This was my second trip over to Normandy in 2014. Along with my Team Grumpy team-mate Gerry, I had a long weekend away to make another assault on the Corporatif category of the Duo Normand.
As something of a prologue to this year’s event, I’d decided to modify my P3’s set up. For the last few years, I’d had flat handlebar extensions fitted to the USE Tula bars, but since getting a Cervelo P5, I’d decided that returning to extensions with upturned ends would be beneficial. I ordered the required replacement parts and set about fitting them. It was soon apparent that I had a problem on my hands – I just couldn’t persuade the left hand extension to go through the base bar. After several days effort, I gave up and reverted to Plan B: to buy a new base bar and use some old Deda GCB extensions I had previously used on a fixed wheel TT bike.
A few days later I was the proud owner of a Zipp Vukabull base bar, and I excitedly set the bike up. The Deda extensions have a weird fitting system with a single bolt holding each extension in place. A spot of hefty heaving and pushing convinced me I had tightened them up properly. Unfortunately, a mixture of work commitments and shortened daylength meant I didn’t have an opportunity to road test the bike…
Fast forward to the Wednesday before the Duo Normand. Gerry arrived and after loading the car and having a quick dinner, we set off for the ferry. As an insurance against there being some problems with the Deda tribar setup (and I was thinking mostly of whether the bike fit would be correct), I slung the Tulas into the car at pretty much the last minutes.
Despite the hold up at the M25-M3 junction, we made it to the ferry on time. Gerry had what appeared to be a mild cold at this point, so after a quick beer, we retired to our cabin and each had a somewhat fitful sleep before being woken at 4.45am (UK time) with our breakfast. Somewhat groggily, we rolled off the ferry at about 7am on the Thursday morning and set off for the accommodation we’d booked near Cerisy La Salle. While we wouldn’t get to move in until 4pm, Gerry had arranged that we could leave most of our kit there while we went off to ride round the Duo Normand course and go to the supermarket. So off we went…having noted but ignored Team Grumpy Rule #2…
Team Grumpy Rule #2: Don’t tinker with your bike the evening before the event. It will break, either then or, worse still, during the event.
After about 6km, I realised that I had a problem. The left hand Deda extension had come loose. We stopped to tighten it up, and proceeded round the course. Sadly, the extension just would not stay put, and squirmed off its mounting repeatedly, even when not being used. We took a long time over this ride, due to three or four stops to tighten the extensions, and one stop at a cafe in Feugeres. By the time we rode back into Marigny, the left hand extension had come completely out, much to the concern of one of the race organisers, who was setting out barriers on the roadside (probably not helped by my pidgin French explaining that my handlebars were broken).
Somewhat dispirited, we returned to the car, and while doing a spot of shopping for supplies, decided what to do next. The decision was quite easy: there was no way I could be confident about the Deda bars, so the plan was to sort out the Tulas. With the combined brute force of Team Grumpy, the errant handlebar extension was put in place. Sighs of relief all round. We then decided that the extensions needed to be trimmed for a better gear cable routing. So out came my trusty pipe cutter.
Here events took a further turn for the worse – the pipe cutter broke, leaving itself locked to my handlebars. By this time, the public and repeated quoting of Team Grumpy Rule #2 was becoming slightly grating. The judicious use of a mole wrench removed the offending pipe cutter, which was then consigned to the French rubbish disposal system. With a half-cut tribar extension, we pondered what to do next (sadly we weren’t ourselves half cut at this time), and formed a plan of action – we’d visit a big supermarket for an appropriate tool and spend Friday morning refitting everything to the bike.
Bike Maintenance Friday
On Friday morning, and armed with a newly purchased (and frankly rather flimsy) hacksaw, we set about trimming the tribar extensions. This was relatively easy for the first one, which had been partially cut by the pipe cutter, but a bit more hassle for the second. Still, with a bit of elbow grease, the job was done, and the bike could be assembled. This is a bit fiddly for a P3, due to the complicated gear cable runs, but it was quite a pleasant job out in the autumn sunshine.
Eventually, the job was done, and after a spot of lunch we set out on a quick ride round our favoured training circuit. We had both decided to ride our disc wheels (Gerry with a Pro disc, and me with my Hed Powertap disc). We were feeling a little under the weather, so we kept the pace quite easy for most of this ride. Annoyingly, my Garmin Edge 500 wasn’t playing ball, and just wouldn’t go beyond an irritating message of “Working”. This was particularly irritating, since it clearly wasn’t actually “working”! We stopped for a coffee at a cafe in Cerisy, where the stupid Garmin decided to work. I punished it by promptly switching it off. Still, at least the bike was behaving itself. Happy with the setup, I taped the extensions.
Signing on for the Duo
The Saturday before Duo day is always a pain – the queues for signing on are invariably lengthy, so we decided not to go to Marigny until later in the afternoon. In the meantime, we had another spin round the training circuit. This time I had my Powertap Hed Disc wheel speaking to the Garmin, and all was fully functional. We had a nice easy leg-easer of a ride, and stopped off to pick up bread and pastries en route. At this point, Gerry decided to undertake his own infraction of Rule #2 by switching cassettes so he had a wider gear range on his disc wheel. A brief test ride later, and he reported all was well. So at this point, we had two fully functional bikes.
We trailed over to Marigny at around 3pm, hoping to find a short queue for signing on. Unfortunately, the was a big queue, so we wandered off to sit in the park and consult the startsheet/programme. A bit later, we returned to find the queue just as long. We decided we’d best join it, and eventually signed on. But not before a bit of hassle about registration payments, and a claim that the cheque Gerry had sent had not been received.
Signing on complete, we returned to our accommodation to feast on four cheese ravioli in a roasted vegetable sauce of our own devising. And no beer. None at all. Not a smidge.
Race Day – The Duo Normand
On race day, we rose early to have breakfast and mosey on over to Marigny in time to see the first riders in the Unlicenced category start at around 8am. It was misty and cold. We wandered about then returned to the car, which was at least warm. After a bit we got the bikes out, pumped the tyres up and set up the turbo trainers. This year’s warm up would be a bit more controlled than in previous years, partly to avoid the breathing problem that has afflicted Gerry in recent years during the starting effort.
Unfortunately, all I could see was stupidly high power levels, and a huge effort turning the pedals in my bottom gear on my el cheapo portable turbo trainer. Still, I quickly did several brisk intervals which raised a sweat and pushed my heart rate up. In contrast, Gerry’s warmup seemed particularly professional and effective.
Once off the turbos, we made final checks to our bikes by riding up the road and back, before moving down towards the start ramp. There, we found that team 274 had missed their start (we were 272), and were frantically trying to be allowed to start even as our countdown started. Off down the start ramp, and up the lane we went. As per the usual plan, I moved to the lead just as the gradient began to level out, only to find first one and then the second member of team 274 come past. I put on the pressure a bit to get in front of them, but had to ease back (this was a prior tactic to try and prevent a recurrence of Gerry’s exercise-related breathing difficulties). At this point, team 274 came past again, with the their supporting car pushing through.
This set the pattern for the next 30 or so kilometres. I was taking extended spells on the front, as I seemed to the the stronger team member this year, and every so often when our pace slowed, the 274 guys would come through – sometimes with, sometimes without their car. To be fair, while this was annoying, it did seem that they weren’t taking pace from us. Mostly I was cross that the organisers had set these guys off so close behind us that this kind of problem was obviously going to happen.
For the most part, the other riders we encountered were those we were catching. We kept up a cracking pace through to Feugeres, where the route starts getting a bit lumpy. At this point, our progress was enlivened by my bellowing and shouting at another team’s support vehicle to get out of our way. From here back to Marigny, Team Grumpy struggled on the hills, with gaps opening up, but partly recouping some of the time on the descents. We did pretty well on the major descents, including the infamous ‘ghoul corner’ where one year several riders came a cropper.
Coming through Marigny, Gerry waved me through to take the lead out of town for the hairpin section. I pressed on, defying the sensations of imminent cramp in my legs, and forcing our way past support cars and other riders, up the incline until we reached the descent to the hairpin turn. Here Team Grumpy found something of a return of organisation, with both riders doing well. At the turn, Gerry had trouble negotiating the turn – I heard a very Anglo-Saxon expletive from behind me, waited a bit and then set off for the finish. On this final climb, Gerry again seemed a bit out of sorts, but we both bashed out a fine turn of speed for the final few kilometres to the finish line, which we crossed in good style.
We stopped round the corner from the finish line, completely wasted. I estimated that we’d done a quicker time than in recent years – a 1h23m ride by my reckoning. But what would our placing be? Just then the hot favourites in our category finished – the Procycling RT pairing of Jamie Wilkins and Robin Coomber. They seemed pleased with their ride, as well they might have, since they took the Corpo category record with a superb ride of 1:12:52 (good enough for 13th place overall). We staggered back to the car feeling utterly spent.
Back at the car, we got changed and started putting the bikes back in the car. At this point, we discovered that Gerry’s back wheel had a very soft tyre, maybe 50 or 60psi, which we reckoned explained some of his issues out there (and particularly the weird handling of his bike, especially at the final turn). Somewhat grumpily we returned to the centre of town to watch the action. We chatted to some other riders, including a Mixte pair that had had a bit of an accident following a touch of wheels (Rimmington and Wilson of Team Swift – they still won their category with 1:16:31 for 29th place overall), and the Finsbury Park CC teams. After my traditional post-race snack of grilled sausage and chips, we picked up copies of photos of us on the start ramp and passing through Marigny (pasted above). The traditional hanging around impatiently for the results finished with the Corpo results being laid out – see the photos below. Despite doing 1:23:31, our best time for several years, we were placed only 6th.
It turns out there’s a proposal that the route might be changed, and the organisers were conducting a ballot on the subject, with one’s influence depending on the number of time one has competed. Sadly all the ballot papers had gone, but we were assured that voting would be possible online.
After returning to the house, we embarked on consuming the remaining Leffe, while figuring out what was wrong with Gerry’s wheel. We couldn’t see a convincing puncture, though we could see abrasions resulting from his locked wheel at the final turn. As it turned out, there wasn’t a puncture so much as a defective valve, which was slowly and periodically allowing small amounts of air out. With that solved, we set to making ourselves a vegetarian curry and finishing the Leffe. Oh how the years are affecting us – we didn’t even finish the Leffe. Two bottles remained to be added to Gerry’s beer stash back in Wales. And so to bed.
We got up early and cleared up. After a chat with the manager of the gite, we set off for Caen, pausing to refuel en route. At Ouistreham we stopped at a big Carrefour for a coffee, then some shopping for presents, and then lunch before driving to the ferry. The ferry had several car loads of Duo riders, including several from Wales. So at least the customary ferry queue was a bit more interesting than usual.
Actually, looking at our results over the 11 editions of the Duo Normand in which we’ve competed, this year’s time wasn’t bad at all, despite our 6th place in the Corpo category. You have to go back to 2008 for a better time.
2014 1:23:21 (6th place, Corpo)
2013 1:25:29 (2nd place, Corpo)
2012 1:26:12 (6th place, Corpo)
2011 1:24:51 (2nd place, Corpo)
2010 1:24:22 (1st place, Corpo)
2009 1:25:02 (2nd place, Corpo)
2008 1:22:28 (2nd place, Corpo)
2007 did not enter
2006 1:23:11 (2nd place, Veteran)
2005 1:23:15 (4th place, Veteran)
2004 1:22:18 (5th place, Veteran)
2003 1:24:01 (9th place, Veteran)
And finally, here’s the Garmin trace…