Well since I last wrote the sunny south of France has treated us with snow falls, temperatures in the minuses and yesterday, our first race. This was called the GP Montastruc starting about half an hour north of the city Toulouse and it was the first big race of the season for French amateurs in the south. We had heard some scary stories from 3 or 4 different people about how the 2003 race was a crash fest, with everyone really nervous and every rider wanting to stamp their mark early in the season, all the while riding in a huge bunch on dodgy French one lane roads.
The race was 140km with one big lap of 105km then 5 small laps of 7km including a 600m 20%climb. For those of you that know how steep Bluff hill is, this thing was steeper! It was cold, real cold with snow on the sides of the roads and I had 4 layers of clothing on to keep me warm. 190 guys lined up at the start (190!!) and from the stories all the fellas had been hearing we were thinking that if we could finish alive then we would probably be not doing too bad! I tried to stay out of trouble for the first 80km, sitting mid bunch but then started to move up when we neared the finishing circuit. By this stage the bunch was maybe 100 strong with lots of riders splintering in the cross winds. I didnt have a clue what was actually happening in the battle for first across the line, just that I was still in the bunch.
First time up the climb was awesome. The crowd was lined 3 deep, all yelling and screaming, speakers were attached to every light post blaring out commenty, this was French racing. I was expecting to get blown out the back but instead my legs felt strong and the only thing holding me back were all the guys in front of me. The bunch became smaller and smaller and by this stage I was riding in the front 20 of the bunch. After the 2nd to last time up the climb, I could see a group of 3 riders in front, including 2 Russians who had been quite dominant as a team. I thought to myself I might as well give things a nudge and managed to ride across by myself, and 5km later we caught a group of about 8 other riders. Last time up the climb I just went as hard as I could and at the top I was with one other guy and a motorbike drove past telling us there was only one guy up the road at 36 seconds! 2 More guys caught us and we rode hard, the front guy was coming back fast. The end came too soon though, the front guy holding us off by about 2 seconds. My legs ran out of juice and with a dirty uphill sprint I came in for fourth, the bunch had come up fast finishing right behind us.
So my first french race, a fourth placing and with it a whole lot of confidence that I will take into the next race. Next weekend we drive up north of Paris near the Belgium border for a UCI 1.5 race, its a 10hr drive so its gonna be a big roadie! Limoux is just like home for us now, all the locals have been real good to us and last night we treated ourselves to some good old fish and chips at this shop run by a dutch guy who all the boys agree is the spitting image of Goldmember from the movie Austin Powers!