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 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 . 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.
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