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Round 4: La Thuile
Well it's been a while since I've been this battered and bruised. Round 4 of the Enduro World Series has certainly taken its toll on me.
I've been on the road for just over a week, traveling in style and comfort in the Jordan's camper: The Colonel. Driving through Europe has never been so comfortable. Lounging in the back with my feet up, getting stuck in to a good book (which never happens); sweating next to Orsa Bear: team mascot and the fluffiest, cutest, most travelled 8 month cockapoo, (you should see how cute her passport is).
We arrived in La Thuile late on Tuesday, managed to find a nice little spot for the camper, I pitched up my tent at the back and set up home for the next few days.
Today we did a whole lot of nothing, registered, checked bikes, changed tyres, walked around the town... which was stunning! Every angle you looked was as if you were in your own fairy land. Any time of day, every which way you turned your head, you're greeted with nothing but pure beauty, guarded from every angle by snow kissed mountains, including Mont Blanc. Fresh fruit stalls and a chocolate shop selling freshly made croissants every morning; you're pretty much set for the day. Everyone in the town has the biggest smiles, living here, there’s simply no time for a "bad" day.
Thursday (practice day one)
My usual travel and race buddy, Joel, (my bro) was absent for this race, barely 3 weeks ago he had his first beautiful baby girl, so obviously his priorities changed for this race, leaving Fay's husband, Lee, as our trip mechanic and Mr Motivator. I'm so grateful to have had his support and knowledge on the trip, my bike literally wouldn't have lasted a day on the mountain without him.
I struggled to get hold of tyres before I left home, so Lee rummaged through his options, and between him and my new tent neighbour, Si, I had a brand new set of rather used tyres.
I knew my forks, shock, brakes and gears needed some love, so I started the morning waiting outside SRAMs pits, 08:30 on the dot. That wasn't the last they'd see of me either.
Once our bikes were up to scratch so we headed up the mountain.
Day one practice: stages one, two and three only.
Day two practice: stages four, five and six only.
Has a beautiful 2 hour alpine climb to reach the top, with an epic view of Mont Blanc, really having to earn that 900 meter descent, over 4.26 km. Full run took me 12:24 minutes.
Accessed by two chair lifts, with a 10-15 minute traverse to the top of the 670 meter descent, over 3.64 km. Full run took me 10:30 minutes.
Accessed by two chair lifts, with a 5-10 minute push up to the start of the 906 meter descent, over 5.94 km. Full run took me 15:20 minutes.
We rode both stage two and three twice, both were fast, loose, steep and fun, with nothing to catch you out, apart from good old arm pump and fingers seizing to the shape of your grips. We'd been riding all day and already done over 20 miles/35 kilometres of pure descending, not the forgiving kind either, you were constantly getting rattled, and working the bike, all stages were full on Downhill tracks. Over 20 miles of that when you're barely used to 3 minute descents, left me screaming through the pain trying to hold on to the bars by the time we practiced stage one.
Friday (practice day two)
I was fired up after day one, the tracks were insane, my arms and face cheeks were the only things that suffered [face cheeks-from smiling so much]. It felt like a holiday, I'd totally forgotten we were here to race the Enduro World Series.
However, there was a different tone for day two...
All week, everyone had been harping on about Stage Rive, even top 20 men had told Fay and I how burly and tough it looked, they looked genuinely concerned. Usually if someone tells me it's steep; I smile quietly, knowing that's my jam. I'm way more comfortable on steep technical terrain. Yet, after days of people drumming in negative and daunting comments about how un-rideable stage five was, it's safe to say it got to me.
We saved Stage Five till last, with it being freshly cut, loose and off camber (definition of dreamy) we knew it would change the most throughout the day.
Accessed by two chair lifts, then a 30-40 minute pedal and hike-a-bike at the end, before tackling the 981 meter descent, over 7.55 km. A full run took me 15:49 minutes, with a dirty climb in the middle.
Accessed by two chair lifts, with the same start as two, before cutting off in to the freshly cut, loose, steep, tight, tech butt-clencher 750 meter descent, over 3.98 km. A full run took me 15:00 minutes.
Accessed by one chair lift, rolling straight off the lift and into the 600 meter descent, over just 3.19 km. A full run took me 12.06 minutes leading you straight in to the finish arena.
Although Stage Four shook my arms like a Mexican in the Antarctic, it was fun, although that climb in the middle would not be fun come race day.
Stage Six was wild, I loved it. (I was trying to push aside my nerves and apprehension for Stage Five). There were definitely sections to catch you out, rooty, steep, loose, fast and tight; including a rather large rock garden you wouldn't want to come off on; keeping you on your toes the entire way down.
Finally the dreaded Stage Five… We received a text as we reached the top saying “watch out for a gnarly steep rock roll at the bottom, the guys have just come back and they’ve all had pretty bad crashes.”… If we weren’t already nervous, now we were.
I’ve never been so stiff and tense while riding, over breaking on everything, causing me to crash; I’d crashed 4 times before getting to anything remotely daunting, my head was all over the place. I just couldn’t relax, anxiously waiting for this un-rideable section to come up. We finally reached a section worth looking at, it was an off camber rooty section, stuck between two 180 turns, I knew I could ride it but I’d got myself into such a state, I could barely hold on to the bike. I stumbled my way down eager to keep going to see the rest of the gnarly section; turned 2 corners, and there was the finish! Gutted! I’d stupidly let everyone’s opinions get to me, future goal: shut out other people’s negative thoughts and make my own judgement. Everyone has different abilities and preferences, and that track had my name ALL over it, but, now practice was over so I couldn’t go back up to ride it properly until race day.
Saturday - RACE DAY ONE
Ground hog day: 8:00am, sitting outside SRAM, hoping to get that new banging noise in my forks fixed.
The ride to the top of Stage One was a beauty! It took just under an hour, cycling up alpine roads with countless switch-backs. We peeled off the road, continuing the second half of the climb taking another hour on a single-track path. It was an insanely beautiful track taking us through the valley to the summit, with a beautiful panoramic view of Mont Blanc and its sisters.
Pretty much all the climbing for the weekend was done and dusted in this one stage; apart from a few traverses and dirty climbs mid-stage, the rest of the weekend was accessed by the chairs lifts… What a treat!
Day one went well, it was rad, apart from a few little crashes and stumbles, my bike and I were in one piece. Unfortunately it had not gone so well for Fay, just a few corners in to Stage One, a stone jumped up into her rear-mech, jamming the chain, sending Fay over the bars. She soldiered on, minus a chain, and carried on the rest of day one, but her weakened shoulder meant she could barely hold on and made the wise decision to give day two a miss.
Sunday – RACE DAY TWO
With just three stages to race, all chair lift accessed, it was a pleasantly late start, I was due to set off at 11:22, so naturally the bikini was on, towel was down, and snagged me some pre-race rays.
Day Two definitely didn’t go as well, after having a rough practice day on these stages, I’d built up a bit of a mental barrier. During Stage Four I was crashing on the stupidest of things, I just couldn’t pull it together.
Coming down Stage Five I forced myself to sing trying to loosen up, but nothing was staying in my head… Until a rather catchy song popped up; I started singing, and my focus shifted, finally bringing it together. I was relaxed, enjoying the tracks and making far less mistakes; thank goodness for Justin Bieber [hanging my head in shame… but hey, it worked!]
As the finish of Stage Five drew closer, the volume of the crowds heckling increased, they were on the steep, tight, rooty corner before the finish… perfect. It added to the fun having them there, and I laughed with them as I winged it through.
Each stage was over 10 minutes of gnarly, rough, downhill magic, but Stage Six seemed the most intense out them all, way more features to catch you out, the spectators seemed to find themselves at the burly rock garden, I stayed strong and smashed my way to the bottom, until the last corner; it was a steep, awkward, off camber, rooty, roller/drop thing; as my wheel landed, I quickly realised my wheel was entering a hole of dust! The track was pretty blown out and had just been filled with dust holes; too weak from the week of riding, my arms collapsed sending me out the front door, filling my face with a mouth full of dirt. I managed to jump on and pick up enough speed before the drop that was all of 15 feet ahead, leading straight into the finishing field. I threw off my helmet trying to cough out all the dirt, and quickly realised I’d stabbed my hip with my bars and struggled to cough. It gave the camera men a good laugh though … hmmmm.
I was so stoked to have finished the intense weekend of racing, men and women were pulling out right, left and centre, but I’d managed to stay strong, with no major crashes, and clearly got all of my mechanically problems out of the way before racing.
I’m looking forward to the next EWS; I definitely need to spice up my training. It’s hard to train for alpine riding when you only live around hills, compared to the French and Italians the Brits really struggled, but I had the most incredible experience and cannot wait to head back to La Thuile, next time I’ll make sure it’s with my brother.