On June 18, Olivier set out to tackle the RAF for the second year in a row. Fervent defender and great consumer of our Holyfat products, this crossing of France is all the more meaningful for us since Olivier is doing it on a ketogenic diet. A beautiful demonstration of the effectiveness of lipids for (ultra)endurance sports.
Relive his epic in this poignant article My Race Across France 2022: going between the drops, ofOlivier Maria, which you can find on his website Low-Carb Frenchie.
"Last year, when I arrived in Le Touquet after pedaling 2500 km, my first sentence was "never again". The adventure had been so beautiful, but also so trying. And then the months went by, the friends were sharing the pictures, re-registering, and the organization announced that the route was changing direction to start this year from the North and finish in Mandelieu, on the Mediterranean coast. I don't know if it's my selective memory that made me think only of the joyful moments and forget the difficulties, but registering again for the long distance race was an obvious choice for me.
This year, I started with few kilometers in my legs (5000), due to a first part of the year more oriented to running and when I started, I naively thought that the experience of last year would allow me to reach the finish line without too much trouble at the price of short nights and long hours in the saddle. But I didn't count on a wild weather all along the course and a slightly modified route that left very little respite for the body and the head.
However, the first hours of the race were greatly facilitated by a wind at our backs which propelled us towards Picardy and then Normandy. I was still averaging 30km/h after 3 hours of running. But the thunderstorms in the distance were approaching fast and erased the excitement of the first kilometers. In the middle of the night, we were cycling under an intense rain, the lightning illuminating the infinite to fall not far from us. The raging sky kept me awake without any trouble and I didn't close my eyes all night. I passed the Pont de Normandie at 3:15 am, which had caused me so much anguish last year when the gusts of wind almost blew me onto the road crossed by these gigantic monsters on wheels. At this hour, it is deserted. The day is finally breaking but the rain is still with us. I am pleased to see that my rain jacket is waterproof, but I don't realize yet that riding for so many hours with wet feet is going to be very problematic for the rest of the adventure.
The sun finally comes out and I arrive at Mont-Saint-Michel (km 474) at 1:30 pm. I feel the first signs of fatigue and I take an 8 minutes nap before leaving. I continue towards St-Malo before starting my long diagonal towards the Alps.
Saturday June 18th, 6:31 pm. It's time to set off again for a week of adventure.
Before the departure, I had set myself the goal to cover 400 km in 24 hours before arriving in the Alps. After one lap of the dial, my counter reads 588 km. I realize that I'm off to a fast start but I keep going. I arrive at the Check Point at km 655, in Quelaines-Saint-Gault, in Mayenne at 9:45 pm. I sleep there for 2h30 before leaving at midnight and a half. Contrary to the previous year, two living bases are placed on the course between Le Touquet and the Alps. I took advantage of the comfort of the indoor cots to get my strength back for the first two nights. I arrived at CP2 in Gueugnon (km 1122) on Monday at 11:21 pm and I left 3h30 later.
I was hoping that the first days would allow me to ride easy kilometers in order to arrive "fresh" in the Alps but it was not the case: the new course was much more hilly and therefore more difficult. The straight lines as far as the eye can see, drawn like a roller coaster, are getting to your mind slowly. Almost no business on the horizon for two days. A thermometer that climbs higher and higher. The Monts du Lyonnais then the Ain, here I am finally in Savoie, on the shores of the Lac du Bourget. 7:30 pm, the crossing of the Bauges as a warm-up and here I am finally in the Alps, at the foot of the very demanding Col de la Colombière. I realize that my rain jacket is gone. Fortunately I still have my down jacket, let's hope it doesn't rain too much in the Alps. I continue the kilometers in the dark night to reach the summit at 2am. I take a 10 minutes nap at the top to start the descent in safety.
It's already late in the night and the Arve valley between Cluses and Sallanches is endless. There is still 500m of ascent to reach the base of Megève, it's raining hard and the percentages are sometimes terrible, almost too much for my 36×34. I finally arrive in Megève at 5am, well started. Only the idea of a shelter and a comfortable bed gave me the necessary strength to go on until there. I have to sleep and I enjoy a good hot shower before closing my eyes.
9h30. I am in front of the gates of the Intersport of Megève for its opening. I leave with a rain jacket for 17,99€, it will be of a great use to me until the finish. As I set off again, I am feverishly thinking about the granite monsters that will face me for two days. Les Saisies opens the ball, then the Cormet de Roselend before starting the gigantic Iseran and its 2770m of altitude. After a few kilometers of ascent, a terrible storm falls on me. The road quickly turns into a torrent that rushes down the slope while I do what I can to go against the current. Luckily, this episode does not last long. I don't see the message from the organization asking to stop and I continue the long climb: I arrive at the pass at 7:30 pm. Km 1657, 4 days and 1 hour of race. A few pictures and I have to go back down, where the temperatures are milder. The descent is long but allows me to breathe a little. Before the next pass, the crossing of the Maurienne valley is endless -and to think that I did it in the direction of the ascent last year...
Arrived in St-Michel-de-Maurienne at 10:30 pm, I start the 850m of ascent of the Col du Télégraphe. My feet, which have been rained on for too long since the beginning, become so painful that it becomes impossible for me to pedal. In fact, my soles have swollen from the water to the point of forming cracks several millimeters deep. I am in a state of perdition, pedaling with my feet out of my shoes when Hugues, my teammate from Team Ultra, comes up to me. I grit my teeth and hang on to finish this climb but it is so long. We arrive at Valloire around midnight, with four cyclists. Very short night on the terrace of a restaurant before we start to climb the Galibier around 3am. My soles of feet have slightly deflated. We have the mountain to ourselves and the climb is pleasant. It's cool, silence surrounds us. Summit at 5am, first light of the day, magnificent sight.
The calm of this first ascent does not suggest the brutality of the day ahead. The col de Sarenne to Alpe d'Huez and then the Glandon in the heat wave are extremely difficult. I suffer a lot. In addition, the saddle irritations that appeared on the second day still do not let me go. I empty tubes of cream and grit my teeth to move forward.
On the descent of the Glandon, I see cyclists stopped in the distance, a bike on the ground. I fear the worst. I recognize in the distance the two participants who are teamed together, whom I have often met since the start and with whom I climbed the Galibier last night. I stop next to them: "Are you ok? - No, I broke my collarbone..." I am in shock.
Everything can stop in a split second of inattention or bad luck. 20 minutes of descent later, I cross the ambulance which goes up like a fury, all sirens lit.
I cross Eric's road in the Col du Grand Cucheron, while we skirt around Belledonne before reaching Grenoble. We get to know each other. The 1000 km is his first ultra and he is struggling. We motivate each other to continue to advance while the thermometer is at its highest. It is at this moment that he says to me: "you saw that there was a death?"
One hour earlier, we received a message from the organization announcing the news. A man died, mowed down by a driver doing a straight line in a roundabout in Macon. It was Wednesday June 22nd. He was 56 years old and had asked nothing from anyone except to ride his bike.
I had not seen the message. I was speechless.
At that moment, I understood that the race as I had conceived it since the beginning was over. That the lack of sleep that is our toughest opponent cannot justify putting ourselves in danger. That a hypothetical place in a ranking that no one will remember or two hours more on a time trial cannot authorize the least risk.
We agree with Eric to sleep at the hotel in Grenoble but I lose him at the price of a new fierce storm. I try to find his coordinates in vain. I hope that it is going to go for him.
We have been gone for 5 days and I eat my first meal sitting down. I am in front of the Proxi supermarket, on the sidewalk, alone with my canned salad and my Coke Zero. Since the start, I have eaten all my meals on the bike so as not to lose time. The mental grip of the stopwatch that never stops weighs on me. The tragic events I witnessed also. I arrived at the hotel on the outskirts of Grenoble and finally shared a room with Hugues. A good shower, a comfortable bed: I close my eyes and fall asleep immediately until the alarm clock rings at 4am the next day. It's raining hard outside. I don't want to, I can't ride in the rain anymore. My feet forbid it to me.
One sets out again at 6h whereas the rain ceased to cross the Vercors. The Combes Laval are always so majestic, they are this year still in my podium of the most beautiful landscapes of the course. After a terrible storm during 5 kilometers, I arrived at the CP of St-Jean-en-Royans at 11am. I had sworn to myself to stop at the slightest rain but the call of the CP was too strong. I can at least put on the dry socks I had left in my drop-bag.
I decide not to stop for long. As I was about to leave, I couldn't find my Garmin computer that I had in my hand 5 minutes earlier. Panic. We move all the base of life with the volunteers but nothing makes it. Incomprehensible. I don't know what to do and I decide to leave with Komoot on my phone but Simon, who has just given up, offers to lend me his to finish. I can't believe it. I owe him my end of the race, I leave.
I know that the end of the course will be very difficult. The heat of Provence, the road that is never flat... Moreover, I suffer from a tendonitis in my left Achilles heel that acts like a diffuse pain that wakes up every time I start pedaling again after 2 minutes of stopping. This injury adds a difficulty that I could have done without for the final sprint of the last 500 kilometers. When I woke up the day after the finish, I could no longer walk.
The day passed and I was at the foot of the Ventoux at 9pm. I know it will take me 3 hours to climb and I arrive at the summit at midnight. I meet several participants during the climb and we finish with Pierre. Talking is good for me. We have the giant of Provence for us alone, the show is magic. The descent is freezing even having put on all my layers and my necklace. The slope towards Bedouin is so steep and I take every precaution to stay on the bike. The descent is long. The approach to the Bed n Bike base in Mormoiron is also long but I finally arrive. I meet Alvaro, founder of Holyfat who will successfully finish the 1000 km the next day.
I try to sleep outside but I am frozen in my down jacket. I put myself on the floor, between the cyclists, the comfort is inexistent and I sleep very badly. The alarm clock rings at 4am. I open the door of the toilets and I come face to face with Simon, his face bleeding, treated by a nurse. I am again amazed by the scene. We rode together for a long time during the first days and Simon doesn't seem to be doing well. He fell on the descent of the Ventoux. A week later, I still don't realize that he will finally finish the race a few hours after me with a courage without name.
On the last day, I am still fighting against my heel pain which is becoming more and more invasive. The terrain was difficult, flat and uphill for 200 km. The gorges of the Verdon in the heat wave are exhausting and the cars that overtake without respecting the safety distance drive me crazy, especially after all that happened these last days. I tell myself that this is my last ultra road race. We'll see.
The last two or three passes are long because the head is already at the finish, yet you still have to pedal. The last slopes before the descent to Grasse and Mandelieu seem endless. I meet by chance my colleague Alexis who is doing a great performance for his first 500km. We do the last kilometers together.
I finally finish a little after 10pm on Saturday, after about 7 days and 3 hours of running.
At the moment of putting down the bike, a multitude of feelings are mixed in my head. I am of course happy to have reached the end of this race so the strong jaw closed on more than one competitor. To cross the finish line is to have beaten so many traps that it is an achievement in itself.
I am also proud of the time I took. Almost 15 hours less than last year, even if I was less strong physically, my short experience was my main ally. I did 3 hours too much to do less than 7 days as I wanted before the start, but honestly, I don't know if I could have managed to erase them.
This edition was mourned by the death of a competitor and by too many falls and injuries. I needed to distance myself from the pure performance. When I asked myself what could justify putting oneself in danger to run the race, I couldn't find the answers. Just like these magnificent landscapes that I crossed in such a state of tiredness that I did not appreciate the slightest square inch of them. Just like the Mont Saint Michel, the Château de Chambord or the Lac de Roselend, which I passed without stopping to not waste time.
Participating in an ultra-distance race means crossing a lot of landscapes at an incredible speed. It's feeling the terrain change with each turn of the wheel, waking up in the Loire to fall asleep at the foot of the Alps the next day. But it's also just getting used to your new environment that you have to say goodbye without really enjoying it. Participating in an ultra-distance race means accepting this.
It's saying to yourself, next time I get on my bike, I won't do the race but I will take the time.
I thank Team Ultra for the support as well as Van Rysel for the bike that I had a lot of fun riding!"