Duo Normand RIP?

The Duo Normand was the best time trial I regularly rode, and as a 2-up tream trial, I always rode with my long-term 2-up partner Gerry (together we styled ourselves Team Grumpy). There are many reasons why I believe this was the best time trial - a large field ranging from non-specialist riders through to professional teams; a challenging course of around 54km; and in a great location in the heart of rural Normandy. Gerry and I ended up taking annual holidays in Normandy because of this race.

Sadly the Duo Normand seems to have fallen off the calendar of events, partly due to the Covid pandemic, partly due to local sports politics, but also (I believe) due in part to the political stupidity that is Brexit. 

Let’s roll the clock back to 2003, the year of our first participation in the Duo Normand.

We had discussed the possibility of going over to ride the Duo Normand for a couple of years prior to our first ride, but didn’t quite get around to it. In those days, entering the event was really quite challenging as forms needed to be filled in, payment made by cheque and so forth and while the organisers tried to make this as easy as possible, it was difficult to figure this out.

In 2003, we travelled to Normandy by P&O to Le Havre and drove to St Lo, the nearest large town to Marigny which hosts the Duo Normand, and where we had arranged accommodation. We had entered the Veteran category. Arriving on the Friday evening, we drove over to look at the course, leaving the actual test ride round the course to the Saturday. As usual Saturday was signing on day, and this was horribly complicated, with a queue going up flights of stairs in the Mairie. We were frankly rather flummoxed by the whole thing, and uncertain whether we really needed to arrange a following car (we decided to not have a following car, and if challenged to make like ignorant foreigners). What was immediately apparent was the popularity of the event among cycling clubs from the Channel Islands, southern England, and event further north. Indeed a defining characteristic of the Duo Normand was the sheer atmosphere, with the town centre very largely taken over by cyclists, with the UK contingent particularly evident.

Many of the children of Marigny were out selling the large fold-out programme, which listed all the riders’ start times, along with some historical background on famous riders who’d taken part.

By Sunday morning, we were pretty nervous - not only were there large crowds of spectator there to watch us start from a start ramp for the first time (would we fall off?), but there were spectators in places all the way round the course. In terms of fitness, I was going pretty well, having been mile-eating much of the year in preparation for my first (and so far only) 12h time trial. Gerry on the other hand had recently moved to South Wales and had a very young daughter, which disrupted training a bit. The race went reasonably well for us, by the halfway mark we were in third place before disaster struck Gerry in the form of a vicious leg cramp. This seriously cramped our style (sorry!), and we ended up in 9th place, with a time of 1:24:01.

Were we disappointed? Well, yes, but the experience of the Duo Normand was so good that it left us keen to come back and have another go, which we did every year bar one until the final Duo Normand in 2019.

We returned each year through to 2006, entering each time in the veteran category. Through these years, we gradually improved our placing.

2003:  9th place (Veterans)   01:24:01

2004:  5th place (Veterans)  01:22:18

2005:  4th place (Veterans)  01:23:15

2006:  2nd place (Veterans) 01:23:11 (This was the first time we'd ridden in wet/windy conditions)

After our break in 2007, we returned with increased determination. For 2008 Gerry had suggested we switch to the Corporate category, partly because that category started a bit later in the day than did the veterans, so while the weather might not be much different, it was likely to be warmer. Accordingly, we rode under the Open University banner, as we both worked for the OU at that time. The change in category didn’t change us from donkeys to champions - we stayed in 2nd place in the category. But the winners were clearly in a different class, beating us by 6:33! That said, this was one of our fasted rides - 01:22:28

2008: 2nd place (Corporate) 01:22:28

We returned in 2009, with Gerry’s bike equipped with a sports camera (which we dubbed “DuoCam”). He managed to collect video footage of the entire race. For practicality, we edited this down to a low resolution. It gives a feel for what riding the Duo is like, though whether or not the view of the road ahead alternating with a view of my backside is appealing must be moot.

Once again we were in second place, this time drubbed by the winners by almost 10 minutes!

2009: 2nd place (Corporate) 01:25:02

When we saw the start list for the 2010 Duo Normand and looked at the past performances of the other teams, we were really quite hopeful of another good result, and possibly even the win in the category. Unless of course there was a team new to the Duo Normand that would completely outclass us. By the 2010 Duo, we were both 50 years old, so this was quickly named our Centenery Edition of the race.

As it turned out, the race went brilliantly for us, we had a motorcycle in from chivvying traffic out of the way (this confused is, but I guess they had figured we were likely to place well), the weather was good, and in the end we achieved our long-standing goal of victory! First place in the Corporate category, with 1:24:22.

2010; 1st place (Corporate) 01:24:22

We returned in 2011 to face horrendous conditions at the start, though it brightened up considerably and as I recall, we finished in sunshine, but now in second place once again, with 1:24:51.

2011: 2nd place (Corporate) 01:24:51 

2012: 6th place (Corporate) 1:26:12 (the timekeepers originally had us in 1st place with a very unlikely 1:16:12 - it took us quite a long time to convince them they were 10 minutes out, and not in our favour!)

2013: 2nd place (Corporate) 1:25:29

2014: 6th place (Corporate) 1:23:31

2015: 6th place (Corporate) I haven’t a time for this year, but it was a mid 1h26m so quite slow

2016 was something of a watershed for the Duo. The idiotic referendum about leaving the EU had taken place earlier that year and by September, the pound sterling had slumped badly against the Euro, making the event quite a bit more expensive for British riders. Accordingly, the numbers of British rider began to slide from 2016, seriously affecting the field size and, more importantly, the general atmosphere around the event.

2016 also saw a nasty fatal accident which I think must have shaken the organisers a bit. By 2018, a new course had been designed, probably on safety gorunds.

2016: 7th place (Corporate) 1:25:10

2017: 6th place (Corporate) 1:26:30

2018 saw a new course which avoided the final hairpin section, which saw the fatal accident in 2016. We felt the course was OK, but that the previous version was a bit better. The weather was very windy, though at least not as horrible as originally forecast.

2018: 7th place (Corporate) 1:25:06

2019 was the last time the Duo Normand was run (though see below). This was the first time Team Grumpy had experienced a serious equipment failure out on the course - an explosive rear tyre failure only 500m or so from the line. It’s a testament to our bike handling skills that this didn’t result in a nasty accident. This was our 16th ride at the Duo Normand!

2019: 7th place 1:23:44.44 (there was chip timing this year, hence the (supposed) precision.

From 2017 through to 2019, the numbers of competing teams dwindled, in part owing to the lower numbers of UK riders. 

In 2020, the Covid pandemic caused the cancellation of the Duo Normand

I recall some discussion of the Duo returning in 2021, but this ended up cancelled due to continued concerns about Covid. As I recall, there was a weird hybrid event in May 2022 that involved a short 2-up TT on a Saturday followed on the Sunday by a short running race. There didn’t seem to be a lot of interest.

The 2023 Duo did not take place once again, but this newspaper report suggested it might return in 2024. Google Translate has it as:

When is the next edition?

Everything will come together for the Duo’s 40th anniversary. It is just put on hold while waiting for 2024. Our little Duo in May 2022 was not really conclusive, because rather it was adapted to a usual September race eve. We are hopeful, next year, of properly celebrating the 40th anniversary of this international cycling festival, very popular with riders like the Belgian Wout Van Aert who recently had the most qualifying words for us. .

Other newspaper reports suggest that the last organiser has to bow out owing to conflicts of interest as she has a role in promoting all sports throughout this part of Normandy.

So who knows - perhaps we will have another ride at the Duo Normand…though our advancing years won’t stand us in good stead!

Other newspaper reports suggest that the last organiser has to bow out owing to conflicts of interest as she has a role in promoting all sports throughout this part of Normandy.

So who knows - perhaps we will have another ride at the Duo Normand…though our advancing years won’t stand us in good stead!