t too bad. We rode past the start/finish and the organiser was yelling for us to stop. Oops, that was a neutral lap. Now the race started proper. And the pace picked up considerably – we were no longer on the front and were strung out within the first lap. The course had a couple of power climbs in it, and on each climb someone attacked. After about 5 laps most of the girls had pulled out. There were times that I was swinging off the back but I stayed in there with Toni. Chris helped us out by sitting on the front keeping the pace consistent. Finally Chris had had enough and pulled the pin. I pulled out too. We lasted 30 minutes and 20km. Toni finished the race in one hour and fifty minutes. Chris’s quote of the day “that was harder than Milan San Remo.” (Only because he hasn’t been training and drinking lots of beer!) Anyway to finish off a day of good training we rode back to Limoux.

On Sunday we had the most beautiful drive over the Black Mountains for an 85km circuit race. It was hardly cooler today with an average temperature of 36 degrees. Someone attacked from the gun and the first lap of 7.1km was raced in 11 minutes. The race split on the 3km climb with Toni making the front group and the rest of us in the chasing group. That was basically the race. We continued to ride hard and lap it out in a bunch of six. Again, it was all good training. We had a relaxing dip in the nearby lake before heading home and enjoying a drink in the Square saying our farewells to Chris. This was his last weekend with us before leaving France for New Caledonia. We’ll be keeping an eye out for him serving tea and coffee on Aircalin. Thanks for all your help Chris!

Now it’s a week of training in Limoux before the Tour de Bretagne.