I can’t quite believe that it’s nearly time. At the end of this week, I’ll be plummeting down a French mountainside with several hundred other women, though snow, rocks, mud (probably) and lush single track (hopefully!) in the 2014 Megavalanche in Alpe D’Huez, France.
When I signed up to do this back in February, it was so far ahead that it was kind of hard to believe that it was ever actually going to happen. Now it’s this week – ulp!
I am now massively thankful that I planned to come out to the Alps early and get some riding in before the race weekend, to get myself ready for the kind of rocky, steep descents the area is famous for.
First stop was Morzine, a Mecca for the UK’s downhill mountain bikers and the scene of the Pass'Portes du Soleil mountain bike event. This event celebrates the start of the mountain bike season in the Portes du Soleil region, and gives you the chance to ride the whole area taking in rides in France and Switzerland on a marked route with uplifts, food and drink provided and a brilliant party atmosphere.
We stayed with More Mountain, who run fully catered long-weekend trips including entry to the ‘tour’ – it’s not really a race, more of an excuse to explore the wealth of riding this area has to offer. As a fun adventurous way to spend a weekend, it was mostly pretty hard to beat!
I say mostly because on Sunday, the day we were doing the route, the heavens opened. You can ride the route on Friday, Saturday or Sunday – and generally the weather is glorious. It certainly was the two days before, and the day after, we did the event.
However, I’m not one to let a bit of inclement weather stop me, and actually the trails were riding superbly! Long DH tracks, soft rooty single track, technical options or easier lines - it's great for a variety of skill levels.
The downside of that kind of weather is just how flipping cold it can get on lifts after two hours of riding when your waterproofs have given up and the wind is picking up. We reached Chatel in time for lunch when we heard that the weather was so bad that they’d closed the Swiss section, and we had to turn back.
Part of me was a bit sad I hadn’t got to do the whole route. Another part of me was ecstatically happy that I was rapidly heading back to a hot bath and a beer. I’ll just have to head back again for another attempt in the future!
Next stop was Bourg St Maurice, an area familiar to most people as the main interchange to many of the various Alpine ski resorts in the winter. In the summer, it’s an excellent place to base yourself for a self-catering MTB holiday.
The funicular lift departs Bourg for Les Arc every 30 minutes, and runs until 7pm in the evening so you can get lots of runs in during a days riding. You can access the Les Arcs and Peisey Vallandry areas, with DH tracks, beautiful Alpine singletrack, and incredible views. And plenty of marmotte spotting opportunities.
I’m glad I came out here, because for one thing it’s given me the chance to get used to riding significantly steeper terrain than I’ve ridden back in the UK. In fact, some of the things I’m riding I would have classed as ‘Absolutely no flipping way am I doing that’ on the Aoife Riding Scale back home. It seems it’s all about context – compared to the ridiculously crazy I’m-sure-that’s-actually-vertical-ness of some trails here, things that are merely incredibly steep look less intimidating.
And actually, it’s a pretty good feeling when you realise you can get down them in a controlled manner. This whole trip has been a series of small triumphs – every corner I manage to get around, every steep section I pluck up the courage to get down, every drop that I psyche myself up to do and land, slightly surprised I made it, makes me feel ridiculously happy.
I’ve had some down days too, when I’ve been tired and should have had a rest rather than riding, and have ended up crashing on a section that should have been simple. At those moments, it’s hard to stop the negative thoughts cascading through my brain. ‘You can’t even do that simple section, you just crashed, how do you think you’ll cope with the Megavalanche?’ and it’s hard to push those thoughts aside. I’ve learned that a bit of chocolate, a sit down, and good long look at the snow topped mountains and flower filled meadows buzzing with insects helps give me a bit of perspective.
I’m doing this for fun. I’m not trying to win anything. I’m in competition with no one other than myself. It’s about the adventure, and no one is judging me. Well, no one who counts, anyway.
So – next stop is Alpe D’Huez, the location of the Megavalanche. Friday’s qualification race draws inexorably closer. I’m working out exactly what kit to ride in, based on what I’ve been using and loving this week. I’m going to have a big think and work out exactly what it is that I want to get out of this, so avoid working myself up into a panic just before the event.
Most of all, I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of you who are traveling out for the race. I reckon a pre-event evening meet up for advice, tips and moral support would do us all a bundle of good.
What do you think?
Like this? Check these out too!