The Vélodrome Du Mans, located just a few hundred metres away from the legendary Le Mans 24 hours motor-racing circuit, hosted this year’s French Handisport Track Cycling Championships on September 11 and 12. Recently rebuilt, the velodrome is a steeply-banked outdoor track with quick-drying tarmac banks of 33° and it is attracting bigger and bigger events as its reputation in France continues to grow.
Around 40 competitors gathered from all over France for the championships, with the handicap of the riders determining the category in which they raced. The blind cyclists competed by riding stoker on a tandem. The solo riders were categorized according the degree of handicap; upper or lower limb. This weekend saw the competitors disputing French titles in the sprint, kilo, pursuit, 200m and omnium and the competition promised to be fast and inspiring. With the tricouleurs hoisted high above the velodrome and the autumn sunshine pleasantly warming spectators and riders alike, the racing kicked off.
In the tandem sprint finals Arnaud Grandjean (stoker) and pilot Julien Hervio faced off against Stéphane Boussard and Mark Breton in a hotly disputed race. Grandjean and Hervio convincingly won both rounds of the sprint but not without incident. A shouting match and then an appeal to the race referees saw the second round raced again after it was disputed that build-up to the sprint was unfair. Grandjean and Hervio repeated their convincing display in the re-run to seal a 2-0 victory and secure the national sprint title. Damien Debeaupuits and Febvay took Bronze with another 2-0 win over Rodrigue Pommel and Ruddy Depecker.
In the tandem pursuit finals, Olivier Donval and Olivier Derquenne took gold, beating Damien Debeaupuits and Alexis Febvay by a shade under 2 seconds. The bronze medal place went to Arnaud Grandjean and Julien Hervio, who finished strongly, six seconds ahead of Laurent Huyghe and Emmanuel Roche.
The solo category saw a very close run 200m race with the first four riders separated by only a few thousandths of a second. Didier Le Guesclou took first place in 13.650 followed very closely by Damien Severi. Sebastien Serriere took 3rd, while Alban Dessay was unlucky to miss out on the podium when he clocked 14.192.
In the pursuit final, the solo riders had two handisport categories to contest, again according to the degree of their handicap. In the MC2 category, Laurent Thirionet took gold ahead of Jérôme Lambert, while Damien Severi won gold in the MC5 category with Didier Guesclou taking silver. In third place, the categories were mixed and so Alban Dessay took bronze in front of Wilfred Mingot.
On the Sunday morning, rain initially replaced the previous day’s sunshine and left the track wet. However, the organizers were optimistic that with a light breeze and some sunshine it would dry quickly and racing could start. Once the sun reluctantly came out and the track soon dried up, meaning that there was only a half an hour of a delay before the final events of the French Championships were underway.
All of the riders competed in the kilometre. First up were the tandems and a convincing, 1-second win finally placed Damien Debeaupuits and Alexis Febvay on the top step of the podium with a time of 1:12.187. Third time lucky? Maybe. Technical problems beset the duo with a broken chain on their first time off the starting line followed by a dropped chain on their second, but on the third attempt it all came right. The silver medal went to Olivier Donval and Derquenne, followed very closely by Rodrigue Pommelet and Ruddy Depecker.
In the solo category, once again, the riders contested the kilo according to their Handisport category. In the MC5 and MC4 category, Damien Severi took the gold medal with a time of 1:17.717, followed closely by Didier Le Guesclou. In 3rd place was Sebastien Serriere, who clocked a respectable 1’20”840. Category MC2 and MC3 saw Alban Dessay win over Jérôme Lambert and Wilfried Mingot.
For the omnium, the solo riders were scored according to their finishing positions in each of the races that they contested over the weekend. The rider who finished all disciplines with the lowest score at the end of the racing was the winner. So in the MC5 and MC4 category, Damien Severi took the omnium title to add to his kilometre and pursuit titles. In a post-race interview, he said that conditions were ideal for clocking good times on the track. He is also looking ahead to the 2012 Paralympics in London and is hoping for selection. In the MC2 and MC3 category, Alban Dessay took the Omnium to add to his kilometre title.
By lunch time on Sunday, the title ceremonies were over and the organizers headed off with dignitaries from the Mayor Of Le Mans’ office, the Conseil General De La Sarthe and Roger Legeay for the Vin D’Honneur, but not before announcing that the French Masters Track championships would be held at the Vélodrome Du Mans in June 2011. There was also talk of Le Mans, Ville Départ, Tour De France, but that’s another story...