Alpe D’huez Day 11 – 20
It had been exactly a year since I last stayed in Alpe D’huez where I had competed in the Mega Avalanche Cup. After having such a brilliant week at the Mega last year, myself and my friends made a pact that we would be back again the following year and so the planning and preparation began in January. T-shirts proclaiming our top three priorities of last year were made – Beer, Wifi, Bikes : ) My two weeks of living in the van were now done for a while as I had an apartment share with three friends. Although I love vanlife, it really was nice to have the comfort of a shower and toilet facilities! This is the one hardship of vanlife I reckon!
The next day was spent just chilling and working on the bikes. Change of tyres, brake bleeds, cable changes, it was nice to get the chance to give the bike and body some tlc. That evening, I met up with the gang who had just arrived from Dublin for the week. We spent the next two days practicing the Mega run and the qualifier run from the top of the glacier right down to where it would finish in Allemond. The weather was perfect and the track was awesome with clearly a lot of work done on them. The bike was running smooth and after a decision made to get new brakes, a swift delivery from Chainreactioncycles the next day of Shimano Saint brakes and new rotors, I was riding these trails with a whole new level of confidence! I couldn’t believe the difference a decent set of brakes had made to my riding. I no longer needed to pull the brakes for long, a quick bite and my speed was scrubbed, allowing me to maintain my speed and be smoother on the bike. Better brakes to go faster, now there’s a juxtaposition right there!
After riding from Monday to Wednesday, I took Thursday off to rest and tend to my bike, ensuring that I had everything ready for the Qualifying run the next morning.
Up at 5.30am to get the 6am lift, it was a very early start but I was feeling really good, excited about the race and the adrenaline nerves soon kicked in.
The womens race started at 9.30. We took the first cable car ,hen had a short transition on the bike to the final cable car which brought us up the start of the qualifying run at 2200m the top you were able to see snowcapped mountains for miles and I took a walk over the snow to look down on the track below which looked awesome. In no time at all, I was on the start line at the front, the music started to play the usual start song 666 and we were given the 1 minute flag. I could feel the adrenaline running through my legs at this point, which gave me that jellylike feeling and that butterfly feeling in my stomach. The 10 second flag went up and then suddenly, before the 10 seconds were up, the tape was down and we were off. As I was expecting the full 10 seconds to run, I wasn’t on the ball and a few got in front of me immediately, causing me to get caught behind a bunch at the next corner. I rode as best I could down the shaley switch-backs, down towards the rock slab where there was a small section of snow. Where everyone was going straight on, I took a line to the left, which was faster but then got caught behind two riders on top of the rock who had come to a halt. Getting past them, I focused on getting speed through the slushy snow and made up time and places on the singletrack as I sprinted for as long as I could. I maintained my speed from then on, feeling great on the rocky technical sections and sprinting on the pedally singletrack. As this was the qualifying run, it was much shorter than the Main race run but a lot more intense. Half an hour of intense riding at full throttle, right down to the race village in Alpe d’huez. At the last section, I caught up with four guys who were in the race before us, losing a bit of time behind them as it was difficult to pass on the singletrack. I eventually got passed them all and put everything I had into the last part, sprinting to the finishline into the smiling faces of all my friends! I was knackered but loved every single minute of it! I was delighted to hear that I had come 6th overall, a big improvement on my 11th position the year before.
No beer reward just yet, we had the main race the next day and it was going to be a very early start. We hung out in the race village for a while until we had fully recovered and had some lunch that was provided. Then back up to the lifts to wash the bikes and to the apartment to chill out and get ready to do it all again tomorrow!
After doing my best to get a good breakfast of porraige, scrambled egg and avocado into me at the early hours of 5.30am, I was back on the lift to the top of the glacier, all set for the big event. This was it, I was determined to hold my position of 6th or even go for 5th, it was a case of being quick of the startline, no crashes and pacing myself in this hour long decent.
We were all up at the top at 3200m by 7am and had a two and a half hour wait ahead of us. They get all 2000 riders up to the top of the startline and everyone goes off in their wave, ebikes category first, then women. The slope had been piste-bashed the night before and was glistening in the morning sun, reminding me of an ice-rink. It was a black ski run afterall……I can imagine every rider has asked themselves at this point if they are insane! It really does look worse than it actually is, and in no time I found myself lining up at the startline amonst fifty other women in fullface helmets and goggles, smiling and chatting nervously but with an air of excitement and anticipation. The 10 second sign went up and this time I was ready. I was off, one foot out with my ass back, gently feathering the brakes as I picked up speed. I had a good run, managing to stay on the bike while girls around me were falling like dominoes. I got to the first big corner and took it way too wide that I had to slow down and got caught in a tangle of two riders down. Back up on the bike and this time I tore down, absolutely loving the speed and amazed by the grip I had. I was soon off the snow and onto the rocky section of singletrack. Catching two riders here, I had to come to a halt on the most technical part of the rock as they had slowed right down, not good as you really need momentum for getting down technical sections. I lost my flow and had a nasty over-the-bars. The girls passed me as I was down and so once I was back up, I was determined to catch them up but also felt that I needed to ride a bit more cautiously. I worked my way to 6th position in the end, sprinting hard whenever I could and riding smooth through the woods. It was a fantastic run but I felt that I could have done better, so there is always next year!
Massive thanks to Chain Reaction Cycles for sorting me out for the race with such quick turnaround. To VitusBikes, WTB, Sweet Protection and OLFI Action Camera.
Irish Female Enduro Racer Flow MTB Team Rider