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Friday, 8 October 2010

Duo Normand 2010

Duo Normand 2010: Grumpy Teamwork underpins emphatic victory for Team Grumpy in its centenary year, but rule-book seriously contravened

Given that we couldn’t even agree on which helmet to wear for the Duo Normand with only a day or so before the race, it might seem surprising that Team Grumpy finally pulled off a victory in the event at its seventh attempt. It has long been the philosophy of the team that we turn out in races attired in similar if not the same kit. For the last few seasons this has meant riding in identical skinsuits, using the same wheels (Hed H3 tri-spokes front and rear) and, in 2009, even the same sunglasses. For 2010, coincidentally, we would even be using the same GPS/computer. What’s the point, you might ask. Well, frankly, it just looks good and makes us look like a team. This is far more important when you consider that the two members of Team Grumpy are separated by 230 miles and rarely actually train together. [Actually, we train together less frequently than we race together! - Grumpy Bob]

Therefore, the mild disagreement over the helmets was perhaps more significant than it might appear on the outside. Robert (Grumpy Bob) preferred his Giro Advantage, but I had recently rediscovered my liking for an old (2004) LAS Cronometro. This is the original version with a short tail. We had both bought one of these in readiness for the 2004 Duo and not only did we look the part that year in matching red skinsuits [see the header image for this blog], but we also rode extremely well. I had started wearing this again for 2010 because it was more comfortable and the integrated visor suited me. My 50 year old eyes were struggling to read my stem-mounted Garmin through sunglasses but seemed to be able to manage better when peering underneath the bottom edge of a visor. I soon discovered that it was not slowing me down at all and in fact results suggested it might actually have been better than my more up to date aero helmets. My attempts to convince Robert, however, elicited no response (a sort of silent grumpiness).

Last minute harassment by me had at least forced Robert to take his LAS along to France. The question remained, though: LAS or Giro? It was only the night before the race that Robert relented. His motives, though, hardly reflected his scientific background, declaring that: ‘if we lose, it’ll be because you made us wear that helmet’. It was the most perfect invocation of Team Grumpy rule number one:

Remember to make your excuses before the race, not after. Otherwise it will just sound pathetic.

This is Team Grumpy at its best and, by implication, at its grumpiest.

[In the end however, I agreed to the LAS helmets on the somewhat girly grounds that they matched our 2010 'uniform' (grey and black) better – Grumpy Bob]

I had breached Team Grumpy rule number two, however. This rule forbids last minute tinkering with the bike and resulted from my insistence the very evening before the 2007 Duo that I take apart my headset and re-grease it. My inability to re-assemble it brought a predictable response from Robert who rescued the situation by remaining calm whilst I resorted to tantrums (team rule number 6), but it had been a close run thing. In fact, I breached rule number two not once but twice. Two days before the race, I discovered that my gears were jumping. No amount of fiddling with the cable tension seemed top help, so I had a close look at the rear mech. It turned out to be caused by the screw loosening on the hanger. The problem, therefore, was easily resolved and all that remained was to re-index the gears. This seemed to go far too easily for my liking. Then, the day before the event – after meeting up with the rest of the team in Marigny for the signing on process – I went for a spin to check out ‘ghoul corner’. This is the sharp left hand bend at the bottom of a fast descent at Le Lorey (approx. 34 kms into the race) where crashes often occur and the ‘ghouls’ line up to watch the horror unfold. I usually do my best here to show them how not to handle a bike, but I am yet to crash here. Four attempts at cornering around the bend suggested that I could practice all day but would not improve my technique so I made my way back to Marigny only to discover a clunking noise with each revolution of the pedals. I eliminated the usual causes and concluded that the bottom bracket must have worked loose.

Back at the cottage the problem worsened when I found that it wasn’t just a matter of tightening up the central bolt securing the Ultra Torque system on my TT bike. Experience had taught me that this was a time for teamwork, so I called Robert to help. Once again, there I was the night before the Duo putting my bike back together. Fortunately, the UT system is easy to maintain and removing the cranks, re-greasing the bearings and reassembly took literally minutes – mainly thanks to Robert’s involvement.

The morning of the race was soon upon us. We were both up early: Robert with his usual insomnia and me with my barely-sleeping daughter. The bikes and kit had been packed into the cars the night before, so there was little to do except for Robert to keep asking me if I was nervous yet. Each time I replied ‘yes’, but he kept asking anyway. There was an air of expectation for the team this year: we had been put off last in our category and I for one was reading all sorts of things into this. We had also done some homework on the other pairs in the category, most of whom we had encountered before. There remained, though, about six pairs about whom we knew nothing and so we were wary of a repeat of 2008 when an unknown pair turned up on road bikes with standard wheels, wearing ordinary helmets, and looking more like cyclo-tourists than TTers. They promptly went about putting several minutes into us, breaking the course record in the process. We took nothing for granted, but this year was beginning to look like our best chance – and we knew it.

Robert’s annual panic about bike checks and UCI regulations was soon calmed when it was obvious that we would not be scrutinised by calliper-wielding techno-jobsworths. Therefore, we settled into our usual warm-up routine. The morning had dawned cold but still. As our start time approached it remained cold but the wind was picking up. The warm-up was almost as eventful as previous years. Usually Team Grumpy warm ups are spectacles in their own right with Grumpy Bob managing a last minute puncture, or maybe a clogged up pedal and cleat. For my part, I usually manage to discover that my gear indexing has gone awry, to imagine a (non-existent) puncture – or two - or to find that the local gendarmerie are paying me some attention. I was pleased that the first two did not occur, but have to admit to being disappointed that there was no repeat of 2009’s ‘gendarme-gate’. This year it was my turn again. Having put the turbos away we headed off for a spin on the roads and with blissful ignorance I rounded a roundabout in the wrong direction. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I merrily continued riding on the left hand side of the road as I laughed off Robert’s attempts to tell me what I was doing. Fortunately, I came to my senses in time and moved to the right side. On reflection, it seems plausible that I was unwittingly trying to attract the attention of the gendarmes again.

The start time was approaching and we wheeled our way to the barriered-off area where riders are lined up before setting off. We had decided not to have a following car, thus enabling the team manager to await our starting effort armed with my video camera and with all the wisdom gained from the comprehensive training course that I had conducted in the few minutes between the warm-up and setting off for the start.

Soon, we mounted the platform for the start ramp to the sound of our names being read out on the PA system. Robert was under strict instructions to hold in his belly whilst the photographer took his pictures and I was under similar instructions not to do my usual look behind after we start to see if Robert has actually made it off the start ramp without crashing. We both failed. In fact, my ‘two looks’ back would later on cause Robert to accuse me of not trusting him. But at least my two looks behind had not almost caused a pile up as it had done in some previous years.
video


The same could not be said of the recumbent rider who rode across our path as we crested the first short climb out of Marigny. A few words in French from the bystanders and one or two expletives from us seemed to get the message across and we headed out of the town, past the cemetery and on to the fast roads that descend through the outlying villages. All of a sudden I couldn’t breathe. This has been happening a lot this year and had caused me some concern since May. The pattern had been the same in just about every race: after about 2 kms I found that I was unable to breath easily and needed to sit up, widen my arms by holding the outside of the handlebars by the brakes and recover from the start up effort. I should have pre-warned Robert about it, but hadn’t. It must have come to him as some surprise, then, when I gasped the words: ‘I’m … struggling … to … breath’. [Actually, all I could make out was “I'm struggling ugh-mughmup-igglebargle” or something like that. It should be noted that an unwritten Team Grumpy rule is that conversation during a race is forbidden, so clearly this garbled attempt at communication was significant and yet another breach of team rules– Grumpy Bob]

Without saying a word, Robert took the front. And he stayed there. He stayed there for some while, fighting his way through a maze of following cars and other vehicles that appeared to have strayed on to the course. I stayed put, hanging on to his wheel – or not at times – as we sped through these lanes, passing several other pairs of riders. Gradually, I was starting to recover and by the time Robert pulled over for a break from making the pace I felt able to contribute once again. The breathing problem had settled down – as it always does – but I was reluctant to do too much, so pulled over after a short spell on the front to let Robert continue his impressive pace-setting. This continued for the first 20 kms with me gradually taking longer, harder pulls on the front until I felt fully recovered. During this time we had been joined by a motorcycle marshal who rode ahead of us and cleared the numerous riders and other traffic out of our way. This made quite a difference and also gave us a feeling of importance.

Thankfully, my recovery was complete by the time the road started to go uphill. I realised by this time that I had some making up to do and that Robert’s huge efforts deserved repayment. This is where the team ethic really comes into its won. Frankly, Robert had covered for me when I was flagging. I knew it and I was sure he knew it. I still had to fulfil my part of the team effort. I started to do longer pulls on the front and as I did so I actually began to feel stronger and stronger. Ghoul corner was uneventful – even if I didn’t exactly zip through it like Robert did – and we were soon descending back into Marigny. The climb up through the town has often caused us problems and we have observed other pairs breaking apart at this point – under the gaze of hundreds of spectators too. Not us. We powered up the slopes and rounded the chicane of the town square to the sounds of the church bells and, as video evidence would later show, the screams of innocent children. But we remained unaware of this apocalyptic scene as we headed out on to the final leg – a 12 km out and back leg. The climb out of Marigny was the scene where I had thrown my chain off last year as I changed down to the inner chain-ring. This time I was aware that I was able to power up this in the outer-ring. The chain catcher that I had fitted in reaction to last year’s problem would not be tested this time.

Again, we were catching and passing several pairs of riders, often having to go on the opposite side of the road to get past the following cars. Our motorcycle escort had left us after entering Marigny (probably because of the relative narrowness of this final section), but it was here that we could have used his assistance most. We appeared to be roaring along at remarkable speeds and the relative pedestrian pace of those we passed seemed to emphasise this. I felt incredible on this section and it was hard to believe that I had struggled so much earlier on. My morale was high, I could feel how strong I was and could see how much faster we were and, most important of all, I felt that I was at last making my contribution to the team.

The final turn went well and we climbed for the final time – again passing other pairs with relative ease – until the road plunged downhill once again into Marigny for the final few kms. We were unaware of our position in the race and were also unaware of the electronic clock which displayed our position at the finish. Even if we had been aware of it, we could not have glanced at it as we flashed across the finish line – the finishing straight is way too fast to contemplate such a thing. Had we been able to look at it we would have seen that we were in first place and several minutes ahead of our nearest challengers.
Grumpy Art recuperating from L'Effort Total

After a short recovery, Robert asked me if I thought we had done enough to win it. I could only reply that there were not many pairs that we had not caught and passed (remember, we were the last ones to start in our category). But the memory of 2008 remained and we could take nothing for granted – not even at this stage.

The photographs were ready quite quickly, but previous experience had taught us not to expect the results to be ready for a while. We found other things to do to take our minds off it. Then, eventually, it was too much and we simply had to look to see if there were any results available. A pile of paper in the marquee tent suggested that they were ready. I was prepared for disappointment as I glanced at the paper on the table. But there we were, at the top of the results: first place. I looked at Robert whose face was full of apprehension. I meant to say something intelligent but all that came out was ‘well done’ as I shook his hand and the smile simply grew across his face.

As celebrations go, this was not a Team Grumpy classic. The plan to have a single beer before heading back to the cottage to shower and change was muted enough. But the wait of approximately 20 minutes to be served outside the bar ensured that it was muted further still. But we had won. After seven attempts, three second places and a third, we had finally won.

The podium experience was, to be honest, an odd one. We had showered and changed before heading back into Marigny without any idea how this ritual would play out. Awkwardly, we hung about by the podium as they interviewed Roger Legeay and made a presentation to the winners of the junior category. Had we somehow missed the presentation for the earlier events, I wondered. Struggling to follow any of the French spoken through the PA system we then caught a welcome sound: ‘categorie non-licencies’. The non-licence category had started and finished before ours. We were in the right place. Then we were called up on to the podium. We had made the mistake of changing into everyday clothes and therefore did not exactly look the part without a cycling top. We were also noticeably older than the other winners on the podium. Flowers were pressed into our hands and we posed for some photographs before a very nice cut glass trophy was also handed to us. I started to relax, but it was short lived. Other category winners started to fill the podium. They were all younger. There was hope when they announced the winners of the veterans’ category. But that was dashed when it became apparent that the veteran winners were ‘young’ veterans. Worse was to come when the elite winners climbed onto the podium. They looked even younger than the juniors. Thankfully, when the podium photograph was taken we had managed to hide ourselves at the back of the group – though, as we were also the tallest we were still visible (but only just).

Despite the odd podium experience this was a great success for the team in its centenary year. What made this so pleasing was that it had been a team effort. We’ve ridden better 2-up TTs and we’ve gone faster in the Duo too, but on this day we were a team. We even wore the same helmets.

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