• Dawn Barnable

The BikingWomen of Corsica: Clémence Raffi

The last edition of BikingMan Corsica, a 700km/13,000m self-supported ultra-cycling race took place in April 2019, starting a year ago today. Due to the current global pandemic, the 2020 edition, which was supposed to be underway at the time of publishing has been postponed. To relive the magic of the 2019 edition, we’re taking a look back at the 8 women who competed in, and successfully completed, this painfully beautiful race.

This is Clémence's story:

Clémence and her father, Jean Jacques cycled the race as a pair

The Facts:

  • Name: Clémence Raffi

  • Age at race time: 30

  • Nationality: French residing in Porto-Vecchio, Corsica

  • Profession: Krono Corsica

  • BikingMan Corsica as a pair with her father

  • Found on IG as @aio_bike_clem

  • Clémence's race was also documented through her instagram stories

The Background:

Of the 8 women riding in the 2019 edition of BikingMan Corisca, Clémence was the only Corsican resident. A cyclist for 5 years and having competing athletics, trail running, triathlon and cyclocross races up to 120km, this was her first ultra-cycling race. Riding BikingMan Corsica as a pair with her father to celebrate their respective 30th and 60th birthdays, and finishing in 83 hours this is Clemence’s story, in her own words.

Why BikingMan Corsica?

In 2018, my father and I talked about finding a challenge to do in 2019 for our 30th and 60th birthdays to mark both occasions. We thought that a cycling challenge would be fitting as he had passed on his passion for cycling to me since he started riding 6 or 7 years ago. So, we found BikingMan Corsica which was perfect, and we signed up in December with 5 months to go!

Tell us about your training for the race.

When we signed up, it had been a while since I had been riding. With my work in a hotel, I didn’t have much time. I told myself I was going to start over, slowly by doing small rides regularly, then lengthen the distance. But Christmas holidays and then a trip planned for a long time in January postponed the real start of my training. I was advised to make small outings but to plan them for example morning and afternoon or evening and next early morning, and once a week a big ride. But it was hard for me to do that. I’m not very disciplined and if I don’t have someone telling me what to do and when exactly - like a coach - I do a little what I want, when I want. In the end my biggest training rides were 186 km and 85km the next day. I’ve done a lot of rides in the 70-80 km and some 100-140 but only few. Looking back, I think I should have done 1 or 2 rides of 200 km before the race. In December, I did 540 km total, 331 km in January, 694 km in February , 1040 km in March and in April before Biking Man, I did 530 km.

As my father lives in Paris it was hard for him to do elevation training… but he did some weekends in the mountains, and some long distance rides.

Thoughts on the start line?

I knew we were going to have a crazy experience… that we were going to see beautiful things and amazing landscapes. Even though it was going to be hard from the start, I knew we were going to get there because we both have the mental strength, but I was afraid of a big irreparable mechanical problem or a fall or sickness that would take us out of the race. I knew the two of us would support each other in difficult times - in fact, he supported me only and didn’t need my help as I was so sick!

What was your race strategy, and did you follow it?

We had planned to stop at CP1 in Ghisoni because 180 km and over 4000 meters of elevation would be enough for the first day since I never cycled that much in my life. And we needed to save ourselves for the remaining 520 km. Then we thought that depending on how we felt, we could stop at Porto on Day 2, then at St Florent on Day 3 and then finish. We planned to finish in 80-85 hours, but we didn’t really know, there are so many uncontrollable and uncertain elements. It gave us a day to beat if we had a big problem. And actually, we just wanted to finish it, not too fast because we wanted to enjoy, not riding at night to avoid missing landscapes. And in fact, once we were cycling, we could not ride more every day as I was too tired (and sick) and it was too cold. We weren’t prepared enough for the cold temperatures, and the added tiredness.

On the first day we followed our strategy, we didn’t really have a choice as I couldn’t eat anymore and so I had hypoglycemia and I was very cold. After a few hours at the checkpoint, I managed to warm up and eat, things were better the next morning. The next day, Tuesday we reached the pass of Verde (the highest elevation of the race) but the descent was so cold! 0°C! No-one had expected this cold, even though I live in Corsica, that week the temperatures were particularly cold, it even snowed a few days after BikingMan. As the day progressed, I still had trouble eating. It was difficult so we stopped at Cargèse (before Porto). That night I was very sick I was unable to sleep. On Wednesday we moved slowly ... and we stopped to sleep in Monticello at CP3. The last day I’m feeling better and we finished finally in 83 hours and we said: “FINALLY!”.

What was the most challenging aspect of the race for you?

For me the hardest part was eating so I could have enough strength to move on. Which is a paradox because I usually love to eat, a little bit too much anyway. I did think that I had gotten sick and the tests I did after the race confirmed that I had caught a cold. I didn’t have any strength, so it was really in the head, in the mind, my father kept telling me that it was great what I was doing and that we were going at our own pace no problem. Other than that, I had the legs, so it was a bit frustrating for me. It wasn’t about lack of training, just this sickness. My father was in really good shape, except, like me he also had trouble due to cycling shorts and the saddle sores, but we carried on in any case!

Clemence riding through Cap Corse, the most Northern point in Corsica, on the home stretch to the Finish Line

What was the most enjoyable aspect of the race?

There is not just one, or a best one it’s a combination! To do the race with my father was incredible, the landscapes, sunrises, sunsets on the road, instead of cold we had sun almost all the time! And also, the BikingMan family, the atmosphere with the staff, the organisation, and with the other competitors, who, however, during the race are not competitors but rather friends. There was a lot of kindness, everybody is so nice, we care about each other and share our adventures.

What advice would you give someone thinking about doing an ultra-cycling race?

For your first one, train hard to be physically prepared to finish it within the time limit. Don’t think of it as a race, just take it as an adventure. You don’t have to do too much training compared to what you’ll do in the race, so you don’t get too tired. Increase training gradually and do some sequential ride sessions. And some long rides but not with speed as the focus is to stay in your comfort zone, economise, and save yourself. You’ll need so stay within comfort zone with the distance and you have to be prepared for that.

The race is not only about the physical. Everything is in the details like the weather, good equipment, stay concentrated 100% of the time because an accident or fall can happen very quickly. Prepare also your itinerary and know your route. For example, a big mistake we made on the first day there was no open shops on the road for lunch and I couldn’t eat anymore of my sweet energy bars. We should have prepared sandwiches - and a lot of people did that.

Stop when you are tired, you’ll earn time, because if you go too far when you are exhausted, you could fall from tiredness and not be able to move forward. It’ll be a shame.

And never back down! You can do it; everything is in your head!

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