La Thuile - by far my favourite place in Europe to ride. I loved it in 2014 when I raced the EWS there, but loved it even more this year as the crew really stepped it up by producing six exceptional stages that challenged even the most skilled and fasted riders in the world.
Arriving early evening on the Wednesday, I parked up, set up the bike and headed out for a spin to stretch the legs. I returned two and a half hours later thinking I had only been out an hour! I checked into our apartment, a gorgeous property in the cute town of Thovex, just above La Thuile centre. The next two days were spent practicing the six stages, and just enjoying the trails without the pressure of racing. On my second day of practice, I was lucky enough to spend the day riding with Ewen Turner from IMBikeMag. Some epic riding was had that day!
Race Day one started with a gruelling two-hour climb half on road that reminded me of the famous ’21 Bends’ of Alpe d’huez and the other half on singletrack that traversed the mountain and exposed the most stunning views of the valley and lake below us. Being the hottest part of the day, it was as if everyone was in their own bubble of suffering on this climb and no one was talking. Finally at the top, we had a good 15 minutes to chill and gather ourselves before kicking off. I was feeling a little tired but rode fairly well and kept it clean coming in at 23rd position.
The transition to Stage 2 consisted of two lifts, a short pedal and a push up to the start line. I was now starting to feel the effects of the past two days practicing and the transition up to S1 and didn’t feel as fresh into S2 as I would have liked. I started off well but I dropped my chain quite soon and struggled for at least 4-5 minutes getting it back on as it had got caught outside the chainguide. Finally after a lot of swearing and brute force, I got it back on and rode as best I could but finished in a disappointing 32nd position.
Stage 3, the final stage of day one, was my favourite one of the day as it had a great mix of fast flat out singletrack, rock drops and technical sections through the woods. I had ridden it twice in practice and got down it pretty smooth, loving every second of it! And it showed with my best stage coming in 21st position. All three stages were at least 15 minutes long and required huge levels of concentration and focus. You couldn’t switch off for a second.
Finished by 2.30pm, I headed back to the apartment after a quick recovery bath in the icy river and spent the rest of the day washing my gear, bike, eating and napping.
Day Two – Stage 4, 5 & 6
This was the more technical of stages and one that I was really looking forward to. It was nice that we had a late start time of 11.30 so I spent my morning doing some yoga, having a hearty breakfast and taking my time to get ready. No stress! Stage 4 started really well until a third of the way down and I clipped a rock and had a big over the bars. Fairly shook, I carried on but rode conservatively as this was the longest stage of the weekend and pacing was important. I rode well but right at the very end of the stage, a moment of not being focused meant that my bars clipped a tree and sent me flying. It took me a minute or two to get the bike up and running again and with crooked bars, I finished the stage but in a disappointing 29th position. At this point I was really disheartened, in pain and confidence really knocked. For the first time ever, a voice was telling me to just give up and quit as the next two stages were even more technical. With some encouragement from friends down at the race village, I decided to keep going and not let this affect me. It was too important and quitting is just not an option, no matter how hard things were and badly they were going. My goal now was to just finish the rest of the day and not push it, ride conservatively to get down without crashing. I was tired, this was the biggest cause of my performance.
Stages 5 and 6 went well but as I was riding really conservatively, I came in 25th and 28th positions consecutively.
An overall of 25th, I was disappointed that I didn't achieve my goal of coming in the top 20 but proud of myself for finishing this brutal and tough race when I was so close to giving up. It was a race where everyone struggled with mechanicals and crashes, so fair play to everyone who finished and commiserations for all the riders who couldn't finish due to injury or mechanicals.
Irish Female Enduro Racer Flow MTB Team Rider