Time to let you all know what happened after 10 days spent at the Megavalanche… There sure were many highs and lows to the week but the end result was far from one that could have ever been predicted. Videos will be uploaded as soon as my media team finish editing but we have uploaded the 73 man overtake maneuver in the qualifying race for you all to watch now. Also, we have uploaded one of the practice runs crash for all you fans who love to watch crashes and fails!
Full day by day report on my adventures in France are below…
Dom and I left Poole at 21:00, and drove to pick up Rhys in Dover… but missed the 2:30am ferry! We drove through awful weather upon arriving in France and had a couple of disagreements with the map, this resulted in the journey taking 22 hours. Not a great start! Dom and Rhys dropped me off at the camp site in Allemont, where the rain was pouring, I was tired and still had to erect my tent and set up camp.
I opened the tent bag to find the fly-sheet was missing… Now I’m stuck in the rain with no tent and no friends! Luckily there was a very friendly family from Northern Ireland that were staying at the camp site and were happy to help the idiot with tent problems! They spotted me looking rather disheartened and very kindly provided me with tea and a bite to eat whilst I waited for Dom and Rhys to return. I then went with the lads to their chalet in Articol (around 6 miles north of Allemont) the chalet was stunning and I was given a comfy bunk bed, I could instantly see that my week was going to be much better than if I had camped!
The sun is shinning and temperatures are hovering in the high twenties. This is horrible when you put you’re body armour and full face helmet on but the quality of riding and the dry dusty tracks soon made up for the small discomfort. We had to drive back to Allemont and catch a bus to the Oz en Oisans station where we could get on our first gondola and start heading up the huge mountain! We got off at the gondola stop overlooking the infamous Alpe d’huez. I could not believe what I was looking at, the trails were the best I had ever seen.
Our first track was the bottom section of the main Megavalanche track. This entails sharp sweeping berms, rooty wooded sections and fast fire road sprints. We all took it easy as we wanted to learn the track and more importantly not crash on our first day! We then continued to ride some of the other DH tracks and get comfortable riding. I was in heaven.
I was very keen to summit the mountain today and practice the qualifying track. This was above the snow line so was a case of arriving at the top and getting straight on my bike. I did not want to catch a cold or hypothermia! The track itself was very interesting. It included all types of riding you would hope to find in a qualifying track (even a bit of urban DH!) We mainly practised the bottom section of this track as the lift at the bottom is very slow so wanted to utilise the empty tracks whilst we were the only riders there. The rain started to come in during the late afternoon and into the evening. We can see that tomorrow will be a very wet one.
Sure enough, the rain had come in heavily overnight. All of the tracks were soaked and we had heavy snow on the summit of Pic Blanc (the very top mountain where the main race starts from) My aim for today was to practice the main race track and understand the lines and features. I rode the snow section reasonably well and felt confident for the main race that I could go fast on it.
After the snow there were a few short steep climbs that I have spotted for the race , I will utilise my fitness in these areas to hopefully overtake the less fit riders. The track then speeds down a very rocky single track on the far side of the mountain. I let the bike get carried away a bit too much which resulted in a spectacular over the bars crash! The crash luckily had only scratched my bike and bruised me. I continued down the track a tad slower before suffering a bad puncture around 4km into the main race track. This was not fixable and there was a terrible storm heading in, so my inner Mo Farah came out and I ran all the way to Alpe d’huez. The bike shops in the town love bikers as they know when we need them we will pay them… They charged me €61 for a new tyre! I then split from the guys again and headed to run the Megavalanche track from the hill climb. The track itself was unrideable in places, the clay was so thick that it clogged the bike to a point that the wheels would not turn! I could see that the race was going to involve some XC running carrying the bike. I smiled upon this discovery! I arrived at the bottom of the Megavalanche track (Allemont) absolutely soaked right through and coved in clay and mud.
My kit had not dried over night even in a warm cosy chalet! I decided to miss riding today to dry out my kit and give my bike a good checking over. The weather was still awful so I didn’t even go out for a light jog and stretch. Great game of footy tonight, enjoyed watching the Germans thrash Brazil! Another great meal cooked by the legendary Rhys Williams.
The weather is still awful and my kit has still not dried so I have decided to miss riding again to allow for everything to dry and my energy levels to boost ready for tomorrows demolition on the qualifying race! I took the gondolas to Alpe d’huez to visit the sports centre in order to ‘sign on’.
This is where I discovered that I was starting in 83rd position (on the 8th row) in my qualifying race, I needed to overtake 58 people to qualify for the ‘Pro Megavalanche race’ (only the top 23 of each qualification race are entered into the Pro Race) Is this even possible?……
Today is qualifying day. I have had two rest days and dried my kit. The bike is ready to race but gear 5 has broken (I must remember to not select 5th gear in this race otherwise the bike will stop!) The weather has been very bad for the past few days so the race organizers have decided the Qualifying race will start from 2700 meters instead of the original altitude. This is another bit of bad news for me because I have even less distance to hunt down the magic number of 58 riders.
I feel good and am ready to race, today is my biggest challenge to date. I have to overtake a minimum of 58 riders to qualify for the Pro race. Lets hope these Weetabix kick in! The starting music instantly gave me an adrenaline rush, the starting tape was released and I unleashed my inner bull! I overtook 15 people before the first corner. Then rushing down the first 6 bends lead to another 15 places or so. My attitude for this race was to risk everything, therefore ever corner I went in to meant that I needed to put my bike in a position that meant the other rider had to yield or we would both crash. I was lucky, the manoeuvre I used worked every time and each rider simply let me pass! As we reached the half way point my heart rate was at maximum and I was 90% sure the job was done, I had to be in the top 2 riders and heading to the Pro Megavalanche race, surely?.. I believed there was still a 10% chance that I had not made the top 23 so had to continue hunting down riders in front and overtaking them. I overtook another bunch of racers on the middle section of the course (through Alpe d’huez town) and was on the run of my life. The bottom section of the course was very narrow making it extremely hard to overtake other riders. I managed to take 3 more places here. That was it, the race run was over and my fate would be decided by the big LCD screen in Huez that displayed the results. I had overtaken 73 people on the run putting me on 9th position on the grid. This was possibly my biggest racing achievement to date! Now I’m heading to Sundays Pro Megavalanche race starting 5th row (approximately 120 riders in front of me).
Today consists of 3 races: Mega Challengers (these are all rides that finished behind the pros in 24-46th position during qualifying), the Mega Ladies and also the Affinity 1 class (these are riders that finished 70-99th in their qualifying race). I watched the race from Allemont in the pouring rain, the weather was so bad that the race did not start from Pic Blanc (top of the mountain 3300m) it was started from the top of qualifying run (2700m). All the riders that made it to Allemont were frozen and absolutely caked in mud. Dom finished in the top 50 and unfortunately Rhys was forced to retire after a collision with another racer resulted in his rear brake being ripped off.
Today consists of the final 3 races: The Pro Megavalanche race (all riders that finished 1-23rd in their qualifying race), the Mega Amateurs (47-69th in qualifying. And the Affinity 2 class (100-130th in qualifying. As I made my way to the top of Pic Blanc I knew my life could change in just a few hours time, I had the chance to win the Megavalanche. The start was delayed whilst some heavy cloud came in. Adrenaline was pumping and I knew what was needed from me. Once the infamous music started the atmosphere changed and I was among 400 Bulls ready to charge. The tape was raised and the front runners including Red Bull Rampage hero Kelly McGerry. Race on….
I charged down the black ski run and onto the glacier below. My tactics for the snow section were planned out; I wanted to keep on the right hand side of the course and avoid contact with all other riders. This was not the fastest way to get down the snow section but would mean minimal chances of damaged the bike in a collision with another rider. Upon reaching the end of the snow section there was a large amount of places to make up, I estimated a total of 130 riders to chase. Now was the time for me to unleash my fitness that had been worked on over the 5 months of training. I struggled to overtake people on the single track as it was barely wide enough for one rider to race along. At every overtaking point I saw, I utilized.
The hill climb was my highlight as I charged up in 6th gear taking 12 top riders (all wearing race numbers in single figures) After the hill climb came the dreaded woods, the woods consisted of clay based ground which was completely unridable after the disgusting weather it had endured for the week leading up to the race. Every time the wheels turned, they picking up thick clay which eventually lead to them not being able to turn. This was extremely agonizing to watch happen but it was the same for all the riders. All the riders around me were stopping walking to pull off the mud but as soon as the wheels turned again they would clog and be back to square one! Some riders chose to carry their bikes which seemed to work very well.
As I stepped off my bike on a steep clay corner, I slipped and jolted my knee backward. It felt the same as when I had previously snapped my ACL in my knee. I was on the floor screaming with pain from the knee and screaming with pain from knowing my chances were over. I spent 5 minutes lying on the muddy floor before realizing the end was just 6km away and I was still in the top 20.
I hopped the rest the woods and onto the fire road in Oz en Oisans. I then cycled using my right leg for the rest of the course being overtaken by loads of riders. This was extremely dis heartening to watch. Upon reaching the very last straight I knew that using both legs was a good idea! So charged and the finish line desperately trying to forget what had happened and the pain from my knee. I overtook a rider making my finish in 89th position. I crossed the line and fell off my bike. I was absolutely gutted that my fate was not to be the same as what I had hoped for. That’s sport for you though! Megavalanche, Im coming back for you. Award ceremony and podiums were also in Allemont. We saw Pierre Charles Georges win the Megavalanche for the first time. I enjoyed a beer for the first time in over 5 months tonight. I watched the world cup final with the other riders and we chatted all night about our racing and week of fun and games. What about next year…..