Sunday 24 September 2023

One day One photo - 24: Paris-Versailles Grande Classique

Waiting to start the Paris-Versailles Grande Classique 

Well, that's a wrap!

I did the Paris-Versailles Grande Classique and got the medal (though no T-shirt as the organisers didn't do one this year). It was certainly not an easy run. I had already heard stories about this 2km infamous climb at kilometre 6, Côte des Gardes. Having climbed up it from the Versailles side when riding the route of the final stage of the Tour de France, I kind of knew what to expect. I distinctly recall the struggle among members of our group, and I remember the lithe local riders sailing up the hill away from me as the gradient suddenly increased. Nevertheless, a recon run would have been nice. A couple of sessions had been held by the organisers on the three Sundays before the day, though I hadn't been able to get there. So I just had to rely on mind over matter, mindfulness and visualisation!

Funnily enough this was probably the running race where I felt the most relaxed and the least nervous. I didn't have any pressure to run to a particular time, and I felt confident that I could manage the three-hour cut-off. Also, I was on my own and nobody knew me so running anonymously totally removes any expectation from others!

I took it quite slowly on the first five kilometres along the River Seine up to the first of three drink stations, enjoying the views, soaking in the vibe from the different bands along the route, and appreciating the cheers and applause from the locals, including lots of Boy and Girl Scouts. Then about a kilometre later the road ramped up and the hard work began. It was certainly a tough gradient. Already, many runners were reduced to walking. Some felt it was quicker to do a type of power walk. I preferred to run in small steps like when skipping with my rope. That seemed to work as it kept up the momentum. 

Just as I'd been warned, the road would level out and you'd think it was over - but it wasn't. There were two or three more 10% ramps to do. I ended up running practically side by side with an older man. Our paces just happened to be identical, though he was heaving an awful lot, and I worried he might explode before the top. He survived and we congratulated each other on reaching the summit. Then I sailed off into the distance as I guess he slowed down to recover from the ordeal.

It was a beautiful course that went through the forest at Meudon. I saw a few gravel bike riders along the way. It'd be worth returning there for a bit of that.

We then went through sumptuous neighbourhoods like Velizy and Villacoublay, where the road dropped down steeply to a pretty pond. However, I didn't get the memo about another steep ramp, known as the Côte de Meudon. This was steeper than the previous one, but was thankfully only 500m long. 

Another drop down through Viroflay where shortly afterwards was the ornate signboard that said Versailles, and as we rounded the corner a military band was right there to give us a royal fanfare - just like King Charles had had a couple of days earlier.

The run into the finish was not particularly easy. Avenue de Paris, the main road to the finish line is a lovely tree-lined road with 17th century architecture and it's easy to marvel at the sights as you behold this regal town. But as a runner, you are just thinking "when will this bloody road finish?" As it drags on in an interminable false flat right up to the finish gantry. 

Surprisingly as I lolopped along I heard a voice beside me say, "We meet again". I looked round to see the old guy from Côte des Gardes. He'd clearly gained a second wind. "Well done", I replied. We ran together, putting on our best false smiles for the photographers in the long home strait,  willing each other on. But he seemed to have emptied the tank slightly early and faded in the last 800m, as I put in a final spurt, thinking about people we have lost who wouldn't have had the chance to see Versailles on an occasion like this....

My timecof 1 hour 50 was nothing to write home about. I used to run 10 miles on 75-80 minutes. Granted, that was about 15 years ago, and this was a hilly 10 miles, but I think I could run this at least 10 minutes faster when knowing the course and with a little bit more training. In any case I was so pleased to receive my medal; a man from France Bleu local radio even interviewed on the finish line while I was still getting my breath back and probably looking a bit snotty!

Then I picked up my goodie bag from some excited young Scouts and headed straight into the massage tent. It was all very efficient. There were showers available in a nearby sports centre, though I was too tired to walk far and my stomach was rumbling, so I tended to that first. Note to oneself - the sport centre has a swimming pool - that would have provided more therapy for the legs.

Instead I then walked up to the Palace of Versailles, had a quick look around the Courtyard, which was heaving on this sunny Sunday, then caught the train back to Paris. It had been a good day.

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