The Ventoux Trial Classic is a team event that takes place in the Vaucluse region
of France. Along with Thierry Michaud, the trial has just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the first of his three world championship titles on a Fantic. Riding without a score card to reduce the pressure on him, and hence favouring his role as guest of honour whilst still giving him a feel for the competition, the last French
‘World Champ’ has lost none of his style in sections.
On the podium for the awards ceremony of the 16th edition of the VTC and with the microphone in hand and a smile from ear to ear, Philippe Berlatier speaks: “When I knew that the 2015 edition would celebrate the anniversary of Thierry’s title I heard a lot of riders were in serious training, and there were big plans in the organising committee, and so I did as Jean Pierre Foucault (the host of the French version of ’Who Wants to be a Millionaire’) would have suggested: “call a friend” ... In fact it was two friends: Jordi Tarres and Steve Saunders who with Philip (the TRS importers in the UK and France), along with the ‘boss’ made up the TRS Classic team and would win in the Expert category of an event that looked like a Grand Prix from the 1980s. This made it the most beautiful ever meeting on the Ventoux plateau.
Looking down the long international list of 350 riders that have entered you can find the names of Fred Michaud, Gilles Burgat, John Lampkin, Renato Chiaberto, Bernard Cordonnier, Jaime Subira, Donato Miglio, Michael Traini, Charles Coutard, Yrvo Vesterinen and Eric Lejeune, to name but a few...
It is just outside the charming town of Malaucène that we find the paddock and the trials ‘village’ of exhibitors. There is a magnificent collection of Fantic models, with stands dedicated to the old and the new with TRS and Vertigo, the two newest brands in the modern world of trials.
The machines have spent the night in the Park Ferme and the first rays of the sun hits the fuel tanks which are covered with a thin layer of dew. Once the trio of drivers per team have gathered they head to the start podium for a ‘Concourse d’ Elegance’ competition, with the winner being announced via the internet.
The route is a clover-shaped layout on tracks linking the territories of Beaumont du Ventoux, Entrechaux, Le Barroux and Malaucène, which is embellished by 18 sections. We start with the loop corresponding to the colour of our class, which avoids many queues but has the perverse effect of depriving the riders competing in the lower categories the chance to admire the riding on the larger obstacles in the higher classes.
Taking advantage of my status as a reporter, and although riding the yellow route, I started with other riders on the highest-level red loop that includes many sections in the woods. With fairly tight turns they are nevertheless beautiful sections, and will prove to be the most technical of the day. When I arrived at ‘Section 1’ it was like being transported into an Auto Moto story from the 80s as the most famous journalist dedicated to the heritage of French trials, Jean Louis Bernardelli, was watching.
Imagine all the heroes of your youth walking the section consisting of roots and loose stones: they watch from the corners of their eyes, wondering who will crack first and ride the section. Thirty years later they have not changed; even if the atmosphere is much more relaxed when they go into a section the game gets serious. As Fred Michaud said when he lit the touch paper with his friend Gilles Burgat: “When counting points lost, we do it seriously!” This is mainly for the benefit of the Observers, who are often five-strong per section and who, needless to say, were not swayed by any gamesmanship!
They are among the 138 volunteers that can be found throughout a well signposted route, at crossings and sometimes on the most difficult passages between sections that were sometimes more difficult than the actual sections in my category! On the yellow route we find great climbs, descents, winding banking and slippery rocks; everything you could wish for is there. Looking past the pine trees on a bend in the path we find ourselves on a natural balcony that opens onto a 180° panorama of the Ventoux region – ‘Magnifique!’ This is an opportunity to illustrate the beautiful side of this area as we ride between the sections on the tracks. I position myself to get my photo; I’m ready to shoot, awaiting the passage of the next competitor, and it’s the beautiful ‘Cub’ ridden by Laurent Delannoy (the father of Mederic, the minder of Alex Ferrer in the WTC) who appears in my viewfinder!
The second loop features more wide open sections, more ‘old school’ but always with a hidden feature that will allow the best to make a difference. They are laid out in the mythical landscapes of this classic trials region and the sculptured sandstone, which graduates from saffron to yellow hues, offers a lunar playground, with turns and accelerations taken in the loose sand at the base which can be very tricky. This is the perfect place to photograph a bright red Fantic, whose colours are magnified in such settings. One of them is being ridden by the guest of honour, Thierry Michaud. His style is instantly recognisable and still very effective.
At the end of the section he takes a little break to watch the guys, it’s also an opportunity to collect his impressions: “I have spent a great weekend here! I am happy to share this anniversary in a region that is ideal for these machines and allows everyone to have fun. Even after so many years without riding a Fantic I can still find my riding sensations and feel for the motorcycle, but it’s my consistency that I have lost the most.
“If you look at the old riders I competed against in the World Championship you recognise their style. Although the one that amazes me most is Jordi Tarres. I always saw him as the most acrobatic of riders, and today he just rolls through in the old style!” Yes, the one who invented the modern style of riding has adapted well to the rules of VTC, which prohibits any sideways hopping of the rear wheel. Jordi also had the best score card of the weekend; we can say that he is well suited to the SWM provided, as for many top riders of motorcycles, by a collector. This is probably due to its yellow colour, which is a feature of his new creation: TRS!
Talking of matching colour schemes, we find the Vertigo green in its more usual place on a Kawasaki 250 KT ridden by Julian Panabières, the French importer who is also sporting matching clothing in green and black. The same colours work for Christophe Bruand, who is riding in his first classic trial. To match his suit, his Montesa 348 from 1979 has a carbon-kevlar shell painted in the colours of his ‘monstrous’ sponsor. Thierry Michaud’s successor at the head of the French trials team, Christophe proudly wears his moustache just like the one his father had when he rode in 1979, also on a 348. After twelve years spent away from competing in trials, he was infected by the virus for older machines whilst preparing a beautiful Triumph-Twin road machine. This member of the Editorial Team of ‘Trial Mag’ No.1 is now living in Rocbaron in the Var, a village around which Michaud started in trials. Enthused by his weekend, he hopes to enter a 100% team Bruand for next year!
In the Parc Ferme was a display of the Fantic machines
Steve Saunders rode a four-stroke TLR Honda
French rider Phillipe Berlatier gets some ‘Airtime’ on the Bultaco
Celebrating 30 years since he took the first of his three world crowns, Thierry Michaud turns on the style on the 300 Fantic
Charles Coutard Snr on his Greeves
Still as competitive as ever, Jordi Tarres rode an SWM in yellow; the same colour as the new TRS
Gilles Burgat on the Fantic uses the acrobatic riding style that took him to world championship success
Entering into the spirit of the occasion, John Lampkin competed while wearing Fantic ‘Retro’ riding kit on this 240
It’s a raised thumb for ‘Team’ Charles Coutard; on the left he poses with Yrjo Vesterinen and Eric Lejeune
Thierry with his old boss ‘Il Dottore’, Mario Agratti. Saturday evening and after the effort came the reward, in the form of an aperitif offered to riders by the Comite des fetes de Malaucene. This was followed by a special animated event on the subject of Michaud-Fantic in the largest room of the Town Hall. During this exceptional evening our guest of honour became the master of ceremonies, sharing with all the trials fans present, his friends and former adversaries alike, the greatest moments of his career and reminding all present what an excellent time was had in the 1980s.
Eric Lejeune on the 175cc vintage Honda built by his father