– By Paul Smeulders of ErgVideo –
After two very busy years of planning, filming, and releasing 42 training videos, this year we went further afield to tape 12 more ErgVideo sessions in iconic European locations. Like our customers often do, the Pez himself asked questions about the rides, locations, and characters in our new videos. Here, I’ll fill you in on a memorable project that resulted in our best ErgVideos so far.
A project away from home-base takes some planning. I had to find strong riders willing & available to meet in France, willing to interrupt their well laid-out training schedules, willing to possibly over-train during a tight and arduous shooting schedule, and willing to take direction. It’s critical that we achieve the target content both visually and in a physical-workout context. We’ve all felt the temptation to rocket away as hard as we can when riding famous mountain passes.
As the director, I really need to know I’ve enlisted riders with discipline beyond their impulses and who understand the goals of each session. In ErgVideo’s history, we’ve been fortunate to find such riders in the Ride with Rendall, West Quebec Wheelers, CycleLogik and Cyclery teams, among others, in our home town.
I also have to arrange for excellent weather, which is actually easier than everything else.
We’ll be in sunflower country, in sunflower season… that’s gotta mean something!
In mid-summer, transportation from Ottawa, Canada to anywhere in Europe isn’t cheap, and everyone is busy racing. As luck would have it, the owner of the Cyclery, Vince Caceres could make the trip. Vince has the leadership skills I need in a “road captain”. Despite 2-way radios or loudspeakers, young cyclists listen best to those within striking distance, rather than some crusty director in the car behind. Vince had ripped my legs off earlier in the year in Mallorca (Ed: topic of next article), so I knew he was up to the task in every way.
The Right Digs
Next, I turned to another Ottawan, now a legend here and in France, Chris Georgas. Chris has been living in Limoux for several years, having successfully established a first, no… Hors Category hotel in that medieval town. The Hotel Le Monastere’s building dates back to the early 17th-century, when it was built by Cordelier nuns. Chris and his wife Fabienne host groups of cyclists, adventurers, and artists who seek to explore the region with two wheels, two feet, or a paint brush. Fabienne is a native daughter of the town, and having truly local hosts affords you a deeper, more intimate understanding of the places you will explore. It’s so easy to love this place!
Chris Georgas and Fabienne Montserrat welcome adventurers, cyclists, and artists to their elegant hotel, dating back to the 1600s
Chris is also an internationally acclaimed cycling coach, not least for his successes in developing top-flight female talent. Limoux is in the dйpartment de L’Aude, home of the Tour de L’Aude, the longest running UCI stage race for women, and Chris has been on-scene for most of them. Chris regularly hosts projects and training camps for National teams from New Zealand, England, Canada, and the USA.
He houses them in a number of his residences in the town center of Limoux. These are also available for rent at very reasonable rates when not in use by National teams. While L’Aude lies within site of the Pyrйnйes, the cycling should not be underestimated as easy. Don’t go thinking these are “the plains before the real hills”. The countryside is rugged, with unrelenting long, leg-sapping hills. This is the heart of historic Cathar Country, remarkable for its historic castles, citadels, and deep gorges. Vegetation goes from lush to arid and scrubby; add the summer heat of southern France, and this is one terrific place to ride, train, and enjoy your bike. Massive Pyrйnйan climbs are within reach by bike or a short drive, if you prefer.
Rugged terrain with quiet, narrow roads in the Aude region
Hoping to tap into Chris’ experience and connections, I asked if he had a crew of local riders who would like to shoot some ErgVideos with us. Chris recommended the lads of the Southwest Bike Academy, coached by his colleague and friend David Walters in England. They would be finished their National championships and would be looking for some “non-specific” riding before restarting a campaign of later-season races. They were also excited by my weather reservations. David supplied 3 outstanding U23 athletes: Ed Griffin, Matt Ullmer, and Josh Yetman. Our plan was to meet in Limoux on a Sunday, which I learned was just wrong on several levels. The boys landed Saturday and occupied themselves, I suppose predictably, until Vince and I arrived the next day. On Sundays, finding groceries is difficult because the French still know how to relax and let things be closed once a week. We needed a pre-ride meal, so we met everyone in the Limoux town square for lunch, then headed out to stretch our “flown in economy class” legs.
Limoux Town Square
The Best Laid Plans
First impressions of the youngest, Ed, were that he was destined to be a pro: always ready to seek and find rest if he could. Laid back & very cool. If you can sit, don’t stand, if you can lie down, don’t sit. It took awhile to realize this had more to do with that aforementioned predictability I had forgotten until now. I recalled the first time my coach sensed I was hung-over, and how he did things to “help me” regret it. I didn’t need to do anything, however. The sun was hot enough, and the others were eager enough, to ride hard right away. I’d rented a large van to be sure we could transport bikes and bodies, feed the athletes on the road, deal with any emergencies, and as another camera platform. It’s handy to have should we find interesting, far off places that make returning by bike too difficult, or last past sundown. I made the horrible mistake to not have a cell phone plan for Europe. But seriously, what could possibly go wrong?
Tailgate lunches appeal to the English and Canadians alike. Here (L-R): Matt, Josh, & Ed of the Southwest Bike Academy
Monday brought the first day of shooting, and more sunshine. We picked a route through the Forкt de Corbiиres Occidentales, and onto a loop familiar to me from a previous trip with Erickson Cycle Tours. The route took us through the Gorges de Galamus, and past the Chateaus Queribus and Peyrepetuse. Things went smoothly until I had to disengage from follow-duty to find those groceries for a rider’s tailgate buffet.
The first town was closed. I flagged down a lady and said:
Me:“Madame, oщ est le depanneur?”
Me to self: Dang, depanneur is as French-Canadian as poutine. She won’t get that at all. Nobody gets poutine, for that matter.
Me: “le marchй?” (I’d seen that on a sign at the market)
She: said lots. What I understood was: “next town on the right, but it might not be open, I don’t know.”
Me: “pas ouvert?, mais aujourd’hui est Lundi, n’cest pas Dimanche?” (which to me at least, meant “Not open, but it is Monday, not Sunday?)
She (my translation): “Oh, it’s the same here. (Big smile) Au revoir, Monsieur, et bon chance!”
Sleepy towns and no traffic, this is paradise!
Okay, so the French here are even more relaxed than I’d thought. Two days closed per week. Wow, a whole old-school weekend. Quaint? Awesome! So my quest took me further than expected, and that meant a later lunch for riders. After that, they were to ride the gorge and a high-ridge that paralleled a highway before reaching the castles. Vince was vaguely familiar with the route from a previous visit.
Keyword:vaguely. Getting underway, we JUST missed the time closure for the Gorge, when they restrict auto traffic to one-way, alternating on a 10 minute schedule, with switchover demarcated by an official follow vehicle arriving before traffic in the opposite direction can begin. It is THAT narrow, and it’s easy to scrape your car on some rocks. The boys went ahead. I had to wait and chat with the lovely park ranger girl.
Entering the Gorges de Galamus
Consider terrain and descents where a truck can never hope to stay with cyclists; some really fast, fearless and fresh U23 riders; and a guide who vaguely knows the intended route. Now the long story can be short: I didn’t see these guys till I finally rolled up to the designated end point, having spent my day tracing the actual route, back and forth, the second time scanning the ditches, and bending a few traffic regulations. I wished I’d had a cell-phone that day, but it was pointed out that everyone either left their phones at the hotel or in the truck with me, anyway. What could possibly go wrong, indeed. Nevertheless, no killer equipment malfunctions and some good luck meant the resulting videos that came out of the day are awesome, and appear in “Aude Forest Long Hills” and “Gorges and Castles“.
The remains at Chateau Peyrepetuse, a 11th century Cathar Community
The adventures continue next time – but for now we’ll let you get back to work. And you haven’t already, check out our reviews of ErgVideo’s awesome collection of training dvds, and see their website at: ErgVideo.com