We met at dawn on the Gergovie plateau and the landscape slowly revealed its forms to us. There was no longer any doubt that the Massif Central isn’t just a little corner of France with endless green horizons, but also – and above all – a maze of sublime and hidden roads. We were here to ride them.
On Saturday 24th September, 20 teams took to the start of the Rapha Prestige Massif Central. Each had a captain responsible for guiding their team of four to the end together and amongst the participants was my team, the Paris Nantes Women’s Cycling Club.
Riders from all over Europe had made it to the start line, and amidst admiring glances at one another’s bicycles, we considered the day in front of us. Rapha and Victoire Cycles had concocted a challenging route to live up to the heights of this mountainous region – we would ride along hidden paths revealing wide panoramas during 170km of pedalling and 3,000m of climbing. As daybreak crowned with the glory of summer weather, everything was in place for each team to ride off – and hopefully make it home before nightfall.
For our team, this was much more than a sporting challenge: it was a reunion for us and my own return to the saddle after giving birth three months ago. My desire to pedal and the uniqueness of the Massif Central were the driving force of this new adventure. A cyclist’s body is made in a way that it suffers far more while stopped than during the effort, so taking to the road again was a little like re-catching my breath. For sure, it was breathless in the Massif but these ‘forgotten mountains’ are kind: they indulge you as you climb their gentle slopes.
Taking to the road under those first rays of sunlight, exploring sleeping villages, passing a swathe of hot air balloons, riding through silent terrain, furrowing along fresh forest roads and seeing the Murol chateau rise up before us, all within a day, was some reward for our labour. As the final gleams of sunlight fell down upon our team, we climbed back up to the Gergovie plateau to bring home the fabled lanterne rouge. Still, we were proud to finish within the allotted time. These roads might be forgotten, but our memories of the day won’t be.
Merci, le Massif.