With so many enduro races going on in Europe you can find a race every weekend if you like from enduro style to mass start racing. I decided it would be good preparation for the Megavalanche to do a mass start race at a venue that is renowned for loads of snow, as the start is up at 3600m!
Cervinia was the host of the second round of the Maxiavalanche Series, 30km up a narrow valley from the Aosta valley in the shadows of the Matterhorn. I have driven past it many times but never realised it was there and wow what a stunning resort it is! The amazing peaks of the mountains sadly only showed themselves on one day as the rest of the time we clouded over with some fairly persistent rain.
It was quite bizarre queuing up for the gondola, hustling for space amongst skiers and snowboarders. We were definitely the ones in the wrong; as soon as we got to the top they all just slid off gracefully and I skidded, one leg out with very little control and grace!
It was a pretty long section of snow and luckily the conditions were cold enough that it was possible to ride most of it. I have just not spent enough time on the snow to feel confident and let go. I can’t tell whether or not I am about to sink into the snow and get spat over the bars!
I think my caution was justified as I watched my boyfriend catapult into the air, execute a high speed sprawl across some ice and rocks and slide to a halt holding his shoulder. That was the day over as we then spent the rest of the day in Aosta hospital to find out he had broken his collar bone. Pretty lucky actually considering the crash!
I missed qualifying but with only five girls on the start sheet it was not going to make much difference to our start.
Sunday morning we were greeted with some pretty heavy rain and the organisers decided not to to start on the glacier but to use the alternative course that had already been marked out in preparation. Fortunately the rain subsided by the time racing began but it left some pretty slippery conditions.
I made a good start in both my races and led from the start to the finish. It was a big shame not to have had more girls for this race and for me it was a big shame that we couldn’t start on the snow as I didn’t really get the mass start or the snow practice I came for. However I still did get some more great training on 15-minute downhill tracks, something I would struggle to do back at home.
With the Megavalanche only two weeks away and having raced every weekend for the last two months or more I decided to take a weekend off. It was a tough decision as the Mountain of Hell and Crankworx Europe was taking place in Les Deux Alpes but I stuck to my plan and had some good days of training and some good recovery time too.
The Megavalanche is the original mass start enduro downhill race and this was the eighteenth edition. It’s a classic race, a real must-do for every mountain biker.
There were close to 2,000 entrants this year from 29 different countries. The Brits are definitely big fans of the Megavalanche with over 700 entrants from GB!
I have completed the Mega only once before, finishing fifth after having to stop to repair my twisted chain, so I knew what to expect. I knew that it is all about getting a good start on the snow so I got up super early to get the first lift to practice the snow.
I experienced every snow condition I thought possible from perfect rideable piste, to ice, to pretty soft slushy snow. I was feeling better on the snow and definitely a lot more confident but even with all this practice I still had not done enough to prepare myself for the conditions we had on race day.
It was great to see the biggest women’s field I have ever seen at a gravity event, close to 100 girls battling it out. For me it was a great opportunity to race against a full field and the first chance I have had for some time to race against the legendary Anne-Caroline Chausson.
Anne-Caroline retired from World Cup downhill just as I started to win a few races and since then she has gone on to become the first ever BMX Olympic champion. She still races enduros as well as coaching the French BMX squad. I knew it was going to be a tough challenge but I felt as though I was now the most ready for it as I had ever been.
I qualified in second, right behind her and had spent most of the run just following her. I could see she was not pushing hard as we were both out in front of the rest of the field and there was no need to use up any unnecessary energy.
The main race was going to be a lot different as we had to get off the snow first. Anne-Caro once set a world speed record on a bike on snow and grew up skiing so she definitely is a little more at home on the stuff than me. Sadly the weather conditions for our race were not great, it was far too warm and the snow was soft.
With the snow conditions so poor the organisers had decided to divert the course a little which added to the sense of unknown. I decided to take a completely different start to Anne-Caro. As she set off on the snow I chose to start on the off camber rock and although it was a little slower initially I soon got up into second place as we turned the first corner onto the first flat snow section.
Anne-Caro probably had around a 30m lead by this point and soon extended that lead as she somehow managed to pedal across the snow. I quickly looked up and saw her and thought, “right I need to try riding too!” I tried it and straight away just sank into the snow!
I was off and trying to scoot and then trying to run and by this stage Anne was about to turn down the first steep bank. Gutted I had already lost touch and all my flailing about meant that I was now getting passed.
I managed to ride the next steep chute and on to the gravel road. I quickly looked up and could see Anne-Caro running knee deep in snow across what looked to be no man’s land. I had the great idea that I would run across to the piste in the hope it would be hard enough to ride and then I would just ride along and catch her up!
Poor judgment on my part, it just meant that I ran an extra two sides to the triangle to her one and still ended up sinking in the snow and having to run.
By this stage I was now back in 6th place and had some work to do. Another couple of poor line choices later and we were finally off the snow.
I slowly managed to pass the girls ahead of me and got back up into second spot by the first climb and the traverse above Alpe d’Huez but by this time Anne-Caro was no where to be seen.
I pushed as hard as I could but with no gauge of anyone in front or behind I felt a bit in limbo just riding my own race. I had some amazing support along the way, though; the main climb was like being in the Tour, cow bells, chainsaws and even a ‘Go T-MO’ banner – very cool!
However all the support was not enough and I eventually finished 3min 50sec behind Anne-Caro. It was a little disappointing not to have had a chance to give her a race but I guess finishing second to such a great rider and a further four minutes ahead of the rest of the 100-girl field is still a great achievement in only my first year of enduro’s and my second Mega.
Anka Martin, my Cape Epic partner from last year, put in a great ride to take third spot, so I’m happy for her. I certainly learnt a lot from this race and I feel I could come back next year much more prepared and ready to have another go at taking a win at the Mega.