I was planning to take a nice bike ride late Monday afternoon. Seriously, I was. Then our plans got turned around rather quickly, and we wound up in the middle of what turned out to be quite a good, and serious, professional bike race.
The background. After Monday’s lunch, my wife Jan and I thought we would take the 10-kilometre drive to Cénac et St-Julien (usually known as Cénac), in order to pick up a bedspread at the laundry and then to buy a forsythia plant for the front of our house. Once we returned home, I figured, I could hop on my bike. But it was not to be. As we arrived at the T-junction where the D60 from Daglan meets the D46 heading into Cénac, a young gendarme was blocking traffic. He explained that there was a bicycle race going on, and we’d have to take a narrow, twisting, back road into Cénac. So we did just that, and parked in the village’s main parking lot to check out the cycling action. And that’s when we discovered what was going on:
The race details. Yes, it was a 100-kilometre bike race for professionals, consisting of 10 circuits of a 10-kilometre course over some very hilly terrain, and sanctioned by the Fédération Française de Cyclisme. It was described as an Épreuve internationale élite, or Elite international event, and included more than 70 riders — from all over France, as well as Russia and Poland, plus quite a few from Japan. This being cycling, the proper precautions were obviously being taken:
Getting settled. Having bought our program for two euros (which also gave us a chance in a draw for some wine), Jan and I and walked over to the finishing line, where the announcer sat. Here’s the announcer’s stand:
A host of vehicles. This was serious stuff, as it turned out. It wasn’t quite the Tour de France, but it had many of the same elements, including any number of vehicles from a variety of cycling clubs, like this one parked next to us, representing Team Marmande 47. (In case you’re wondering, the “47” refers to the département of Lot-et-Garonne, which comes 47th in an alphabetical listing of departments in France. Our department, the Dordogne, is No. 24. But both are in the region of Aquitaine. Please pay attention: there may be a short quiz later.)
On the road. Many of the cars were out on the road with the cyclists, ready to provide aid if needed. Here’s one of them, with a group of cyclists and a motorcycle or two:
Aid for the competitors. Not all the vehicles were from specific cycling clubs or teams. For instance, this is Vehicule Neutre 01, which means it’s a “neutral” vehicle that can provide aid (such as a new wheel) to any of the riders competing in the race:
The location. Just to orient you a bit more, the finishing line was on the main street that runs through Cénac, which in turn lies just below the historic village of Domme, a favourite tourist attraction in the Greater Daglan Area. That’s Domme high atop the hill in the centre of this photo:
High-speed racers. Now, what was the race itself like? Well, for starters, these cyclists are really flying, so it’s hard to tell who’s who. As an example, here are some of them, zooming by us:
More high-speed racers, and some crashes. Inevitably, there are crashes and break-downs in these kinds of events, and my wife had a hand in helping out in one such case. As we sat across the street from the announcer’s stand, we heard him ask if anyone in the crowd spoke English and could act as a translator for the Red Cross. So Jan volunteered, and we walked to the Red Cross van — to find a young Japanese competitor in a bit of a daze, surrounded by Red Cross officials, who spoke only French. He told Jan (in English) that he couldn’t remember what happened, because one second he was racing along, and the next memory he had was waking up on the ground, with his helmet quite smashed. (We saw his helmet, and it looked like someone had hit it with a hatchet.) Jan asked him a few questions in English — his name, where he was from (Tokyo) — and relayed the information to the Red Cross workers, suggesting that he seemed to have his wits about him. However, when a doctor showed up to double-check, he decided that the gap in the rider’s memory was not a good thing, and so the cyclist was taken off to hospital for observation. Later, we found that one of his team mates had also crashed, and pulled out of the race with scrapes and cuts. As you can see from this next photo, this is serious, high-speed, competitive cycling:
Occasional traffic. Despite all the gendarmes, safety officers and race officials, some traffic was allowed through, when there were sufficiently large gaps between the competitors. Once all the cyclists had raced past the finish line to complete another circuit, they would not be returning for something like 15 minutes (that’s to cover 10 kilometres, including some very steep grades). So the way was clear for some cars and trucks to be allowed through. Oh yes, and some houses:
The finish. As the race progressed, the structure of the various packs of riders kept changing — a few cyclists would be bunched together, then a lone rider, then a large pack, and so on. But by the finish, it was clear that the overall winner would be ahead by quite a margin. Here he is — Jérôme Mainard of CR4C Roanne — in the traditional arms-up victory salute to the crowd, as he hits the finish line:
The presentations. And then it was over, and it was time for presenting the awards. If you’ve seen the finishes of the various stages of the Tour de France, you know that each category winner is given a bouquet of flowers and is kissed by a couple of beautiful young women. No such luck here — the presentations were made by the village’s Mayor, who is not likely to be winning any beauty pageants. Nevertheless, the congratulations were heart-felt, and each of the top three finishers made a short statement, praising the route itself and the area in general. And here they are, the third-place, first-place and second-place finishers (from left to right):
Our personal conclusion. When it was all said and done, the streets re-opened to traffic, and Jan and I were able to drive along to the Point Vert store before it closed. We bought the forsythia we had wanted, and I managed to get it planted before night fall. A nice ending to an interesting day.