Last week was epic. We went to ‘Mega Week’ which is run as part of the Avalanche Cup series run by Olivia Edwards and her team.
The week starts on Tuesday with practice for the Avalanche sprint race which is a regular downhill race in Oz en Oisans down the valley from Alpe d’huez. This is the track that is holding the French National DH championships on this weekend – so a lot of the top french guys were racing/practicing.
Wednesday was race day for the DH, where all categories get 2 timed race runs and this gives you your position for your class – then the top 50 times, regardless of your class, make it through to the ‘scratch’ final a 3rd timed race for the top honors and prize money.
The track is pretty long, really fast in places, lots of rocks, fast shoots and so many corners with also some pedaling sections of fire road joining up sections. A really challenging course especially with so much deep dust, tons of breaking bumps and loose rocks.
Claire had a good race placing second with a time of 4.45 just 3 seconds behind her friend POM POM (Myriam Nicole) who is currently ranked 4th in the World Cup standings. So that was a good result for Claire and the team.
Chris Kovarik found his form again putting in the fastest time in the first 2 runs beating France’s Fabien Barel (winner of the last world cup round in Maribor, Slovenia). Ruaridh Cunningham had a great run to place 10th and Matt Simmonds 13th going into the 3rd and final run. I did my first race in 2 years on my new Intense 951. I found it pretty hard and made a lot of mistakes but managed 3rd place in the Masters 30 class and a top 50 overall time to make it into the final ‘scratch race’.
Matt had a another good run equaling his earlier time and placing 15th in the Scratch race with a time of 4.15. Ruaridh put in an amazing run with a time of 4.10 taking 9th and then Fabien Barel came down 2nd from last beating Chris’ earlier fastest time of 4.05 posting the fastest time of the day so far with a 4.03. As Fabien crossed the line I could see Chris on the final stages of the track so we knew he was on for a fast time. Chris crossed the line posting the fastest time of the day and taking the win with a 4.01. Great stuff and a good confidence boost for Chris and the team with the next 2 world cups in Canada coming up next week.
Podium photo courtesy of Olivia Edwards.
So after the DH race we packed up our pits and headed up the mountain to Alpe d’Heuz to set up our pits again, went for some dinner and straight to bed.
Thursday morning came around too quickly but we got up early swapped our DH bikes for our tricked out Intense Tracers headed up the mountain to the Pic Blanc at 3330m to check out the top section of the Mega Avalanche course with excitment and nerves! The specialists and most of the other competitors had been practicing the last 2 days while we were doing the sprint race so we had to do at least one run to know a little bit about where we would be racing. The course is really tough on your bike and body and my lungs! It starts off on a small patch of snow then into a 45 degree off camber bolder field then left into a very steep bolder field across a huge patch of sketchy snow and then into more loose boulders. Then you are onto the snow section for a long time that on this morning was pretty easy to ride as it was cold and the snow was pretty packed so you could ride a lot of it pretty fast feet up. After you had survived this section the track went into a crazy mix of everything you can imagine to ride. From rocky single track, stream crossings, rock drop offs, cool single track DH, short lung busting climbs, 20 mins of flat single track pedaling and amazing steep technical descending in the forest with so many switch backs. It is great to ride at your own pace stopping to catch your breath here and there but just ridiculous to race in one go with another 399 riders!
After we had rode the top section down to Alpe d’Heuz, stopped for some lunch and then rode the bottom section down to the finish line in Allemont at 730m I thought there is no way I can ride all that in one go without stopping!
Anyway we headed back up to Oz en Oisans on the provided transport of coaches and trailers for the bikes and then onto a series of gondolas to get back up to Alpe d’Heuz where we then headed over to Dome des Petites Rousses on another gondola for the start of the Mega qualifying track. The qualifying track is a completely different track to the Mega race track. It has more DH on it with less flat sections. This starts right out of the gondola on a loose rocky fire road with many switch backs then into a fast DH shoot and across to snow sections and into some flat and technical rocky sections then some great rough burmed up loose rocky DH with drops and continues on with single track sections, an uphill road climb (which sucks) and then the final section of single track DH and then forest DH is the best riding in the 2 races. The start of the qualifying track in Dome des Petites Rousses is at 2800m and the finish is in Oz en Oisans at 1350m.
Qualifying started the next morning, Ruaridh and I were in the first group of 200. Ruaridh was on the front row of 25 and I was in the 3rd row. Each row has 25 riders making up the total field of 200. Ruaridh got the holeshot from the front row in front of 6 times winner of the Mega Rene Wildhaber and I had to make my way through the field into the top 45 to qualify for the Mega Avalanche on the Sunday morning. Ruaridh eventually finished the qualifier in 2nd place in 23mins 50 seconds only 1 min down on Rene and I managed to finish 9th, 2 min 27 down on Rene. I thought i was going to die at the finish, I was coughing and choking that much from pushing way beyond my fitness levels. After about an hour I started to recover and realized I had made the Mega final and would start on the 3rd row. Much better than I thought I would.
Ruaridh Cunningham leading his qualifier.
Chris finished 4th in his qualifier with a time of 24min 16, Matt was 6th in his group with a time of 25.01 (with a snapped gear cable half way down). Claire finished 8th in the women’s qualifier with a 30min 24. Michael Cowan of Chain Reaction Cycles was riding great in about 10th place in his qualifier but got a puncture and missed out on the top 45 putting him out of the Mega final on the Sunday. He was gutted but made up for it in the Mega Promo race on the Saturday (this is for the riders that didn’t make it through to the Final on Sunday) placing 6th and the 3rd placed master behind the winner of the race Crawford Carrick-Anderson.
Saturday morning and it was the womens Mega race. The amazing Anne Caroline-Chausson took the win to no ones surprise and Claire did great, placing 9th and completing the course in a great time.
Sunday morning and it was an early start on the lift at 6.00am to get to the top and get in our rows for the start at 9.00am. Ruaridh on the front row next to Fabien Barel, Chris and Matt on row 2 and me on row 3. It was pretty scary lining up with 400 riders to try and get into the first single track corner before dropping into the bolder field and then into the snow. Before we knew it the Euro techno music was blairing and the 30 second board was up. 5 seconds and we were off…. Chaos!!! The top guys were away and on a mission.
The ledgendry Nicholas Vouilloz got the hole shot closely followed by the other favourites. I got held up in a mass carnage of bikes and riders trying to get into the first turn. Then it was evey man for himself as we hit the snow. It was a lot warmer today than previous days so the snow was soft and very hard to ride on in a straight line. Everyone was crashing, running, walking and I rode most of it with my feel off and my stomach on my seat. I had a few crashes and then saw Chris in the netting off the side of the track trying to get back to the track. He has had a huge crash and was lucky to not be too injured. Anyway eventually we got out of the snow section and into the rocky single track where you get stuck behind slower riders but then I am one of the slower riders on the climbs.
The race was the toughest thing I have done, at one point about 10 mins from the end i thought I would have to stop as my body went numb and it felt like I was going to pass out, but then you get to another descent and recover a little.
Chris ended up pulling out after his big crash, Matt finished in 251st in a time of 1hr 20min but with no chain and his pedal fell off. I managed to finish down in 66th in 1hr 6 mins and Ruaridh finished in 30th in 1hr. Nice one Ruaridh!
1 ABSALON Remy 1201 (1)PRIO COMMENCAL ( France) 0:49:28,210 A 0:00:00
2 WILDHABER Rene 1 (2)PRIO TREK ( Suisse) 0:49:44,120 A 0:00:15
3 VOUILLOZ Nicolas 1202 (3)PRIO LAPIERRE ( France) 0:51:36,160 A 0:02:07
4 BAREL Fabien 1401 (4)PRIO SUBARU MTB PRO TEAM ( France) 0:53:30,390 A 0:04:02
5 PAROLIN Franck 1001 5)PRIO RIVIERABIKE.COM ( France) 0:53:41,840 A 0:04:13
6 BALAUD Alexandre 601 (6)PRIO TRIBE SPORT GROUP ( France) 0:53:55,930 A 0:04:27
7 VAZQUEZ LOPEZ David 1402 (7)PRIO LAPIERRE SAAB SALOMON ( Espagne) 0:54:11,070 A 0:04:42
8 DOUCENDE Gregory 402 (8)PRIO LAPIERRE SAAB SALOMON ( France) 0:54:11,930 A 0:04:43
9 CLEMENTZ Jerome 801 (9)PRIO CANNONDALE – KENNY ( France) 0:54:12,790 A 0:04:44
10 NAVARRO Olivier 605 (1)MA30 EXTREME BIKE BANDOL COMMENCAL ( 0:55:10,560 A 0:05:42
It was a great experience and if you ride mountain bikes you have to do this one time in your life. It is such a buzz.
source: Nigel Page Team Manager – ChainReactionCycles/Intense