Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mont Aucellier

Big uplift-assisted day out in "St Sauveur" today. Badass name, unreal scenery, amazing trails and good company. Can't ask for more!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Epic saturday: L'Escarne/Coaraze

So a race blog is a great idea when there are races on... In winter though, not so much.

Anyway, just to keep in the habit of updating this thing, im throwing up a few pictures of the epic (32km, 1670m vertical) spin I was on the other day. Big thanks to Chris for his perfect guiding (this time :D!) and Jean.

Not enough pictures to tell the full story, but some nice shots of the biggest climb and one of the descent which was oh so worth it!

Two Frenchmen in the middle of nowhere, but where are they going?
To the Col de St Michel of course, you can see the trail in the top right corner. A push up for the Irish, but a pedal for the French...

Good view of where we came from, in fact we cycled up or down nearly every mountain in this picture, bar the ones in the distance of course!
The view from the other side of the mountain, with the first snow of the winter in the distance.
The best part of the day! Half way down the descent to the village of Coaraze, which leads directly into a second descent down the left flank of the village. By the way it's not perspective, Chris really is a giant.

The view from further down, Coaraze dead center, the descent goes from the top of the picture to the bottom, amazing spin, amazing day. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Le trefle Vesubien: Not a lucky shamrock

The last enduro race of the year was held in St Martin de Vesubie. It gets its name "Shamrock" from the trace of the three stages making up the main race. Oddly enough, the start and end locations of the race were very far apart. So I started off the day meeting up with Seb, so we could leave one car at the finish and drive up to the start. I should also point out I stole a few pictures from him for this entry, cheers! A lot of people turned up for this race, including junior world cup phenom Loic Bruni. Luckily, the race started at a ski resort so we got to use a chairlift at the start to cut out an uphill start!

Pretty much the best way to start any day's biking!

SS1 aka "Singletrack heaven": The first timed stage was a brilliant 14 minutes of singletrack. This was a fairly straightforward stage although there were a few problems due to poor marking resulting in a few riders taking a wrong turn and losing minutes (and thus the race) early on in the day. The only problem I had was that my arms were very sore from the speed and frequent braking over this relatively long stage.

Pictures never look as stepp as in real life,
you had to be there.

L2 aka "feel the burn": At the bottom we started the first climb of the day. I had been warned that this race was particularly tough physically, and it certainly was! The climb started off with a decent amount of trail pedaling, but was soon followed by the climb of death. It was like climbing the Devils Ladder, but with a bike, and bag full of gear, in between doing downhill races... Luckily we had time to spare and there was a great food stop up top.

SS2 aka "You will get lost": This stage started at the same point as the first, but headed in a different direction. On paper this had it all: Singletrack, alpine prairies, rocky chutes and finally a hilarious section racing through the streets of Venanson. I started off strong, overtaking a few riders early on. Unfortunately, in one of the prairies, there were no markings so I decided to keep going forward following tyre tracks in the grass. I eventually caught up to a guy in front of me who told me this was the wrong way, and then took a few minutes to push back up. I was pretty gutted as it meant waving goodbye to any kind of respectable result, especially as I got stuck behind all the riders that I had overtaken previously. When I finished the stage I found out a lot of competitors had made the same mistake due to poor course markings.

L3 aka "goodbye legs, talk to you next week": Heartbreakingly, we then cycled down a main road losing several hundred meters of altitude to get back to St Martin. This was particularly tough as we then had to carry the bikes up a never ending set of steps followed by a steep pedal for almost an hour. My legs were shattered.

SS3 aka "The Man Maker": This stage basically had 2 sections, first a 3 minute DH run, then an urban race. The DH section was up there as the steepest track I have ever ridden, I even overtook a few people that were carrying their bikes down. It had everything, jumps, drops, roots, inside lines on 1/2 the turns. Insane, but brilliant.

Then the urban section, the question was "do you like steps?". Jump down steps, climb up steps, turn on steps, come around a corner and freak out at the sight of steps. They even had a crazy part where you had to bunnyhop over a stream in the middle of the street! In fairness the atmosphere was brilliant with loads of villagers on their balconies cheering the riders on. (Video, minutes 1->2 and 6 onwards are well worth a look)

In case you can't see it, there is traffic as far as the eye can see!

In the end, It turns out that I beat Seb by 1 second on SS1 but he beat me by 2s on SS3! So even though I had never met him before and we were not in the same heat, it turned out we were battling for the same position and were posting identical times (except when I got lost on SS2). Nemesis found!
What was really impressive was the entire organisation of the event. While the enduro race was happening, they also ran an event for disabled people riding buggies, and brought in huge moveable climbing walls to teach kids on.

Crazy event of the day: getting stuck in a 2 mile traffic jam in the middle of nowhere in the mountains.

Funniest event of the day: When the organiser announced they had forgotten to get medals for the winners, and instead gave all podium riders "saucisson" i.e. sausages...

Seb's photos here

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

First race: Enduro de Gourdon


I had been looking forward to this day for quite some time: my first enduro race and also my first race abroad out of Ireland. Things did not start off well though, after getting up at 6.30am on a Sunday, I found that my bike rack has been stolen. The sting being that my car had already been broken into just 36 hours earlier. Still, I somehow got the bike to fit in the boot of my Punto and set off.

The village I was aiming for was Gourdon, which claims to be one of the prettiest village in all of France, I would tend to agree:

The place is absolutely tiny, and perched right on the edge of a colossal cliff. It was a very impressive sight to behold on the drive up, despite the dark clouds that day.

 The race:

The enduro format here is brilliant: 3 timed runs of 10-15 minutes, mostly descending with one or two flat sections. Of course there is a cost, in the form of an hour and a bit pedal to get back up the hill. The climbs were the parts I was dreading, as they had been billed as totaling 1500m vertical. They amounted to a constant uphill road about 7-8km each times. The good news was that at the top there was a food stop full of energy drinks, fruits and chocolate. The first run was pretty impresive in that it started right at the top of the mountain, and circled around one of those spherical observatories.

By far my favourite aspect of the race was the 3 man starts! My group was made up of an old guy who was a pretty solid rider and a kid. The kid was wearing pretty fancy gear and had pristine bike with a few stickers on it, so I guessed he must be alright. We eyed each other up at the start, and he asked if I had done enduro before, and I told him this was my first race. He proposed to go ahead at the start, this was fine by me as I tried to suppress my competitive nature. In the end this turned out to be a great decision as we had a very similar pace, so I just followed him down the first run: 15minutes of singletrack with some rough bits, mostly open mountain with a few trees, but mostly rocks. My arms were killing me by the end, I kept having to sit down in the straights to take the load off them. The kid was very smooth, but I noticed he didnt have much power, sometimes he would get away from me, but I could catch back up by pedaling hard for 2-3 seconds on the straights. We overtook a few riders from the previous heat and made it down without any major mishaps. Time to throw the helmet back onto the backpack and do an hour of climbing...

Before the second run I got to talking to the kid a little more: it turned out he had a full sponsorship contract with lapierre to race DH and his enduro bike was sponsored by his local shop. He reckoned  he is top 5 in the region and top 20 in france in junior DH. I was very impressed (and jealous of all his free swag) and so decided to let him go first again in the second run. Poor guy came around the first corner at speed, there was a big loose rock in the middle, he got his front wheel over it, but the rear wheel flicked the rock one way and the bike the other and over the bars he went. I asked him if he was alright and continued on my way, taking the lead. The second stage was a great singletrack run with a massive offcamber section. I punctured near the end, but managed to get over the line before all the air ran out of my tyre Smile. As I changed the tube, it began to rain. Ironically, my flat was a blessing as I changed my tube under a tree and the rain had gone by the time I finished.

I was quite worried about the third run, as wet rock slabs are very slippery and thus quite dangerous. However it turned out that the third stage was mostly on grass and absolutely hilarious. I followed the kid down again, even waiting for him when he crashed in a rock gully. I recognised that we were almost done when we came into a flat field, so I put the power down and overtook the kid to beat him fairly solidly in the last timed run.

After the race there was a massive buffet for all finishers: Pasta, beer, cake and coffee. Unreal, the entire event was only 25 euro, but you got so much out of it: it's an amazing format and very well organised. Came in a disappointing 46th out of 130ish, about 5 minutes back on the winner. In retrospect I got stuck behind a slow guy from an earlier group at the end of each run, waited for the DH kid when he derailled and crashed in runs 1 and 3, and generally didnt power through enough of the fire roads. All in all I think I could have shaved off 1-2 minutes without pushing any harder, but treating the event like a serious race rather than a day out. The final race of the season is next week, hopefully I can get closer to a top 30.

Final thoughts:
French enduros are amazing and the level is very high!
I felt that I rode solidly and safely.

Car sighting of the day: A black Maserati Gran Turismo, pretty much my new favourite car