Ross spent a year racing in the beautiful Auvergne region, situated in the heart of the Massif Central region.
A former railway station situated in a sleepy suburb of Clermont Ferrand might not be the most obvious setting for a love story but a season racing for the local CO Chamalierois racing team was to become a long distance relationship with the volcanic puys and tranquil villages of the Auvergne. The principal diet of the racing cyclist is miles and during those endless long rides, one cannot but help develop a bond with the landscapes that provide the backdrop for suffering, commitment and shear hard work. Having never visited the Massif Central before, I arrived at Clermont Ferrand station to embark on a year racing on the French Elite amateur circuit.
At the end of a year packed with successes and failures in equal measure, what was to remain with me as much as anything was the scenery that had hosted my daily training rides.
Time trial training took place amongst the arable fields towards Thiers and Vichy, strength training took place on the rolling, jade green volcanic hills in the shadow of the legendary Puy de Dome and climbing practice occurred amid the jagged scree of Super Besse and Puy de Sancy, regular tests for Tour de France riders. Such diversity in landscape made training a pleasure. To those coming from crowded Britain, the emptiness of rural France comes as a shock and a relief with endless deserted roads to explore. Lush pasture for cattle produces some of France’s most famous cheese, barren uplands provide for skiing in winter and hiking in summer and hidden lakes with strange volcanic origins provide welcome relief for bathers from the heat of the Auvergne summer.
The Tour de France and the Etape du Tour return to the Massif Central after a hiatus of a few years. Often underestimated by riders and team directors alike, the endless undulations of the region never fail to produce exciting and hard fought racing. With the announcement of two Etape routes for this year, attention naturally falls on the route in the high mountains of the Alps, but to those in the know, it’s the 208km stage in the Massif Central from Issoire to St Flour that will be the real test for the aspiring sportive rider.
And for those who want to sample the riding pleasures of the Auvergne, join us on our Etape Reccy on 13-16 May. Ostensibly a weekend for Etapistas to familiarise themselves with the route, it’s also simply a weekend of great riding in some stunning terrain. When you add in our accommodation at the stunning Domaine St Roch, a recently restored manor house set in its own grounds, you’ve got a great weekend of riding.
For more information about the weekend click here.