After an easy day on Thursday (Ascension) you would have thought I would have been well prepared. Maybe I should write myself a list of things I should always take to races…that would be clever rather than just wandering around picking things up and randomly throwing them in the car. I have a lot of tyres but for some reason I choose not to take them cos I ‘know’ what I need from my dark mancave 400km’s away from the race location. Luckily Mike Carr brought the world from Walsall and I was kept like a king (apart from a sleeping bag!!)

Did a little tour of the Voseges on the way to La Bresse, I see it as getting to know the area, you might see it as getting lost. Stunning area. Just made for riding ‘push bikes’ on. A feed, a beer, a chat about tyres and stuff, hiding from midges and the make shift sleeping bag was hit.

The weekend was scheduled to be pretty relaxed in terms of timing. Register in the morning, have coffee, chat, see whats what and then roll out of the start at 13:00 for our numbers (we were nicely riding together for the first day). Format is classic All Mountain:

Leave at given time, plenty of time to get to stage, walk first 300 yards and then queue up for start time then beast yourself. Repeat.  A fairly physical 1300m of climbing was advertised and combined with flat out racing that quickly sorts out those who pretend to bike and those who bike. Combined with some very warm and close conditons meant it was Sweatsville, Arizona.

Walking the first section I was very excited indeed. Chris and Mike had ridden this section the day before and said it was very, very good and FAST. Think dark forest, perfect trails with lots of Sandstone rocks for features, tight, twisty and just plain ace. Mike was 15 secs ahead of me and then a large minute gap to Chris so it really favoured me as it gave me a target (with a massive helmet!) and then a clean(ish) run. Mike is a great guy and  just popping his Euro Enduro Cherry and wouldn’t have any ego issues of letting me past.

Into the first section and gave it Full Gas and then into the single, a little tentative but then felt the flow immediately and just loving the track. Blind and as fast as possible. Rocky, slight exposure, twists, turns and really, really fast. Spinning out my 34 x 12 fast but on a singletrack a foot wide! Caught Mike and then just attacked and attacked and attacked. Into the final area and there are loads of people on the course shouting encouragement. LOVE IT!

Get to the bottom and I think the first thing I said after getting my breath is ‘I LOVE RACING!’ So good, you just can’t recreate race pace. Its intense and addictive.

Big long climb to 2nd Special. Looks ace, I don’t really want to know whats coming and just get on with it. This is the hard special with 2 longish climbs that is a place to leave it all (although you still have a long way to go). The trail is simply magical and I’m in the zone. Catch 3 other riders near the bottom. Around 7 minutes. Have to have a pretty good lie down at the bottom.

Another smallish climb and everyone can feel the pain after that effort. This next trail is 4mins ish and tech. Really tech but absoulutely great. Then some awkward twisting and turning through flatter forest is tricky to spot things early enough but just fantastic. Probably my ‘worst’ of the 4 specials time wise.

The final push. Literally. 350m of mostly deathmarch pushing really splits people and makes them suffer. I’m in my little zone of pleasure. Knowing this is the last special I push the pace to up my ante. No idea of whats ahead I sprint off and hit my balls for the 3rd time nose diving into a ditch! Oof.

This trail is something else. Probably the most tech trail I have ever raced on with some serious consequence. Some proper switchbacks and a rock section that a marshall tells me to slow down on. I ignore him as I am full of confidence and The Red Mist. Things to take away from this race. Listen to marshalls. I narrowly escape plunging off a cliff as I fully compress down a rock drop into a left hand corner with a drop straight ahead. THAT was close! Thank you Fox suspension and Tyre compounds for keeping me alive! Mike has a little off down there so it couldn’t have been as deathly as I make out but it felt like a big drop at the time.

Full of Adrenaline I pick rider after rider on the tech/physical traverse and feel I am coming to the end as I can hear a lot of cheering. Same finish as first stage and I have it. Wow. Done. What an amazing trail.

Finished with the day we opt out of shuttle back up and spin out the lactic for the 10k ride back up the hill and round the day out with 1500m of climbing and 38km of riding. I am over the moon with my performance, Mike survived his first Enduro day, Chris is a bit frustrated with being blocked and not being aggressive enough to get past but all in all it was A grade with a statement of  ‘this is the best yet’ from Chris.

Shower and then we head to the Pasta Party. Yes, included in the price of 40 euros for 2 days riding is goody bag, 4 lift ups (Sunday), uplift back from bottom and a proper good meal with dessert and a drink. All because the whole commune is behind the event. Excellent stuff.

We then check our times and placings. This is where the bottom of my world fell out. I made a couple of mistakes but nothing much and it is impossible to ride flawlessly for the whole time, I have trained for 6 months now and had a whole race season last year. I have a new light and awesome bike, I am the lighest I have ever been and I rode extremely well. Extremely well. Based on Enduro Series ranking which is a much more talent packed race I managed to break into top 50 last year. In this race I was looking at top 30 as a goal.

When I saw the position 53rd I was properly gutted and surprised. I just couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t have gone faster. The long and short of it is that it crushed my ego into a little pile of poo.

It felt like all of the training had been a waste, I’m just not good enough etc..etc…Its probably easy for someone to say ‘oh its your first race, let it go, doesn’t mean much etc’ but when I know in my heart that I rode to the way I want to ride and performed physically to the way I can its just crushing. Also the basic essence of why I race was not fufilled i.e. I want to do as well as I can in a sport I have reasonable skill and my ego has a certain level that it is expecting.

I still had an amazing day racing and riding new trails with old and new friends. I had to push out my chest and take it on the chin. Bed. Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday was a more DH orientated day with lift assistance and some pretty hard riding. Especially after a heavy fall of rain in the night. Changed rear tyre and to battle I went. Early start and another hard tech trail. I didn’t ride as well as I did the day before and was a little tentative. Get through without crashing was my mindset. That mindset came from the night before. A defensive, hurt mindset. Its easy to see it in hindsight.I did try my very best and I had moments of real flow but overall I was not on my Saturday pace.

However, the trails. Oh man. Loved them! 1st special was just incredible. Loam, rocks, steep, slippery then a balls out 1 min plus pedal along a lake and into flatter but equally tech and rocky sinlgle. Oof. Tough at 9 in the morning. 7 mins ish

2nd Special had smallest amount of ‘just’ pedalling and was hard. It was nice to  see the little bits of pedalling to breathe and be relieved that you are still on the bike! Lower sectionwas pretty nuts and then a final taped out course across piste to finish. 6-7 mins

First 2 were ok. No real issues but nothing special either, the second time was better but overdid pedalling and crashed in rocks due to inability to coordinate. Last run was good enough and was very happy to be finished in one peice.

Chris was storming his last 2 runs which I was really happy about as he’d suffered with a lack of aggresion before. Mike survived and did really well. Props to you Mike!

Beers, food and hanging out enjoying the atmosphere and catching up with new and old friends (The OTT’s and Jasper the Belgium).

Post Op: Chris and I had worked out that something was afoot in the timing as the guy who started 45 secs ahead of him and he was catching every run and sometimes passing (if he could get past) had a better time than Chris. Hold on…Wrong. Looking at the times bearing in mind on a couple of stages I was then only 5-10 secs behind Chris (45 secs in front)  but my official time was 9 secs difference from Chris. No complaining or hassling but an error was made. I am now shopping for a DMC Lap timer as I can only guess at what my true time was. Dissapointed but also vindicated. I know that I hit the top 20 on Saturday and there is an awful lot of good things to be taken away from the weekend for me personally.

Apart from these issues it really was the most incredible race, in an incredible area, beautifully organsised, huge friendliness from the locals and non locals. Loved every second of it. Bring on Val D’Allos!