I have had a fun week in Ornans so far. The course is great and I can’t wait to race it on Sunday, plus it is such a nice village that I would not have known about had it not been for this race. The Village sits in the Loue valley, which features the beautifully clear river of the same name as well as dramatic limestone cliffs and some really nice old Chateaux and buildings. I’ve been staying in an old “moulin” (millhouse) on the river Loue, which as I recently discovered, came complete with a hidden trapdoor under the kitchen that accesses a ladder that goes down to an old turbine shaft that sits idle under the house.
I had an experience the other day that kind of sums up the way of life here. I was at the local epicerie (corner store), chatting to the owner (who incidentally knew where I was staying and what country my hire car was registered in) and I asked if he had any fresh milk. When he said no, I asked why not, and he preceded to explain that they just go directly to the local dairy farm to buy it and he then gave me directions out of town and down a dirt track to a little farm house where I could take an empty container to get filled with milk. At first I thought he was taking the piss out of a gullible tourist, but not having anything better to do I thought I’d try and find it. Sure enough, I found the “laiterie” and the friendly farmer filled my container with 1 litre of fresh, warm, unpasteurised milk, straight out of the udder… all for the bargain price of 60 cents!
Anyway, I didn’t come here to drink milk. The race is now less than 2 days away so needless to say, I have been giving it a bit of thought. The weather and track conditions have been the talk of the town lately, but after 24hrs of rain yesterday, the final days leading up to the race are forecast to be dry. However around here, at this time of year, things don’t dry very quickly so I am still going into the race knowing it will be a very slippery and tough day.
I have a few things to do that will help both my bike and I to cope with the challenging conditions:
Tyres: I will race on 29 x 2.0” Maxxis Beaver tyres. These are a kind of semi-mud tyre that have a deeper tread without being as slow as a full mud tyre (e.g., a Medusa) which are spaced out enough to allow the mud a better chance of clearing. Being 2.0” wide, compared to the 2.2” I usually prefer to run, will give me more clearance between the tyre and my frame to reduce the clogging of mud, particularly around the bottom bracket. The narrower width comes at a cost of tyre pressure or risk of flatting; I have been running as low as 20psi this week to help let the tyres deform and grip to the slippery roots, but with the 2.0 I will have to up that a little to minimise the risk of bottoming out the rim on a rock or root.
Studs: There are a number of hike-a-bike sections up steep and greasy climbs. Normally grip in MTB shoes isn’t a huge concern for the infrequent nature of the dismounts, but I have literally been struggling to walk up these climbs and after a bit of traffic this will only get worse. When I was packing for this trip I actually couldn’t find a set of studs in my garage so I reluctantly left home without them. Then during my first ride on the course I realised I would them need some… typical! Annoyed at having to buy something I already have, I went into the bike shop and I explained in French (not knowing the word for studs) that I wanted the little things that go into the bottom of your shoes to help you avoid slipping, and the mechanic replied: “Vous avez besoins des Crampons?” Then when he pulled them out I understood why the French word for stud is crampon, they were the gnarliest spikes I have ever seen. He then smiled and said something like: “Vous pouvez grimper les mures avec ca” (you could climb walls with these things). Quality!
Extra water: Keeping the bike rolling and the vision clear is super important in muddy conditions. I will ask my feeder to pass up extra bidons of plain water that I can use these to hose my drivetrain in an attempt to remove any accumulating mud before it becomes a problem. I will also use it to squirt my glasses to clean any mud off; I find it best to never try to clean or remove my glasses during a race, Adidas eyewear is anti-fog and spraying them with water is enough to remove any mud or sweat and restore good vision.
No mudguards: I don’t mind using a mudguard for really wet races but assuming it is not actually raining on Sunday, the mud will be very claggy so I will sacrifice a bit of spatter on the eyewear in return for the lower weight and better reliability of a bike that isn’t caked with mud and grass matted together.
Fresh drivetrain: It seems a waste to put on a new drivetrain for a muddy race but for the best reliability I have put a new chain, chain rings, cassette, bottom bracket and brake pads for race day.
Having had to travel light I needed to sweet talk the local bike shop into letting me use their workshop. I was there for a couple of hours and was chatting to the owner for ages. We eventually worked out that we raced each other as juniors in the World Cup finals in Annecy back in 1997. We both started laughing, which was broken only by us asking in unison: “what did you get?!?!” Turns out he was 19th and I was 25th…. small world.
Other than that, I am expecting this to be a very hard and potentially long race. Should be good.