The Corima Drôme Provençale – race report
Sunday March 22nd, 2015
We anxiously watched the weather forecast all week. The previous few days were warm and sunny but two days of unsettled weather were forecast exactly for the weekend. Depending on the forecaster, Sunday was to be either overcast, cold and wet, or overcast, cold and dry. Ever the optimists, we accepted the second forecast and drove down to Montélimar through Saturday’s driving rain.
Sunday morning dawned cold and dry! There was an icy wind from the north but the clouds were light in colour and as we lined up for the start we could even see a few patches of blue sky. The capacity crowd of 2000 riders stamped their feet, beat their arms and tried to shelter behind each other to stay out of the wind during the long wait for the start. Nearly all of us were dressed either in full winter riding gear or mid-season knee-length shorts, with long-fingered gloves and shoe covers.
The first 3 kilometres through the centre of Montélimar were neutralised. We cycled swiftly through the town centre, still looking very wintry, the trees bare, the streets almost empty. The leaders must have accelerated very quickly because the peloton immediately stretched out and there was very little of the aggressive barging that one so often sees in the neutralised zone.
Once out of the town and heading due east we were hit by a strong side wind. This early the groups hadn’t settled down yet and everybody was moving at different speeds, making it hard to find the right wheel to follow. We rode at a high pace like this for 10 km or so, climbing gently up the valley to the foot of the Colombier, where we turned south and began climbing in earnest. Twelve hairpins and 200m higher we reached the summit and began a rapid descent to Grignan, the wind at our backs.
A quick glance at the remarkable Château de Grignan, high on a rocky outcrop above the village, and we turned east again and then north for the long climb up the valley and over the col to Dieulefit. I found out later that the Château de Grignan has been called the Versailles du Midi and is best known for its links with Madame de Sévigné, famous for her letters written in the 17th century. There was no time to stop and read them now…
And the rain came down…
The rain started soon after Taulignan, at km 32. At first a few spots, it soon became a steady drizzle that accompanied us for the next two hours, seeping slowly but inevitably through our garments, spraying off the road in our faces and wetting our backsides. Pedalling hard was the only way to keep warm. There was a strong headwind. Little groups formed and fell apart again. Twice I found myself needing to go into the red in order to close a gap of 100-150m to the group in front. Where the professionals would have fanned out in a series of echelons the amateurs – at least in the middle of the peloton where I was – were all more or less in single file on the wrong side of the road, thus helping no-one…
At Montjoux, the decision point for the 140km course, I decided – for once – to play it smart and stick to the shorter distance. Good call!
Dieulefit came and went in a flash, a sharp left turn under the timing arch, quick avoiding action as two riders in front of me collided, a glance at the feed station – no need to stop – and on to the climb to the col du Pertuis (653m). We rode for several kilometres in a wet fog, the visibility closed down to no more than 50m on the col de Boutière (666m), the temperature only just above zero. I congratulated myself once again for having taken the right decision!
Once down the steep part of the descent and through Bourdeaux, we were left with 45km to ride, the first half still into an oblique headwind. I was in a group of 10 riders working well together. The rain eased off, but it was still cold. I was riding hard, as much as anything to keep warm.
We finally turned west for the last climb of the day. I stopped at the top for a natural break, only to hear shouts of ‘Marvin! Marvin!’ It was Eric, with whom we did the Haute Route in the Pyrenees last summer. It was great to see a friendly face. Spurred on by friendly competition we put the hammer down, exchanging relays with another rider from Eric’s club.
Sprint to the finish!
For the last few kilometres we could hear the siren of the race director’s car getting louder and louder as the leaders of the 140km course got closer and closer. Now I know what the break-away must feel like when the peloton bears down on them towards the end of the stage! We raced as hard as we could, risking life and limb on the many roundabouts on the approach to the town, giving everything at last on the long sprint up the Avenue St Lazare to the finish, every muscle protesting. We made it, finishing just 10 seconds in front, getting quickly over the line and out of the way.
My final result? Nothing special. 438th overall (out of 739), taking 3h50” for the 111km, at an average speed of 28.9km/hr. The winner, Silvio Gradellini finished in 3h02”, at an average speed of 36.6km/hr.
Back to the training plan!