Another round of the EWS, another epic weekend of racing. Chairlift accessed racing in Valloire was a long way from the long pedaling distances and slippery steep roots of Scotland but it was no less of physcial and mental challenge. The location was stunning, Valloire is a pretty little village surrounded by huge snow capped Alpine mountain in the middle of prime Tour de France roadie climbs.
Day One – 3 timed runs on two stages + 2 practice runs
Taking the gondola up I was full of anticipation and maybe a slight be of apprehension about what would be in store for us coming down. The first stage was huge, over 1000m descent over 7km, but after practice revealed there was nothing majorly scary, I was excited to race. The women set off first with the fastest ranked riders starting last and only 15 seconds time gaps between each person. This led to a bit of chaos when racing with both faster and slower riders losing time with passing leading to people getting frustrated (luckily the organisers changed this around for day two). The top section was rough and full of the kind of sharp pointy rocks that are keen to puncture your tyres so riding smooth was key. After that speeds increased as the trail dopped through meadows, some freshly cut grassy turns, a massive slightly uphill pedaling section, switchbacks through the woods and a flat out fast ski piste finish. I rode ok-ish but got passed on the top section and then stuck behind people on the pedaling bit.
Stage 2 which we raced twice was a full on monster. 8.5km and over 20 minutes of racing starting up on what felt like the top of the world, traversing across a rough rocky mountain above the vegetation line. The first obstacle was a small but very deep and rutted snow patch where it seems most people had an OTB at some stage after which was a nasty uphill and a very physical rocky descent. As the trail dropped down it became more and more dusty with occasional short pedaling sections, lots of eyeballs out as high speed as you dare sections, some switchbacks and finally a steep lung-busting climb from hell just to finish you off as your arms and legs were screaming to stop. The Stage was extremely tough and physical but the sheer length of it was insane, double the length of the longest stage I’ve ridden before so maintaining fully focused concentration was a real challenge . Although the passing (or being passed!) was really frustrating at times, it was great to be close to other riders all the time, to have people in your sights to aim for, to learn where your strengths and weaknesses are and to see just how fast the fast girls are. Awesome day.
Day 2 – 3 timed runs, 2 stages, 2 practice runs and a transition stage that involved more braking than my body could handle
The first stage of day two started high up another mountain with stunning views down a freshly cut trail full covered in tuffty grass with pointy rocks hidden underneath, some rock gardens and lower down some fun rooty corners through the trees to the finish. Big Enduro 29er wheels were a saving grace when hitting rough sections full of hidden holes and rocks at high speed! Although slightly shorter than saturday’s stages the distance was still tough with arms and legs sore from the day before and quickly filling with lactic acid. The killer of day 2 was a downhill singletrack transition to get between two gondolas, which we had to ride 5 times. Normally this would be far better than an uphill fireroad but the extent of the arm pump from racing meant that any braking was a painful experience and this was the final nail in the coffin!
The 2nd stage was another tough one starting across a rough rock filled trail with a few loose high speed ski piste sections in between. Keeping the flow and ride smoothly to avoid mechanicals was key with lots DNFs due to mechanicals and crashes. Loads of dusty switchbacks and some physical forest sections filled up any remaining space in your body with lactic and shot your pulse up through the roof. Then it was time for the climbing. Several short, punchy full gas climbs followed one after the other with sections of technical singletrack in between so that as your heart and lungs felt like they were going to burst out of your body you had to be fully calm and composed to clear the downhill section. I take some kind of sick enjoyment from this, in xc you are always holding something back on climbs and descents but here its flat out every time which is awesome!
So overall 13,000m descending over the two days (usually it might be 3-4,000 over two days!). I finished 26th, an improvement on last time but still have lots to learn. Brilliant weekend meeting and hanging out with lots of cool people from all over the world. The trails themselves were good although probably not the best I’ve ridden in the Alps, but as a race event it worked very well. It was sickening to leave the circus to be back at work on Monday morning when it seemed everyone else was heading off in a van for several weeks of playing in the Alps. Bring on La Thuile!
Thanks to Velo Elsener for making sure my bike was in tip top condition!