REPORT ON CLERMONT-FERRAND RECCE
Arriving in Paris off the now, even quicker Eurostar, when a transport strike is on, was not inducing positive vibes. This especially so, when it required a 6km tramp across Paris, in a light drizzle, to get to the Gare de Lyon, to see what my options were.
However, with some TGV’s appearing to at least be leaving for all parts of the compass south, things appear less ominous, although the 17.27 to Clermont-Ferrand listed on the overhead screens was blank in platform number column. Then Jaune 17 appears – I can only see Voie’s A to K in front of me, where the …. is Jaune 17 – heart rate now approaching 200 as it is now 17.20. A Steve Peters recall – focus on the task in hand, to the nth degree. Calmness returns, engaging brain, looking at signage, Voie’s are for TGV’s, Jaune’s are for other trains, my Express and the like, they are in the adjacent building. Train still at platform, but would you just know it, my carriage is right at front of train. I have done more kilometres in Paris than I managed at home, in training, last week. Train leaves only 15 minutes late, which being British was the norm at home in British Rail days. The odd hiccup, a big flash and bang, outside of Vichy [another sabotage attempt?], train comes to a halt, but after 20 minutes we are on our way again. We arrive in C-F only 35 minutes later than original schedule. Rather than risk the bus, or tramp to the tramway, I go for broke and get a taxi to the hotel. Charged only €12, which is less than €15 quoted. Heaven, my affair with La Francais has survived even the strike.
Reality dawns the next morning – the new tramway to the Stadium, reconfirms it as my preferred urban transport option [and why am I not surprised, that in the home of Michelin, the tram has rubber wheels]. Then lo and behold on arrival at the Stadium, it is an Indoor Arena to die for. If this does not work, nothing will.
They have a six lane track, with a warm up area each side. One of these will be lost during the Championship as the stackaway seating will be pulled out over one of these areas. These together with other demountable seating will give 1200 seats. All the seating is off a full perimeter gallery, so there is close up viewing for all events, which is completely separate from the competition level. Perfect.
The retained warm up area is 6 lanes wide, along side the back straight, together with a two lane 420m full perimeter circuit next to it. There is also a very adjacent hall, where the Weight Throws will happen, for additional warm up space. These, together with a 6 lane outside tartan track and adjacent Throws Field, at the other end of the Arena building. Perfect, but what is this, the front doors are locked.
The quirkiness of French Local Government comes to the fore with the Compromise La Francais. It appears a few voters that live across the road from the new, what, €25M Arena, have objected to additional traffic, cars/coaches parking outside, so the side door/office entrance is being in used, apart from when the French National Championships are being held.
Sorry Mr. Tarrerias [Mayor of Aubiere - suburb of Clermont-Ferrand], the Auvergne has invited us Veterans, who are actually Masters in World terms, to your town. Many will come as Monde Champions and more will leave as such – they do not do side doors [lettre sur le poste].
Whatever – ample facilities competition wise – call room and expanded catering facilities will be in large tent in car park, right outside Arena warm up area. Declaration appears to be the card system, and with a 2 maybe 3 hour declaration period [not the Riccione inverted manana]. I have asked them to look at ensuring full catering is available on site, from mid-morning to early evening at least, to cater for the early starters and afternoon competitors staying on to watch friends etc., in the later to last races of the day. Commonsense reigns.
Onto the Outdoors – Cross Country, Road Walks and Half Marathon. All of these venues are near the far end of the Tramway [Musee d’Art and Montferrand stops] and the courses are all flat as pancakes.
The Cross Country, which is around, mainly football pitches of a Sports complex, will have 2km loops which they are looking to push to 3km, for a 2x3km+1x2km rather than 4x2km race. The course is mainly, good grass plus some dirt, but will take a shortish spike at the very least. There is an avenue of poplars which will form one side of the course, which has some exposed roots, which will be covered with earth. The course looks good and should not favour the ‘little people’, as some recent courses have.
The Walks Course is a straight out and back [2km allegedly] next to the main railway line. Very good smooth surface, they are even going to remove the speed bumps.
The Half Marathon Course, is an extension of the Walks Course, basically an unused narrow road [two cars wide]for three quarters of the 5km lap. This has long, nearly straight sections of road, with 90 degree bends. However, it is exposed for at least half of it, so if windy – the little people will go hiding. There is a possibility of the lap being extended to 7km, the extra bit I did see, but before I knew it may be part of the course. I recall the terrain is as being flat, as it goes up and around the cross country course.
So all venues look very good to superb – the Stadium at one end of the Tramway, 15 minutes from Place de la Jaude [basically centre of town, adjacent to where best restaurants and bars are] plus a 3 minute walk. The Start/Finish of Road courses is an 11 minute [actually 10.48 in the pouring rain] walk from the Montferrard-La Fontaine stop, which is 12 minutes on the tram from Place de Jaude. The cross country course is a lot farther and from the Musee d’ Art stop, say 25 minute walk – but they are proposing to lay on shuttle buses between the tram stop and the start of the course on race day.
So athletics wise – all looks good, and I am sure Annie Laurent and her team will follow Percy Hirsch and his Linz Team’s superb marker of organisation, in providing World Masters athletes with a worthy stage on which to perform. No problems, only issues that were, and will be resolved
Before I move on to the social bit, I need to dispel the nonsense about Clermont-Ferrand being a dirty, boring, industrial city – cobblers, they are so wrong. The structural engineer in me came to the fore, and my interest in buildings was aroused. Clermont-Ferrand’s ‘dirty’ buildings, which are actually built with the black stone cut from the volcanic hillsides, and in the old town of Clermont with its narrow, cobblestoned, pedestrianised streets, even on a damp, overcast afternoon, still looked stunning. The French, being French also do really, and I mean really, crap buildings, and I did spot the odd one or two. But as always, you only remember ‘la femme fantastique’, as opposed to the ‘le gros homme, dans beret et shell suit’, which they do both to perfection.
The city is worthy of a visit for itself and the surrounding mountains, if only to see where a tower block of flats should be built. To view a stark tower block on a hillside, but dominated by Le Puy de Dome is how it should be, a mere part of the landscape, but adding to it and not overruling it.
That aside, let me finish with the convivial bit, but the no more less important side of Masters Athletics, the eating and drinking. This centres mainly on the small area just north of Place de Jaude and west of the ‘black’ Cathedral. The restaurants, and there appear to be hundreds, tend to be outside of the tramway whilst the lively bars, and as this is also a University City there is a plentiful supply of them, tend to be inside, but not solely. I had a fabulous lunch in one of the better restaurants for not a lot of money, but a less so evening meal. It was pouring with rain, so the detailed exploration of the menu was ignored for the flagged highlights, where the offered ‘local specialities’ left a bit to be desired. However as this region is betwixt the Bordeaux’s and the Burgundy’s, I was spoilt for choice, so all was not lost. So with such a collection there are explorations aplenty to look forward to and relish.
So forget Helsinki, and do not even mention Riccione, we need you in Clermont-Ferrand. None of the home nations are going to the European Football Championships, so thankfully we do not have to live through another summer of ‘if only’. Team ethic nearly got two of the Celtic nations to those Championships, but it is something British Masters Athletics has had a plenty and why we are going to OUR Worlds by right.
So, not only will you be delighted with Clermont-Ferrand, I think you may well be amazed. Your only problem now is getting reasonable priced accommodation, because it appears the WORLD has already booked, to be there, which, following my visit, comes as no surprise.
Yes, my affair with La Francais continues, and long may it reign, in the Auvergne, Bordeaux, Burgundy and especially in Provence.
Maurice – Le Doog de Saint-Tropez.