After the recent race results and a good training block I was excited to start the final phase of my season which is made up of 4 rounds of the UCI World Marathon Series spread over 5 weeks; France, Azores, France, Spain. The first of these races was La Forestiere in the Jura region of France on Sunday 18th September. I first rode this event in 2015 and have been a poster boy for their event ever since, famous at last! The race has a great mix of trails with some really technical rocky sections along the route which covers 100 kilometres and climbs 2900 meters between the start town of Saint Claud and the finish in Arbent.
With autumn approaching the weather in the Jura can be mixed, the 4 days we were there it wasn’t mixed, just rain rain rain, cold cold cold! Thankfully we’d packed the range of Weldtite cleaners! Lessons learnt from previous races I went to the start line in full length bibtights, long sleeve jersey and full waterproof jacket. Most others were in shorts and jersey with maybe a gilet! Good luck with that for 5 hours of racing I thought.
Competition was strong including the top UCI Marathon Series contenders and Tour de France stage winner from AG2r Alexis Vuillermoz who started his career on the mountain bike. I want to beat these guys so I was ready to bury myself up the first climb to get into the lead group. Anyone who thinks marathon races are slow needs to think again. The start is just as quick as any cross country race even though we are racing for 4 to 6 hours. Up the first climb I was actually pretty comfortable. We then plunged back down into the start town via some long sets of stairs where I almost crash on a metal drainage cover, no damage done, just a boost of adrenalin! Past all the spectators and back into the hills sitting middle of the lead group.
As minutes the past and we got higher up the mountain the pace was increasing again. People are getting spat out the back of the group, how long could I hang on? I could see from my Rotor INpower crank I was riding above my functional threshold power and therefore burning energy quickly. I had no race support at this event so had to make do with 2 bottles of USN Purefit Enduro for the entire 5 hour race but stuffed my pockets full of Purefit Burst Energy Gels so consumed one of those every 45 minutes. Eventually the group split and I was left with Arnaud Rapillard who has been on the podium for 3 rounds of the UCI Marathon Series so far this year. For the next few hours we worked well together along the slippery rocky trails catching riders who were either paying for their earlier efforts or suffering from the cold. We were riding into the top 10 positions and I was still feeling strong which was good because I’d pre ridden the last 20 kilometres so knew how tough the finish would be.
We caught 2 more riders, one of which tagged onto the group. The 3 of us powered on towards the final climbs including the mini Alp d’Huez. Arnaud got a gap on a climb which I didn’t shut down quick enough; he was disappearing out of site. I thought I could catch him on the technical downhills coming up as I was slightly quicker on my full suspension Turner. However under pressure I slipped and crashed on a section I’d ridden easily in practise, loosing more time and energy. Onto the mini Alp d’Huez which wasn’t so mini, 3 kilometres at nearly 20% gradient! It was a struggle to keep the bike moving without loosing rear wheel traction but I could see Arnaud again a few corners above me so I knew if I kept it smooth I could catch him or at least close the gap and then catch him on the long technical trail to the finish. Arnaud was off and walking, I caught and past him still on the bike before having to dismount. The legs were still strong and I was hiking up this climb like a pro runner quickly opening a gap to Arnaud! Considering I can’t run to the end of my driveway I was pretty happy with how this was going!
Onto the last descent, he wasn’t going to catch me now, carefully does it, don’t throw this away. Over the finish line in front of the cheering crowds, 8th place, a great result against some stong competition and an excellent start to this final block of racing. Only a few minutes behind that Tour de France stage winner! Next up I head to the Azores for their round of the UCI World Marathon Series on the 2nd October.