Charity trek news
52km of sun, sea and sweat
by Serge Tassi
And they’re off!
Thousands of riders set off on the gruelling 30th Roc D’Azur 2013 Edition Men’s Race.
In support of SURREY CARE TRUST
In early 2012 I signed up for a Sahara trek challenge in aid of the Surrey Care Trust. Unfortunately, after two date changes, it was finally cancelled. ln order to fulfil my commitment towards the charity and my sponsors, I resolved to find an alternative challenge as demanding as a desert trek. And I found it, in the 30th Roc D’Azur 2013 edition. I had wanted to enter the Roc for years and this was the perfect opportunity. I registered for the Roc Rando Noire, the 52 kilometre event to take place on
Saturday 12 October.
The Roc d'Azur has a long and fabulous history for an event that has accompanied mountain-biking since its very beginnings, in the middle of the 1980s. Nowadays situated on the Base Nature François Léotard site in Fréjus and the tracks of Roquebrune-sur-Argens, the Roc has grown to become the leading mountain biking event in the world. It is a worthy celebration each October for all the players on the cycling and mountain biking scene. This year the event attracted 20,000 amateur and professional cyclists from the four corners of France and 50 different countries participating in a range of races.
From sea to mountain
Situated in the Var, one of the most popular departments for tourists and also one of the greenest, the towns of Fréjus and Roquebrune-sur-Argens form a fabulous, varied site, favourable to playing host to one of the most highly recognised mountain
bike events on the planet. Indeed, the courses follow the trails of Southern France, the beaches and the sunny Mediterranean creeks with their beautiful scenery. The variety of its landforms and landscapes, from sea to mountain, make it a perfect site for this type of event.
To ride long events, you need very specific, rigorous training and although I was ready to do my trek I did not feel I was ready to do a 52 kilometre mountain bike race! I therefore had to change my training schedule, as well as checking my old mountain bike.
After an initial trial of 37 kilometres, I knew I had a long way to go. For eight weeks before the race I had serious gym sessions combined with mountain bike excursions.
During last year’s race, two people suffered heart attacks, so the organisers don't take any chances – I have a full heart check up before being accepted.
Finally, after much rigorous training, the day of the race arrives. I wait with my group of 500 jubilant riders out of the 2,500 ready to go through the starting line. This is going to be one tough challenge. We start to leave the base and head for the hills on the first of the many steep tracks. Seven kilometres up and I think that without the intense training this would have been a nightmare. The course is well monitored and the fire brigade is checking any occurrence thoroughly to make sure that no one is taking any unnecessary risk. The first 15 kilometres are pretty much without incident. I arrive at the first refuelling stop, one of five, without too much discomfort.
Ten kilometres after the stop, during a difficult downhill, I encounter some of the first casualties being attended by firemen and race helpers. A bit further on there is some kind of bottleneck effect and cyclists have to wait their turn to go down a very steep and rugged trail one by one. My turn arrives and, as I am going down, my front wheel locks itself and I fly over the handlebars into a bush! The fall was apparently quite spectacular according to the fireman attending that specific slope. Fortunately I am left with only minor scratches and carry on. With the sun shining and the stupendous views, it is well worth all the effort.
With their fancy bikes, some of the young riders go down the hills like kamikaze, to the detriment of the security of others, and race attendants intervene to lessen their eagerness. I reach another peak which is extremely difficult to climb due to a very uneven and rocky terrain, and have to walk and push the bike for the last 200 metres. I am comforted by the fact that I am not the only one.
Some riders have abandoned the race due to equipment failure or simply bad cramps. Just after another refuelling stop on a downhill, I come across firemen attending an injured rider; this accident looks very serious with blood everywhere, reminding me that the aim of the race is to finish without taking unnecessary risks. I learned the next day from the newspaper that the rider in question had fallen violently on a bush and one of the branches had gone through his neck. Fortunately, due to the quick intervention of the firemen, he survived to tell the tale.
The riders are becoming dispersed. I am riding with another cyclist and cannot see any of the peloton and wonder if we are lost, but eventually we come across another race attendant who confirms that we are on the right track. Further ahead on a slope there are several people attending a rider with a broken arm; he is on a stretcher ready to be transported to hospital. Just a few metres later a couple of riders are repairing their puncture; the terrain is definitely not getting easier. I have done two thirds of the race and am starting to feel tired in the legs.
Another hill, more spectacular scenery. I arrive at the fuelling stop; a steward says a few words of encouragement and mentions that this is the last 14km. After a few dried fruits and an energy drink I continue. This downhill is very tricky and narrow, with big holes and large stones. A few falls here and there, with no consequences. It is eventually my turn to fall. I curse myself for having poorly negotiated the narrow track. Checking the bike for any damage, I note that the rear brake handle is broken which will obviously complicate things and slow down my speed considerably.
The next descents are a nightmare; trying to negotiate rocks and holes and even branches with only a front brake is awkward. Finally, I get down to the seaside where the track is mainly flat. On a stretch following the “Chemins des douaniers”, a track
traced on the rocks by the sea where in some areas you have to carry your bike to get through the obstacles paving the pathway, you wish you had an ultra-light bike. Finally I get to the beach - only six kilometres to go.
Cycling on the beach is not an easy task, especially when you have just done 48 kilometres in excruciating terrain. I leave the sand for a fairly decent path and then a bumpy field. I can sense that this is the final stretch.
Here we are, the finish! It took me six hours 45 minutes to complete the course - and in one piece. It is certainly a long way behind Miguel Martinez, three times winner of the 56 kilometre race in two hours 45 minutes. But then, he IS an Olympic champion!
Maybe next time ...