||120 k /
With the the back-to-back Dauphine debacle and the Ventoux
vaunt out of the way, we returned to Jersey for a week, regrouped, fed the
dog, chucked in a few short training sessions, then left for the
Haystacks & Needles
Held in the middle of a French nowhere, known as the Ardeche, the
Ardechoise starts in the town of St Felicien whose Jersey size equivalent is
probably St Aubin. Each July around 15,000 people descend on a town that's 30k from the main road
for one of the greatest cycling events ever. A vast majority camp out in the
surrounding countryside which was impressive in itself. We stayed in a hotel about 40 kilometres
from the start, in Valence, which meant when we drove to the event, on surprisingly
clear roads, we had to park 5k from the start. So, a nice warm-up
The "start village" is something along the lines of the tour.
Every cycle product you can imagine is on show and available to buy.
Friday's signing on was simple although drawn out, as they insisted on telling
everyone everything about the process. Even though it's all written
in English. We got our goody-bag of gifts, bottles and power bars and a
massive relief map of the course and even better, being "foreign" we had
a 15-number which entitles us to a priority start! How good is that!
Le Grand Depart
The start was flagged off by the mayor and dignitaries of St Felicien.
Numbers one and two, Bernard Thevenet (75 & 77 Tour winner) and Thierry Marie,
rouleur extrordianire, without his special TT saddle which the UCI banned
the day after he first rode on it, led us away.
These giants of the road were closely followed by the incredible sight of 13,000 other
aspirants and adventurers all living the dream. The
weather couldn't have been better; clear skies, almost no wind and 27
degrees and rising. What better way to start a day's cycling? The
other 2,000 riders started the day before on the two day 368 k monster
leave the town on a slight 3 kilometre narrow, technical descent which gives loads of
opportunity to make up time and positions. Which is a little more
dangerous than usual as there are so many people, of such varying ability,
and so few gaps to safely go for. I stay with Dianne for the first kilometre then
it's every man for themselves.
Less than five minutes in to the race and it's the first
climb. The 10 kilometre eastern ascent of the Buisson Pass to the top
of the 920 metre Col de Buisson. A third of the way up, clinging to
the rock face, is the thirteenth century priory and it's surrounding
village. Then when you get to the top you get a magnificent
panoramic view of the Ardeche region you are about to tackle. The
first picture of the day is taken. Dianne (above) is all smiles, I'm
a little more serious (below).
Le Grand Descent
As we get to the crowd-filled, plateau-summit (can you have
one of those?) I start to
jump from group to group and realise my legs appear to be working quite
well for so early in the race. In-fact, I cannot recall a single
person passing me on the climb! If anyone does pass me I always
clock the frame, the jersey and number and hang on to them as long as I
can, then look out for them on the descents. So far I haven't had need to. So, do I capitalise on my
good form and crack on or throttle back so I don't blow on the extremely
difficult last climb? Nah, lets crack on.
There is a super-fast, fifty miles an hour, 10 k descent in
to the valley below, where the village of Lamastre is decked out in the
purple and yellow of the race colours. It really is quite a sight.
Everywhere you look there are scarecrows, old bikes, houses, even the
bridge into the town, all draped in the race colour bunting and balloons.
exit the bridge there is a brass band playing you into the village
and once you get there the whole community is out helping run the massive feed station.
Leaving town you hit
the first route junction. Dianne's 66 k ride (right) would head east to the
Pont de Clara, I head south to Nonieres. It doesn't matter which way
you go it's up hill either way. In fact the whole route is either up
or down, the only flat bits are the bridges that cross the many rivers!
The Col de Nonieres takes you to the town of the same name
sitting at it's 671 metre summit, fifteen kilometres away. Five
kids, in their early twenties, come past all dressed in pro-kit, at a
rapid pace. I bolt down the food I'm eating, take a swig of a drink
and jump on. The climb is in two parts, a 10k St Peter's Valley drag
to St Prix then five kilometres of Jubilee Hill to the summit.
Kids of today!
It's big ring and through and off all the way to St Prix
and as the kids tire I stay on the front to help them along but they now
seem reluctant to join in. Leaving St Prix, I continue my good form
and pick up the pace; the young 'uns have no staying power and retire to
the feed station. Huh, in my day etc, etc... I carry on in the big ring to Noniers and it's
descent in to Le Cheylard, where I fill my bottles at another massively
decked out, crowd lined village.
comes the third col of the day; the 1088 metre and 20 kilometre climb to
the Col de Clavieres. At the top is St Agreve and a water station.
It's an hour and a half climb and as you near the top you approach the
town through a horseshoe shaped road that has a cemetery at it's centre,
Behind the cemetery is an abattoir, which was giving off
the most tremendous (in a bad sense) smell. I tried to disassociate
the two images but it was proving very hard. The 35 degree heat
didn't help matters either. Still, they did set up a water tunnel
you could ride through to cool down. Which was nice. On the
move, I grabbed a drink of water from a roadside volunteer but it was
fizzy! I pretended to drink it then dropped the cup in the big bins
provided. Time to crack on to Rochepaule to find some food and flat
There was an extremely quick technical descent taking us to
the gruelling climb of the 891 metre Col de Rochepaule. It's at this
point that I realise not a single person has passed me yet! To be
more exact, two or three riders did come past but I'd always managed to
hold them in sight, only to catch them on the descents. I was
feeling really good and had obviously held on to my Ventoux form.
However, I was dying for a wazz! It's so hot that
I've never missed a chance to take a drink from the thousands of
volunteers that literally line the route. But I now need a comfort
break so I decide to stop at the next feed, which is the last, to ensure I
"top-up" for the massive last climb and descent. I tap out a rhythm
to the summit then ride through the, yet again, spectacularly dressed
village looking for the feed.
There are people and bikes everywhere. Every shop,
cafe and bar is crammed with bikes and bikers but no official feed is in
sight. Then I come to the market square to be greeted by a sight
that I really wasn't prepared for. There must be a thousand cyclists
at the massive feed station! This is the last feed for all of the
Ardecheoise rides and it looks like most of the 13,000 riders are here!
I didn't realise we'd started so far back. I filled my bottles,
grabbed some apricots, figs and a power bar, I really didn't fancy the
smelly cheese!, then set off for le wazzerie.
When in France...
Didn't have time to wash my hands, we're in France after
all, and I made sure I didn't dribble. So it's back on the bike with
three minutes lost. Not a lot in the big scheme of things and well
worth it as I can now concentrate on the finish without having to dodge
all the bumps and potholes. Another spectacular, 50 mph technical
and very, very narrow descent takes us to the Pont de Clara at Mozieres.
This is where we meet up with Dianne's ride that we left at
Lamastre. We took in a few cols while she rode through the Doux
Valley taking in the medieval village of Desaignes and it's 1000 year old
fountain. A steady climb through another of France's deceptive,
non-flat, gorges brought her to the Pont de Clara and the foot of the Col
You don't actually ride over a bridge, you ride across a
dried up river bed that takes you down a dirt road that's not even a car wide.
You turn a corner and there it is. The one they've been warning us
about in all the pre-ride bumpf. 300 metres at 15% is the start to the
back way up the 6 kilometre Col du Buisson. Remember, Bonne Nuit is
Riders are walking everywhere and all you can here is
thumping, rhythmic new age music. Your mind automatically tracks in to the music and before
you know it you've passed the 200 and 100 metre countdown boards. Only to
find the next 700 metres are at 10%! There was no mention of that on
There are boards in all languages encouraging you and
giving you a percentage/distance countdown. At each corner of the
mini Alpe d'Huez climb there are gazebos with bands and entertainers
playing their music and tunes to spur you on. And it really works!
Although I was a little dubious about what the Edith Piaf looky-likey
brought to the party.
How it's really done
Half way up the climb I hear a mechanical commotion behind
me with horn's blaring and engines revving. Which is odd, because
the whole event takes place on completely closed roads. Every
junction on every road has a barrier manned by a Gendarme, I haven't seen
a single car all day. There's been loads of medics, photographers
and assistance motorbikes around
but that's it.
commissaire's motorbike screams past, horns blazing closely followed by a
rider the size of Norma Mahony who seemed to be catching the motor bike!
Then a fully decked out Mavic bike was chasing behind the rider. We're still at
around 10% but he disappears in seconds. He's obviously the race
leader for the main event that started 30 minutes before the plebs, Mmm, I must learn to climb like that. Expecting the chasing throng
to come through at any point I pick up the pace ever so slightly and head
for the 902 metre summit for the second time today.
There was a massive crowd at the summit and loads had
stopped to soak up the ambiance and take a final water bottle.
There's no way I'm stopping so I take a gel, another swig of my half full
(or is it half empty?) bottle and press on hoping not to be passed by the
second place riders.
Bonjour mon ami
Half way down the 10 Kilometre descent I pick up a
Frenchman who seems to be the exception to the rule. He can actually
descend. He jumps in behind me on the corners and comes through on
the false flats to give a hand. Just how I like it. We pass
maybe a hundred riders and make up loads of time in a real full-on
adrenalin rush. We get to the
flamme rouge and the road just turns ever so slightly up
He comes along side and we converse in French. He
asks how I am? Moi? Bien, merci . Vous? I ask back, Fatigue,
tres fatigue. Ah oui, Presque fini mounsieur, presque fini.
Almost there, almost there. He pat's me on my back and shakes my
hand, Merci anglaise, merci, Tres bon. What a nice gesture I
thought. 400 metres to go, I take a drink and look around for the
second place riders, there's
no one behind us. I take my hands off the bars to stretch my back then just as I
squeeze out the dregs from my bottle he knocks it up a gear and starts to sprint! Bloody
cheek, distracts me then attacks; a typical Dave Whitt manoeuvre!
Au revoir le git
I slammed my bottle back in it's cage and chased after him.
I just got his wheel with 50 metres to go and breezed past without a
second glance as he blew. I flew through the finish to a blaze of
whistles from the marshals and must of looked a right arse! But at
least I beat him, finishing in a time of 4 hours 26 minutes for 203rd
place overall and another gold medal ride in the bag. Not just an
age related one either, my Ventoux form remained with me and it was my
second scratch gold medal time on the trot. How happy am I?
I've lost a wife
I got a drink and a bite to eat then tried to ring Dianne
on my mobile. No chance; the network is busy, And remained so
for the rest of the day. I tried a text and it worked. She's
sheltering under a tree not twenty yards away surrounded by knackered men! Hot but not so
bothered. She had a good ride and rode her 66 kilometres, with two
climbs of the 902 metre Col du Buissson and loads more climbing in between
in a little over three and a half hours. And she never got off on
the really steep bits, just stayed in the saddle and ground it out.
I was really impressed. But then in our Liege-Bastogne-Liege
event she did climb La Redoute in the middle ring!
handed in our timing chips, got our dosh back, and left town climbing the 5
kilometres back to the car, where the temp gauge read 35 degrees. A thirty minute dash back to the
hotel and a shower in an air-conditioned room. While flicking the TV
waiting for a shower (first to finish, showers first) I come across the race live on TV! It's on for
another two hours, showing the villages, the riders and the celebs.
It's just not like back home.
So another successful ride and
once more I hit my objective by getting a gold. The form's still
if I can hold it just a little longer for the Luc Alphand and the mythical