One riders tale – 2014 Megavalanche
Words: Aidan Bishop
This year’s edition is the 20th year for the Megavalanche and it still attracts 1800 male and 100 female racers, so it really is infamous. As such an iconic event it is more than just a race, you can make a holiday of it, coming out and booking your lift pass with your entry for the whole week in the run up to race day. Normally the alpine weather and scenery treat you to days of high quality views and riding…this year however was an exception! Consecutive poor weather made conditions pretty grim, with low cloud, rain and some thunder every day the week was literally a wash out, with the welcome exception of Friday when the sun came out and clouds parted for the qualifying races, and also for Sunday finals. The tracks were wet through though with the wooded sections becoming a struggle to get down without your bike clogging to a stop from the claggy mud sticking to the wheels, so every day was a case of ride one or two sections of some of the tracks then get back, wash up and get warm.
Monday, and the first day of practice.
With the finals starting up on the glacier there is limited space and so only room for the 350 riders per final. There are four finals available to qualify for and qualifying races for everyone to take part in to earn their place. In each qualifier, 1st and 2nd place qualify for the front row of the main final, 3rd and 4th make the 2nd row, and so on. Saturday hosts the women’s final followed by the B and D final, with Sunday hosting the A and C final.
Another day of muddy practice on Tuesday, and I managed to take a bit of a tumble which I am still feeling the consequences of to this day.
This being my 4th time racing the Mega, I know the tracks and what to expect and so I wasn’t riding for as long each day as you normally would in dry conditions. Monday I revisited the qualifier track, Tuesday we tried to go to the top and ride the glacier but it was closed. Wednesday I didn’t ride as a pretty nasty crash on Tuesday (caught on my ION camera) left me with bruised thumb, wrist, chest and knee! Thursday we could only ride the qualifier track again, and Friday was qualifying day.
Practice on Thursday and a glimpse of how awful the conditions were. This race is tough enough in the dry, the mud just made it even more tortuous.
With the weather being poor and visibility being a safety issue for the organisers the qualifying race start line was brought down the mountain to start below the snow level (yes it had snowed lots at the top…in July!). The problem with this was it meant a narrow gravel track start line and then they decided to include a chicane 60m after the start meaning 20 riders were sprinting for a gap wide enough for two! Unfortunately I didn’t quite get there quick enough to get through unscathed and so people from my left came in and took a bunch of us down, me being caught in the middle of it. What seemed like an age later I had untangled my cables from another guys bike and got going again to find my brake lever badly out of position. A couple of bangs whilst pedalling and it was useable but strange. From here it was a case of overtaking as many riders as I could to try and salvage an A final position from the wreckage of my qualifying heat. I used my ION camera facing rearwards to try and capture the highlights of the race, but unfortunately in the scrum my camera got knocked and so the angle isn’t ideal but I still managed to capture parts of the race. Despite the awful start I finished in 12th position (the first 23 make the A final), so a mid-pack start for Sundays final means if I want a good result in the main race I will have a lot of overtaking to do early on!
Qualifying from a rearward perspective. I was trying to do nothing but look forward though.
Many brits qualified well this year, with seven being top two in their qualifier and making the front row for the final, namely Sam Dale, Charlie Williams, Martyn Brookes, Chris Keeble-Smith and Sam Flanagan. Another 19 finished in the top ten, so there is still a growing presence of UK riders out there and making their mark on this event.
Click below for part two…