At the weekend I was lucky to have the chance to step in as a last minute substitute to race the Biivouac Enduro for the BMC Enduro Team alongside Kerstin Kögler. The race took place in the Pays Diois area of the Rhone Alps with riders competing in teams of two for 3 days of blind racing. The area is really spectacular with biggish mountains, dry dusty terrain and pretty French villages.
Day 1 – 5 stages, 45km, 1000m uphill, 2000m+ descent
The first day was a lot about finding how to ride best together as a team (and for me to get used to an unfamiliar bike!), Kerstin is quicker than me on the descents so took the lead and I did my best to stay off the brakes an hold her wheel. The first stage began on a spectacular ridge crossing and dropped through pine forest covered in loose, sketchy stones. The first few corners were extremely tight and without much of a warmup it was hard to get into race mode but things improved as we went down.
Other stages blur together in my memory but there were quite a few pedaling sections, one in particular was a killer 2-3 minutes steep, loose singletrack with a big drop off the edge that left both of us gasping for breath but also gave us chance to put a good bit of time into the other women’s teams that were racing. Most of the trails were more high speed than technical but the loose gravel and pine cones made it hard to judge how much speed you could get away with. Wheels sliding at high speeds on narrow trails with steep drops off the edge made for some sketchy moments.
We finished directly in the campsite where beer, drinks and snacks awaited with the sun setting over the mountains. The atmosphere was great, very friendly and fun with everyone staying together in tents provided and pitched by the organisers. Later in the evening a 3 course meal of local food was served in a big marquee with more chance to chat with other riders. Although most other riders were French, there was a good variety of Nationalities including English, Belgium, Dutch, Swiss and German. There was everyone from EWS race winners to hard partying social guys (turns out people from the French speaking part of Switzerland are mad party animals, very different to the German part!)
Day 2 – 5 stages, 1600m climbing, 2600m descent
After a shuttle and a nice warmup climb stage 1 started on top of a mountain with stunning views across the area and over to the Alps. We started on a flat out pedal across the grass before quickly dropping into a narrow singletrack that was often slightly overgrown and exposed making it difficult to read what was coming up and to keep Kerstin in my sights.
The terrain was slightly different to day 1, less loose stones but more bigger rocks making things more physical and fun. Lunch was served under the trees in the square of a pretty village fueling us for pedally transitions and flat out fast descents. There were no apparent time limits for the climbs allowing plenty of time to chill out and chat to other riders. There weren’t many people who could speak English but somehow we managed to communicate and have some good laughs on the way.
Day 3 – 3 stages
The bus took us out the other side of town to a new area where we had a 40 minute climb up onto a moorland type ridgeline with an incredible view of the surroundings and down onto the stage so that you could watch the first riders flying down at crazy speeds. The first section was flat out across the grass with no real defined trail, before we turned sharply into a rocky singletrack. I had to fight with my brain to stay off the brakes and stick to Kerstin as we hit things at a blistering pace. As we dropped through the woods the trail started to swoop down with loads of foot out flat out dusty switchbacks. 900m descent didn’t feel long enough. Awesome.
The next 2 stages were also big ones involving some hike-a-bike transitions and beautiful trails through vinyards, sleepy villages and baron mountains full of strong smelling wild herbs. There were a couple of properly sketchy sections where a landsclide had washed the mountain away and we had to traverse across a ledge holding a rope for support in one hand and carrying the bike in the other – good adventure! The terrain on the stages themselves was slightly more rocky higher up and as we got down into the valley it was more pinecones and drifty corners.
The race finished back in the village of Die were lunch was served under the trees in a leafy walled garden before the podium presentation. We took the win in the women’s category, the perfect way to round off an amazing few days. The team of two format was really great, to chase someone else down trails is always good fun and working together made added a new dimension to the racing. More photos and full results over on Enduro Tribe.
A massive thanks to everyone involved with the BMC team for giving me the chance to race, it was an amazing experience and I definitely have the Enduro stage race bug, 3 days wasn’t long enough. The BMC Trailfox was great to ride, super stable at high speed, very solid but also nimble feeling and the benefit of having someone else prepare and maintain it during racing cannot be underestimated. Thanks to Kerstin for the great teamwork and patience!