Well, I’ve just about recovered enough to tell the tale of our French adventures in the Duo-Normand (four weeks of physio seems to have done the trick). Mark Pettitt and I had both intended to ride the Duo-Normand for some time, but were unaware of each other’s plans. Fate, however, brought us together a few weeks before the event and we settled on riding as a team. We made some quick sense of the impossibly French entry procedures and received our acceptance in the non-licencies category (the largest category in the event and popular with British testers) two weeks before the off. Travelling plans were made and as arranged we arrived in Marigny on the Friday for a ride around the circuit, along with a horde of Charlotteville riders (and I mean a horde) and a crack squad from VC St Raphael. No sign of the Mapei outfit, but rumours had it they were running scared. In the spirit of Anglo-French accord, the local paper referred to the town as “crawling with foreigners” on the Friday.
The planned ‘easy’ ride around the circuit quickly deteriorated (as far as my legs were concerned) into a 2/3/4 level road race, whereupon it immediately became evident that my final climactic cold of the season was not yet behind me. Oh dear! A two-up time trial with Mark Pettitt, when enjoying anything less than top form, is the kind of punishment you would dish out only to your absolute worstest enemy. Neil Cooper was in the group with us and showing that along with Sam Sturgeon would be sure to put in a fast time on the Sunday. Thankfully, a mechanical for Neil, and the selfless company given to him by Mark, allowed me to race up the road and be one of the first back. Janet was impressed. I kept the details of the ride to myself. Unfortunately, we had discovered that we were to be off as one of the earliest teams on the Sunday.
On the morning of the event, the weather was bright but cold first thing, with mist lying on the lowest areas. Warm-up was limited to a short ride from the Chateaux for Mark and 10 minutes on the turbo for me. Neither of us had slept well. Still, we both looked the part with our new helmets/overshoes etc. and there was no turning back. When we saw the TDF starting ramp we new that we had arrived.
I kept waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say “No Mr Mulholland, you really are too crap to be here” but there was silence all round as we received our countdown to hell. Della and Jan followed on the car (yes you can have a support care follow you round with your names on the bonnet!). We had agreed to do spells of 2 to 3 minutes on the front and approach it rather like an interval session. Things didn’t turn out like that. My ‘rest’ periods were the hardest intervals I had done in some time, and I was not able to share the load as agreed. The flat fast roads and perfectly still conditions provided no resistance to Mark’s extravagant power. I was in torture, and only 40k to go, with 25 k of hills at the back end. The completely closed roads and excellent marshalling (motorcycle outriders were in evidence as well) ensured no interruption whatsoever to the experience. I wanted my granny and some warm milk.
Duo Normand 2002
The climbs were manageable in the big-ring but only if I rode on the limit. We arrived in Marigny at 42k with most of the climbs behind us, and I was starting to feel slightly better. The crowds were building up by this point and we received a much needed cheer. Just 12k to go, on an out and back drag, and we would be home. At the turn, it was clear that we would put in a respectable time. We passed our last team (about 10 in all according to the girls) on the home leg. I was pulling my weight a bit better at this point, though it is entirely probable that Mark was just being kind. Crossing the line had never felt so good, after 1:26:26 of agony. Our time was five minutes down on the winner in our category and placed us 17th out of a field of 122. On a different day I think we could have taken two or three minutes off that and perhaps placed in the top ten, but we didn’t, so that’s that. Neil and Sam came home in 1.26.58.
The only positive about starting so early was the prospect of putting our feet up and watching the pros destroy our time, and eating the plentiful supply of chips on sale. The day developed into a scorcher and helped make the whole weekend completely memorable. Watching the speed of the top riders, including Hutchinson and Dangerfield, was genuinely awe-inspiring. The winners? The Mapei riders Petrov and Pozzato in 1.04. Prizes (and many were won by the Brits in an ‘ambush’ as the commissaire described it) were presented by no less than Frederique Bohamontes (the Eagle of Toledo). He genuinely volunteered his autograph at the end of the event to anyone who looked even slightly interested. And there were many. A real ‘gent’ as they say. Anyway, it all wrapped up at about 6.00 and time for a drive back on the Normandy coast, a Pizza overlooking the sea at Luc sur Mer and then back on the overnight ferry.
Would we do it again? Definitely, though it is worth getting yourself into the best form possible if you want to avoid a genuinely painful experience and/or letting your team-mate down. I would have though that this could be a great end of season event for our club.
Thanks to Mark for a great ride, and to Della for professional support-car work.