400m down, u-turn, 400m back, round-about. Draguignan wasn’t the most exciting race course I had ever seen but, by the time I took the start line, the circuit had developed a lively and dangerous reputation.
The team was already on the road having spent the day before racing in Nice. I had spent most of my time in the peloton protecting my teammates in the breakaway, so, I wanted to stretch my legs a bit more in Draguignan.
The race was part of a town festival and there had been races all day, from young kids all the way up to elite men scheduled to start at 6pm. When we arrived, we checked out the circuit and watched a bit of racing. Turns out the circuit wasn’t dull at all. Lap after lap, the races were lively with crash after crash. Regardless, the gun went, we clipped in and it was full gas to the first corner…and the first crash.
The race continued with a frenzy of attacks but nothing sticks. Despite another small crash, I sat patiently and calmly in the bunch waiting for my opportunity. Finally, there was a noticeable lull in the pace and I slipped off the front.
I was solo and managed to get a good gap. There were only 2 laps until the first sprint prime and when I heard the loud speaker proclaim the €100 prize, I kept going. I took the first prime (cha-ching!) but the bunch was hot on my wheel and I was reeled back into the peloton.
Five laps later and it was déjà vu. The pace dropped again and my legs powered me off the front. I was alone for 5km and I heard the loud speaker again. Another sprint prime was up for grabs and I took it and a second helping of €100 prize money (double cha-ching!).
Soon I’m joined by another rider and, although he is alone, there are another two riders behind him. We quickly join forces and keep the two chasers, and the constantly surging peloton, at bay. With only 20 of the 60 laps left, we managed to hold the gap and things were looking good.
I rolled through for my next turn and leaned into the approaching corner. Suddenly, I realized my back wheel had other plans. As it let go, I hit the deck. I bounced up, full of adrenaline, grabbed my bottle and tended to my sideways shifter. I got going again and before I assessed my own damage I saw someone had taken my place in the two-man break away. Still ahead of the peloton, I put my head down and tried to get back to the leaders.
The laps ticked away quickly. Each time I crept extra safely around the death corners, as I now called them, my chance to take the win slipped further away. After picking up another rider for company, the race was on for 3rd. We worked together but when the bell indicated the final lap, our cooperation was over. Call it once bitten, the rest of the laps shy, my slower cornering speed put me on the back foot out of the final bend. I sprinted into a disappointing 4th.
Over the line, the sting of road rash hit me and I take in the damage. I’ve got roasties on my hip, elbow, and knee and my shoulder is feeling a bit tender. My shorts didn’t fare too well either. As my teammates finished, I discover 2 of them also crashed and we started sharing our corner-war stories.
I couldn’t hide my disappointment with 4th but at least, as a silver lining, I had won €200 in sprint primes. I collected my prize envelope and opened them to more disappointment. I had indeed won 200E but they were two €100 vouchers for the Citroen service Garage in Draguignan. Great. I climbed into the team car with nothing but empty pockets for my roastie to rub against all the way home.