It’s the biggest mass-start MTB race in the world, its famous and infamous, it’s been going for 20 years this year and is something I have never got round to doing. Mega Avalanche is the race that so many of my mates have done, some are racers, many are not, but all have one thing in common, in that they say you cant do it just once, you will just HAVE to come back!
Year after year I have put it off for one reason or another, be it financial, busy at work or other race commitments. But this year it is different, this year I have the backing of Enduro Mag and a press entry/hotel from the organizers, how could I say no! So this is it, finally after riding mountain bikes for 20 years it’s going ahead. Here is my story, not that of some pro racer, but an average Joe who wants to give his best up against 3000 other riders and a 3,300 metre-high beast of a mountain. My (or should I say our) story will be done in parts and posted up for you guys day after day, from start to finish, I hope you enjoy our experience.
Bike preparation was obviously the main importance prior to leaving the UK, I was lucky to have lots of mates who have done Mega before, including some who have top 10-ed, so as of their experience some small changes were made to the bike. Firstly the 32 chain-ring was ditched in favor of a bigger geared 34, kindly sent over from the guys at Works Components, bearings were recently serviced, so no worries there, but tyres had to be changed. I opted for the big hitting DH style Michelin Rock-r beasts. These are a heavy tyre (around 1.3kg each) but made for the gnarlier big hits of the lesser tyre popping rocks which make up most of the course, as for the snow at the top, well nothing really is made for that stuff. These stickier tyres may not pedal as well as their Enduro-style cousins, but I figured I’d rather miss out a few positions on pedaling than losing hundreds to a puncture. Big wide 780mm bars were fitted too, this for that high-speed stability and the elbows-out aggressive style MX riding, necessary to stay on and keep other aggressive riders at bay. I had my usual large Rockguardz mudguard fitted for the qualifying and advised to fit a smaller one for the race, as the snow could block the bigger one up
So that was it really, bike prepped, what about kit and mind-set? I had watched a few vids on the race and like I say, spoken to people with experience of the race. From this I was told to give it absolute death in the qualifying race, in order to gain a better place in the main race and avoid being too far at the back, where the snow ruts and overtaking can be an absolute nightmare. Race kit was the norm (full face helmet and elbow pads a must!) but the only extra thing was to carry a shitty old fleece to wear at the top of the main race and throw away just before the set-off. That was it then, hopefully I was ready, well I’d soon see.
Trip planned, none of that flying bullshit, I wanted to drive, I’m racing and when racing I want all the kit I need, just remember all the P’s – Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance! So the van it was, spare tyres and jet-wash loaded, plus there were 3 mates coming along with me, all Mega Avalanche virgins. 1st is Doc the photo genius (without Doc there is no story) he was so excited from the off about capturing this race on camera and doing a road trip. 2nd is Vini Crighton Poli, Vini signed for Steve Peat Syndicate Santa Cruz as a Junior rider this year and is a regular riding buddy of mine. Last but not least is Chris Roberts, organizer of the Mini Enduros and timing man for UKGE, plus he runs the World 4X races, Chris is just stoked to be a passenger for a change and (like me and Vini) being able to race the Mega for the 1st time.
AND WE’RE OFF
Tuesday morning was leaving time, I was checking all my preps early Monday eve when I get a text off a mate (Hippy Rich) “bring waterproofs and spike tyres” WHAT THE FUCK!! I nearly spat my coffee out, rain, mud, over there, that’s the last thing I expected, after looking at the weather forecast I realized it had been pissing down and there was a high chance of rain the whole time we were going to be there. Oh well, spikes were added to the van load, which also included the Cannondale Jekyll I have on test at the moment, well if you have a spare it would be rude not to bring it, but I had full plans of nailing the big 29er Carbine down that track with no problems, fingers crossed.
2 am is the time Doc, Vini and I set off from Shrewsbury with a quick stop at Stourport to collect Chris, just as we are about to leave I ask Chris if he wants to bring his wheels he had left behind his motorhome, so lucky I spotted them! 7am and we were at the Channel Tunnel terminal with a 3 hour delay till we set off on that weird under-sea train, whilst the UK sun was giving it full heat, ‘how could it be raining in France?’ I thought! 11.30 am and we’re in France with a bright and occasionally damp drive to start with, the Sat Nav giving another 700 kilometers to go and an ETA of 10pm at Alp De Huez
Doc takes over the driving not far into France as I catch up on some much needed sleep, Vini sleeps like a baby most of the time. The landscape just seems so flat and featureless as the miles roll by with Doc really not being shy on the throttle, 100mph being the norm! Finally we exit the long old A32 as the views start to change, with 120 miles left on the sat nav things started to get more wooded and hilly. Finally 20 miles from Alp D Huez we saw the mountains, wow, a big drag up the countless hair-pin turns making the van work and we had arrived at the beautiful hotel La Pit Blanc. After a lovely industrial sized gin and tonic we hit the sack.
Up at 8am, tired at breakfast, whilst we stuff our faces with the masses of bread involved in a continental brecky. Bikes were out and assembled and Vini and I met up with MDE junior rider James Keen. We headed up to hit the gondola, excited yet a bit gutted by how really cold and rainy it was, whilst the UK was basked in glorious sunshine. Quick detour via signing-on and we were all go, boarding the gondola to ride the full main Mega Sunday’s track. Two gondola rides later and we exited the lift to be hit by minus-four wind and snow, Jeez it was cold at the top! The low cloud surrounded us and vision was pretty bad, all we could see was bright white, of course I had never even considered a tinted lens.
THE MAIN TRACK
Tentatively we eased the bikes off down the steep white mass of a hill, from the off it was just bonkers. I firstly did a section completely sideways, one foot out, it seemed to work, till I tried to change direction and got high-sided off the bike, 1st stack out the way! Next up I go for breaks on feet down, this was terrible, the bike was squealing in protest and squirming from side to side over every rut. Eventually I virtually let it go, feet on pedals but not clipped in, this seems the best option as it stays straight with the occasional arse-twitch here and there, I figure I’ll copy this in the race but let it go some more, hopefully getting sucked into the crazy race pace, although I have to admit it was scary as fuck even at the slower pace!
We hit the first section of rocks, wow this is faster, scarier and with more evil rocks than I would ever have imagined, I hang on, hands pumping up as I’m not relaxed. Rock sections at the top are divided up by more sections of snow, these have deep ruts in, boom, I’m over the bars and sporting a snapped off peak, bastard! As we go further down some of the rock sections get scarier with large bike and body breaking drops, my confidence is low and I pussy a few of them, not happy with that! On and on it goes, relentless, the odd uphill bit thrown in until we hit the middle trail section, this is where I realized I need to ditch the mudguard as the front tyre locks up, even the back wheel is struggling, pure clay and rain just don’t go together. Things now flatten out as we enter the mid-point section, it is so difficult to ride with all that clay stopping the wheels, that was the point I realized just how out of breath the high altitude makes you, I was gasping and sporting a day-long headache. We veer off track when we get near the town (as the race track goes down past it) ride down the fun blue trail to sort stuff out at the van and eat. Mudguard ditched, goggles cleaned and we headed back up to come down another part of the blue and ride the final wood section
What can I say about this section, in the dry it would have been awesome, in the rain it would have been real fun, but not as it was earlier today. The rain had stopped and it had turned into deep claggy clay, so claggy none of us could turn either wheels on any part except the steepest of sections, I have never in my life seen clay so bad. Lots of the long wooded section had to be pushed, there were tons of riders trying to get down, all doing the same thing, bikes heavier than they had ever been before, people were panting, slipping around and generally looking fucked right off! I’d had enough near the bottom of the track, took a detour to the bottom gondola and headed back to sort things out. The bike was a nightmare to clean, Michelin spikes were fitted, things cleaned up and that was that. I’m now hoping for rain tomorrow or that it gets real hot, as either option could improve things and make the clay bits readable and not such a nightmare, now it’s time for several gins to make me think I can win it!
Words: Jim Buchanan Pics: Doc Ward, Jim Buchanan
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