When a police motorbike is all I can see in the mirrors of my motorbike, normally I pull over, check the speed and try to look like a relatively law-abiding citizen.
However over the first weekend in April, for two unforgettable days, I was doing everything I could to drop the gendarme locked onto my back wheel around some fantastic roads in the countryside south of Paris.
As the first Brit to take part in a two-day training course run by the elite motorcycle corps of the Gendarmerie Nationale, I got a taste of how highly trained are the Gendarmerie and the Garde Republicaine motorcyclists, and to practise lots of new techniques at low and high speed.
This new course, set up by Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix organisers ASO, is now compulsory for all in-race motorcycle riders they employ. From 2018 it will be obligatory for every other motorcyclist working in ASO races.
It’s proof that the biggest race organiser is taking the burning issue of vehicle safety in the peloton seriously. It’s a much more thorough and useful course than the current version run by the UCI.
It’s an excellent two days but, as the instructors were eager to discuss, it’s almost impossible to replicate some of the high pressure and unique scenarios and skillsets which race drivers face in just about every big event.
The school is run from the Centre Nationale de Formation à la Security Routière (CNFSR) from barracks just outside Fontainebleau and its famous chateau. It reminded me of Sgt Bilko, with young recruits marching about singing marshal tunes.
Day one began in the classroom with an in-depth explanation of the Gendarmerie’s three sector guide to cornering, then we moved on to the parade ground where we wobbled around cones and tyres, a couple of our group of ten struggling to hold up their big BMW RTs.
On both days we went out onto the local roads in small groups with an instructor and did nearly 300km honing our cornering and trying to keep up with the peg-scraping instructors on their Yamaha MT09s.
Most nerve wracking was the final set of exercises which included a brake test from 50kph on which we tried to stop inside ten metres. That took place adjacent to an incredible collection of crazy golf-style tests with cobbles and 45 degree ramps which the Gendarmes tackle on the Yamaha WR250s they use at Paris-Roubaix.
The tracks were built in 1967 and include the notorious tunnel test with its deceptively low roof. Talk to Bernard Hinault, a big fan of the Gendarmes, and he will mention the tunnel test.
Every motorcyclist would love this course. It was interesting, challenging and fun. Our three instructors were top blokes and very good riders.
But as we proudly received our certificates and they asked us how to improve the course, talk was mostly of how replicating some of the most stressful moments in a bike race is virtually impossible in anything but the real thing.
A fantastic experience, it was worthwhile and a privilege to learn from the best. All its missing is 198 sweary pro bike riders!
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