Well mega is defiantly an understatement… 6 of us headed of to France to compete in the 2016 Mega Avalanche, http://www.ucc-sportevent.com/megavalanche-alpe-dhuez-en/. The Mega Avalanche is an enduro race held on the slopes of Alpe D’Huez. The event is 5 days in total, Wednesday & Thursday is practice, Friday qualifying and depending how you qualify you race either Saturday or Sunday.
So what is Enduro racing, it’s a mixture between downhill and cross country. Technical decent with a few cheeky climbs thrown in.
Practice was an eye opener realising it’s the most technical riding any of us had probably ever done. But looking at the other riders practicing it was a case of pushing ourselves a bit further than before. We knew that all that was holding us back was the old grey matter.
Mega Avalanche Qualifying
Early start to make it up the lifts to the start of the qualifying. We all got there once and early to soak up the atmosphere. Chris was off first, then me, Andy, Dennis, Tony and finally Steve. One of the great things for us amateurs is we race in groups with the pros. We all eagerly looked on as Remy Absalon went through his warm up routine. A quick peek and a picture of his bike to see what equipment we were missing out on. He was in Chris’s start and was sporting the race No.1 board as he’s won 5 previous mega’s.
3, 2, 1 Go!!!! bang I got swamped on the start line, the chap next to me was pushed off into my path and momentarily held me up. A bit of time lost and a load of speed off the line (not that I sprinted too hard off the start line). The start was pretty frantic loads of riders jostling for position. Lots of riders got past, leaving a frantic pedal to stay with as many as possible. After missing an opportunity to gain a few places because of second guessing the best way forward, I set off to make up some places. After the snow there was a slight climb which gave an ideal opportunity to pass about 15 riders. The first section of technical single track and another chance came up to gain on some riders, they were moving a lot slower and gaining was pretty easy.
The section we’d practiced a couple of days ago was easy to navigate. The snow that was there a few days previous had gone due to all the traffic. It was just after this the back of the bike getting a little squirmy, after a couple of looks down… Dam it puncture. Not happy considering tubeless is supposed to be the be-all-end-all these days.
It took about 10 minutes to fix the puncture, which in qualifying was a massive loss. After trying to let the sealant do it’s job the only option was to put in a tube.
Qualifying was a over really so it was time to just enjoy the ride down the course. Lost more time as some of the next group started to gain on me and I really didn’t want to ruin their race so I moved aside to let them buy. Tagging onto this group was a bonus and rode down in about 40th place which was a lot of fun.
In the end 12 minutes time lost and that was that. Pretty miffed as there was no chance of a mass start race now.
Mega Avalanche Main Race
Main race, for me, was a bit of a disappointment because of the time lost with the qualifying puncture. I didn’t get into a group that participated in a mass start. In this group each rider just had a scan of their number and were given the go. The snow was a lot less chaotic than the qualifying, but still a lot of fun and a good learning curve. Snow riding is all about how brave you are. The technique is sit as far back as you can and use one leg as a rudder and let you brakes off… if you dare. The best way to ride the snow seems tho be no brakes. Use as much speed as you dare, but that wasn’t for me so I took it a bit easier.
After the snow we hit the steep rocky sections they are technical but ridable. There are a few different lines to take and keeping an eye on other riders around can help and know what to ride. We had all practiced so we were aware of some of the lines and practiced some of the bits we were less confident on.
There was a tight left switchback, that just needed a little speed and it caught me out. You need to carry in more speed than I did and bam, down I went. Off the side of the bike and then the bike landed on top of me then a roll and I landed on the bike. In the process of the tumbling my wrist twisted and I lost a few minutes trying to see if it was OK. After pressing on in pain for about 5 minutes some first aiders on the side of the course bandaged up my wrist and I was away again.
The wrist was causing me to ride like a mincer and it took a while to get my stride back again. Alpe D’Huez was to the left and the best thing to do was to ignore it, and the pain. The car was parked at Alpe D’Huez and it would have been easy to pull over and not carry on. I watched a rider in front of me pull out, time to just ignore him and carry on through the junction.
Climb – Yes there was one
The climb was actually fun, loads of spectators cheering you on. Especially if you rode your bike and didn’t walk. There were some Scottish guys really cheering us on and they went crazy when they heard my english accent. There were a couple of riders walking so they were easy to pick off. The climb was hot so the helmet came off, managed to ride and unclip it. A lady poured a bottle of water down my back, a very welcome relief.
At the top of the climb time for a sigh of relief, helmet back on and time for some more downhill.
The woods, dirt and dust
The next sections were now lower down the slopes. We entered a very steep section that was a pretty good comparison to a downhill race. It was steep, lots of roots and really dusty. The wrist took a real pounding due to all the braking bumps and really slowed progress. Compensating for the wrist, only way was to use more speed and the front brake more. From the practice there were a couple of bits to be aware of but it was all ridable. It was hard to see because of the light coming through the trees and the dust from other bikes. This section actually took a lot more concentration than the upper rocky sections.
Past Oz Station and not far to go, one really tight switchback that was etched in stone, when it came up there was a straight line option now so that was a no-brainer to take that option. Knowing that was the worst over it gave me the opportunity to let off the gas and look after the wrist more.
All the riders cross the river then it’s a short sprint to the car park and the finish line.
The Mega Avalanche was complete, one of the best races ever taken part in and would hands down do it again. Anyone thinking of doing it, don’t think just do it, it’s an amazing experience.
Well done to Steve, Tony, Dennis Chris, Andy… and I’m going to give myself a pat on the back too 🙂