The Dirt team head over to France to tackle the infamous Alpine battle
In hindsight the clue was hidden in the title, it’s just that the physical limits pushed through to tackle this encounter were almost downplayed. This was one hell of a bike race.
Two days, three tracks, six in the morning starts and a cumulative riding time heading on for two hours for a mid pack finisher. It sounds a reasonable enough proposition; little did we know the mêlée that was involved. Our bodies took some punishment on this one. “Alpine Battle” – too bloody right.
Based in Les Gets, France this was round one of the French Enduro series organised by Tribe Sports. For fifty Euros you get two day lift passes, food and drink at the end of each run – bear in mind you had nine runs to do over the weekend – and a full three course dinner up on the mountain Saturday evening. The hospitality was impeccable and there was an air of passion and genuineness about the whole weekend. Well I guess something had to be nice for the riding was unadulterated carnage.
Team Dirt and their steads.
Racing doesn’t really get much better than this on 140-160mm bikes. The first day was pretty much a ten minute downhill run off the very top of Mt Chery. The weather dealing us its finest card, horizontal, howling, we got incredibly wet on that hill. Mud riding at its best the track was a mixture of everything you could imagine – tight and technical, fast and loose, a natural bead threading through the woods and high pasture culminating in the famous steep berm section and chairlift finish that Peaty won his first World Cup series and Barel his first Worlds. The hill definitely has form.
The top twenty were seeded so I guess there was a structure for those guys heading off at thirty second intervals. Jerome Clementz, Remy Absalon and co went off like scalded cats, Anne Caroline Chausson, the most successful downhill racer ever went off like the Olympic champion that she is. After the roost had settled the real battle begins as an almighty free for all ensues. You can go off the start whenever you want, so the Dirt crew – Billy, Jonny, Jon and myself went off together. I’m sure you get the idea.
Head to head racing is something the top guys largely don’t have to deal with, for the rest of us it was a game of overtaking against struggling riders. Its definitely worth walking the track on the previous days but practice is not allowed, this is very much an Enduro race, make no mistake. The conditions made it a game of total riding; all of us got fully sucked in to the challenge. After the first day I found myself top twenty overall having done three runs around the ten minute mark with the leaders running roughly nine minute runs with a clear track and having walked the hill.
Sunday was a different game altogether and just before the start Fabien Barel confessed the event was about to become too physical for him – I know it sounds crazy. Saturday was gentle mud combat compared to Sunday, a physical confrontation of the highest order. After an off camber start the track crept across a narrow ridge before free falling down a gripless bank and fire road workout for a couple of minutes. The tempo is always fast and high geared at the end of which a flat out bermed single track takes you into a much darker encounter.
This was root riding; you don’t really get shit like this in the Uk. It demanded skill, line choice and the ability to spot an overtaking move. Some call it jostling, some say get the f++k out of the way, but ultimately the responsibility lies with yourself to pass smoothly without red lining too hard. This rarely happens such is the pressure to maintain the tempo. There must have been a hundred turns in those woods, all totally rooted out. Amazingly challenging riding requiring a basic skill – to turn a corner on a bike in the mud. Sounds easy but fifteen minutes into a run it gets far from straightforward. It’s at moments like this that you have to draw on instinct. Four fifteen-minute runs becomes about endurance, survival at times.
Absalon and co were absolutely hauling to get these times and the nature of the event requires very specific skills, a good mix of technical and physical. Clementz was super unlucky to have a mechanical which is yet another aspect of Enduro racing – consistency and pace.
The feeling of finishing this event is incredible, all of us want to do more. Of the Dirt crew Jon the designer heading in 69th and Jonny Everett 76th, bear in mind only 152 finished out of the 340 start field! (Billy the Web was down as an abandonment after a Sunday skirmish took him out of the game.)
As value for money you get a ridiculous amount of quality riding time, just remember that even though its largely downhill – full face and back protection compulsory – you do have to have a certain fitness to ‘race’ it.
On an organisational level the event was brilliantly run and superbly hosted and commentated. Bread, cheese, ham, salami, fruit, chocolate and drinks never stopped coming, the timing never missed a beat. The army of marshals were vocal in a setting that can be sublime and yet utterly unforgiving. More please.
Thanks to Fred Glo and his team for a great event, Portes Du Soleil for putting us up along with Sara and the team at FlowMTB for a great few days down in Morzine.
RESULTS Saturday Sunday Total
1 Remy Absalon 27:27.160 53:22.078 1h20:59.238
2 Bailly-Matre Francois 27:21.143 54:08.427 1h21:29.570
3 Jerome Clementz 26:49.901 56:15.314 1h23:05.215
1 AC Chausson 31:42.273 1h59:41.913
2 Sabrina Jonnier 32:48.099 2h04:14802
3 Pauline Deifenthaler 36:43.004 2h11:55.415
1 Alexandre Cure 29:34.892 58:07.457 1h27:42.349
2 Florian Nicolai 32:11.979 57:21.181 1h29:33.160
3 Maurian Marnay 30:12.182 59:49.505 1h30.01.687
1 Yannick Senechal 31:57.311 58:35.086 1h30:32.397
2 Steven Jones 30:53.015 1h3:27.716 1h34:20.731
3 Francis Paquet 30:50.770 1h3:51.084 1h34:41.854