12 July 2011

Requesting Applications -- Directeur Sportif of Positivo Espresso France Chapter

Jerome B. and Didier H. arrived in Modane early Sunday afternoon, just as I had returned my rental car to the extremely efficient crew at the SNCF train station in the center of town that also acts as agent for Avis.

I joined them and Jerome's brother Matthieu and his family at a restaurant nearby.  Matthieu had graciously volunteered his services and driven Jerome and Didier to Modane.  He was planning go pick them up at Alpe d'Huez after the event, and otherwise was providing them with support and training advice (which they generally ignored). They introduced me to Matthieu as having volunteered his services as the new Directeur Sportif of the France chapter of Positivo Espresso.

Our first decisions involved what to eat and drink to properly prepare for the race.  While at this point -- 15 hours or less before the start -- the German riders were taking a very scientific approach, the French chapter is a bit more relaxed.  Cheese fondue is a Savoyard specialty, and would please the whole family.  And this was really the beginning of a celebration, so perhaps some sparkling wine, and some white wine, and some strong cider.

The fondue was excellent.  After we were about 3/4 of the way done, Matthieu's wife offered some excellent advice -- "you should not drink water while eating the fondue, since it will make the cheese harden in your stomach".  Thus warned, I stopped gulping down water and worked harder on the white wine.  After another half glass, some more advice.  "Actually, you should not drink white wine either, or any other cold liquids, while eating the fondue".  This is advice I will long remember, having ascended the Galibier and Alpe d'Huez with a large solid ball of cheese in my stomach.  In any event, it was a delightful meal, and as David J. once said, for this event we ride to "complete", not to "compete".

Le Directeur Sportif
Our Etape team, support staff, le directeur, and two younger recruits,
after the fondue has been cleared from the table.
In any event, I rode my bike (500 meters elev) up the steep hill to Valfrejus just after the lunch, and it was difficult out of all proportion to the distance and climb.  I had managed Stage 3 of Transalp - Stelvio, Passi di Foscagno, 3600 meters climbing, 110+km, without any problems.  Tomorrow's etape would have similar characteristics, but this was not a good sign. (Perhaps the situation was worsened by the "frites" with steak we ate that evening).

The big day dawned, we busily readied and I went outside with my luggage at 5:45 to hand to the travel agent/tour operator's luggage pick-up.  No van, no person, no signage.  Finally another member of the same tour showed up, equally puzzled.  After several calls to a mobile phone we were told to leave the luggage at the building reception.  We did so, and I passed a somewhat angry younger Frenchman as I was leaving with Jerome, Didier and my bike, grumbling about having been there since 4 AM.  He must have been hiding in his unmarked van somewhere to stay warm.

Anyway, the Etape is an impressive event.  The scenery was incredible over the Galibier, and I could actually enjoy it on the 50 km descent from the top of the Galibier to the bottom of Alpe d'Huez.  That was definitely the main highlight of the day.

A second highlight was the first 14 km -- a slight downhill, and I was out in the front of my start group, taking turns pulling with a very strong young Brit (wearing a Brooklyn NY red, white and blue jersey?), and we worked our way well through the next start group and were the first of our 500 rider group to make the turn onto the climb to Col du Telegraphe.  They say that Etape participants are now 52% French, 48% foreign.  The Brits are dominant among the foreigners, from what I could tell, though I did hear a mix of other languages (Spanish, Italian), 2 German Transalpers recognized me in my "2011 Finisher" Jersey as they passed, and most of my tour group (doing both "Actes") seem to be Brazilians, most of them couples.

After Col du Telegraphe, it was a long, long slog.  I was in extremis, stomach not feeling good, borderline cramps all the way up (which only really "zinged" me a few times on Galibier, but on L'Alpe d'Huez required me to dismount and rest twice flat on my back, 10 minutes each, before continuing).  L'Alpe d'Huez was hot -- little to no shade -- and not a pleasant forest road like the steeper Mortirolo.  The heat made the cramps worse, and my face was white as a sheet by the upper part of the climb.  At least I did not walk.  And if my start was very stylish, my finish was not, as the stomach problems worsened to the point where I had some "dry heaves" just as I turned into the final straight away -- not exactly the image the crowd wants to see as they cheer the riders at the finish, but an appropriate reflection of my day's effort. 

I finished in 7 hrs 41 minutes, number 5548 out of something like 6443 participants who made the time cut off.  According to some press reports post-race, there were 9000 riders who started the stage.  At the start itself, the announcer said 8500.  And on the A.S.O. website, it mentions "over 7000".  Whatever the real number, one or two thousand riders did not finish.

Oh, and I broke another spoke on the flat section approaching the bottom of Alpe d'Huez.  I was only 1 km from the Mavic station at the last feeding stop, and so rode it there.  They did not have spare wheels. They would not fix it.  And they said they could not cut the paired spoke so the wheel would be rideable -- prohibited by their operating rules.  But at least they were willing to lend me a tool so that I could do so, and finish with only a few minutes of wheel-caused delays.

Jerome and Didier announced some dissatisfaction with the level of support and the advice (they had ignored) from the Directeur Sportif, and we decided we will hold interviews on Bastille Day, July 14, at Matthieu's house in Grenoble, to make a final selection of the French directeur.  Apparently another candidate will come from Avignon for the interviews, one of whom both Didier and Jerome speak very highly.


Richard said...

Wonderful! You have such an eye for humour, and for the essence of cycling, that your posts are always classic.

My closest experience to this was my first Yabitsu climb - which coincidentally was the first day I realised I am allergic to dried prunes .....

Matthieu said...

Wondering if you finally decided to fire your Directeur Sportif of Positivo Espresso France Chapter, I congratulate for your great performances at Alpe d'Huez and Saint-Flour.
You will certainly recognize that these performances are partly due to my race strategy advices and to the dietary recommandations of my wife...

In the hope of a new 5 year contract,
Best regard,

Your ex-future team-manager ?

David L. said...


Though I must consult with the other riders, I believe that your position as Directeur Sportif (France Chapter) is now secure.

The other candidate was very thoughtful in her interview responses in helping us think through our race schedule for next year (we will focus on Milan-St. Remo instead of Paris-Roubaix, given the warmer weather). But she withdrew from consideration after seeing first hand the difficult pace of the job.

Jerome was also mentioning that he wanted to find an official title for a friend who lives near Pau on the edge of the Pyrenees and who will host his next training week in August, perhaps joined by Stephen C., our only Irish (but Swiss resident) Positivista.