So, the usual features of Team Grumpy's preparation for the Duo Normand are generally not conducive to a good performance! 2015 was no different.
Grumpy Bob's bike had some real issues with its gear indexing. This was noted in training over in Normandy a month before the Duo, and also back in Blighty. Hopefully sorted before the Duo, but who knows. Team Grumpy Rule #2 may well be violated again this year! Grumpy 'Art' Vanderley lost his racing licence. Or maybe he used it as a bookmark. In Nicole Cooke's biography. Anyway, a replacement was ordered via British Cycling, but with a few days to go, it was somewhere with the privatised Royal Mail. But then! Moment of genius! Examination of wallet revealed it was there all along!
The 2015 season was a bit of a mixed bag. Robert was trying to build on the 2014 season, which saw him unleash respectable times and placings having been inspired by buying a new bike. Sadly, his new bike was so obviously UCI-illegal that it might be awkward to try riding it at the Duo. Gerry was plagued by early-season illness. Robert was plagued by a drop off in fitness in the second half of the season (complex reasons!).
We had a clear run down to Portsmouth, with no significant delays. The biggest issue we faced was discovered on our arrival at the ferry port, where it was discovered that Gerry had booked a single passenger for the crossing (both ways). It's not clear whether this was a vacuous mind blot that occurred when the booking was placed, or a subconscious attempt to derail our 2015 Duo ride. Fortunately this was resolved efficiently by the nice lady at the Brittany Ferries booth.
Some time later, we got into our cabin, arranged our breakfast and make the decision not to drink beer but rather to have a hot chocolate before retiring for the night. No slippers or pipes. When I say night, I mean a few hours of fitful sleep: a bizarre and unstoppable alarm roused us at 4.45am (UK time) and soon after our rather fine breakfast arrived. I'd not had a great night (but it was certainly better than a night in a recliner chair) and woke to a very stiff back.
Off the ferry and after a few navigational hiccups of our own devising (and, it has to be said, due to the highway repair works occluding an exit), we reached our accommodation at about 8.30am. We had a considerable amount of headscratching before we figured out how to get the heating on. The boiler was eventually found behind one of the many doors. We decided to leave the water heating and buzzed off to buy some grub, mostly Leffe, crisps, cheese and bread, the diet of champions.
Bodged rear mech...
Unfortunately our lunch appointment with some people we knew from last year was followed by steady drizzle which dragged on into late afternoon, so we decided to ride our usual local circuit rather than the Duo Normand course. Even more unfortunately, I found the gears on my P3 were not working well, which seemed to be due to a broken ferrule at the mech (probably due to a prior crash). I left Gerry to ride the circuit while I returned to try and sort my bike out. I bodged a fix (arrowed above) and then went out to ride the circuit with Gerry, who'd returned to adjust his shoe cleats.
When we surfaced after a good night's sleep (we'd been exhausted by the trip overnight), we loaded the bikes into the car and went over to Marigny to check out the course. This was pretty uneventful, except for discovering a couple of speed bumps (aka gendarmes dormir) in La Chappelle-en-Juger. This was a bit alarming, and I wouldn't like to hit them at 30+mph. Still, they looked like they might be removable, so maybe they'll be gone by race day. The rest of our ride was quite taken at a gentle pace, and served to remind us of the hilly sections before returning to Marigny.
After a quick lunch, we headed off to the supermarket, the principle motivation being twofold: we needed more Leffe, and we needed to buy wine and chocolates for the guy who's house we were staying in. Hence the rather dramatic shopping trolley photograph.
Saturday's the day riders sign on for the Duo. Normally we end up queuing for what seems like hours. This year, our strategy was to ride our bikes in the morning, go back to the supermarket for more rental wine, have lunch, then saunter over to Marigny to sign on. Over in Marigny, things seemed very quiet - the usual throngs of British cyclists were strangely depleted. And for the first time in 12 editions of the Duo Normand, we didn't have to queue to sign on.
We trundled back to the house where we tidied up the bikes a bit and zip-tied the frame numbers to the bikes. We were using the old Castelli bodypaint skinsuits that we’d had Nopinz number pockets added to last winter: the small papery numbers supplied by the Duo organisers fitted in easily. All was now set.
In a good display of team sense, we didn’t touch the Leffe that evening. We confined ourselves to eating a dinner of pasta and salad, though it must be noted that I was already feeling butterflies in my stomach enough to prevent me eating too much. After another bout of watching DVDs on the Enormovision TV, the team retired to bed.
Sunday (Race Day!)
Both team members had a pretty poor night’s sleep and looked a little ragged on rising. A quick breakfast put things to rights, and we packed the car. My nerves of the previous evening seemed to have gone. The team arrived at Marigny before even the first team had started, and we wandered off to look at what was happening. In short, not a lot. It was also pretty cold, with very little wind (it rose substantially by the time the Corpos started, but not enought o cause real hassle). We retreated to the car, venturing out to see some of the early non-licenced riders start. After another pause we extracted the turbos and set them up next to the pavement and mounted the bikes. Then a somewhat undignified wrestle with Castelli skinsuits saw each of us clothed ready for the race, and a warm up stint on the turbos got the system prepared for the hard work ahead
We managed to time our arrival in the queue for the start ramp quite well and we weren’t hanging around for too long. All of a sudden we had the photographer’s flashes and we were off up the starting lane. This is a steepish climb, which usually gets Gerry coughing and sets him off with breathing issues.
A rare photo of Team Grumpy not crashing on the start ramp
We crested the top and I took the lead along the gentle ascent past the graveyard, and on down towards La Chapelle-en-Juger, with the speed bumps there something of an unknown quantity: would both of us successfully navigate through the narrow gap? Indeed, would they still be in place?
As I roared down toward La Chapelle-en-Juger, I was having some difficulty at first seeing the speed bumps due to the road vibration. But more alarming was a road cyclist tootling along the road ahead of us and making all the signs that he was about to occupy the central gap between the bumps just as we needed to. A loud stereophonic bellow from Team Grumpy froze him in his tracks and gave us the space to get through.
Gerry came through for stint in the lead, just in time for a wind gust to set off a bit of a high speed wobble…I came through and led us out onto the main road when we soon caught the guys who’d started in front of us. This necessitated negotiating their following car, who I think panicked a little as we approached.
Cornering at speed
Somewhere between turning off the main road and reaching Tribehou, we acquired a leading motorcycle. This was encouraging, since in 2010 (when we won the Corpo category) we had a leading motorcycle all the way round, and we had a motorcycle part way in 2011. Things got a little complex in Tribehou, when we caught a couple of teams simultaneously, and the whole caravan of two teams, two support cars and the motorcycle completely clogged the road as it turns left to cross the marshes. Once past this lot, we charged off down towards the corner that is (not very) affectionately known as “cramp corner” after we suffered the performance dent of a severe leg cramp in our first ever Duo back in 2003. No such issues this year, and we cruised on, catching a couple more teams before our motorcycle left us, presumably figuring we weren’t serious players for the overall win!
From Feugeres, the road starts getting a bit more technical, and by Montcuit this gets decidedly hilly. It was in this section that Team Grumpy started falling apart. Gaps started opening on the steeper gradients, and on the more technical turns. I guess we lost a fair bit of time on this section. We were passed by the team that started a couple of minutes behind us, and by a tandem (the team which ultimately won the tandem category). We caught a team right at the bottom of the descent to ‘ghoul corner’, and Gerry had a bit of difficulty negotiating his way past their supporting car. For my part, I shot through a pretty narrow gap that wouldn’t have been my chosen trajectory, and which saw me desperately scrabbling for the brakes as I rounded the corner.
We reached the outskirts of Marigny with our legs complaining, but pressed on past another team to circuit the square (through clouds of smoke from the huge chop and sausage grill) and head on out on the final 10km or so: the hairpin section that is most definitely not flat. Indeed, it has a stiff old climb before descending to a dead turn on the main road. We caught another team along here, and their support car also seemed a bit worried about what to do - in the end they chose to keep very close to the verge and we got through easily. The turn was marred by catching a team right on the turn. Fortunately we all muddled our way through and Team Grumpy set about the final climb of the race. This was really quite hard going, as I think both of us were experiencing muscle twinges. We stuck together pretty well and crested the top with the scorching descent to the finish ahead of us.
We roared across the line at over 40mph, screeched the brakes to slow for the sharp right, and stopped to catch our breath. We reckoned we’d ridden a mid 1h26m, one of our slower times…but not, we felt, too bad given the windy conditions. But where had we finished, given we’d been passed by one team? Had more teams gone faster?
We never found out on the day. Despite hanging around for ages, no results were posted. We hung about for ages, packing the car, eating a grilled sausage (me) and a sugared crepe (Gerry), and getting increasingly frustrated at the non-appearance of results. Eventually we gave up waiting, having been told the results would go online. It wasn’t until we got on the ferry the next morning that we saw the results (and even then not on the Duo Normand website). It turned out that for the second year in a row we were beaten back into 6th place. In truth of course, this year I doubt we could have pulled off a time quick enough to get us into 5th place given the windy conditions and our advancing years, even given a better performance on the hills! The corporatif times were good, particularly the winning time of 1:14:47.
The afternoon and evening were spent drinking more Leffe and eating the last of the vegetable curry we’d made a day or so before. We were really quite zonked, and with an early start beckoning the next morning, we weren’t really up to much. We also mostly packed the car with only a few things remaining indoors to sling in at the last moment.
We got up at about 5am to find the lunar eclipse in full swing. We made valiant attempts to photograph it, particularly as the Earth’s shadow started moving away from the moon. While the night time sky was darkened further by the eclipse, I was astonished by the star field we could see.
After a spot of breakfast, we did some last minute tidying up and left the house with the utilities off and the key locked in the key safe. Pausing only to dump recyclables in Notre Dame de Cenilly (inadvertantly scattering shards of glass everywhere!), we motored off for the morning ferry from Caen, the 2015 Duo Normand expedition coming to a close. Just before disembarking from the ferry at Portsmouth, we were sitting in the car with the windows down when a bloke walked past then came back. He pointed at Gerry's Team Grumpy T-shirt and said "Your website inspired us to ride the Duo Normand"!
We had fun in 2015 as usual, beating back the butterflies of nervous tension, and racing what is our favourite time trial course. With the reduced numbers of UK riders taking part this year it was nice to feel we were in a real French event! Would we return in 2016? Quite possibly!
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