Friday 13th - Mountain of Hell, Mayhem and Crankworx Europe
The team behind the legendary Crankworx festival give it a go in Europe...
Words by Anka Martin, Photos by Various
The Team Behind the Legendary Crankworx bike Festival give it a go in Europe...
Over the past eight years Crankworx Whistler, as an event, has become a household name amongst mountain bikers. It is the pinnacle of mountain bike festivals, the grand daddy of them all, bringing together all the different disciplines and the top athletes from all over the world.
They all support each other, have a go at other disciplines and generally just have a good old time riding and racing bikes and drinking beer together. It is like a big gathering for everyone to catch up, shoot the shit and exchange war stories about their seasons and what they have been up to until now. Almost like a summer break for bikers, catch up and ‘refresh’ themselves and recharge their batteries for the rest of the season.
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[part title="Mountain of Hell, Mayhem and Crankworx Europe"]
With Crankworx being so hugely successful in Canada, it just made sense for them to have another one. With most of the top athletes already out in Europe for racing and competitions during July, it was the perfect time to host and have the first edition of Crankworx Europe in Les2Alpes, France, where they would combine it with the already infamous Mountain of Hell race
Welcome to Euroland Crankworx! Just substitute red wine for beer, and crepes for poutine.
Les2Alpes is a crazy ski town located roughly one hour 30 minutes from Grenoble in the French Alps. It is always abuzz with skiers and snowboarders, year round, due to the glacier that they have up there.
I think every parent in France sends their kids out to Les2Alpes to go to ski or snowboard camp during the summer, as everywhere you look you see groms in XXXL ski and snowboarding outfits milling about town in their full winter kit, dragging their boards around under the summer sun and trying not to look like they’re boiling hot.
It is not a quaint little old village town, it is surrounded by 60’s style apartment buildings and shops with constant summer and closing down sales and a ‘Sport 2000’ on every corner and restaurants with flashing lights offering fondues, raclettes, tartiflettes and crepes.
We came here for the first time four years ago wanting to see what the Mountain of Hell enduro race was all about, after hearing many rumours about how gnarly and crazy it was compared to the Megavalanche just across the valley, we loved it and have been back every year since. I was curious to see how this combination with the Crankworx Europe festival would affect or influence such a cool cult race that has been going on for the past 12 years! No one was even into enduro racing or riding and these guys, the Chucas Bikers who created this event, were already screaming down glaciers and mountains 12 years ago! Only in France. >>
[part title="Mountain of Hell, Mayhem and Crankworx Europe"]
What I love most about this race is the fact that it is sort of an underground event, less famous than the Mega, the rules are pretty vague with a minimal of English translation. Just a raw, chaotic mass start race, down a glacier onto crazy rocky cliff–lined trails followed by some of the steepest singletrack, barely rideable on a trail bike and ending with a blind run down an illegal for ‘364 days a year’ hiking trail. Would being part of the Crankworx festival kill its underground soul or enhance it?
Just like Crankworx Whistler all the big names in freeriding, racing and slopestyle mixed it up together in the evenings and in between events on the many fun trails the mountain has to offer. Les2Alpes is not Whistler, the trails have a very different feel to them, narrower, almost more suited to trail bikes than DH bikes, but the steepness and braking bumps make a DH bike a comfortable choice. There is a huge area to explore, nearly every trail offering an amazing panorama peak filled backdrop. That is what being in the Alps is all about. Knocking back the Genepi’s after a raclette and fondue, chased with lemon sorbet and vodka Colonel is not a bad way to end every day. >>
[part title="Event Stats"]
This was a bit of a strange one to get my head around. It was a dual slalom style hill climb where you had to climb up the track as fast as possible on a 26" bike, turn around and then descend down the slalom track, then you would switch tracks and do the same thing on a 29er bike that Cannondale had supplied. Quentin Derbier took the win with Mick Hannah in second and Jerome Clementz in third place. Bernard Kerr had quite the heat getting a double blow out tyre roll off on the 29’er followed by an interval and altitude induced projectile vomiting, proving that 29’rs aren’t ready for all aspects of MTB just yet.
They built a brand new downhill track for this event, and it was pretty full–on. A lot of the World Cup riders came with expectations of an easy ‘off–weekend’ of racing an A–line style jump trail, but there was no half ass–ing on this track.
It was fast, long, steep, and full of big jumps and risks, not to mention pretty windy conditions, which made all the jumps and gaps pretty risky. It was 2800m long with a 700m vertical drop. Wide, fast, fresh swooping off–camber grassy turns up top, with a few gaps and drops, a tight steep singletrack section in the middle where you dare not stray off line then some more open fast sections with a big step–down and step–up section you hit at full speed.
Gee Atherton adapted quickest and took the win with Sam Blenkinsop in second place and Andrew Neethling in third. Rachel Atherton took the women’s win convincingly with Tracey Hannah in second and Myriam Nicole in third place. A few of the girls even hit the massive gaps and step–downs closing the gap even more between men’s and women’s performance levels. Some big prize money was welcomed by the racers to replenish their wallets from the steady drain from all Les 2 Alps tempts you with.
DUAL SPEED AND STYLE
This was the same track that they used for the Dual Climb but instead of racing uphill, they were finally using it the right way. There was an extra road gap up top and a big finish line trick jump at the bottom. These were the two ‘judged’ jumps. The riders had to race each other like a normal timed slalom, but whoever did the most or best tricks on the two obstacles along the way, would be crowned the winner. Each jump was worth one second, so if you ‘won’ both jumps 2 seconds would be deducted off your time. It was an interesting event.
There were a few glitches, as happens with inaugural events, but it looks like a promising addition to the Crankworx line up. Could racers beat fast tricksters by more than 2 seconds and still win? In the end it was the combination that won it. Cam Zink, with racing roots, is super quick at slalom and has the tricks, he met Belgium pro ‘racer’ Nico Vink who had advanced to the finals by both his fast riding and combination of style and tricks surprising us with a big 360 in the semi finals.
In the end it was Zink who took the win with a mid run flip and end of run flip nac. Unfortunately for American slalom fans lifelong friends and competitors Kyle Strait and Zink met in an earlier round, it was quite a sight to see Zink flipping and Kyle tail whipping the road gap section side by side and neck and neck.
This competition was reserved for all the top invited slopestyle riders, but unfortunately due to strong winds and bad weather it kept getting postponed and eventually the riders decided that it was just too dangerous to hit the jumps with the winds that kept picking up every afternoon. In the end they decided to use the best trick from the Slopestyle runs. Brandon Semenuk was the winner by flipping the huge road gap that most other riders just struggled to get over just with safety airs. Sam Reynolds did give the best trick a go but the strong tail winds had him over–shoot and over rotate a double back, which ended with some cracked vertebrae >>
[part title="Event Stats"]
This brand new slopestyle course was built by Yannick Granieri, it looked good. Fast, big, flowy and with a variety of obstacles. It suited the hardtail/one brake riders as well as it suited the short travel boosters. Wind once again caused many delays and postponements. In the end it all went down during the Mt of Hell qualifiers when there was a break in the wind.
Only two runs were completed and a few chose to try a further third later in the day after waiting for the wind to subside. It never did and the win was Semenuk’s. Since this was Crankworx Europe it was inevitable that some fresh talent would rise to the surface. It did in the form of Thomas Lemoine in fifth place and wildcard entrant Leo Delfour Barrascq who 720’d, 360’d and out–tricked most of the established guard into second. Look out for him in Whistler where he will be set to prove it was no fluke.
KING OF CRANKWORX
Bernard Kerr took home the crown and was named the ‘King of Crankworx Europe’ for being the multitalented, energetic, white t–shirt wearing, all rounder.
MOUNTAIN OF HELL
They saved the best for last in my opinion, I mean this whole festival was based around the fact that this enduro race has been happening here for the past 12 years. It starts on the Glacier at 3,400m and finishes in the village of Venosc, covering 28km with a vertical drop of 2,600m.
You just had to hold on for dear life, death-gripping down the glacier with 700 crazy, balls-out men flailing around you with their mechanical weapons (bikes). Unnerving!
It was extra special this year, as it happened to fall on Friday the 13th, which for it’s 13th edition made this whole event even scarier than it already was. To give you an example, this was the first time that Anne Caroline has showed up to do this race, due to horror stories of mass starts on the glacier with 700 men (the women start mixed amongst the testosterone filled men’s field according to how they qualified).
You have no idea just how petrifying that is. Your peripheral vision works overtime to try and prevent any sprayers from taking you out from behind or from the side at 100km/h.
The organisers have proudly stated that the Mt of Hell is not for everyone, not everyone is capable of riding and surviving the treacherous terrain, their goal is to scare people away from entering each year, keeping the numbers under control and their reputation as the craziest mass start race intact. Well they definitely accomplished this.
In the men’s Jerome Clementz took the win, but it was a battle and the lead changed many times. After being taken out on the glacier Nico Vouilloz moved back into third and in the hunt with two long DH sections to go before suffering a mechanical. Dan Atherton had the lead until the mid–course hill, or rather mountain climb, where he lost out to better climbers and ended in fourth. Damien Oton took third and the ever strong and experienced Rene Wildhaber took second.
Long mass start enduro stage races like these require strategy and the ever–calm Jerome Clementz proved his dominance yet again. Or was it his new 11 speed SRAM gearing? A little unfair to see the longest running event, that is the biggest draw card with 700 entrants, offer the least in prize money. Jerome won €1000; even the dual climb with less than 15 entrants received more. When the Air DH winner receive €4000 and the slopestyle winner €7000 for minutes and seconds of riding it is a sin that those risking life and limb amongst 700 other rabid racers for over thirty minutes of action walks away with so little. Mt of Hell is what put Les2Alpes on the map, hopefully this will be rectified next year.
Well Les2Alpes may have had some teething and communication problems in its first year as the European host to Crankworx, but as a venue it is a good match–up with the right vibe and we all look forward to another fun, sun, wine and cheese filled week next year.