Today was indescribable, I’m going to give it a go though as I’m supposed to be good with words right? I’ll start with the facts and figures: I was out on my bike for 8 hours with 30mins stop for lunch, including the 3 lifts I travelled 33 miles, I descended 3811m over 4 stages and as far as I can remember I fell off 5 times! For the rest, if I said the word ‘epic’ than that word can never be used for anything other than a multi-day stage race ever again. Today was a tough day, making you grimace and grin in equal amounts.
The day began with the pitter patter of rain on the tent, this had cleared up by the time I had finished my breakfast of porridge, boiled eggs, yoghurt and banana not my normal big breakfast to last me the day but it did the job. Racers left camp in stages from 0930 hours to reach the first lift just down the in the town, this lift would be used twice for stages 1 and 2. Stage one started on tame bike park trails but soon left this to become much gnarlier with a combination of rock gardens and switch backs on the open hillside. I ate dirt a couple of times down here, quickly realising that my clip pedals and I were not going to get on! At the bottom of this stage were a multitude of people regaling each other with stories like “he cartwheeled down the hill in front of me!” and the like. As Ali said yesterday – “150 new friends”.
A short stage to warm up on this one had an estimated time of 22 mins. Back down to the lift and now with flat shoes and pedals (thanks Ad!) it was up to the same spot for stage 2 and another gentle bike park trail start, a blue route that went on and on. I found it pretty demanding as there seemed to be a fair amount of pedalling. The trail turned natural about halfway down and here I had my first encounter with wild animals in the track – ok not wild but the horses looked pretty frisky! This stage was awesome near the bottom and I cleaned my part of the technical bit with relative confidence. I was also starting to learn where to get off and walk, that’s an art in itself! There was an estimated time of 22 mins for this stage too.
Next up was the first real transition of the day. We had to make it under our own steam to lunch and the lift up to stage 3. Either I am pretty slow or the liaison times were wildly underestimated! The liaison consisted of single track and then a long push up a hill (mountain) to reach Tignes le Lac. As the sun beat down we were treated to awesome views that just got better and better as the push went on. I was aware that I was maybe not making as good pace as the notes described so I only stopped briefly for some fruit and flapjack at the lunch stop. It was then onto a near empty chair lift for the final part of the transition to stage 3. I was starting to feel the fatigue by now, looking at the faces of the others around me I knew I wasn’t the only one.
I had a battle with nerves at the top of this stage, it was due to be a long one 7.12 k, descending 1068meters, I was starting to feel totally unprepared. This was one demanding day, unless you have experienced it for yourself there really is no knowing. I could do with being at least 50% fitter! I talked myself down stage 3, calming my nerves and trying to maintain some flow. It was an amazing trail, starting rocky and off camber, traversing along grassy plains, diving in and out of woods, it had great natural flow and the fun factor was definitely there! Oh, apart from the sick inducing climb for near on 1km – brutal, absolutely brutal on the legs, lungs and heart! My legs were so tired, as the trail went downhill again I actually had to shout at myself to stand back up again and get on with it!
Straight from the end of three it was off to stage 4, if I thought the previous liaison was hard then I was in for a surprise, this liaison was 15k with a total 800m climb. It was never-ending, legs burning I arrived out of water and out of steam for stage 4. I decided to go pretty much straight away, I figured waiting around would do nothing for my legs. As I dropped in my first thought was that this part of the stage would ever define the term ‘snotty’, it was twisty, rocky, rough, jarring and for me all slow speed. The trail soon got going though and boy did this one have some rocks! My brain rattled from start to finish, this one was a great trail! Switch back after switchback cleared, I am already getting better at these! With my hands screaming I was so glad to see the marshal waving at me at the end, ready to ‘dib’ me out at the end of the stage. Day one was done, all that was left now was to wash me and the bike, check her over (she’s fine!) and get some grub being served in a hall up the road. I pretty much felt like a zombie, just taking in what I had done today. It really is indescribable, this is hard, challenging riding over severe terrain. It’s unforgiving and will seek out your weaknesses and exploit them without a backwards glance.
So, how did the fast boys do? Top man is Peaty in a time of 57mins32, in second place is Neil Donoghue, in a close time of 57mins45 and third is Jamie Nicholl in 58 minutes dead. Grabbing Steve Peat as he made his way back from the shower, he reckoned stage four was the best! I cheekily asked him if this was his debut move over to enduro? “No” he says “enduro’s just for retired downhillers!”. Neil reckoned he has had a good day on the bike and is keeping an eye on that close time between him and third, will be interesting to watch him this week.
Tomorrow is set to be another big day, well it is big mountain enduro after all! Much more descending, more technical (yes I’m worried too!) and less transition time starting at 0830 hours sharp, can’t wait to see what it brings!
Words: Rachael Gurney
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