Thursday, May 21, 2015

Le Mans '15

Just over a year ago the surgeon chopped off the end of my toe. This was the result of a dodgy ticker, a blocked artery at the top of my leg and bad circulation - blood wasn't reaching a couple of toes of my left foot. Bit like frostbite. I remember at the time thinking maybe this marks the end of my motorcycling days. So I sold the bike and had an empty garage over winter. Come spring, my foot felt a bit better so I thought I'd chance it and have a final motorcycling fling before hanging up my leathers and binning my helmet. Wasn't sure my lack of physical mobility would mean that boarding a bike would be an impossibility but, what the heck, I'd give it a try. So I bought a cheap and cheerful old banger of a bike for €3000 (sight unseen, apart from a few photos), had it delivered and stuck it in the shed. A few days later I eventually boarded the bike and had a quick spin up the back lanes. Luckily all went well. Had it gone badly I'd have sold the bike and given up.

With the MotoGP season in full swing, the French GP at Le Mans loomed. Mentioned it to Georgie who immediately went online and booked two tickets. That done, I then booked an hotel just outside Tours, about 60 miles from Le Mans (most of the closer ones were already fully booked). We then had a two-up trial run just to see if we could manage a little spin without falling off, getting cramp or suffering muscle spasms. Again, luckily, all went well. Er..., apart from discovering my old leathers no longer fitted (waistline expanded due to lack of exercise) and nor did my biker boots (feet expanded due to water retension in lower legs). Getting old is rubbish.

Anyways..., left home last Saturday morning at around 11ish and headed north following the route Gueret, Poitiers, Tours. Luckily the weather was average with only one teeny weeny bit of rain. I didn't have any wet weather gear due to a) it not fitting any more, and b) not having panniers to put it in (Georgie had a rucksack but that was full of whatever stuff she puts in there). Arrived at the hotel at around 5.30ish (Les Fontaines, Rochecorbon). Very nice place, still retained much of its original charm, hadn't been ponced up and ruined like so many hotels that have been 'modernised'. They didn't do evening meals so we hopped back on the bike and raided a restaurant just up the road (Restaurant de l'Embarcadere, Rochecorbon). Had a fab bit of grub followed by a sundown amble on the banks of the Loire where Georgie pointed out various flowery bits (including fig trees) that obviously flourish in the warm micro climate of this wine region. Then boogied back to the hotel for an early night.

Sunday morn dawned sunny with a big blue sky. Great. No need for wet weather gear. Hit the road at around 8.30ish after a pleasant brekkie which gave us loads of time to travel the 60 miles to Le Mans for the first race at 11. But..., there were massive traffic jams approaching the circuit. We eventually stood trackside (by the Rossi fan club stand) with three minutes to spare. Heard the 125cc race start but couldn't see it due to being vertically challenged and standing behind row upon row of giants. (Er..., I thought they seemed extremely fast for 125s so I just checked what engines they use. Well, knock me down with a feather, they're not 125s, they are in fact 250s. And single cylinder four-strokes at that. Learn summat new every day.) Caught sight of the big screen and checked for Danny Kent's position. Bah, not listed, must have fallen off. (Wrong. He was actually way down in almost last place due to qualifying in yesterday's rainy session.) By about the fourth lap he was around 17th. About ten laps later he was tailing the leading pack. With one lap to go he was 3rd. Unfortunately he finished 4th, but what a ride! Hero.

 For the next race (Moto2, 600cc bikes) we left the giants and headed for the zig-zag bend after the start straight. Discovered more giants. Only saw glimpses of the track with an occasional flash as a rider whizzed by. Heard 'em though. Georgie missed this race due to queueing for a bottle of water so I could take my lunchtime powder medication. I'd have happily chewed the powder but Georgie insisted it had to be taken with water. She queued for a good half hour or more with me standing on higher ground waiting. So we both missed the race. Bit later we spotted a tap by the medics' cabin that people were using for a quick drink. No queues. Ah well, c'est la vie.

Next up was the main race. But first we had to endure 45 minutes (or was it an hour?) of standing in the midday sun waiting for the riders to get prepared. As I didn't have a hat I perched my sweatshirt on my head in a vain attempt to avoid sunburn. Could have stood in the shade of an adjacent stand but would have lost my reasonable viewing position. Ooh, it was hot. Standing there in leather trousers, shifting weight from one foot to the other, then back again, and repositioning a badly behaved sweatshirt back on my head after it had slowly slid down my back or over my face, was not great fun. Time dragged. Oh for a seat. And oh for some shade. If we come here again we're booking a seat in that shady stand with an uninterrupted view of the track. Oh yes.

After what seemed an eternity, the bark of a distant engine announced the arrival of the main event. The bikes whizzed past as they headed for the start. Then whizzed past again on their warm up lap. Then whizzed past again in a blur as the race began. Then, suddenly, it was over. Lorenzo had won, Rossi second and Dovizioso third. Time to go home.

 Legged it back to the bike park with 100,000 others. Eventually found the bike, donned gear onto sweaty bod, jumped aboard and joined the thousands of other bikes jostling and wobbling onto chocabloc exit roads. Nightmare. Then hit a vaguely open road, notched out of bottom and second gears, wound her up and felt the relief of coolish air entering a hot helmet. Then a welcome stop for petrol and coffee about an hour up the road. Loads of bikers. Then same again after another hour. And again. Missed the Limoges turn off at Poitiers so lost an hour at dusk. Dark by the time we hit the autoroute to Gueret. Arrived home at 11.30, knackered and shivering. Well worth the effort though. Woke up Monday morning with sunburn. Ouch.