Alberg – EWS #7 France.
I headed into the EWS in France, with renewed confidence. Following a healthy summer, and extended period of structured training, I was feeling both pretty fit, and confident when riding the bike. I travelled out in good time for the event, and managed to get a few good days of lift assisted riding in Switzerland on my way south.
Prior to the practice days, I took a day to prepare the bike. Dampers, and brakes received fresh fluids and a service. I replaced the frame bearings, and required new wheel bearings also. She was like a new horse leaving the stables.
The practice days were long, but largely enjoyable. I was feeling really quite good on the stages, and was finding lines and techniques to ride even the most technical sections smoothly. I was really looking forward to the race.
The first day of the event started high in the Ski resort of Valberg. The transition to the first stage was a 20 minute descent oddly, giving a little opportunity to adapt to the cold and damp conditions which had arrived overnight. I headed into the stage, aiming to repeat my final training run which was mistake free and smooth. Sadly this wasn’t to be!! At the first technical feature only a minute in, I was not focused, and missed my line before a rocky climb. Forced to run I was then unsettled, and took far too long to regain focus and begin to ride well. The first half of the stage contained 4 short technical climbs. In my race run, I wasn’t able to get up any of them. The remaining part of the stage I settled into a rhythm and begun to ride well, catching 4 riders in this part of the course.
The second stage required a monster liaison. 3 and a half hours, climbing to over 2,800m to reach the start! The stage which followed was epic. 16 minutes of exposed ridges, bolder field, fast meadows, dense tree forest, before the final 5 minutes or relentless steep switchbacks. It was incredible. My run was pretty good, although I was cautious in the boulder field and slippery switchbacks at the bottom of the stage. This cost a little time, but otherwise a good run.
The 3rd stage was a short stage at only 5 minutes, but was possibly the most fun. Ridden flat out start to finish, some big jumps and gaps throughout, followed by very pumpy and flowy grey earth trails. I scored my best result of the weekend on this trail.
The second days stages had a different style, more DH focused and much shorter, 5-6 minutes only. The first 2 stages were pretty un-eventful with clean runs.
The penultimate stage of the race is where things went awry. I had been excited about this stage since the first time down in practice. Steep, natural, with nice linked turns the whole way. Sadly this excitement had the better of me as literally the first corner of note saw me enter far to quickly, loose the front end, then promptly part company over the handle bars. I landed on my back onto pile of sizable rocks. . . I got up steadily and coasted down the stage sat on the saddle, both winded, and sore. I crashed a further 2 times after my bars had rolled forwards in the crash, making my brakes point vertically at the ground!! I was pretty astonished to find this horrific run was still 61st fastest! ! After this stage I sought the attention of the medics, this due to cuts, swelling, and the fact I was still a little winded. I was 50/50 if I could get to the last stage, but the time allowed was very lapse, allowing me to walk up instead of riding. Pretty glad I did as an overall 57th after a limp down the final stage. I was hugely frustrated, rather than please after the event knowing I hadn’t fulfilled what I felt and knew was possible following the practice days.
Finale Ligure – EWS #8 Italy
Following the Valberg event, I had planned to travel West and tackle the 3 ascents of Mt vontoux challenge. Having woke feeling like a train had ran over my back, this was cancelled. Instead a few beach days for R&R. I did get out on the Wessex road bike though mid-week onwards, taking in several of the Mt Carlo Rally stages around the area. Also I managed a ride from Nice to the col du Cayolle, and then Col d’Allos on my return. From the sea to the summit of the Cayolle was 132kms, all uphill!!!
The ride totalled just over 300kms, and the elevation over 7,000m. . . A little bigger than I had planned! !
Following that slight epic, I took a few days of chilled days with a few uplift shuttles around Finale. A good group of British EWS guys were out and the pace was high. Just what we needed before the race.
The finale race was pretty strong for myself, aside from a mechanical of dropped and subsequently broken chain on the 2nd stage, I had a clean race. at times I felt like I was racing again, and could actually really push on. These stages returned 41st position each time. The attendance of the finale race is always a who’s who of past and present MTB hall of fame, and I was really really pleased of my performance there. A 56th position numerically is nothing that incredible. But considering that since Valberg an additional 350 riders had entered the finale race, I was stoked.
For once I end a season fit and healthy, and now look forward to working hard over winter to address my riding weaknesses, and also training hard to allow a much greater repeat power output throughout a stage.
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