After this morning’s ride, I settled down on the sofa, in my jimjams (what else?) to watch the French Cyclo-Cross Championships in Lanavily, Brittany. I had more than a passing interest, as one of our youngsters was taking part. His younger brother, who has swept all before him in the region, is a better rider but, sadly for us, and him, they don’t have a championship for his age category (minimes). Anyway, his older brother, despite an upset stomach managed to finish. He wasn’t lapped, but his final position didn’t do him justice.
French television kindly gave us a preview of the 2,500m course which to my untutored eyes looked tough. It featured some very steep ascents and descents (18%), plenty of muddy, rutted tracks, wooded trails, obstacles and a wee bit of frosty road. As I understand it, the key to cyclo-cross is the start. You need to get out in front and stay there, avoiding any mechanicals.
FDJ had the benefit of numbers in today’s race: Francis Mouray (defending champion), Steve Chainel, Arnold Jeannesson and Sandy Casar. Competition was likely to come from John Gadret of AG2R, a former champion and the best placed Frenchman in last year’s Tour and Giro. I spotted a couple of other French Pro-Tour riders in the mix, but they were unlikely to trouble the main protagonists.
It’s amazing just how quickly the better riders manage to distance the rest. Of course, the boys make riding through mud look easy. It isn’t. I once made the mistake of riding my road bike over some firmish turf, not boglike mud. I was off in a trice.
The competitors have to maintain concentration at all times as they traverse the different surfaces, dismounting and re-mounting after clearing the obstacles. You can see the intent focus on their mud-splattered faces.
The cameras naturally rest with the leaders. You only see the other competitors as they’re lapped. Mouray quickly established a lead, while, his nearest competitors ganged up. Possibly, the better to maintain motivation or to mark the non-FDJ competition. Gadret rode with Jeannesson and Chainel with Blazin. All during the race, you could hear the dulcet tones of Mr Cycling (Daniel Mageas) in the background.
It’s interesting to watch how they approach the trickier sections. Riding is always preferable to running, even up some of the steeper ascents, although it can’t be avoided when overcoming the obstacles. On the steeper descents, the outside leg is often out of the cleat to help steady the rider.
As I was watching, two things occurred to me:-
Mouray high-fived his father in the finishing straight and took his 6th title. Gadret was some 68 seconds behind and Jeannesson was third, a further 15 seconds back. While it’s fun watching from the sofa, I’m sure it would be even better live.