Following six weeks of inactivity after fracturing my back, the most sensible way to get back up to speed seemed to be entering my first Enduro race. With the promise of a local summer race in sunny France, I met some of the lads from Ireland in Metabief, a small ski resort just across the border from Switzerland in the Jura region. It turned out to be a pro winter downhill race in disguise with many of the top names in Enduro racing competing.
On practice day it rained non stop. After a chairlift to the top, we were allowed to pre-ride two of the descents and the rest would be raced blind. The ‘easier’ one was a real challenge to get down never mind ride fast. Thick slippery mud everywhere, some really steep sections and lots of sharp greasy rocks. Having been told by my downhiller companions that the second descent was really technical I was starting to get worried and with good reason. It was nothing short of a downhill trail, switchback after switchback of incredibly steep rocky trail that was so so hard to ride but equally impossible to walk. In the dry it would have been manageable but covered in greasy sloppy mud it was pushing me way out of my comfort zone. I finished wondering how on earth I would survive two days of racing. It did make me feel a bit better to hear former downhill world champ Tracey Mosely also saying it was tough.
Saturday Race – 4 timed stages, 3 chairlift rides, 1 long non-timed climb
The first run was the easier one I had practiced the day before but due to a mix up I was entered in the men’s category and rather than racing separately with the girls I had to deal with loads of irate testosterone filled French guys screaming at me as they flew past. It was freezing cold, wet and muddy and I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it but I survived. It’s unbelievable how much time you can loose with a small mistake, dab in the mud and a minute disappears in no time, smooth riding was the key, practice required.
The second was a blind stage, and with more pedalling and slightly less vertical, rooty forest trails that were at times like Ireland, I started to enjoy myself. Sprinting flat out for two minutes so that you’re full of lactic and breathing like a donkey and then having to compose yourself as you drop into a technical descent is not easy but at least I started to feel I was racing.
After a long, non-timed climb to the start, stage three was a slightly altered and longer version of the horrible downhill we practiced the day before. The top section was amazing fun, sliding around in the mud and pushing the limits but with little pedalling required. The really steep part was a survival challenge and I was happy to get down in one piece without being taken out by any over enthusiastic euros.
After an extended lunch break and a lot of jet-washing the last stage took in some sections we had ridden in the morning along with some really fun, swoopy bomb-holes in the forest that were filled with noisy spectators. The weather had improved slightly so that it was in places almost dry making it great fun.
Having already been given breakfast and lunch, in the evening the organisers provided a three course meal with wine for all the competitors, a welcome break from shivering in my tent. Despite the weather there was a very friendly relaxed atmosphere and it was clear that racing in France has it’s benefits.
Sunday – 1 chairlift, 1 downhill stage
The weather got worse rather than better, it rained solidly all night and by Sunday the top of the mountain had disappeared in cloud. The race was postponed for a couple of hours and rather than a planned pursuit stage, we repeated stage 4 from yesterday. Shivering on the chairlift covered in a bin-bag poncho to try and stay dry before arriving to a sprinkling of snow at the top didn’t help my enthusiasm, but I had go this far so was determined to finish. It took me half the run to get warm but after the halfway sprint I got into it and had an amazing time. The mud had got so wet that there was nothing to do but slide, and once you accepted that it was so much fun! Although there is loads to improve on I learned a lot and was happy to finish, only 212 people did with nearly 650 entrants starting. Results here.