Prompted by Cristelle, I signed up to do a charity run in Cahors in aid of “La Lutte Contre Le Cancer” – raising money for Breast Cancer Research. This event takes place every October and is run over 6Km around the city with classes for running and walking. However, it is only open to ladies…
had to get a medical certificate from my Doctor to be able to
participate and asked him if he could also give me an attestation that
I’m a woman. He said “OK no problem, just take your clothes off !”
I declined, so was in need of a disguise… Fortunately my friend Gaynor came up trumps with a small black Tutu! This was ideal as it looked suitably lady-like and didn’t hamper my ability to run.
I was a little concerned when filling out the application form that it clearly states “ladies only”, but I ticked the M box for gender anyway. However, the application was accepted and I duly collected my race number and rather tight fitting ladies pink T-shirt the day before the event.
On the morning of the race (Sunday 13 October) we parked to the South and walked up to the centre of Cahors along with a throng of other people all wearing their pink T-shirts. Couldn’t help noticing that there was a distinct absence of men!
At the assembly area (Place F. MITTERAND) we did come across a couple of other blokes, one of whom was our old friend Remi from Rouffiac – but we were clearly in a small minority. Cristelle had assured me that “loads of men take part”. There was a brief “warm-up” before the start to get everyone jumping and the blood circulating.
At 10.00 a short countdown and hooter signalled the mass start – runners first, followed by the walkers. There were apparently 350 runners and nearly 3,000 walkers. I was in the first group away with about 50 others but was tripping over people so made an effort to get clear and nearer the front to try to run at my own pace.
Lots of spectators along the route who seemed amused to see a bloke doing the run – plenty of photos and thumbs up as well as the odd “Well hello mademoiselle” greeting!
I managed to complete the 6Km course in under 29 minutes and ended up finishing 5th on the road but I’m sure nowhere near that on the timesheets. I may never know as the organisers at the finish line were not quite so welcoming and I was told I would be disqualified – as was a girl that finished slightly behind me as she was under 18.
A beautiful Autumn day and a very enjoyable and worthwhile event to take part in which by my estimate must have raised over 25,000 Euros for breast cancer research.
Just back from a wonderful 5 day break in San Sebastien, Spain. Only a 4.5 hour drive from here so easily accessible for a long weekend. We booked an AirBnB apartment but the choice was a little restricted as we needed parking for the car – this meant being on the outskirts with a fair walk into the centre. Managed to fit the bikes into the Land Rover which made things easier – great for exploring and getting our bearings on the first day but we subsequently used the car to get into the city having worked out some good parking spots.
The apartment was just on the edge of the city in the University district on the western side and completely surrounded by trees and greenery – incredible to be so close to the city and the sea and yet out in the countryside.
Living near Cahors and hours away from the sea it was lovely to spend some time on the coast – just watching the waves and the light…
We were near the Western side of the large bay of San Sebastien with an elegant promenade running all the way round to the old town on the Eastern side.
My usual habit is to head out in the morning for breakfast and we managed to keep to that routine, although typically some hours later than I am used to! The freshly squeezed orange juice was amazing, the Spanish coffee less so. We avoided the pastries for breakfast (wasted calories apparently), but mainly because they were likely to disappoint compared to the French offerings and we wanted to sample the local fare as much as possible. This came down to a choice between different types of spanish tortilla or tostada (toast). The tostada can be served with jam, but the locals prefer it with olive oil and tomato and it was delicious – as was the tortilla (strangely served with bread).
Having worked out a parking strategy we went out each evening and enjoyed a lovely walk along the promenade towards the old town to find something to eat.
This area is packed with what you would like to call tapas bars, but in this region they serve pintxos rather than tapas – a similar concept but nearly all the pintxos are served on a piece of bread.
I get complaints if I post too many food pictures, but the fresh fish was wonderful – we tried monk fish, turbot and sea bass and they were all amazing. We had to ask for a serving for one person as it was invariably enough for two!
On the second day we walked up to the castle which is above the old town at the eastern end of the bay. There are lots of old defensive batteries and cannons with complete command of the harbour down below. Plenty of people swimming and surfing and the water was still warm (apparently)
Heavy rain was forecast for the next day so we drove along the coast to Bilbao to visit the incredible Guggenheim museum and it didn’t disappoint.
Designed by Frank Gehry, the intention was to create a building that would be as interesting as the art works and exhibits that were contained within. In many cases the building actually surpassed the contents with it’s incredibly complex shapes and titanium panels that change colour with the light.
Of the exhibits “The Matter of Time” installation by Richard Serra was the most impressive – huge elliptical/toroidal structures made of rusted steel plate. Walking through the structures was a memorable experience – changing your perception of the space around you and confusing your mind so that it became difficult to pass through without touching the sides.
On the last day we ventured along the coast road to the West to a small but very active fishing village called Getaria, with a beautiful sandy and deserted beach.
Lovely boats in the harbour and about a dozen seriously big fishing boats.
We found a small shop on the quayside to stock up with local wine and olive oil and get a recommendation for lunch – barbequed fresh fish..
We had a sea bass (for one!) – so simple but absolutely delicious.
Back in San Sebastein for the evening there was a beautiful sunset over the bay as we walked along the promenade into the old town.
Deboned rack of Basque lamb with chargrilled leeks for dinner (well we had fish at lunchtime)..
Breakfast on the last morning before the drive home was the traditional tostada with olive oil and tomato…
The Golden Gnome Challenge is a motorbike competition held every year at John’s place near Belmontet. All credit and masses of thanks to John and his team of volunteers for setting up and safely and smoothly managing the whole event.
The event is run over the entire weekend with three competitive elements each of which is scored and the points added at the end to decide the winners.
Trials : 8 sections ridden individually at low speed with the objective of not putting a foot down (or falling off). Each foot down (dab) scores one point and falling off scores the maximum of 5 points. this total is then subtracted from the points gained in the other events.
Motocross : Four riders at a time, race for three laps of John’s motocross circuit. 9 heats and three finals.
End of Day 1 barbeque (Toulouse sausage and Merguez kindly supplied by Roland)
Enduro : Le mans start and then complete as many laps of the Enduro course as possible in 2 hours. Each lap is c3Km and takes about 7 minutes.
All finish by midday to comply with Sunday noise regulations (this is France after all!).
This year there were 12 riders split into 6 teams. I was partnered with 15 year old Adam who is dangerously fast, which I hoped would make up for me being the slowest one out there. My expectation at the outset was to finish last as I am probably the oldest and least experienced of the group…
Most people were riding full size Enduro bikes – typically with the grown-ups riding newer and bigger machines and the young-guns riding battered old 125 two strokes.
Two extremes were Roland on a 2019 KTM 450 monster and Gaby on a very tired but light weight 125 – and they ended up finishing first and second on points!
Which just goes to show that it’s not the bike it’s the rider. A point further emphasised by Paul who turned up with an ancient Honda trials bike… great for the trials part of the competition but for Motocross or Enduro – not the best choice, or was it….? One of the competition rules is that you have to use the same bike for all three events.
8 sections, ridden one rider at a time in order (decided by drawing lots). Sections were short, mostly quite steep up and down and very tricky on enduro bikes.
I thought I would be OK at this and should have done better because this is the one discipline where I have had some practise.
What let me down…
Apart from a general lack of competence, most of the sections were on slopes rather than flat which required balance but also very precise throttle/clutch or brake control. Not so easy with my two stroke as there is little very low speed torque so you have to keep the revs up and rely on precise clutch slipping, but too much drive and the back wheel spins. More practise needed for next time but should be able to do a lot better. I was placed 7th out of 12 after the trials. I did manage to beat gung-ho Adam and (rather surprisingly) Paul riding his Honda trials bike.
My expectation was to finish last and that’s what happened. It was all new to me. Based on the recent outing with Doug and Mark for the VINCE it seems my normal “brisk” trail riding pace is pretty fast (by trail riding standards) and I was generally going faster than them. However, even going “fast” on the trail you are only using part throttle and part revs. Racing is a completely different ball game and quite alien to me on this bike having hardly ever used full throttle or maximum revs! My instinct is to back off as soon as the rear starts to spin or slide, but that is most of the time in MotoCross so I was just pottering round at the back.
I did get faster with each race so was gradually getting there. Very slow around the banked corners. Embarrassed to be beaten by Paul on the trials bike, but he was nailing the banked corners flat out and getting a slingshot onto the next straight. In the C final he finished first !
Finished Day 1 in last place overall but with 5 others only a few points ahead. Our team also last.
2h continuous running around the enduro loop – partial lap of the MotoCross track then through the woods in and out of trees – mostly second gear. c 3Km lap about 7 minutes per lap. This is a test of sustained speed and concentration – the gaps between the trees seem to narrow as the speed increases and it becomes more dangerous – hit a tree with the end of the handlebar and you’re off! In addition to the riding skill required to weave between the trees at speed there were also some steep and slippery descents and the rock strewn stream bed to cope with. Doing one lap is not too hard but doing it non-stop for 2 hours is also a test of fitness and endurance.
The Enduro race features a Le Mans start – bikes lined up 30m in front of the riders. At the whistle, run to the bike, jump on, get it started and go !
I was one of the first to my bike and it fired up straight away – my plan was to follow along at my pace and try to pick off a few people and rely on crashes to get a better than last place. But having got the bike running I just set off and was 3rd into the first corner!
Overtaking opportunities are limited through the woods section so having held third for a while I moved over to let the fast guys through half way round the first lap. They all vanished into the distance so I just kept going at my speed – none of the trailing group caught up but I was lapped by the leaders a few times.
No serious injuries but there were some casualties… Adam’s bike had blown up before the start of the race so he couldn’t take part. Paul retired after a couple of laps on the Honda Trials. Einar crashed out – hit a rock in the dry stream bed, handlebars caught a tree and he was off but landed on his ribs on an exposed tree stump – Ouch! He retired badly bruised. Alfie did the same on his last lap but didn’t fall as badly, ripped the clutch lever and master cylinder off his bike and had to complete the lap with no clutch.
I had a few close calls going through the trees – touching hand guards and body armour but no offs, I did stall several times but the electric start on my bike got me going again.
Near the end Simon overtook me (for the second time!) – exactly the same bike as mine except his is a 125 – but I stuck with him for the last 1.5 laps, right on his back wheel and even going round the MotoCross track I was right with him. I suspect he was getting tired and had slowed his pace – to lap me twice he must have been running about 10% faster than me for most of the race. On the other hand I was not too tired and was possibly getting faster – definitely faster on the MotoCross – so who knows? When we stopped he seemed to be completely exhausted (he’s a stone mason so strong but maybe not fit?), I was OK to keep going. I did suggest we should make the Enduro 3 hours next year to give me more of a chance but everyone else was too knackered to agree to that!
I was 7th in the Enduro, which brought me up to 8th overall on the individual scores. Our team still last as Adam didn’t compete in the Enduro.
What a fantastic event – completely different level compared to what I’m used to and I’ll clearly never be one of the front runners so have to settle for trying to be the best of the rest (who are in a minority in this company).
The Enduro was won by Roland with Gaby second. Roland won the individual prize with Simon and Gaby taking the Golden Gnome Team Trophy home.
The winner Roland was second in the trials competition despite riding the biggest and most powerful bike at the event – remember it’s not the bike it’s the rider…
Looking forward to next year….
PS. To see how motocross should be done you can see my team mate Adam performing in the A final..
Our team was called “Old School” – which is the name of Dougie’s house in Yorkshire. Our team members were my good self, Dougie and Mark. Fitness levels were questionable…
Dougie had broken his leg in three places earlier in the year and this was the first real ride on his bike for over 6 months. Mark was recovering from a shoulder injury and had not ridden his enduro bike since November last year.
I was last together with the guys when we did a 3 day enduro in the Normandie mud last November. When we were in Normandie I was a complete novice and was struggling to keep up with the other two. But I’ve done a lot of riding since then and now have a faster bike and the roles seem to be reversed with me setting the pace (although I was on home ground.) We did about 90Km of trails around here including a trip to Cahors and back as a warm up.
While the guys were staying with me we talked about the plan for the event. The idea was for Doug and I to navigate using the road book readers and route we had prepared. I had fixed a compass onto my front mudguard which I could see when standing (all the time when off road) and without the needle being affected by the mass of the bike. Doug insisted on using his A3 board with a bigger map to give an overall view of the route. Mark’s job was to carry the check point (CP) book which had detailed information on the precise location of each of the tags and in which he would record the numbers of the tags in order to score points. Doug took us through some 3D fly-throughs on his laptop so that we could get a feel for the terrain, which was very interesting but impossible to remember.
We drove down to Spain in convoy with Doug and Mark in the van (plus 5 bikes and all the gear) and me following with the Land Rover and trailer. We were using Google Maps and Waze to navigate but the guys managed to get lost 3 times on the way – which didn’t bode well for the navigation event we were about to compete in!
Dramatic drive over the Pyrenees and down into Llavorsi – very tight hairpin bends with barely enough room for two cars – very punishing on the brakes on the descent. Arrived and set up base camp – the guys were camping but I (and most other competitors) chose to stay in the comfort of the hotel 200m up the road.
Met some of the other teams – what a load of interesting characters and a huge variety of bikes. These ranged from the sensible to the BIG – but remember it’s not the bike it’s the rider. You can do the VINCE on a big adventure bike but you would really need to know what you were doing.
About 100 people entered the event in 30+ teams. Teams consisted of 2,3 or 4 people. Austin VINCE (the organiser) gave an entertaining briefing including dire warnings about the safety aspects and more dire warnings about respecting the hotel staff and the local environment. Including a threat to castrate anyone who addressed any member of hotel staff in a Jacob Rees-Mogg tone of voice. Everyone chipped in 10 Euros on the final day to provide tips for the staff – maybe they will welcome us back?
The schedule called for an 8am start each day and a cut off finish time of 8pm. Any late arrivals would be disqualified. This doesn’t sound too difficult but when you are 50Km from the hotel up a mountain trail feeling tired it’s not easy to work out if you have enough fuel and time to make it back to the hotel by the curfew.
As a sign of things to come we decided we would be incapable of getting ready for 8am and risk being run over in the rush so went for 8.30am instead. We got back at 8.01pm and narrowly avoided disqualification, but only on the basis that we had to be at least one minute early on the second day.
On the first day we rode for 11.5 hours with two fuel stops and only brief pauses for snacks, water and calls of nature. We covered 150Km off road and 100Km on road. One of the issues was that the routes were planned around a base at La Seu Argell – but the hotels there were full so we were based 50Km away from the epicentre which meant a good bit of road riding. This was the only chance we got to admire the scenery and made me wish I was on a different bike – an opinion that was completely reversed when we hit the trails (at which the bike excels).
The number of trails in this region and and the views were completely mind blowing (no time to look let alone take pictures). Charging along small trails at brisk but hopefully safe speeds means 100% concentration on the trail and no time for sight seeing. I found this worked best when I was leading as the concentration on riding and navigating was 110%. When I was following the other guys the concentration tended to lapse and I found myself making mistakes. The pace was generally slower when I was following so more room for error.
Having got going reasonably early, done the 50Km road ride we started the hunt in earnest – only to miss the first two check points (CPs) – Doh! We just weren’t working properly as a team and it took a while for us to gel – the 3rd CP was OK! Mark was in charge of the CP book and calling out what to look for with Doug and I navigating and taking turns to lead.
The trails were reasonably easy going until I was leading, rounded one corner and was faced with a steep rocky hillclimb that came out of nowhere. I got part way up before losing traction and coming to a halt. Mark was second and was also taken by surpise but was less fortunate – he got about as far as me but lost balance when he stopped and dropped the bike on the hill. Doug sensibly waited to one side. Both Mark and Doug were carrying recent injuries and sensibly reluctant to take any risks. Mark’s bike was awkwardly placed and he wasn’t going to lift it on his own. I felt I couldn’t roll down the hill backwards although in hindsight that might have been a better approach. Instead I manhandled the bike round on the hill – nearly knocking Dougie off in the process – and took it back down to the bottom. Then came back up to help Mark pick his bike up and between the three of us wrestle it up the hill. Then we did the same with Doug’s bike. I managed to ride mine up, but slowly and paddling most of the way. Needless to say we were all knackered and we had hardly started…
CP301 was at 2600m. Unfortunately Mark suffers from vertigo and had felt very uncomfortable on the drive over the Pyrenees and on some of the trails we had encountered. There were a lot of sheer drops on the trail up to CP301 so we left Mark at the previous check point and pressed on (against the rules but never mind). Most of the CPs are metal tags nailed to a post with some numbers and letters you have to record. At CP301 there was an old VW hippie van and we had to record the name of the city painted on the roof (Barcelona). It was very high up and the views were spectacular. Doug and I stopped to take some pictures and were congratulating ourselves on conquering this height on our bikes – when some clown in a Range Rover nonchalantly drove past! He was going a lot slower than us and being very careful but we did feel a bit deflated. This CP was worth 5 points, all the others were worth 1,2 or 3 so it paid off.
On the descent from CP301 I was using my brakes a lot as my bike is a (smelly) two stroke and has no engine braking. Just as I got near the bottom where Mark was waiting I lost the front brake altogether – it had got so hot it had boiled the brake fluid! Very good job that didn’t happen further up the hill. It recovered after a bit of a break if somewhat spongy.
We had originally planned a route covering 250Km off road but it was already clear that we would never make that in the time so started planning the best route for maximum points to get us back to the hotel – after another fuel stop.
I felt quite prepared for the event in terms of fitness (running, cycling) and in the preparation of the bike. But my clothing strategy was crap – very cold in the mornings, and on exposed windy mountains with a Force 3 from the North – but too hot when working hard on the trails and in the sun. the correct strategy is to use layers and strip them off when not required. I don’t like to carry anything on the bike, just my rucksack with tools and provisions – fortunately Doug kindly lent me a stuffy bag and bungee to allow me to strip off and carry my excess layers.
Doug and Mark – questionable fitness levels and very limited time on the bikes in the last year, but they are old hands at this game and came with all the right gear and luggage systems on the bike – even carrying spare fuel in Doug’s case as the Freeride has a small tank..
At the end Day 1 it was abundantly clear we were not in the running for the prizes – we were in a middle ranking position but the leaders were massively ahead.
Very tired after the first day and not in a position to win, we decided to take a more relaxed approach to Day 2 and didn’t set off until 9.30. But like an enthusiastic puppy I was down to see the guys earlier than agreed – but they were still in bed…
Having planned a more relaxing day we made the monumental error of starting with CP355 – having completely forgotten or ignored the briefing from Austin that said this CP is for legends only!
CP355 Do not attempt this check point with big bikes. Only attempt it with small bikes if every member of your team is an enduro legend.
I was leading and got part way up the ridiculous hill before losing traction. The others took one look and decided that attempting to ride up would be too risky. Going back at this point was possible but would waste a lot of time so as a team we decided we would get up the hill. Fortunately Dougie had brought a rope… We then manhandled each bike up the hill as a three man team. It was exhasuting and felt like a great achievement – but 1.5 hours to get 3 points….
We carried on (we certainly weren’t going back down that hill) – by now we had a good routine and made reasonable progress.
Later in the day, having covered less than half the planned route for Day 2 we had to make a decision. Press on and go for two more CPs worth 3 each and get back inside the 8pm deadline or call it a day and head home early. One of us was feeling tired and voted to head home so we did – these trails are high risk in places and riding them when tired makes an accident much more likely. And as Austin goes to great lengths to point out – there is no safety, there is no backup, you are on your own.
Overall we had no breakdowns, no injuries and only one off (a few put downs but they don’t count). A great team effort especially on CP 355.
Prize giving in the evening. Of 30+ teams some were disqualified but of the 26 scoring teams we were 20th – we had dropped back from the first day. With the extra 6 points from the last two check points we would have advanced a few places but still nowhere near contention.
We have to be happy with the result as we didn’t agree an objective at the start – so maybe that is lesson number 1 – are we trying to do well or just enjoy the trails and working together as a team? Make full use of the 12 hours – need better fitness/endurance levels. Don’t waste too much time with breaks. Slicker team working on who does what. However, we realised that the biggest single factor was preparation. We (especially Doug) put a huge amount of effort into creating the maps and choosing the routes. But we did overlook one key factor – CPs have different points allocated to them and some high scoring CPs are not too difficult where others are impossible (like CP355) – which we should never have attempted, and we were warned!
What Does It Take To Win ?
To do really well you would have to beat people like our campsite neighbours – Gary and Ade from Sportax Racing. They were riding for full 12 hour days with slick teamwork, excellent navigation and riding at close to Enduro race speeds. We saw them twice out on the trails and they were flying. They admitted to a couple of navigation errors early on which cost them a bit of time but there can’t be many people that can ride as hard and fast as they did for so long. They fitted brand new Michelin Enduro tyres at the start and after two days the rears were worn out (or shagged to use the technical term). Those guys were machines…
And they finished 5th !!
£200 to enter
£300 for 3 nights in the hotel full board
Here is a compilation video of some of the trails we rode to give you a feel for the variety (and difficulty)..
Two months before the event an information pack arrived. This contained a very large scale A3 map of the entire area with the check points highlighted, a booklet with additional details on the location of each checkpoint (CP) and a 1:50k map of the Alt Urgell region – just on the Spanish side of Andorra. Apart from a compass these are the only materials you are allowed to use.
Doug worked for hours to identify exactly where each CP was and mark it on the 1:50k map. He then traced over the visible trails to provide a route to each CP. Finally he selected the routes we were going to follow which was no small task!
The competition is run over two days and you are allowed exactly 12 hours on each day to visit as many CPs as you can and record the code on the tags. It is impossible to visit them all in the time available. Bill Gates or my brother Chris would have created some sort of optimisation program to define the best route – CPs that are further away or more difficult to reach score more points just to add to the complexity. The winner is the team with the most points – no idea what the prize is?
Doug eventually came up with four routes covering the morning and afternoon of each day and totalling about 250Km per day off road. A target we will struggle to achieve! There is no limit to the technology you can use in planning the route so Doug also created gpx trails and was able to do 3D “fly-throughs” using Google Earth to check out the trails. Sadly he wasn’t able to memorise more than 5Km.
So having created the routes on a map about the size of your dining table, how do you carry them on a bike?. Stopping every few Km to unfold the full size map would never work – and you can never get them to fold up again properly! And just to add to the difficulty the 1:50k map is really too small to see the essential details you need when navigating – a 1:25K map would be more suitable but is not allowed.
The traditional wisdom and approach recommended by the organisers is to make an A3 wooden board and fix it to the bike and then stick the maps to this. They also recommend taking the marked up 50K map to a copying shop and getting it enlarged x2 to create a pseudo 25K map (which is allowed). The map is then twice the size of your dining table…
Doug and I discussed our approach at the outset – we did consider cheating by using GPS, but as our team is called “Old School” we thought we should stick to more traditional methods. Now I have enough trouble riding and staying on my bike normally and I’m sure that adding an A3 windcatcher would not help my bike control at all so I wasn’t keen on that idea. On other navigation events we have used road book readers (like the Paris-Dakar rally guys use) which are much more compact and contain a continuous scroll of A5 size paper. I offered to work out how to get the table top map onto a road book scroll…
This involved scanning in the 50k map with the trails and CPs marked, taking each section (CP to CP) from the scanned image and manipulating it in my computer to enlarge the map and change the orientation so that the track we were following always ran up the page – the reader scrolls from top to bottom. These were then printed out on A4, which needed cropping to A5 size and then sticking together to make a continuous scroll. End result was two scrolls – one for each day.
So apart from fitting the road book reader to the bike, installing the scroll, finding somewhere to fix a compass, preparing the bike/spares/tools we are nearly ready to start. Oh yes and as we have at least two fuel stops each day and my bike is a two stroke I need to find some way of measuring the necessary 60:1 mix of 2T oil to add when refuelling….
And just to add a little more excitement to the mix I was checking through the paperwork for the event and came across this disclaimer from the organisers…
Safety – There isn’t any! Trail-riding and motorcycling are NOT safe. You do not have to face these risks. Be safe by NOT motorcycling. Be safe by NOT trail-riding in remote wilderness locations. If you lose control on a cliff-edge mountain trail, and go over the edge, you will be killed. Your safety is NOT guaranteed. If you are killed it will not be my fault. It will be because you are riding unmaintained trails in the mountains, far from help. If you want a guarantee of safety you must NOT come on this trip.