Just so you know, I am really not a fan of competitive sports. Apart from Kick Start (1979-1988 motorcycle trials series on BBC) I have never enjoyed watching them and, no I have never been picked for the hockey team.
We visited Ile Sainte Marie about four weeks ago while waiting for a boat that ultimately did not leave harbour (rewind to us watching the skipper brushing his teeth at 5.30am).
Anyway, while we were talking to the incredibly helpful lady who works in the tourist information office on Ile Sainte Marie I noticed a flyer for the festival des baleines. Inside the flyer I found an advert for a mountain bike race.
Gez spent most of his childhood glued to the handlebars of his mountain bike, competing on the downhill and cross-country UK race circuit. Just so you know he’s really good at riding his bike.
Fast forward to now and here I am handing over enough money to spend the whole day eating cake or relaxing at a spa.
For some reason, at this point in our journey not entering a 45km off road race seems like a bit of a cop out. What’s the worst that can happen (about 200miles from the nearest hospital)?
Race day arrives and as daylight creeps its way over the island we set off for the starting line (5km south of our bungalow). Most of the other entrants arrive clad in Lycra which makes me very uncomfortable on several counts and I start to regret being here. At that moment (and much to my relief) another normal looking person turns up, full of jokes and banter.
The race starts with a bit of a bun fight amongst the men. I stay well back from this, my plan is to finish the course in one piece, I have no interest in winning but my legs are on autopilot pedalling me around the course at a pace I didn’t know I could maintain. I am throwing myself down steep single track that I would normally walk and I am even overtaking people. I haven’t suddenly become a mountain bike expert (I still can’t bunny hop) but I am actually enjoying the challenge and the views are amazing.
Before I know it and sandwiched between moments of regret (why on earth am I doing this?) and elation (I totally smashed that bit!) I can see a very muddy Gez and the finish line. My first ever mountain bike race is over and much to my surprise I have a winner’s trophy to prove it!
What we needed now was a celebration, fortunately Madagascar and Ile Sainte Marie were happy to oblige. The festival des baleines happens at the beginning and end of every whale season, so as well as watching some of the most amazing creatures on earth fool around in the water you can have a right old knees up on land.