If you read Steven Jones startgate to Dirt issue #89 you’ll have heard about the Wye Valley Warriors and the Knarly Knitters drinking around the same table at the Boat Inn, Penallt under the watchful eye of the SAS.
If not, that last sentence may sound a touch odd.
Anyway, the Wye Valley Warriors dragged themselves out of the local woods and local pubs and headed off to France for a weeks adventure, racing the Megavalanche in Alpe D’Huez.
We usually features reports from the racing Elite, so we think it makes a nice change to get the story from the local plumbers and landscape gardeners.
Martin Price champion Egg and Spoon racer tells the story:
4pm Monday, we were off! Rob (ex Dirt Rider) Jonny (Mega ‘Pro’, drugged up with pain killers after taking a tree out with his ribs at Cwmcarn the week before), Sam & Matt (motorbike Enduro racers, with Rob, & fine MTB riders), Phil (general sportsman, Tri-athlete & jump king) & me (last raced competitively in the Egg and Spoon!). The boys had professionally converted Sam’s VW van to carry the six of us, seven bikes & all our kit whilst leaving space for a bed for the journey. The writing was on the wall for a good week as the beer came out while still in sight of Monmouth.
A long but fun trip punctuated by various stops, short ferry hop, change of drivers, extortionate road tolls, dispersed with bouts of AC-DC & other calming driving music, a 22 hairpin mountain climb culminating in Alp d’Huez
Arriving in the sun soaked town early afternoon on Tuesday we hit the tourist information to sort out some accommodation. After a couple of rejections we drove up to the lift station parked up the van & somehow managed to forget all about apartments & set up camp! There we stayed.
My initial thoughts on seeing the mountain rising above us was ‘I’m out of my depth’, daunting (to me) to say the least. After a text to my wife asking her to find out plane flights home we donned body armour, hit the tracks, & we were away (cancel the flight!). The highlights were Phil riding off a house & surviving! & Rob (with Jonny’s help) applying industrial velcro to his (Rob’s) grip & glove so his hand wouldn’t fall off the bar when riding!
Wednesday we practised the qualifier in sections before doing the whole thing from the top. The track starts at 2800m down several loose rocky hairpins dropping down onto the flat rocks, section of ice, back onto the rocks, down a drop-off (sorting out our lines for the race!) back onto the ice before hitting a long, gravel, lung busting road down to 2700m past the next ski lift. A further steep drop down the road. Rob, Sam & Jonny accelerating like demons, while I grip my brakes for dear life, we enter single-track. Winding twisty rocky switchbacks, eventually out into loose rock before hitting a fire-road.
The single-track is now grassed, undulating to the next ski lift, traversing a steep incline down, down, down to the road. A cheeky sharp uphill road section brings us around a corner into a long, single-track, grassed descent. A couple of deep hairpins at the end & we enter the woods, twisting down & down, soft dusty ground. Out of the woods, hit a track, jink right & down into Oz & the finish at 1350m.
What a ride!
Thursday we practised the Mega track, One run, top (3300m) to bottom (800m) in just over 3 hours! Starting on snow & ice the track descends & sweeps around before dropping down a sharp descent. Difficult to control but the trick is to keep hold of the bike when you come off otherwise you scoot off leaving the bike behind you. Sweeping around but levelling out the snow turns more to ice, not long & we break the snow line into rocky single-track losing height all the time. After a couple of technical sections the rock peters out into grassy single-track & fire road with some rises with the falls. Across some moor land single-track meeting the cheeky little section from qualifying. We turn off left contouring the hill above the town across a path following a ditch with water running uphill, or at least it felt like it was uphill, gasping for breath, sounding like Darth Vader. Turn off right at the end of the path we descend through grassy single-track, fast, losing a lot of height before dropping into woods.
The single-track is fast & fun, then suddenly broken by a step climb, then another, & another! A bit of pushing & we are back on descending, dusty & rooty, over a road & final drop down, 400m road section finishing with a last bit of single-track & a bridge over a wide stream & the end of the route. As Phil & I cross the bridge the others are paddling in the cool water.
Friday was qualifying day, Sam, in group 2, Rob & Jonny in 3, Phil & I in 4, Matt in 6. Five of us went up together, our last view of Matt was from the gondola on our way up the mountain looking down on him still in his pyjamas outside the (ex) Dirt easy-up. Rob, Sam,& Jonny qualified for the Mega in 19th (0:27:57), 33rd (0:28:49), & 37th (0:29:58) respectively, myself & Matt for the Promo, 75th (0:34:02) & 86th (0:34:52). Phil made Affinity 1 in 122nd (0:40:19) following many scrapes including being ‘T’ boned by a Frenchman on a switchback who then lost his rear mech within 50 yards (justice!). For those wondering who the group was at the bottom of the wooded section near the end, shouting positions & general encouragement… that was us!!
Saturday, Promo Race Day… Matt made a flying start & carried on without problem finishing in a magnificent 122nd place (1:24:27). I on the other hand had an imaginary flat on the rock section following the snow (I’m sure it was but we have never found a hole in the tube!). After faffing about, replacing the tube with one that was faulty (I never checked it!), put the original one back in & soldiered on to be met further along by our pit crew who efficiently settled me down, changed the (good) tube & set me off again. Racing to the end, pumped up with red mist, finished in 336th place (1:48:28).
Sunday was Mega race day & an early start for Rob, Jonny, Sam & Phil. Sam finished the race in 133rd (1:11:50), Jonny in 259th (1:20:57) with various scrapes & offs for both, Rob had a series of problems in the snow & ice. Firstly getting thrown over the bars when he dropped into an ice hole, which opened up in front of him. Then, speeding along the ice noticed that his chain had gone. After a while the realization came that he may need a chain for later in the race, he stopped & went back to look for it, running up & down the track lifting boulders like a scene out of the Incredible Hulk. He finally gave up looking. Freewheeling (but still overtaking some racers) he met up with Matt & myself spectating. As we didn’t have a chain he pushed on, eventually retiring from the race.
Phil finished Affinity 1 in 288th place with a time of 1:48:08.
A fantastic experience for us all in various ways but generally all believing we could have done better for different reasons. Roll on next year!
Monmouth Megavalanche Adventure