Having spent the first few months of this year suffering and getting into shape riding and racing cross-country and competing in my first enduro races in the UK, the time came to take on some enduros in Europe.
In the UK, gravity enduro racing is quite a new idea, but out in Europe they have been racing the format for years with the famous Megavalanche having been around for 15+ years, as have many other enduro events, and the one I took part in at the weekend was celebrating its tenth edition.
Not only have they been racing enduro for a lot longer, but they also have a very different format compared to the UK, due to the fact that they have access to the ski lift systems taking away the need to always get yourself to the top of each stage! You would think that must be a much easier format, not much pedalling and using the lifts – but you would be mistaken! I have just experienced two of the toughest weekends of racing!
I really thought that this year had already given me some pretty amazing experiences and some pain and great character building moments, but it seems like that theme is just going to continue as I try my hand at yet more different mountain bike races!
After a 12-hour drive we arrived to the small mountain village of Sameons for the first round of the French Enduro Series. Sameons is just over the Col de Joux Plane from the biking metropolis of Morzine, Les Gets etc. Samoens is a much quieter village with as much great riding it seems.
One thing that is very different about these races is, having arrived on the Friday lunchtime, you would not think there was going to be a race at the weekend. The place was deserted all for one campervan with some bikes and a pile of barriers by the lift station. The concept of enduro over here is one where there is no practice allowed, you just ride the courses blind! You can walk the courses but with six or more different stages and over 8,000m of descending there is no way you could walk all the courses.
So there was very little need to arrive before 6pm when registration begins. Registration goes on until 11pm so gradually the place filled up and began to look like a race. At registration you pick up your number, timing chip to be placed on your ankle, a voucher for dinner on Saturday night and some other goodies from the local area. It’s then time to get to bed as you need to be at the lift for 7.30am the next morning!
During the journey down through France we drove through some very heavy rain and at the queue for registration we noticed the majority of people had front spikes on so we went with that theme and put on the full-on DH spike tyre on the front and am I glad we did! The first stage, which we did twice, was pretty full-on, raw terrain; open meadow at the start then into the forest, into steep muddy chutes for the first part – and just getting down a few sections was a success ! There was one short, sharp, steep climb and a few other flat pedalling sections but otherwise it was pretty much downhill
all the way to the lift station again.
Having completed the stage you then had enough time to wash your bike, grab some snacks from the food station which had been put on by the town and head back to the top. We did two runs on stage one and then two runs on a different stage. It was amazing how much shorter the stages seemed on the second run when you had some idea of what was
coming up next. I still seemed to overshoot the same corners though even though I had ridden it once!
Stage three was a 20 minute pedal across and down from the lift station to the top of the next village, Morillon. The liaison stage would have been worthy of a downhill race as one section we had to ride down a pretty gnarly dry riverbed full of boulders, and having a full front spike tyre made it even more of a challenge. Once at Morillon we then had a shorter but fun stage down to the village through the piste and woodland, finishing at the valley bottom. Day one completed and a great spread of local cheese and meat awaited you! After having some good food we then had to ride about five kilometres along the river back to Samoens. From a 7:30am start we finally got back to the campsite around 5pm. A pretty good day out in your full face helmet and knee pads and nearly one of timed stages.
Dinner was also put on by the town and we had polenta and sausages with red wine. It was pretty cool to get everyone together in the evening; it really does bring the event together and create such a good atmosphere. However, there was no late night socialising as we had another 7:30am start on Sunday morning!
We had three runs to do on another new stage, but this time we had a 20-minute uphill ride to get to the start. Fred the organiser did say that he likes to make day two more physical and by that I have found out he means with more pedalling! So Sunday’s stage started with a short climb and then had some brand new track that had been cut out down a steep ridge with loads of loamy bowls that you would drop into then have to climb out of. It was a really tough stage as you had to work the bike the whole time.
The bottom half was much faster and flatter but it was still a long stage, around 21/22 minutes for me. Doing the same run three times was hard as, although you knew what to expect, the fatigue was really starting to build up after the two days and the last run was really tough, and my whole body, hands, arms, and feet were really hurting after two hours of racing downhill!
It was a great two days of riding, I really felt I had been challenged in all aspects of my riding and my fitness. I managed to stay on my bike and had no mechanical issues which in itself is an achievement. I also managed to have ridden fast enough to take the win ahead of a good girls field. Second place went to Anais Pajot, junior down world champion in 2007, and Estelle Veuillman, a very experienced enduro racer, so I was really happy to get my first European enduro victory ahead of these girls.
We then had a week to travel south to the next round the following weekend. I had time to ride up the Col de Joux Plane, do a few hours in Chamonix, ride some great trails in Les Arcs and also meet up with some friends from home who were riding the Route Grand Alp from Geneva to Nice on the road. We also took in some amazing mountain passes which in the campervan were sometimes a little smaller than I would have liked! However we safely arrived in the Val D’Allos valley which is around 140km north of Nice, close to the Verdon Gorge. It was actually an area we passed through
on the Transprovence race last autumn and I remember Jerome Clementz telling me that there was enduro race in this valley! So eight months later I was there about to take part in the tenth edition of the Tribe 10,000.
It’s a race that has been going for ten years and you descend 10,000 metres over the two days! In contrast to last week we had moved south to a much drier region of France and the place looked really dry and dusty. Again no course walking was allowed so you just had to listen to the locals and to the people who had ridden here before to know what tyres to use for your first run. The choice for day one seemed to be downhill tyres as there was not much pedalling.
We took two chairlifts to reach the start which was perched on a beautiful ridgeline. It really did feel like we were about to drop into some crazy freeride race off the side of the ridge, but luckily there was a trail! It was absolutely flat out from the start, you were up to 40+kmh in less than five seconds - it was nuts! I set off first having won last weekend and with 20 second gaps between riders you were able to see the person in front of you for some of the trail.
I definitely had a shock to the system on stage one as it was still only 8:30am and I was not happy going so fast into a trail I did not know. The grass was really high and the trail so narrow it was really hard to see far ahead and anticipate where the trail went. I was definitely riding pretty steady but I was still surprised to hear someone behind me and I had been caught by Anais, who set off 20 seconds behind me! Oops I needed to wake up fast!
I let her pass and then followed her down to the finish to make sure it was no more than 20 seconds that I lost! That was enough to wake me up and I also made a tyre change to a faster rolling Bontrager G4 tyre as I felt that it was not necessary to have a downhill tyre front and rear. I could save some weight and hopefully not get passed on the next stage.
I really attacked the next race which was easier as I then knew the stage, I managed to stay ahead of Anais and this time go over one minute quicker. I really don’t know what I was doing on the first run! We then had two more stages to race, twice on each stage.
So every time the first run was a bit of an exploratory run then you could go faster on the second run. I managed to maintain my speed and ended up finishing the day in just under one hour, which was one minute and 50 seconds ahead of Anais.
Again we had a great meal put on by the local village, this time a huge paella that had been cooking all afternoon in the finish area over a huge fire. It was like a French ski station scrum to get your food though, they really do not know how to queue politely like us Brits! We even had a jazz band playing in the field too, pretty bizarre but made for a good evening.
Again the theme for a tougher Sunday continued here and the first stage was a new track with a pretty long undulating singletrack where we traversed the mountain before dropping down and finishing alongside the river about three kilometres up the valley. Again it was really hard to navigate as the trails were freshly cut and the grass was so long it was hard to see where the trail went. I realised how much I rely on my vision to be able to go fast and as soon as I can’t see far enough ahead I just can’t go fast! This was a tough start to the day, a 15 minute stage which was much more physical than
the previous day.
The next stage, however, was the one everyone had been talking about: the 20-minute-plus stage with some big climbs! Luckily Jerome gave myself and Anka Martin some little pointers about the climb and told us not to attack it at the start as it goes on for a long time. This was a really helpful insight as that first climb did go on for a long time. Even when you crested the top it just kept going along the flat. It was a tough stage because as soon as you finished the climb you
dropped in to some of the most off-camber technical terrain which you just don’t ride well when you are gasping for air!
It was a long stage, too, just over 20 minutes for me. It was long enough for me to contemplate once again what have I got myself into this year. This was meant to be fun but it was nothing but painful! Also knowing you had to do it all over again was not a nice thought! Luckily though, it seemed so much quicker on the second run, although I really was beginning to feel the last few weeks of racing. I just had nothing left to push hard on the climbs and certainly felt like a passenger at times! I managed to go a little quicker and again stay ahead of Anais.
We still had one more stage to do to complete the weekend and thankfully this was back to the front side of the mountain and the more downhill terrain. It was still a nine minute track which, when you were as tired as I was, felt like forever!
With the weekend complete, it really did feel like a massive achievement to have completed the Tribe 10,000 at Allos. Another great weekend and another win ahead of Anais Pajot. By the end of the weekend I had managed a gap of just over four mins after two hours and nine minutes of racing, and a 43rd place finish overall. A great weekend of training which can only help in my preparation for the Mega in three weeks time!