One word: Epic
I'm on a gravel trail near my house. A man is walking his dog. The dog seems to be under control - it's off the trail next to the man. At the very last second, the dog darts across my path... and I smoke it. It felt like hitting a bag of concrete... there was no chance, it just happened so fast. I go flying one way, bike goes another way, dog yelps.
The rain is pelting down, my backyard is a mud pit. Standing water everywhere. Winds so strong the rain is going sideways.
1 hour before the race
We make our way to the start area in Paris. It's cold, it's windy, and out of the grey skies there's a sudden flurry of snow.
It snowed. The wind blew (70km/h!). The temperature was about 3C. The previous day's rain turned the course into a mud pit.
In short - it was awesome. One to remember.
We joined the corral a bit later than usual, which put us back a few hundred riders in our wave. The start was hectic, I passed dozens of people before the first corner... I don't know why slow people insist on seeding themselves at the front! I knew I had to get past the worst of them before the rail trail, where it goes down to 2 wide, and for the most part this worked out.
Opening rail trail was a bit softer than usual, but still very fast. I managed to find lots of draft off various folks, and kept my heart rate in check.
The first off-road was where the mud really started, it was really soppy and wet in there. I've spent all winter getting used to off-roading on the cross bike, so it was a piece of cake. I passed a bunch of people in the woods, some of them on mountain bikes who really should have been having an easier time than me! These bikes are made for kicking some ass in the mud, and I made sure that's what I did.
I made it to the highway just as they were letting riders through, so no waiting there... that's messed me up in the past. Next off-road was muddy as hell, but I held my own. Then there's a farmer's field - super bumpy, and my back really started screaming at me... but nothing I could do about it at this point, just keep pedalling and bumping through it!
Road section was lightening fast with the strong tailwind. The next rail trail was a mess, muddy muddy muddy. Hit the halfway point feeling strong and good.
Then on the next rail trail I felt the first signs of cramping. I couldn't believe it - I thought I'd conquered it, but here I was only 1/2 way done and already getting cramps again? I trained more than I ever have this winter, got out for rides almost every weekend... I did specific burst intervals on the trainer to simulate the race, I just don't know what else I can do... so I backed off a bit and tried to spin through it.
The second half of the race was tough, there were some killer cross winds. I managed to draft off a few big guys, positioning myself to their left for maximum wind blockage!
There is one field at this horse farm that was just killer... so incredibly slow through there, the ground was bumpy and soggy. Some people were even walking their bikes... I managed to peddle through, but my back was once again screaming at me, now my cramping legs were too!
Final rail trail - tail wind, not too wet, very fast! Ahhh.
Then the mud. Oh my gawd there was mud, it's never been this deep and soupy, it really separated the men from the boys! I was pretty ready for it mentally, so I trudged through where I couldn't ride and rode what I could. Both of the official "mud chutes" were nasty... I managed to ride about halfway down the second one, before the guy in front of me went flipping over his handlebars! Walked a short stretch, then got back on and mucked through the rest.