Team Grumpy had initially thought that 2019 would see us missing only the second Duo Normand since our first visit to Marigny in 2003, owing to various family commitments. However, in late spring, a change in date for the 2019 event was announced. Instead of being run on the 22nd September, it would now be held on 15th September. I'm not sure of the reasons, but the UCI World Championships were due to be held on 22nd-29th September, so maybe the worry was that the turnout of professionals might have been reduced on the original date.
Not only was the date changed, but the entry system was outsourced to a third party. When the entry system went live, Team Grumpy was initially a bit perplexed but the whole process seemed to be complete when we received email confirmation.
Stage 1 - Travelling to Normandy, 11th September
After a minor crisis involving a mislaid racing licence, one half of Team Grumpy finally set off from Wales, and arrived in Bedfordshire a bit after 4pm. The car was loaded with my kit, we had some refreshments and something to eat, and we set off for Portsmouth allowing considerable margin for cock-up. This turned out to have been wise, with traffic at a standstill at one point on the M25. We had enough time to stop at Liphook services.
Queuing for the ferry
Stage 2 - Checking out the course, 12th September
After a reasonable night's sleep, we were roused by the unstoppable harp music piped into the cabin. We were barely dressed before our breakfast arrived, and shortly after that, we had to leave the cabin to await instructions to return to the car. Shortly before 7am we rolled off the ferry into the dark. It was rather drizzly, which gave us some concern about the day's weather ahead of us. as the light grew, the weather remained pretty grim with heavy drizzle in a stiff breeze. not ideal for exploring the course later that day.
We arrived at our accommodation at about 8.30am. Unusually, the electricity and water were turned on. We investigated the heating, turned it on, and no heat seemed to appear. After a bit of a minor crisis, we sorted that out. In hindsight, we didn't leave the system long enough to get going, and actually the observation that hot water was available should have given us a bit of a clue! In our defence, the house was colder inside than outside!
We unpacked the car, except for the two turbo trainers. It was still drizzling. We made a cup of tea, then set off for the supermarket for supplies, including several 6 packs of official Team Grumpy energy drink. It was still drizzling as we drove back to the house.
After a light lunch, we looked out of the window to see drizzle continuing. This was not good, but at last it brightened and we set off to Marigny to refresh our memories of the course. We had a pretty easy ride round the course, with no misadventures (other than a malfunction - see below). The worst of the climbing happens pretty much straight after the start. Other than that, it's pretty straightforward.
My time trial bike currently uses the SRAM Red eTap system for gear shifting. This is the original 11-speed system, and operates by wireless communication between the controller (the 'BlipBox') and the derailleurs. There are two pairs of controller switches that connect to the BlipBox. While out on the course I noticed that, at some point since Saturday morning, the switch mounted on the left extension no longer worked. By unplugging it and exchanging it with the base bar mounted switch, it was clearly a defect in one of the BlipBox inputs. I fitted the eTap system in March 2016, and by November 2016, the original BlipBox had developed exactly this malfunction. In the end, and after a monumental argument with the online retailer from whom I had obtained the eTap Aero system, it was replaced. Now, nearly three years on, I'd developed exactly the same fault. This isn't the end of the world for the race on Sunday - I just need to remember to use only the switches on the aero extensions, but it is rather annoying.
Checking over my bike before riding the course
The raw start list for the Duo Normand was available from the registration site - we spent some time perusing this to see if we recognised many of the teams from previous years.
Post-Brexit referendum, the £ has sunk relative to the €, so trips to France have become increasingly expensive. Maybe this explains why we've seen a gradual decline in the numbers of UK riders over the last few years, and this trend has reached the point where UK riders are almost absent. From Team Grumpy's perspective this has diminished the appeal - in earlier editions of the race, large numbers of riders would be hanging about in Marigny creating an excellent atmosphere. I guess the local riders register then go home :-)
Stage 3 - Team Time trial skills, 13th September
After a triple barrelled breakfast, it was still a bit overcast outside, though very still. We decided to walk up to Cerisy La Salle to get some bread. This turned out to be rather amusing linguistically - after we ordered in our vague sort of French, the response was '...and is there anything else you'd like..." in excellent English! Back at the house, we had lunch, then embarked on a fair bit of bike maintenance.
Giving the bikes a good check
In my case, this was quite minor - I inspected my tyres and found them to be in very good condition, so I decided not to change them. I had fitted a new chainring, chain and cassette a couple of weeks earlier, and they'd already been tested in a club time trial.
I did investigate the bearings on the front H3 trispoke, and made some adjustments. This was because I had noticed a knocking noise coming from the wheel despite a bearing replacement a few weeks ago. It's possible that it's something that has got into or come loose inside the wheel. The knocking only happens when the bike's being ridden it seems, and we investigated further during our afternoon bike ride. (Note added in 2023: it turned out to be the alloy rim coming unbonded from the carbon wheel structure. I was effectively riding about on a rim held in place by very little adhesive. I had the wheel repaired by Carbon Cycle Solutions of Leighton Buzzard)
The BlipBox issue hadn't resolved itself, and I wasn't inclined to do anything drastic with no obvious resolution in sight. However I have a cunning plan to implement when I get home.
G's maintenance was far more extensive, and seemed to involve changing cassette on his disc wheel, at least one tyre change, replacing the chain, and goodness knows what else. He did liberate a fair amount of clart while cleaning things.
We then set out on our usual training circuit to practice 2-up changes. Another goal was to identify the source of my front wheel noises. After swapping wheels and skewers, we were confident that the noise emanates from the wheel, though no immediate solution offered itself. It was quite warm and humid, so the pauses to tweak the wheel (and to retrieve G's visor) were quite welcome.
Dinner tonight was a vegetable curry; liquid refreshment was a selection from the Leffe Royale range of energy drink; entertainment was the DVD set of Jeeves & Wooster.
Stage 4 - Signing on, 14th September
We had no internet access for most of the day, which was frustrating. We went to do some shopping at the supermarket, then back for lunch. We then had a very brief ride to check the bikes (particularly important give G's attempt to violate Rule #2 yesterday), with a coffee stop en route.
Then it was over to Marigny to sign on for the Duo. This was really quick, partly because all the bits and bobs were pre-packed in a bag. Also, there were far fewer riders in this year's event. The following photo illustrates this well: in the past the town square would have been thronging with people.
Very quiet in Marigny for signing on
This year there was a bigger goody bag including bottles, sunglasses and a novel (in French). Oh, and there was a sticker for the seatpost with an RFID for electronic timing. We think the new finish line has an RFID sensor.
The new finish, with RFID sensor
Back at the house, we had dinner and then loaded the bikes and toolkits etc into the car ready for race day. Here's the goodybag contents in the back of the car.
Stage 5, The Duo Normand, 15th September
I had a dreadful night with a ghastly recurrent nightmare (nothing to do with the race we were about to undertake). Eventually I got up at about 6am. As we'd packed the car the previous evening, there wasn't really much to do except have breakfast and feel a bit apprehensive. Particularly since the internet connection was down. We drove over to Marigny in time to see the first riders set off into the mist. Where, we wondered, was the forecast excellent weather...By the time we started, the mist had cleared and we were bathed in brilliant sunshine. We set out to warm up around Marigny, then returned to the car for a banana to keep our energy levels up.
Down at the start ramp we noticed the gaps between teams were more than the usual minute - idiotically, we hadn't noticed the gaps were 2' on the startsheet! Faced with the start ramp on a downhill section, I always get nervous. In fact my heart rate was 157bpm by the time I rolled off and started.
At the start
Gerry is focussed
Not so much focussed as apprehensive!
And off we go!
We had ridden the course on Thursday, and had planned what intensity we'd take the early climbs. In a word, easy. We didn't want to burn out too early in the race. We stuck to this plan through to Montcuit, then there was a lengthy section of quite fast riding through Feugeres and across the D900 then looping round through Tribehou and on through some woods from where the route undulates before a sharp climb to La Chapell-Enjuger then a short rise after Montreuil-sur-Lozon and a fast descent to the finish.
We didn't see any other teams except for the team before us, who we caught some way after the halfway point. There wasn't really anything untoward during the event - it was excellently marshalled throughout, with Gendarmes at the crossings over the major roads. With about 13km to go G lost his visor, despite all his attempts to prevent this from happening.
Then, with 500m to go, G ran over one of several sunken manhole covers. Never mind the bright yellow warning paint. He went straight through at about 37mph and his aero bottle went flying. This was bad enough from where I was, just behind him, but a second later his back tyre blew with an enormous bang. How he retained control is beyond me. Suffice to say, he crossed the line a little way behind me and riding on his rim...this was probably the most alarming incident we have had during the various editions of the Duo Normand that we've ridden.
The offending manhole cover
The damage to the rear tyre
We regrouped and grabbed a bottle of water before returning to the car. The damage to G's tyre was pretty obvious - two lengthy splits along the sidewall, just above the bead. Perhaps each corresponds to the entry and exit point of the manhole cover? As far as we could see, the wheel rim survived the experience...as an addendum - see the postscript to this account. While we were contemplating the state of G's wheel, a chap we'd chatted to in our faltering French before the race came for a chat and to see how we'd got on. He took our photo.
Our usual post-Duo lunch of grilled sausage (me) and frites (G) was missed out owing to the huge queue. Also we couldn't see anywhere selling photos. Though there were photographers out there at the start and on the course. We then wandered out to see if we could find the missing aero bottle. We couldn't.
We looked for the Corpo results, which were there, but missing us and a couple of other teams. Then we set out on an ill-fated attempt to locate the missing visor. We failed in that too!
Finally we saw the Corpo results. We had come in 7th place, as last year, but about a minute and a half quicker.
Back at the house we had an early dinner and cleaned up, before leaving for the overnight ferry from Caen.
Stage 6, Back home, 15th - 16th September
The overnight ferry was comfortable, and we both got a fair amount of sleep. It always seems like a bit of a shock to return to British traffic after a few days in rural France.
Technical Postscript - The blowout
As a followup to the analysis of G's blowout in the closing 500m of this years Duo, on getting home he investigated further and found that the valve stem had collapsed. Apparently the only hole in the tube is near the valve stem. This probably means the primary incident was at the valve stem and the two gashes in the tyre sidewalls are secondary and maybe due to being between the rim and the tarmac.
Technical Postscript - The blipbox
I cogitated at some length on the options available to me. They were, loosely speaking:
- Cough up around £200 for a new blipbox
- Exchange the blipboxes on the P5 and the P3 and live with only two switches on the P3
- Splice two switches into one plug on the defective blipbox. As far as I can tell, blips are just 'momentary on' switches, so this ought to work.
On the grounds that it was the cheapest and easiest option, I went with #2. So I removed the blipboxes and exchanged them, paired them to the derailleurs, reconnected them to the switches and...all four inputs on the 'defective' blipbox now worked. Somewhat confused, I unplugged the switches, re-plugged them and...the formerly non-functional input no longer worked. Well. After a bit of head scratching, and investigating, I found that a switch plugged into the formerly non-function input would only work if not pushed fully into the socket. So that is one mystery sorted, but other questions raised.
Just in case I needed a new blipbox, I checked out the stock at a well-known squiggly online bike kit emporium. The blipbox was noted as out of stock, so I requested stock updates by email. The other day I received an email saying the 11-speed blipboxes were not available and no longer being made...
In 2023 I did the re-wiring of the BlipBox so it could be hidden inside the P5 frame. Read more at Flies and Bikes.
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