At the weekend I headed to France for the International Bluegrass Enduro race in Mollau, Alsace. The event run by top Enduro rider Jerome Clemenz, entirely took over the tiny little village with the locals doing everything from building trails to cheering with cowbells and roasting pigs on spits for dinner. The race itself was a two day event with 7 timed stages all ridden blind (ie. no pre-preride) and plenty of climbing in between.
Saturday – 4 timed stages, max ride time 4 hours. Hot sun & dust.
After a long steady climb through pine forest there was a quick stop to put on the invincibility armour, flick switches and press buttons to morph the bikes into freeride machienes. Stage 1 was 7-9 minutes of dry rooty woodland singletrack and one short pedally section. Longish off camber sections with steep switchbacks and perfectly bermed dirt to catch you as you slid around. The trails were so much fun – like supersized version of Castlewellen in Ireland and even better no climbs! I didn’t have my racehead fully in gear and was far too polite when I caught the two girls that set off in front of me so lost a load of time but otherwise good.
After more slow climbing with plenty of chat and banter (although mostly in French, I had to seek out ther Germans so I could talk to people!), stage two was slightly longer with lots more off camber trails covered in roots and rocks, which was fine to ride but if you made a mistake you could have easily ended up halfway down the hill as it dropped of steeply below! After a few short lung bursting pedally sections, we dropped into freshly cut dusty singletrack, getting steeper with a few jumps (dodgy when you dont know whats coming over the other side!) and more amazing berms to sling the bike around towards the end.
Stage three was a bit more pedally with some short fireroad sections, flattish singletrack and of course plenty of switchbacks. Just before the end one of the singletracks turned sharply into a really nasty steep climb that required full concentration and max heartrate just to get up, before dropping straight into a technical section with a steep drop that required the ‘brain off’ switch. Lactic overload – not easy to stay composed!
Stage four was shorter through off-camber grassy meadows, a short rocky forest section with a token gesture of mud and finishing by flying through the local vegetable gardens amid lots of shouting and cowbells to finish in the village centre where beer, roast pig and a live band awaited. I finished fourth on the day but with only 8 seconds off 3rd so the race was on!
Sunday – 3 timed stages, max time 3.5 hours. Storms overnight, still warm.
Today began with two shorter 4-8 minute stages, one fast through the meadows (need to stop braking, lost far too much time on the easy parts!) and the other through the woods with some slightly greasy rocky parts after dramatic thunderstorms overnight (scary listening to the sky explode as I lay in my tent, not much sleep either!). I messed up on one of the rocky drops trying to get around someone who had stopped at the top and ending up running down, I probably lost a minute so bang went my chances of the podium – a small mistake can cost you so much in these things! The last stage was longer with more fun forest trails and a couple of pretty long uphills that left you full of lactic and gasping for breath, before again finishing in the village for more traditional French food and beer. Enduro racing might be worth all the hype!
I finished 4th in the end, a good bit behind the winners so lots to improve on although the top three were all locals and I think the blind racing just means local win! The whole event was really well organised with a great relaxed atmosphere and of course great trails. Highly recommended.