The time had come. No turning back now. I was set for a front row start in a race format I had never entered before. There were 160 riders all starting at the same time on a 50-minute downhill – the Megavalanche on Réunion Island.
The start was set for 9am, withr grid positions was based on our heat race results at 8am. This sounds fine until you note that the drive to the top is at least an hour on a road with the tightest turns I had ever seen. Car sickness started to set in near the top.
I lined up on my Teocali Elite next to Julien Camellini. Next to him was Nico Vouilloz and then Rémy Absalon. Talk about a generation gap – Nico had retired by the time I got on the international circuit as a pro. After looking up to him for all those years it was a little overwhelming lining up alongside him to start.
I knew a good start was needed. My game plan was to go as hard as I could in the beginning and try to stay with the top boys. The start was a mix of open granite sections, short steep inclines, and some dusty singletrack.
The countdown began – 10 minutes to go, then five minutes, then 30 seconds, then five seconds and then we were off! The pace was frantic. Everyone was flat out with some taking sneaky lines through the bushes. WOW! These guys meant business. I had a good start and was in about fourth going into the first climb. I gave it my all, which almost backfired as my legs were not feeling great. This happens when you sprint before your body warms up.
This race felt like a downhill, 4X, XC, and motocross race all rolled into one. There were a couple of place changes near the front because of some interesting line choices and crashes. I managed to make a pass and go into the long, dusty singletrack in third. What a surprise! I couldn’t believe it, but by this time my legs were full of lactic acid. I settled into a pace and pushed myself when I could.
Reny Wildhaber caught me on one of the concrete road sections which was a mix between flat and inclines. He was very strong, but I tucked in behind him, and he pulled me along. This helped so much as it gave me some time to rest. I joked with him afterwards and said he saved my life on that road!
I made sure to stay with Reny, as I knew if I could go into the last long, flat rocky section in fourth that I could maintain the position. I was really hurting. This race is long, but before you know it, you are at the finish. Up front, Nico had caught Rémy Absalon, the early leader. They battled it out but the ten-time World DH Champion came out on top. Nico has been quoted as saying this is the hardest race he has ever done physically. I would agree. And I must say I was happy with how my bike handled the various terrains of the course. It had a great mix of technical downhills and fast-paced pedaling.
All in all this race was a great experience, and I was happy to hang on to that fourth place. The people I met and places I saw were amazing. Not often can riders of all riding abilities get together and take part in the same race. We all get to share war stories after the race. The island was beautiful, the people friendly, and the snorkelling amazing!
- Nico Vouilloz
- Rémy Absalon
- Reny Wildhaber
- Andrew Neethling
- Franck Parolin
The top three finishers were all previous winners of the Réunion Megavalanche.