Monday, September 22, 2008

Journo World's 2008

Another rainbow!
© Spila Kalisnik

(late, as usual)

As most of you know, things went better than hoped for (by me at least) at this year's Journo World's in France. I was aiming at the time trial and won that fairly comfortably, but then surprised myself by backing up to win the road race the next day.

And yes, the weather was generally rubbish. Even more annoyingly, it was dry in Bath for the entire duration that I was away! I feel like I've got a little rain cloud following me around sometimes.

Early glitches

It was a beautiful day when we (Robin+I) touched down in Bordeaux on Wednesday. It was about a four hour drive to our hotel, which was on Lac de Vassiviere, right on the course. Well it would have been a four hour drive had our hire car behaved itself. We were on the outskirts of Bordeaux when we noticed large amounts of smoke coming from the rear of the vehicle. Both back wheels to be precise. This did not portend well. We weren't driving with the handbrake on so it wasn't that. It was more likely that the disc brakes had locked on.

A few long phonecalls to Europcar followed. Even if we had been able to speak decent French, it still would have taken ages. They sent out a Fiat mechanic to have a look at it, and he of course thought there was nothing wrong. We then followed him to a Fiat garage where it suddenly became the garage owner's problem, poor bugger. He then had to phone Europcar, spending another half an hour on the phone before they agreed to send a taxi out to take us and our bikes to Gare St Jean to get a new car. What a palaver!

We got a Hyundai something instead of a crappy Fiat Bravo and finally got going at 7:30pm. No time for a leisurely dinner, just a quick sandwich, ice cream and chocolate at a service station somewhere, as we were afraid the hotel would be shut when we got there. Incredibly, it wasn't, although the chef did joke that I didn't have a reservation when I asked him. He relented and gave us our room key before I throttled him. Much assembling of bikes followed before we crashed, well apres midnight.

Looking out over Lac de Vassiviere. How's the serenity?
© Jeff Jones

The weather held the next day, enabling us to do a couple of laps of the lake. It was a really cool course and lumpier than I expected. It started with a descent, a short sharp uphill, then another descent across a couple of narrow bridges until the next climb. That was a steady ascent, followed by a short downhill, then another up, down, up before a longer descent to a roundabout at 7.5km. Then it undulated and twisted around the lake until the only real flat spot came at 5km to go. That lasted a couple of km before the last climb, a straight drag that gradually levelled out and then descended towards the finish. The last 300m was uphill. The course was as hilly as many of the hardrider courses I'd done this year, and it's been used for three Tour de France time trials in the past (1985 - LeMond, 1990 - Breukink, 1995 - Indurain).

I was labouring under the misconception that the time trial was going to be a full lap (23km), but it turned out it was just the second half (11.8km). Quelle disappointment, 'cos I'd been training for the longer distance. At least it was the harder part. I figured it would take about 17 minutes, which is a few minutes shy of a '10', meaning I could go a little harder than 20 minute pace but not too much.

It goes without saying that on Thursday afternoon it started to rain quite hard, continuing through the night. FFS!!

We picked up Mr Ellis Bacon, Procycling's dep ed from Limoges, returning via Eymoutiers to sign on. I was a little disappointed at the small field: maybe 50 riders across all the categories, or roughly half that of last year. The problem was that the organisers hadn't really promoted it at all. Which was odd because the rest of the event was brilliantly organised and very professionally run.

The crappy weather, the shortened course and the lack of competition meant that I was not in the best of moods. It wasn't helped by dinner at the hotel. The Slovenian contingent asked for cyclists' food, much to the horror of the chef who wanted to give us his specialty. The Slovenians won the argument, which meant that we were served overcooked pasta, cheese, spinach, some overcooked meat that we gave a better-than-even chance as being horse (it could have been pork, possibly, or something else altogether). And lots of blueberries. What the?

It didn't really work. Especially the blueberries.

Luckily the dessert made up for it. It was some calorifically enhanced combination of ice cream, chocolate sauce, pear and cream and was de-lish. I digested it to the sounds of Ellis's snoring that night. Robin was also a snorer, which didn't really help. I could have shoved both of them in the same room I suppose.

Almost doing a Delgado

It had stopped raining on Friday morning, but it was quite cold and a little windy, and it wasn't forecast to get much better. We did have a few more rain showers before the time trial started. CHRIST THIS IS BORING, GET TO THE POINT!


Start intervals were two minutes. I obtained a start list and for some reason, recorded my starting time as 15:56, when in fact it was 15:52. You can see how this could have ended up, and nearly did. Luckily I didn't miss the start, a la Pedro Delgado at the prologue of the 1989 Tour de France.

So after a bit of pre-race Rammstein, I donned my Slovenian-issue stealth grey skinsuit, rode to the start and went through the warm-up routine. All good, feeling good, rolled back to the start zone with what I thought was plenty of time to get ready.

"Jeff, you're on!" came the voice of Pete, Julian Bray's aide-du-jour. Very decent of him, I might add, because I was a competitor.

But I also heard the call for number "douze" which was me, so I hastily obeyed, still very confused. No time to compose myself, just clip in, remove water bottle (couldn't take the cage off because the bolts were rounded), get the countdown, and go like the clappers.

The start went uphill
© Jeff Jones

The start was up a hill and the opening kilometres were continually undulating, which makes it dashed tricky to pace right. It's all about control. You have to go hard, of course, but not too hard or you'll end up paying for it for the remainder of the race. But if you do it right, it doesn't really hurt until the second half.

There was no chance to settle into a rhythm at all. It was just a matter of dosing the effort right and not looking at the power meter readout too much. Control the pace, control the heart rate, keep some pressure on on the descents, but don't be afraid to use them for a rest.

I didn't know if the roads were fully closed (they were) so I stuck to my half on the bends. A pity, because there were much better lines to be had otherwise.

I reached the short descent at 7km feeling OK, tried not to use the brakes too much on the corner, and looked forward to the next bit which was mostly flat. It was nice to be able to get into the 53x12 and stay in it for a bit, motoring along at 48-50km/h.

It was starting to hurt and although I was tempted to floor it on the flat section, I knew what was coming up. So it was a case of back off a little bit and hit the hill with some reserves. At the bottom, I could see a rider half a minute ahead, and I hoped it was my two minute man Robert Bauman. But it wasn't, it was my four minute man! I gave it full beans and closed in on him, passing him on the just-a-bit-too-long false flat over the top.

The last two kilometres was mostly downhill, and I had to use it to recover a bit after the climb. Pushing hard, but allowing the heart rate to drop a few beats. There's only so much you can do at maximum effort before it becomes counter productive. But in the last 300m, I really gave it everything. More than normal, and that takes some doing. I even pedalled past the line.

Taking the soft option
© Spila Kalisnik

16'45. Good, that was my best estimate. Even better because we had a headwind for most of it.

The power was decent as well: 349W average, but 361 normalised. A slightly higher figure than my best ever 10 mile effort, done on a warmer day in July. And given I got down to 69kg this week, it was an effective +5W improvement in W/kg terms.

I heard the announcer call my name out over the loudspeaker with my time - which was the best so far - then questioning it, then confirming it. Phew! In the U35s, Robin had done 17'28 and wasn't happy, because he was pushed into third by Fred Backelandt (16'53) and Martin Boeckelmann (17'13). He thought he had a poor ride, and it may have been, but comparing his time to mine it was consistent with what we've been doing of late. Ellis also did well to clock 20'04 on his unmodified (but very noice) Orbea Orca road bike.

Mr Bray crossed the line looking suitably knackered, recording 17'31. Bauman had done 17'54 so that was it - the jersey was in the bag! You don't get the same amount of exhilaration in winning a time trial as you do a road race, but still it was a very satisfying result for me after a whole season of relentless training in mostly shite weather. There are no shortcuts, you just have to do the miles.

I was also happy that they did the presentations right away, instead of waiting until the next day like they normally do. So onto the podium, jersey presented by Raymond Poulidor (very cool), big trophy for being the fastest of anyone on the day, and a big vase and flowers. And the national anthem, which was a nice touch. I rode as an Aussie and I think the French appreciated having more of an international flavour. I think I even told someone - mainly because my French is so bad - that I flew over especially from Australia.

Checking the result with Ellis
© Spila Kalisnik

Robin, Fred and Martin, the podium of the U35 men's TT
© Spila Kalisnik

On top of the podium with Robert (3rd, L) and Julian (2nd, R)
© Spila Kalisnik

Deathmatch on wheels!

The post race reception was in nearby Eymoutiers, where it seemed the whole town had turned out for free nibbles and drinkypoos. I avoided getting plastered, even though it does you good to have a fling occasionally.

The highlight of the evening was arguably the home trainer competition between two French blokes. They were set up on each side of the stage on Elite trainers, which were hooked up to big screens with the lakeside course programmed in. The trainer resistance varied depending on the terrain. Each rider could see their own physical parameters: elapsed time, speed, heart rate, power and could also see where their rival was on the course, and how far ahead/behind they were, in metres. It was even possible to race others over the internet, but they didn't quite manage to pull that one off. Basically it was a Doom-style deathmatch on wheels, but without the rocket launchers to make it fun.

I suspect there was a gentleman's agreement to make the race close, because they stayed within 10m of each other for the entire time. The guy who looked to be suffering the most ended up winning, much to the approval of the French, who like that sort of thing.

The home trainer deathmatch on wheels
© Jeff Jones

The road race (aka the big wet)

Saturday morning didn't exactly dawn. It just became a lighter shade of grey. There was mist everywhere and it was very chilly. Blurgh. An extra layer or two was necessary, as it didn't look like the sun was going to make an appearance this side of noon. Robin, for some reason, wore no base layer, just a jersey, arm warmers and shorts. Crikey.

Robin looking forward to the road race
© Jeff Jones

I shoved several croissants and three cups of coffee down for brekky, which didn't really help matters. Then it was time to ride up to the start, do a couple of kilometres to get the legs turning and wait for the gun.

Bang! (or whistle)

The first two km were downhill and neutralised. It was at this point that it started to rain again. Damn and blast! I stayed at the back, keeping an eye on things up front in case there were any serious moves. There were a few on the first lap, but I didn't want to get too involved as a) I didn't feel up to it and b) the roads were quite slippery.

At the end of the lap, I had a dig on the last climb. It was a full-gas effort, so I was dismayed when I saw I'd not managed to create even the smallest of gaps. Still 20 or so left in the bunch, although it was a mix of categories. A French rider from the U35 race countered and got a bit of an advantage as I dropped to last wheel and sucked down a gel.

The rain got heavier as we started the second lap. I was still down the back but decided that it would be prudent to have another go. On the first climb of lap 2, I didn't so much attack as sidle to the front and ride a bit faster than the Others. I caught the French rider over the top and sensed one or two others on my wheel, one of whom was Mr Bray, who did a turn on the short descent.

The gain turned torrential at this point. I actually prefer this to light rain as you have more grip. So the only option was: go harder.

There was another little uphill and I kept the pace on, noticing another Briton, Simeon Green (U35) had tacked on. I also saw a Belgian jersey just behind, and the bunch not far off. This was not the time for dilly-dallying and trying to miss turns though. I kept coming through until we hit the third up, and suddenly there was no-one left.

Nothing for it but to keep going. At least I had a clear run for a bit. I reached the roundabout at the bottom of the hill with 10sec lead and 15km to ride. But I could now make better use of the terrain to increase the advantage. No more looking back, just go!

I'm so used to riding a TT bike that my road bike felt slow. I was in one or two gears lower than the previous day and thinking I was going to be caught at any moment. But on the occasions I did steal a glance behind, I couldn't see anyone except the commissaire's car and a motorbike.

At about 8km to go, I got a time check from the lead moto: 'une minute'. The magic minute. That was comforting, but I knew that I could potentially lose a lot on the last bit, depending on what happened behind. I was later told that not much happened behind save for a crazy Italian doing crazy turns then stopping, effectively disrupting the chase. And the U35s decided not to contribute to the work and save it for their final lap.

I got to the last hill, checked behind again and still couldn't see anyone. Good, as it was less than 3km to go. Halfway up the climb, the commissaire's car drove up beside me, Mr Poulidor unwound the window and said 'deux minutes'. Awesome! Instead of killing myself up the climb, I could afford to take it steady, although I did keep checking behind just in case. The final gap was closer to trois minutes, so there must have been some cat and mouse going on back there.

It was so nice to be able to roll across the line, arms aloft. It is the best moment of winning anything in cycling. It's been a long, long time since I've won a road race by so much. I'd probably have to go back to the club championships in the early 90s, and even then I doubt it was more than a minute or so. Now I'll be the first to admit that the journo world's competition isn't the greatest in the grand scheme of things, but I've also found that these races are surprisingly hard to win...

It's always good when you get to this point in the bike race
© Spila Kalisnik

Congratulatory hugs and "well dones" followed while I waited for the rest of my group to sprint it out for second. Going one better than in Deutschlandsberg 2006, it was Miroslav "Braco/Fausto/Garmin" Cveticanin bringing it home from Frenchman Franck Leroy. Jolly good show!

The U35s followed soon afterwards, having let the older guys finish off their race unhindered. I gave the thumbs up to Robin as he went by, and he gave me a rictus grin in return. He was starting to pay for not wearing anything, and said afterwards that he had never been so cold on a bike before. At the end, he did manage a do-or-die attack in the final couple of kilometres, but did not have the strength and rolled in 7th while German Martin Boeckelmann took the sprint ahead of Schelderider Dieter Roman and Christophe Moec.

Martin Boeckelmann wins the U35 race
© Jeff Jones

Robin rolls in for 7th
© Jeff Jones

I had nearly frozen to death in the meantime, having opted to stay near the finish instead of going back to the hotel for more clothes. I had no food (the only option was steak, which didn't thrill me) but was sustained by a couple of espressos because a complete genius had set up a coffee machine at the finish line.

Another presentation followed and while it was also very nice, they managed to get the national anthem wrong for this one (my fault, should have listened properly). I'm not sure which it was: maybe the Austrian or the Ross Dependencies national anthem? I made up for it by getting my jersey signed by Mr R. Poulidor. He is known as "the eternal second" because he never managed to win the Tour de France despite finishing 2nd three times and 3rd five times. He also scored three bronze medals and one silver in the world road championships ... but never a rainbow jersey. I hope he didn't mind giving me two of them!

Miroslav, me and Franck on the podium
© Primoz Kalisnik

We left when an accordion player appeared on stage and started making beautiful music. But there wasn't much time to tarry anyway as we had to get on a boat for the post-journo worlds lunch cruise. I checked the name of the vessel and it wasn't "Titanic" so I deemed it safe to board. Unfortunately, the accordionist made it on as well. Still, the sun came out and we had a noice lunch with Robin's parents and Peter and Arian from the Dutch contingent. I avoided too much wine on account of the music and the motion of the boat. That could have gone really badly.

We did manage a few beers later on with Jules and Pete in Peyrat. A rather pleasant way to unwind from the day's activities.

The rain returned the next day for the French Chefs Championships, who I felt sorry for, riding around in their Toques-Blanches. No matter, it wasn't our problem any more. So after arguing about the bill with the hotel manager, we returned to Bordeaux, where it was 22 and sunny (argh!) and cleared off back home.

This was worth coming to France for
© Jeff Jones

Postscript: another club record

Given that it's taken me so long to write this, I'd better tack on the next race result. It being the Severn Road Club 50 on the fast U46/50. It was three laps of a 25.5km course followed by a 4km stretch to the finish on the side road.

It was a beautiful day, albeit quite chilly at first. I had no idea what to expect and had no power meter, so I just rode on heart rate. First lap: 34'10 @ 172; second lap, 33'25 @ 175; third lap 32'41 @ 178. Last 4km, 5'03 @ whatever I had left, which wasn't much. My legs did actually feel like jelly each time I got out of the saddle to accelerate after a roundabout. But the final time was a more than respectable 1:45:19, which was good enough to win by over four minutes as well as break the Chippenham club record set by Andy Cook back in 1996. That was nice, because I didn't really expect to do that especially after the "slow" first lap.

It did warm up nicely for the second and third laps and there was more traffic, which did help my speed. Put another way, my first 25 miles was done in 53'31 but my last 25 was in 51'48 - the latter being quicker than I did for the Cheltenham 25 on the even faster version of this course in June. But I'm not getting carried away. On the same day, Michael Hutchinson did 46'27 for a 25 in Wales. Admittedly one with a gift downhill start but still amazingly quick. That's 52km/h in real money.

We comfortably won the team prize as Ben Anstie finished fourth in 1:51:30 and Simon Snowden 15th in 1:54:35. The three of us (well, maybe not Simon) are looking forward to the Chippenham 3-up in October, as we've never won it before. Now it's time!


In case we got hungry, there were always fresh mushrooms
© Jeff Jones

The Hotel Caravelle
© Jeff Jones

The Slovenians arrive
© Jeff Jones

Raymond Poulidor in action
© Jeff Jones

TT bikes ready
© Jeff Jones

Mark, Primoz and Ellis
© Jeff Jones

Frederik Backelandt on the trainer
© Jeff Jones

Mark and Marjetka, an exercise in international relationship building
© Jeff Jones

The Slovenian contingent
© Jeff Jones

Lucija finishes her warmup, with Stane sitting this one out to mind the Child
© Jeff Jones

First rainbow jersey = result!
© Jeff Jones

A very happy moi
© Jeff Jones

The mighty Ridley
© Jeff Jones

Ellis and Pete. Guess who's dressed appropriately?
© Jeff Jones

© Jeff Jones

Primoz instructs me on how to take a photo
© Spila Kalisnik

Mark Koghee rolls in for 6th
© Jeff Jones

So cold
© Jeff Jones

Oh hell
© Jeff Jones

Robin's folks, Jenny and Lee, on the boat
© Jeff Jones

Peter (4th in the over 50s) gets stuck into a chip
© Jeff Jones


langles said...

Fantastic stuff Jeff. Makes me nostalgic for racing!


Neil Davies said...

Makes good reading Jeff. Glad to see you in a Chippenham jersey winning the road race

Anonymous said...

... and the dry Australian humour did raise a smile or two.

How they could confuse you with an Austrian, I don't know...