I took part in my third Blé d’Or, a ‘cyclo-sportive’ event that starts in Lèves, a village near Chartres, France. In previous years I experienced problems either at the start of the race, when folks seemed to go off far too fast, or later on, when I has to stop for a pee, met with an unexpected hill, or even followed someone off in the wrong direction. Such events made me lose contact with my group (peloton, grupetto) and find myself alone, battling the effect of wind resistance. I’m sure you know already how much easier it is to ride in a sheltering group, but you may not realize quite how much. Recent computer simulations by Ansys and Cray show that a position in the middle of an idealized peloton mean that the effort expended is as little as 15% of that required by a single rider to maintain the same speed.
This year things started well, except that despite plenty of preliminaries, I found my need for a pee increasing as the start approached and I was stuck in the SAS départ. We set off at a fair lick, and various groups formed, broke apart and reformed as we swung through the countryside. The Blé d’Or is, by the way, a race for rouleurs, with only around 500m of climbing for the 95km distance. After a while things settled down and I found myself in a group of half a dozen, too small to benefit from the 15% effect, but way better than being alone. In a small group it is of course the done thing to share the wind-breaking riding up front. By dint of a few barked commands from someone, our lot self-organized into a rotating pace-line which was kind of fun, but also quite tiring. This went on for a while and we managed to catch up with a few small groups and stragglers and eventually had a real peloton of 50 or so. I then settled down at the back hoping to take a bit of a rest. This went OK until around KM 30 when a small hill got me and I lost contact and found myself alone. I stopped for that (by now) much needed pee. Lovely, and amazingly quiet after the racket of the race. Nobody around, no more followers or stragglers. I got back on my bike, hands on the cocottes and set off again in true contre la montre fashion.
This lasted maybe a quarter of an hour or so when, whoosh, another train arrived, a large group passed me and I accelerated an sat on the back of this one. Same routine. I was carried along for maybe half an hour before a small hill got the better of me and again I was on my own. Actually this is a situation I prefer. I like getting my head down and riding alone without the constant attention that riding in the peloton requires. There is also the great schadenfreude of catching and passing the odd straggler.
I reckon that I did about half the race alone and still managed a 31kph average speed for the 95km. This got me a “gold” finisher time for my age group with which I was well pleased. I even had dreams of a ‘podium’ for my category. These were quickly dashed when I got the race results. I was 14th out of 18 in the 70-99 year old category. There are some pretty mean 70 year old cyclists out there!