Adrenaline, caffeine, action; this was not a normal night. Most nights I get my grandpa on and I’m in my pyjamas with a cup of tea, winding down in front of the TV aiming to be asleep by 9:30pm. At that time on Friday I was 10 laps into Toulon Nocturne.
Night criteriums, or “nocturnes” as they are known in France, are circuit races usually setting off around 9pm typically on short (read: torturous) circuits. Short circuits translate into a ridiculously high number of laps but, as the sun sets and the glow of the street lamps is the only light left, short at least also means you’ve had time to memorize the corners, potholes, and racing lines.
Upon our 8pm arrival in Toulon, the team immediately set out in search of caffeine to hold back the tirade of yawns eagerly approaching all of us. After shooting some late night espressos, it was back to the venue to pump tyres, pin numbers and line up for 60 laps of 450m meters down, u-turn, 450m back.
The lap was 900m in total but it was more like 900 potholes. Knowing I would have to cover the Swiss-cheese road another 59 times immediately stole my mojo. I was getting cut off left, right and centre and negotiating the corners became tricky. On such a short circuit, there is no time to waste negotiating the corners and that’s exactly what I was doing. Before I knew it, I was stuck at the back, watching instead of participating in the action.
Still in the cheap seats, I saw a break was starting to establish and we were without representation. I immediately kicked into action for my more criterium inclined teammate Panos. I rode to the front, got him on my wheel and poured down the power. In the partial darkness, I just kept riding until the gap was shutdown.
As Panos and I made contact with the break, we turned around to see we had ridden off the bunch. Arriving just the two of us brought the break up to a group of 8 riders. With 20 laps to go and the bunch 30 seconds behind, I rolled through and took my fair share of turns. 15 laps to go and I pulled off the front, flicking my elbow to signal the next rider to pull through. No one came. I turned back to see the rider behind me had given me a couple meters. Perfect.
With Panos in the group of 7 behind me, everyone else would be forced to chase me while he would be able to save his legs. I pinned my ears back and laid down the watts. Alone in the front, I could also avoid the myriad of irritating potholes, corner better and ride at my own pace. Lap by lap my momentum increased and so did the gap until I lapped the main field.
The chase group behind me turned into a predictable game of cat and mouse but, as the kilometres wound down, so did their organization. When the bell rang to signal the last lap, I was able to back off the pace slightly and enjoy the moment. With a 30 second gap inside the last kilometre, I had the race wrapped up. After such a terrible start, I could never have imagined the result, least of all in flat criterium. Hands in the air, I glided the last hundred meters and soaked in my win.