French Divide 2018 - Day 10

Posted: Wed 06 Mar, 2019, 10:30

Day 10: Beaulieu-Sur-Dordogne to Caylus (1716 km)

Next up was some of the biggest climbing days over the most technical ground, a proper test for even the most confident cyclist deep into the French Divide when tiredness was beginning to tell. The heart of the Massif Central. It was great to reach Rocamadour by 9am and raid the local supermarket. I sat and ate outside the shop for at least thirty minutes without a break. I ate a pasta salad, a cantaloupe melon, croissants and three yoghurts. The rest was packed away and off I rode down the famous switch back path to the valley floor. The organisers then routed around Cahors through some intriguing moss covered forests that were damp and eerie, with countless caterpillars hanging down from silken strands above the route. These insects just stuck to you and regular stops were necessary to flick them off. The climbs and drops were the hardest yet and punishingly pointless - after reaching a summit all ground would immediately be lost on the other side as we worked our way slowly south.

At Saint-Pierre-Lafeuille there was an open air restaurant next to a campsite where I ordered steak frites and chatted to the owner. He had met so many riders and was simply amazed at the route and ground covered, hardly believing we had started a Dunkirk just more than a week before. Powered up I saddled up soon after 2 and just rode on and on without hardly stopping. Night fell and around 9pm I was nearly at Caylus when another Divider suddenly appeared beside me. I had caught them (as they were a Saturday starter) but they rode up behind me, eagerly enquiring if I was going to ride into the night. I said yes and rode on with my Exposure light illuminating everything, whilst his dynamo front light was looking decidely dim. As we got to Caylus he said he was going to stay there in a hotel so he left the trace, but not before saying he was worried about me because I had fallen behind, which I thought was odd. Whatever the reason, I noticed that he stopped the next day at CP3. Caylus was in full-on festival mode with stages, musicians and fairgrounds and so many people out enjoying the party atmosphere.

I cycled on a bit after Caylus, until I found a flattish spot in what looked like an abandoned garden belonging to some crumbling buildings nearby. This would have to do, as the sky was clear and I was hoping for a dry night. One of my least favourite spots, due to the number of insects I saw crawling about in the morning. Just before I fell asleep, my friend Christian who lives in Toulouse, sent a text to say he would like to ride with me tomorrow. I just replied 'Excellent' and left him to figure out the details.

Which Divide?

Riding with so many elite bikepackers, I was always curious to find out how the French Divide compared to other Divides - the Italian Divide, the Baja Divide and Tour Divide. Reading the bio's of the riders, it was clear that many had ridden these other routes so could compare it directly. Of course this year we were joined by the impressive Lael Wilcox who had ridden everything possible in the US (and often been fastest), so her view would be really interesting.

The French Divide is generally considered to be more difficult technically than any of the others. Speaking to Ian McNab, who is a Tour Divide veteran, he thought the French Divide was more difficult overall. Sebastian, one of the volunteers, said the Lael found it way more technical than she was expecting. So although it is not as long, it makes up for that by often leaving the safety of gravel trails and diving into paths, forest footpaths and single tracks which were gnarly and often extremely difficult when wet. Another difference with the Tour Divide is that it obviously follows a well-defined hydrological divide - the Continental Divide. However the French Divide trace is entirely down to the whim and judgement on one man - Samuel Becuwe, the mastermind behind it. This feature means the experience is closely related to his skill, awareness of human limitation and masochism (sorry, there is no other word). Fortunately Sam is a complete expert in this field and his routes are well considered, trialed in advance by him, pass spectacular views and are peppered with slightly easier sections, whilst also being technically demanding.

The French Divide has a spirit and ethic behind it which makes it truly unique. The checkpoints, the relaxed nature of the organisers, the gallic humour, the overriding spirit of adventure over racing and the final weekend in Mendionde which is a closing celebration for all the attendees. All of this is optional and not strictly required, it is the choice of the organisers which they have decided makes the whole experience better, and it does. More engaging, more fun, more about the experience than your position and more sociable. The closing days in Mendionde were for me really special and an unmissable part of the experience, where I got to know everyone that bit better and share stories of our epic ride. For this reason, reaching Mendionde before the weekend was a major incentive. The organisation appears effortless but everything just works - the registration, the trace, the checkpoints and the closing weekend.

Those that have ridden the Italian Divide said that at the end there was nobody there.

Next: Day 11: Caylus to Auch (1912 km)