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Val’ D’Allos. Probably one of my favourite places on earth. The 2011 Enduro Series came back round. This time I was running Lone Wolf but with minimal stress due to knowing what was coming. A brutal but beautiful 2 days of racing with 10,000, yes, Ten Thousand metres of descending.

Having had a virus for 2 days and feeling less than perfect, even considered not going, I was a little concerned about being upto the task in hand. I went for a little ride on Friday evening to see how I felt. I pretty much forgot about feeling crap as soon as I looked around me. There is something extremely special about the area. The mountains, the climate, the vegetation, the light. Its magic. Go there.

Tent setup, pasta consumed, to bed and a pretty rubbish sleep. Standard. Went for a comfort break at 3am and the clarity of the night sky was incredible. I could clearly see each constilation instead of just a bunch of stars..pretty but should have been sleeping! Waking up I popped my head out of tent to see the sun rising over the Mercantour and immediate heat. Make no mistake, we are in the South. Minimal flapping from me. I now know what needs to be done and the timing. For example, I don’t need to miss my morning coffee to jump in line for the lift. Oh no. Eat well, caffenate, prep and leave.

With that I jumped on lift without the massive delay of last year and took in the view. From minute number 1 I practised my French with a variety of guys. All very friendly and talkative. Some new comers, some old timers.

Saturday: Is the day of DH orientated competition. Three different tracks done twice each. Almost the same as last year I didn’t need too much time to warm up. Was pretty pleased with my opening run. No errors, no real delays and solid. It always surprises me the level at these races and its got higher now that its officially the French National Series and everyone has been training! Most noticably Miss Anne Caro Chausson who posted 2 9th positions and an overall 13th for the day. Its incredible that she is challenging the big boys. I’d love for her to win a special!

I had 3 really good runs and 3 runs where I chose a bad time to depart and got held up. Every moment you pause, hesitate, mistime a corner, fall in a bush or get delayed by another rider you are going down the ranks. That instills a very high sense of tempo in everyone. Fast. Very Fast. There is a skill to over taking of riders…a quick shout as soon as you spot them, then more informing the closer you get and then a move or they let you pass. There is no time/energy for waiting and if you get the chance to get past them before a bottle neck you only have yourself to blame.

Anyhow, I finished up the day with my riding getting to a place that I was happy with. Think I pulled in a couple of 40 ish position runs which really makes me happy considering the level. I snuck into 59th position for Saturday which is great (although last year my goal was top 50 it wasn’t really acheivable, this year different story).

A great atmosphere, paella party and early night leads into Sunday. The Business end of things. Although the ‘Coupe De France’ is determined by the 2 different days and points awarded for that everyone is looking for the overall finish. Sunday is where the battle really happens with significantly more physical requirement and more and longer visits to the Pain Cave.

Last year it was super brutal with a horrible climb up a ridge but this year it seemed to have a better balance. Beginning of stage 3 from Staturday through beuatiful meadows and then spin off and climb upto last years ace course. A nasty little climb that was steep at first then slowly flattend out. If you gave too much, too early the longer flatter bit was horrendous but saying that you were so keen to get On The Gas and pass EVERYONE! Mwhuhuhuhuhu!

This then came in to the traversy tech singletracks that had 2 river crossing with steep banks to push out before the fun began again. First run this fun got more fun than I barginned for!!! Absolutely flying I somehow seemed to have LocationTravelled to Yorkshire in winter! A huge bog. I had the first 3-4 step drops before the inevitable happened. A full front wheel sucked into the mud and me catapulted through the air and other competitiors!! A soft anf gooey landing, rolling around, laughing and then eventually pulling bike out I got back on bike then slid to the bottom of bank. Covered in mud but all good.

Flat fireroad and back to the Gas Chamber. In the red and into singletrack which goes on and on and on till the end. I went to far into red and never recovered. Bit of a passenger on the bike, hands like claws and just wanting it to be done. Hardly able to hold onto the grips at 30mph is a bit worrysome!

Final sprint and done. Messy. Body a mess, cough racking my body and felt pretty bad. On the return I considered quitting but knew that the next one would be better, the first run is always the worst. A 20:35 sec run was tough, 2 more to go and I’ll get it around 19.

Run 2 was excellent and I felt on top of the world this time. Followed two guys down who held me up a little but was fun following, on the Elevator took them and powered through…some small errors here and there but good. 19:49. Better.

Last run on this special and I put it all out there. It was going so well, clear track and I properly owned every corner. Had a little Team Davros moment out in the meadows…A good lous shout of ‘EEEEEEEllllllssssss!!!’ is what happens when you high on EndoCrackain! Wooop. Elevator destroyed and then the last 3rd discarded with a disregard for safety. Just the steep last turns and I’d be home and dry…woops.

Front wheel tucked in on the 8th from last corner and over I went, missed tree, banged knee and at least 2 somersaults down the steep hillside before I came ro rest. Back up, on bike and get it finished. 30 odds secs lost and finished with a 19:41. Would I have got sub 19 mins? Who knows?

Very happy to have finished the 3 hard stages and with only one more to go I have to admit to wanting it to be over so I could start recovering..not the best mindset. Went up and waiting along time for the right time to go. Too much time spent mulling it all over and off I went. Didn’t start great and just as I got into it after the first quarter I heard that terrible sound.

‘Pssst….pssst….psssst’

‘Fuck. Please seal, please, please, please’

Nope. Game over. I tried to limp down but no way. Oh well, its one of those things. I suppose I could have swapped out to a dual ply DH tyre for last run but I didn’t.

Was more than a bit pleased with the pain to be over and a really solid performance considering. After checking the results I was running 46th for the day before the puncture. THAT is a win.

Some post race analysis of times and percentage away from winners and 30th place positions revelas just how tight it is. I am not going to compare against winners (12 -18%) as thats not really a realistic goal but 30th position. On the Saturday I ranged from 13.8% behind to 5.48% slower than 30th. 5% is 40 secs…which over 400(guessing) turns/ corners over a 1000m descent equates to being 0.1 secs slower through each turn…not sure if that has any validity but this sport is about effiency and consitency whilst being fast.

Interestingly looking at Sunday we see me getting closer to 30th with a range of 2.6% and 6% slower BUT getting even further away from the Top Guns (21 – 19 – 21%). They really are Beasts of the highest order!  However, I can look back at last years results and really see some significant improvements. Last year I was 35 – 28 -24% slower than Fast Boys. So I can see I am massively faster and much more consitent from the getgo…

In the end of the day it doesn’t matter or change anything however to be able to see the cold hard facts that I was faster validates all the hard work and beer and food sacrifices. Of course it is ALL good because this racing lark is way more than the race.

Lets see what Les Arcs will bring.

Here is the video from the race: 26in.fr

Some little piccies too:

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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!

Race season is starting.

Weekend will be the Enduro des Hautes Voseges and looks to be a fantastic course ran out of la Bresse. 1300m up by legs, heart and lungs on Saturday with 1500m drop of racing with 4 varied stages. This will be a good day.

Sunday will be 2 stages done twice and using the lift to get most of the way up, pedal to start, race down, pedal back up then race down (repeat). Stages look a little longer on this day.

Some heavy precipitation has been falling across Switzerland (some as Snow) but it looks to be warming up for weekend. Should be perfect conditions for riding. Mr Christopher ‘Deadley’ Headley is coming over to bring on the Brummie Pain. Oh the excitement!

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