Roc Laissagais: UCI Marathon Series, Round 2
As you race more you realise how many tiers there are in the sport of Marathon Mountain Biking. Most people will start at club level, with enduro’s, and hopefully get nurtured and supported there. From here, it depends on your locale – maybe you have a regional or state level races to compete in. Personally, this was Australian east coast Marathons – specifically those in NSW. Victorian races are harder again, as they are usually filled with Victorians. Those kids are sharp. Next up was the UK, then Europe. As for so many segments of bike racing, Europe stands on the top tier for depth of field, difficulty of events, and where volume of races.
And as 2012 is kicking off, racing with the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Team has so far taken me to the Australian Capital Territory, the fast kids in Victoria, South Africa – and now France. As stated, Europe is the big league for most kinds of bike racing – and France is see as a xenith for some. For Marathon racing, I might not agree. Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands… these countries all offer a lot of hard racing. But France has appeal, and your only real chance to race many French riders happens here. Save for Thomas Dietsch, not too many cross the border for big races.
The Roc Laissagais was held on Easter Sunday, in Laissac. This is in the Aveyron region of France, within the Massif Central. And for an early April Easter – it was cold! Coming from temperatures up to 44 degrees Celsius in South Africa, temperatures from 3-8 degrees was a shock. In fact, it was merely a 48 hour turnaround in London before packing up a station wagon with 4 people, 4 bikes and kit for a dash to the Euro Tunnel, a Formule 1 Hotel outside Paris, and then a long drive to our gite in Balyac.
But the race – it’s the second round of the 2012 UCI Marathon (XCM) Series. The first round was in Sabie, South Africa, well over a month ago. After the Marathon World Cup Series ended for 2009, it’s refreshing to see a new series linking some great Marathons together for a UCI ranking. The calendar for 2012 is quite extensive, with seemingly small races making it on there. Having no experience of the Roc Laissagais, and no French racing since DNFing from a Marathon World Cup round at Bourg d’Oisans in 2007. Clearly, that hadn’t been a great experience.
80km and 2850m of climbing. It’s easy to get lost in those numbers. Plenty of Australian racers wouldn’t deem 80km a marathon. But throw 2850m of vertical ascent in, within a range of 600m and 900m altitude – and things get a bit harder. Make the race a UCI XCM series round, attended by a variety of top level racers, and it gets harder again.
A day of rain dampened the spirits on Saturday, but Sunday dawned clear, if not cold. Warming up was bordering on difficult. The race arena had plenty of team vans around, with other riders getting the turbo trainers humming in the crisp morning air. Stu Spies and I pulled on all the clothing we had and went off for a spin. At least when you’re rocking matching team kit with low plate numbers heads turn! Will decided the car with the heater on was a great warm up option.
In hindsight, we hit the start chute too late. I squeezed in between the 3rd and 4th line. Tim Dunford maintains I was meant to be on the front line, but I didn’t see that written anywhere. The start was standard, quick enough, a few mini compressions as we straight lined over gutters and onto farm roads. Coming into the race with about 10 days off the bike due to injury had me wondering. The main thing though was I was actually happy to be racing again. That excitement was quite last minute, but I’m glad it had arrived.
Tim was moving up, Chris Pedder drew level, and I could see Will ahead on my left. We were all pretty well placed. The first climb started to sort things out, and Will and Tim shot off pretty quickly. The sky was clear, but plenty of the climbs and descents were greasy. Racing on half worn summer tyres proved interesting, but not disastrous!
European Marathon racing is pretty sharp, and this was becoming very obvious partway up the first climb. The second climb was different again, with glue like clay mud covering everything. Hiking, sweating, running, suffering. Such is euro racing.
There wasn’t too much of this, and in time I was riding in and around the same group of about 8 or 9 riders. We all had our strengths and weaknesses, but no one gave in. Racers at European Marathons don’t give up, they don’t settles. Everyone just keeps on hitting it. People were riding back from multiple flat tyres and crashes.
There was beauty on the course – but it can be hard to see it at the time. Pushing hard through forest with a bed of daffodils rising through the grass could have been delightful. Add a false flat, head wind, lumpy ground and a gap that would not shut down and it was less joyous.
Pain came at 50k in, as I realised I was cross eyed. The workrate was up, and I’d just eaten a Mule Bar and it had fallen right through the hunger hole without touching the sides. Problems. After having pushed pretty hard, I was still nowhere near seeing even blown up front runners. The talent in this field ran deep. I could see Will up ahead, and I was keen to catch up. But instead I jammed it in reverse. Patting my pockets I felt 2 gels, with 30km to go, and feeling empty. Not so good.
The trails were great, and the course was amazing for something in such a small area, with a great mix of singletrack, forest road and 4 wheeler trails. Save for a muddy climb or two, it was in great shape. Riders caught me and passed quickly, and finally the finish came into sight. I was near on ecstatic to be finished, as I was really flat and pretty drilled when I came in. Will was a couple of minutes in front, and Stu a few behind. We were well down the rankings but had all raced as best as possible.
Any further pain was healed by Croque Monsieurs, and watching the Paris Roubaix coverage back at the gite.