Category Archives: Biking

Blé d’or 2019

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!

Cycl’Aigoual 2014

Neil on Cycl'Aigoual

Comme avant-goût de notre séjour 2015 prévu à Meyrueis, Lozère, j’ai testé le terrain avec une participation au Cycl’Aigoual*. Je me suis inscrit au parcours dit Fenioux (145km) mais j’ai fini par basculer sur les 97km du parcours Quézac pour diverses raisons.

Le départ est lancé sous un système de handicap. Les vieux (plus de 50) et femmes d’abord. Ensuite les plus jeunes et une demi-heure après les premiers, on recommence avec les participants du plus petit parcours. Ceci a comme effet pour un coureur très moyen comme moi de se voir d’abord largué par ses collègues d’âge et ensuite, être doublé par les concurrents de plus en plus rapides. Ceci rend difficile le choix d’un gruppetto adapté à sa vitesse. J’ai donc roulé en solo pour pratiquement tout le parcours.

Et quel parcours. De Meyrueis on attaque le causse Méjean. Après une montée facile on traverse le causse puis on descend environs 600m dans la vallée du Tarn aux Vignes. Les 12 km qui suivent font la partie la plus impressionnant des gorges du Tarn – très encaissée. À La Malène on retraverse le Tarn et puis on remonte le causse Méjean par d’innombrables épingles à cheveux mais cette fois que sur 400m de dénivelé. Et puis on retraverse le causse en direction de la Jonte et les Cévennes avec pour le 145km la montée du Mont Aigoual et sinon, la descente vers Meyrueis. J’ai pris la seconde option et j’ai descendu les derniers km en compagnie de Jacques Michaud (directeur sportif BMC** et gagnant d’une étape du TDF en 1983) qui m’avait félicité de mon choix de vélo (euh, un BMC) avant le départ.

Moi et Jacques

C’est ma seconde participation à l’épreuve qui est organisée par le Vélo Club Mont Aigoual Pays Viganais Cévennes. L’an dernier j’avais terminé avant dernier sur le grand parcours. Cette année j’ai mérité d’un abandon pour cause de changement de parcours et je ne figure pas dans le classement. N’empêche, je recommencerai l’année prochaine, et on tâchera d’intégrer ces beaux parcours dans le programme du stage 2015.


Et puis un autre concurrent a mis une vidéo en ligne au

2013 Cycl’Aigoual/Fenioux

Another great bike race last year was the Cycl’Aigoual Fenioux. Another 150 k ish ride starting and finishing in Meyrueis (Lozère) and going through our very own home from home, La Roque Saint Marguerite (as does the Templiers). So another chance to show off. Again the last 50k were a bit too much and I was in survival mode just able to turn the pedals grinding my way back up from Treves. And I was well placed to savor the innumerable little rises that punctuate the ‘plateau’ of the Causse Noire before going back down the long climb we had made when leaving Meyrueis that morning which had strangely transformed into quite a short run downhill. Finished 111th out of 112 and got the T shirt but should really have been disqualified as too slow (20kph vs 23kph minimum requirement) Still I wasn’t complaining. The 2013 course included the steep and spectacular climb up a road with grass and grit in the middle from La Truel in the Jonte valley to the quaintly named Saint Jean des Tripiers village. Another fabulous day.

2013 Etape Sanfloraine and Marmotte d’Olt

A couple of other more more successful biking events in 2013. The Etape Sanfloraine (I did the 100k) and the Marmotte d’Olt (where I went for the 150k). I just finished the latter in the allotted time (came 203rd out of 216 finishers – another blow for coming in (nearly) last). Did rather better in the 100k – an event which I manage to actually ‘ride’ rather than ‘survive’ coming 285th out of a field of 342. Otherwise the two events have merged in my memory, similar countryside and similar weather conditions. In the Marmotte some great riding, wind in the back, across the Aubrac though fields of what I think was narcissus (used to make perfume) and past what I know were pilgrims on the Saint Jacques de Compostelle trail. In the Saint Floraine, there is a great ride alongside and under the viaduct de Garabit built by Gustav Eiffel. I took part in a super race within the race as I tucked in with a group of old sports who were fairly tanking along. Then they lost me at an intersection. Then I tucked in behind a young sport (who must have punctured or abandoned the longer race). We then sped past the oldies and were sailing along when the youngster made it clear that he wanted me to do my share of making the pace. I tried to intimate that this was a bad idea but he insisted so I took over and was flat out for a few hundred meters after which I didn’t have enough left to keep up with his next relay. Back to pootling on my own and eventually (on the last rather intimidating ride up the volcanic plug on which St. Flour in built) was overtaken by the oldies who pootled up a bit quicker than I could manage. Another nice thing about the Marmotte is that Bernard Hinault both rides (he beat me), exudes bonhomie, and gives out the prizes, kissing the prettier female winners with enthusiasm.

2013 – Etape du Tour and a broken spoke

Last July an even less successful event, the 2013 Etape du Tour which started in Annecy and was supposed to finish up on a nearby alp. For me it finished after only about 17km when I broke a spoke (or rather the spoke broke of its own accord) and spend a couple of hours waiting for the repair motorcycle to come along and fix it. Unfortunately as I later learned, repairs are only available some 20km into the race. So another abandon. Just after I had officially abandoned I got into conversation with one Sean O’Leary who organizes parties to the Etapes and “Trail Seekers” biking holidays in Ireland ( He explained how I could/should have re-positioned my wheel so that despite its lost spoke, it could have turned in a wobbly way and got me to the next repair station. As I was out of the race and my wife was already on the way this was information of a rather academic nature, but maybe it will come in handy sometime in the future. Once back down we hired a couple of tourist bikes and pootled along the bike path by the lake. Nor quite how I had planned to spend the day but very pleasant.

The Race …

I have always seen myself as a racer although my age weighs against this as does, err, my weight. But recently my bike club organized a shortish race, the “Prix de la ville de Meudon,” on the flat. Even those not familiar with the mechanics of cycling will be aware that pedaling uphill is a lot harder if you are a somewhat overweight person as I have to confess I am. But the extent of the difference is hard to understate. The steeper the hill, the bigger the time difference between a lightweight climber and a heavyweight ‘rouleur.’ On the flat the balance actually tips a little the other way. Big riders are generally more powerful and can crank it up a bit more than the smaller climber. So much for the theory…

The course was 7 laps of an 8km loop around the local aerodrome on roads that were for the most part closed to traffic. Lots of mysterious administrative activity was involved, I needed a ‘carton course’ and a special stamp. Then followed directions to the start and waited for the off.

I think we were 50 or so in this the ‘GS’ category, the entry level of French road racing. In my mind’s eye I envisaged the race as a high speed chase, more or less flat out all the way. That is not how it turned out.

At the start the peloton accelerated leisurely to a cruising speed well below what I had expected. Even so, in the heat of the moment I forgot to hit the start button on my watch and as we got moving, I was so concerned about not colliding with anybody in the peloton that it seemed superfluous to fiddle around finding the rather trickily placed button. So the race went unrecorded – no speed, no heart rate. Anyhow I should think we were cruising at around 35kph for the first half lap or so. Right up until we came to the first proper corner in fact when all of a sudden, as if all had simultaneously taken fright, the peloton accelerated briskly. Well I am a rouleur, but not a great accelerator. So it took me a while to get up to the new speed (40kph-ish on a slight rise) by which time I had lost some ground. Fortunately, the sudden burst of speed burst did not last too long and over the next few hundred yards I pedaled my way back into the group. The same procedure for the subsequent sections – a lowish base sped along the straight parts and at every tight turn or slight rise a burst of sped.

The average speed of the peloton did increase slowly some and at one stage, we were careening past the pits – i.e. the place where the organizers had their tent and we were potentially being observed – when someone to my left turned around and made a rather expansive gesture to a colleague – and at the same time wobbled towards me. I of course wobbled slightly to my right and felt a sharp thwack as the pedal of another rider made contact with my leg – and an indeterminate part of my bike. There was by then quite a bit of serious wobbling going on and I had visions of a major pile up occurring behind me – but I just concentrated on staying upright and in preparing my defense. In the event nobody fell, there was no court case, although as I realized a week later, there was damage to my derailleur which explained why I subsequently was having trouble staying in gear.

Around lap five I was still hanging in with the peloton but each time the gap was opening a little more and it required more distance and effort to close it. I was royally bollocked by a rather impolite rider who railed against ‘the guy who couldn’t keep up’ as though this was an option. I later thought that I could intimate that I had been placed at the back by the lead riders to screw things up deliberately – but ideas are hard to formulate on a bike and harder to convey.

At the tail end of lap six with one to go the inevitable happened. After one acceleration, I lost contact completely. It is a curious feeling when you see the peloton moving away and you realize that you are just no longer going to catch it. The result was that I did the last lap on my own and came in at some distance from the leaders. I understand that there were a few who had lost contact before I did so I didn’t quite come in last. Better luck next time.