Yielding to some pressure from friends, I posted early August about my Big Goals and listed the three of them for 2011. The title of today's post gives a hint towards the outcome of the third. It's DNS - Did Not Start. The reference to my immune system at the end of my PBP report gives another hint: Although I did get rid of the cold in time, the bronchitis which it had generated as a side effect persisted. I proudly assert that I am still reasonable enough to know when not to attempt a big long distance effort.
Be that as it may: as so often in life, there are benefits to setbacks. In this case, the coughing had become rare enough that I could make the 90 km drive from Cannes to Carcès on Wednesday afternoon (the day before the start) and go with Ghislaine on a four-day vacation trip which included about half of the 1000-du-Sud route. This way, I enjoyed meeting with the 31 participants at the common Wednesday evening dinner:
partake of the common breakfast served by Sophie before the 7 a.m. start:
leisurely discover the Green Provence around Carcès during Thursday:
Healing in the clean air of Tourtour
and spend most of Friday and Saturday on the road to Le Bourg d'Oisans and back, mostly on the route of the Mille du Sud, taking pictures of the randonneurs on the road:
I also enjoyed meeting with the organizer, Sophie (the same as the one mentioned here). Here is another picture of her, close to the finish of the recent Paris - Brest - Paris:
Yes, she road that bike, named Charlie-Ferdinand. Note the drop-handlebar-rider in the background desperately trying to hang on. When she presented her brevet card at one of the controls, with her flowing flower dress, the man with the rubber stamp in his hand said something like "No madam, your husband needs to be present to get his brevet card stamped." Her prowess on a bicycle is one thing; her ambition and dedication to making "Le Mille du Sud" the most outstanding 1000 km brevet is another.
Six months ago, Bob K. from British Columbia and I (we knew each other from having ridden many miles together in grand randonnées) agreed to ride together and to share rooms. I was profoundly distressed not being able to share the experience with him. When we passed him on Saturday, half-way up the Col du Lautaret, he said "You cannot believe how much fun you are missing out on!"
Actually, I could believe. However, I also realized that Bob was behind schedule at that point. I didn't want to hold him back by asking more questions, but I learned that his second night was sub-optimal and that he worried about his sleep deficit. In the end he decided to stay overnight in Le Lauzet-Ubaye (there were bad hail and lightning storms), which made him finish hors delai (past the time limit of 75 hours). Given all the other witness accounts from the road, I have no doubt that had I ridden with Bob (even at my best), I would not have been able to do any better. And I would have been just as happy and satisfied and proud with my hors delai finish as Bob must have been.
We passed my riding companion Roland from last year's Mille du Sud half-way up the climb du Col Saint Jean. He had just stopped for a sandwich-lunch break. He appeared to be well within the time limits - but he had taken a short-cut on the evening before and would not qualify as finisher any more. The heat on the first day had put him out of contention.
The same might have happened to me (I am not strong in the heat either). But there is no way to know, now. Roland took a hotel room in St-André-les-Alpes, left at 3:30 a.m. and finished at 9:30 a.m. - contagiously happy and gregarious as ever. We will communicate regularly over the next months: I can use his recommendations for my first Diagonale, next year!
We passed several other participants - and finishers - on our way back: a group of Germans, a group of Italians, several randonneurs riding alone, and the 2-man team from Mulhouse/Kingersheim (Alsace). We did not catch the first three on the road; they were too far ahead already, and we decided to take a shortcut towards the finish (we were running late ourselves). All in all, it appeared that the percentage of finishers was clearly better than last year, despite a harder route and more difficult atmospheric conditions. The reputation of this event already has some effect on the self-selection of participants and their preparation.
I stayed overnight from Saturday to Sunday at the finish in the Salle Polyvalente to be available in case I could be useful for anything. The case occurred when the duo Pascal/Gilles from Mulhouse/Kingersheim arrived, at 1:15 a.m.. Less than an hour from the finish, on a winding descent through a forest Provençal, Pascal hit two young wild boars on the road and both he and his companion went down. Gilles didn't appear to be injured, but Pascal was severely shaken and suffering (while the wild boars probably got away unscathed). They both finished - Pascal with a broken collarbone (!) and extremely painful severe contusions. After some deliberations to overcome Pascal's objections, Gilles and I drove Pascal around 4 a.m. to the hospital in Brignoles where he had to stay for two days.
Pascal and Gilles on the road to Digne, Saturday afternoon
There would be several other heroic stories to tell, like the one about the four recumbent riders who came close to finishing but eventually got defeated by hail, thunder, lightning and floods. Or the one about the last hors delai finisher, the 68-year-old Italian Marziano. He had trouble with broken spokes and navigational errors, but found no way of notifying Sophie (who was worried about his whereabouts, and even alerted the police) until Monday evening. She waited for him the following night until she was too exhausted and fell asleep. Early Tuesday morning, she found him sleeping in his car, at the finish. "È tutta una avventùra ...", he said.
Instead, I close with a photo from the restaurant L'Olalpa in Carcès, early Sunday afternoon.
In the background, Sophie with three of the recumbent riders. In the foreground, the "presidential couple" of the Argens Cyclo Carcès club, from our table of six.
I think the picture reflects much of the true spirit, beyond bicycling, of Le Mille du Sud: Friendship and conviviality. We parted with "A l'année prochaine!"