Uk Enduro rider Aidan Bishop gives us the low down on the Maxiavalanche Europe cup in Flims, Switzerland.
Words by: Aidan Bishop
Photos by: Barbara Sztyk
The final round of the Maxiavalanche Europecup was again held in the Swiss mountain town of Flims, the round was due two weeks earlier but a calendar clash with various DH races meant the race being held mid October…at altitude in the alps? What would the weather do!?! It turned out to be glorious weather all weekend, with bright sunshine making the mountainous scenery all the more pleasant to look at. Unfortunately from a racing point of view the previous week brought some substantial snowfall! Upon arrival on the Friday I spoke to other Brits who had been riding that day who told me there was about 8 inches of snow covering the top of the course!!
Talking of the British contingent, an even stronger showing was in attendance this year with me, Gummy and regular Avalanchers Alex Stock, Charlie Williams, Mike Thickens, Tom Hick, Fraser Dales, etc there was at least another dozen flying the flag out there including Mr Dan Atherton and Trans Provence conquerors Tracy Moseley and James Richards.
This meant the start was moved to below the 2nd lift station this year as opposed to the top and 3rd lift station as previous years. This would mean a new track, certainly off the start, and a shorter more intense race, so I was keen to see what was in store for us. So Saturday morning we headed onto the bubble to the top of the course. Upon arrival at the new start line, the race organisers were there shovelling snow off of the road where the start would be!!
A brief rundown of the track for you then: Off the tarmac road start you rounded a 100 yard right hander then off you headed straight onto a ski piste run covered with icy snow besides a muddy path down the middle. Cross the road with speed a couple of times and a chicane to slow riders up a little then an off camber left across the road and down singletrack back onto piste then up a bank which would be the first foreseeable stalling point if anyone was offline. Some more flowing corners on fresh cut track and onto the road again for a quick sprint, cutting a big corner off the road you fired across a muddy straight with some blind faith with ever changing bright sunshine beaming through the trees. Another quick road sprint and then off and round a smaller fire track path, this is where the course met up with the previous years’ course except the old one was at the end of a ¾ mile long flat fire road which was now snowed over.
Some undulating open singletrack with some big rocks to watch out for and onto a very wet fire track path to pedal along, over the road again and round a very narrow walking path with a climb at the end of it and a 100ft drop to your right! Out onto a fast open ski piste straight down through a fast singletrack chute and out onto another fast open section. Scrub off the speed to get round a tight right and into a flowing wooded section with plenty of roots to catch you out, this led you out onto the longest pedalling fire road section of the course, flat to begin with then slightly pointing downwards and into more woods via some north shore style s-bends which literally had ice on them and had to be ridden with caution.
Fitness required for the next minute or two as you followed an established trail with some roots, bridges, manmade berms and some overly complicated and awkward rooty corners broken up in between by another fire road sprint. Finally you dropped into a natural pipeline which was running a little slow with the soft mud, but still fun as you rolled bank to bank before climbing quickly out and along the final field to the finish. I filmed my second practice run and that took me just over 15mins so the race I predicted would be around 13mins for the leaders.
So Saturday afternoon and it was time for qualifying rounds to determine who would contest each final. Four qualifying heats for the 300 or so men there and one for the women. Top 24 would make the ‘Europecup’ final, next 24 would go to the ‘Challenger’ cup and the final 24 would compete in the ‘Amateur’ cup final. Then the first 6 would make the front row, next 6 the second row and so on. I lined up in the first qualifier with series leader Franck Parolin seeded first, I was seeded 5th due to previous results, essential for a good start and result.
Also in this heat were other Brits Charlie, Tom, Gummy and Fraser. The tapes went up and it was a manic sprint for the lead, Parolin got his usual fast start and took the lead, I was holding my own in the top five and was soon covered in the snow spray created as we hit the first snow covered piste in a pack. From then it was a case of not falling and keeping with the leaders, I found myself swapping positions with a fast Swiss rider, both of us making mistakes here and there allowing the other to pass. A pretty clean run and I finished 6th and booked my front row place for Sunday’s final and only 20 secs down on the group of three ahead of me including Parolin, so I was confident my speed was close to the pace.
Charlie, Tom and Fraser made the cut for the ‘Europecup’ final, unfortunately Gummy couldn’t make up enough spaces from starting on the third row and finished 26th just missing the cut, but placing him highly for the ‘Challenger’ final. Dan and Alex led the charge in the third heat to finish 1st and 3rd respectively and Tracy dominated the women’s heat by over a minute with a rear flat in the final section with a time that would have seen her qualify comfortably in the men’s races. So Myself, Dan and Alex were row ‘A’ for Sunday along with Mike, Charlie, Tom and more, making over ten Brits in the ‘Europecup’ final.
Sunday morning and we awoke to bright sunshine again thankfully. On the lift for 9am in time for the first race at 10:30am. I arrived in plenty of time for the start with other and most walked the start to check conditions, rock solid! As soon as you came off the tarmac the ground was frozen solid and there was less snow than Saturday due to the sunshine and over 300 riders clearing it away but it was still there and was a hazard. Riders were called up and we started to position ourselves on the grid, due to the repositioned start line it wasn’t full width to accommodate 24 riders side by side so I ended up second row effectively but opted to line up on the right side and so the inside of the first corner so I couldn’t be pushed wide.
The start briefings were announced, lines tested and then the countdown boards shown. The tapes lifted and the carnage got under way! We were soon all sprinting down the ski piste side by side jostling for positions, I glimpsed three separate piles of bikes on the ground in the first 30 secs and considering we were hitting 35mph plus in solid ground I’m surprised there weren’t any serious injuries there!!
Turns out some top names took themselves down here including Parolin and Stock. I tried my best to keep out of trouble and stay on the bike through the top section, I knew I hadn’t had a good start and so tried to pick off riders where I could. I was making some progress until halfway down and entering the mid wooded section I slipped down on my saddle and felt it tilt back and break off and so had to complete the course with my seatpost at 3/4 height and no saddle!! I managed to make a couple of passes and finished with my legs absolutely burning but my colon still intact!!! I ended up placing 24th which was just ok compared to where I wanted to finish, Dan was the first Brit to cross the line in third just a fraction from 2nd, Lukas Anrig was first, confirming his fastest qualifying time, with Gustav Wildhaber (relation of Rene?) in second.
After lunch we did it all again. I Iined up in the same spot as it was a pretty safe bet, this time when the tapes went up the guy in front slipped a little three pedal strokes in which cost me a slight delay but otherwise it felt like a slightly better start. Again I steered clear of trouble and soon found myself in a pack at race tempo, I managed a few overtakes on the way down and after the long road sprint (much easier with a saddle!!) I closed onto the back of a group of four riders but with the remainder of the course quite tight and difficult to overtake I stayed there to the finish crossing the line 19th.
Mr Atherton rode a great second race to win it by 15 secs, impressive against a lot of fast riders. Stock had another incident off the start making a frustrating race for him overall as he is a consistent podium threat this year. Gummy faired pretty well with a clear track and was leading the first ‘Challenger’ race until fitter riders passed him on the road, but if he hadn’t of crashed both runs his 8th place could have easily been a podium spot. Tracy dominated both races by over one and a half minutes to win the women’s category, so well done Tracy.
Races results were:
1st Lukas Anrig
2nd Dan Atherton
3rd Gustav Wildhaber
4th Nicolas Lau
5th Olivier Giordanengo
19th Aidan Bishop
26th Alex Stock
29th Mike Thickens
1st Tracy Moseley
2nd Morgane Such
3rd Alba Wunderlin
As it was the final round of the Maxiavalanche series all sorts of podiums were presented. Congratulations to Dan placing 2nd overall for the race, Tracy for her dominating win. Not forgetting Alex Stock placing 3rd overall in the series in the prio category, proving himself to be a top competitor on the enduro circuit. I managed to finish the series 10th in pro also, so that was quite a pleasing result as I had only competed in half of it.
Well another season passes and it seems the Enduro format is getting noticed more and growing . Next year there will be an extra round added of the Maxiavalanches, the UK Gravity Enduro series has dates released and so is good to go again, so it’s promising and I for one am looking forward to next year. And with more people trying out this style of racing like Dan and Tracy will we see more new faces on start lines around Europe?
A big thank you to Craig at RapidRacerProducts, Mavic, Cannondale, Crank Brothers and Maxxis for their support this year.