Coupe du France Enduro Series round 1, Blausasc

Flo Nicolai pretty much destroyed everyone, 8 of 8 stages

When I last raced DH in 2000 I remember looking at the results of the masters category and thinking that I’ll come back to racing next decade and I can get to be competitive again. It’s been 14 years, but I look through the names of the masters category and now they’re the ones top ten-ing in the overalls. No chance of being competitive there then.

So instead I looked at enduro, apparently the refuge of downhillers who were never quite quick enough, and sure enough, the start list is again filled with the heroes of my youth. Still, how fast can a bunch of ex world champ downhillers be? Worse, this is France, home of enduro. At the first round of the Enduro World Series, 13 of the top 20 guys were French. No chance of being competitive here then.

Despite all this, I entered the full Coupe du France Enduro series.

Someone being competitive

This isn’t as daft an idea as you’d think though. For a little over 250euros you get 5 races from Blausasc just outside Nice to Samoens next to Chamonix. Not only that, someone marks out a load of the best trails, gives you a lift pass (or at least some food and water to help you up the hill) and stops anyone from walking up the trail the other way. Plus you get 26euro brake pads and a jar of olives in the goodie bag. Result!

Besides, last time I was racing I would drive 8hr south to get to a muddy forest in Shropshire to race, now the same drive gets me to the south of France, if that’s not progress, nothing is….

Heading south. That's why we have sunglasses on.

After said 8hr drive Spencer and I arrived in L’Escarene, a few km up the road from Blausasc to meet Nina and several of her relatives who were putting us up for the weekend. Chamonix connections working out once again!

The last hour of the drive had been spent staring at the perfect looking terrain around us, so we headed over to Blausasc itself to walk stages 3 & 4 and see if it was as good up close.

Compared to the alpine trails we’re used to in Chamonix, Blausasc was a huge change. Dry, dusty, limestone rocks everywhere. Very similar to Finale not far up the coast, but slightly less clay in the dirt and with the added touch of a strong local trials (motor) bike scene to help cut the tracks.

Visualisation is key during track walks.

Stage 3 started above the trees with some fast corners and MX whoops, then into a bobsleigh track section with several big compressions. After a sprint up some fire road it then got into super narrow singletrack winding through the trees following the contours of the hill before abruptly diving off the edge into some loose fresh cut trails, before another km or so of foot wide singletrack to the finish.

In contrast stage 4 was rocky and open, with a couple of short but very technical sections, but mostly on established trails and finishing in the village itself. As for the first 2 stages, no idea, we’d find out in the morning….

Is fixing bikes in YOUR garden as photogenic as this? Last chance to prep the bikes.

Racing started at 0900, with the top 20 guys setting off in pairs at their allotted times, then the girls, then the rest of us. Nina got her interview at the start line and rolled off on the first liaison whilst Spence and I wandered back to the car with a relaxed 45 minutes for me to get ready. 25 minutes to go I start looking for my gear. No knee pads. I’d left them in the flat in L’Escarene.

Nina cruising out through the start arch

Almost everyone we’d met in the village would tell us about how their cousin was an ex world champ downhiller (there’s a few of them kicking about these hills) or a rally driver. Spence did a pretty good impression of a rally driver getting my pads back to me in time for my start!

In the “rallye” format French enduro races you are given allotted times to start each stage, so you can get there as quick or as slow as you like, but if you don’t cross the start line at the given time you get the time you’re late added to the stage time. With 38km of distance and 1400 of climbing to cover each day I was mildly concerned at how the timings would work out.

Fortunately the liaison stage timings seemed to be sufficient for the weekend though, with delays on both days due to timing issues and riders needing stretchered off the course, you could feel a bit pushed if you forgot you were getting extra time to complete.

Stage 3 after my blow-out, and discovering a 16gram CO2 cart isn't enough gas for a 2.4 HRII

The event video’s already online and will give you a better idea of the stages, but I’ve written a description anyway because that’s what a blog’s for, pointless writing.

How was stage 1? The red mist came down and remembering details is tricky, but it was a mix of fast straights with rocks up high and roots lower down with steeper and twistier new cut sections.

Nina carving through the switchbacks low on stage 4 saturday.

A long road climb up to the start of stage 2 showed just how much work and organisation goes into these races with several road closures to let racers cross over or race down streets. It’s an indication of how much biking is worth to the economy here, with Nice and the coast taking most of the tourism euros, and hence how much bikers are valued. It’s nice to feel wanted.

And some lad called Jerome on the same

Stage 2? Pretty pedally, really pedally actually. I crossed the line a broken man having given it all and as a result knackered my legs for the rest of the weekend.

Stage 3 rode much like it walked (except for me blowing out the rear tyre at the top and having to put in a tube and Nina forgetting to let some of the 35psi out of her tires) a whole lot of flowy fun, but you really didn’t want to be going over the edge on the narrow sections.

Stage 3 on Sunday. Dry would be a fair description of trail conditions

Stage 4 was great fun to ride, how often do you get to blast through town streets, round blind crests and corners, without worrying about other people. My Sunday run down the hill was some of the most fun I’ve had on a bike in ages….despite some comedy crashes and having to stop for the paramedics carrying a stretcher.

Nina getting into town on stage 4 Sunday

Those were the race stages, but a big reason for doing the series was to be forced to go to new places to ride. Chatting to folk on the hill all were saying that these traces were ok but really the race should be getting held on the trails over there, pointing to the next hill over, as they were much, much better. Whilst Nina and I were racing, Spence was out checking some of the other trails and confirmed, everything here seems to be pretty amazing to ride. Plans were being hatched for a return visit without the race plates, so I guess the event did it’s job for the local economy.

How did the racing go? Nina pulled a pretty good ninth over the weekend, especially given this was a very physical race with over 2800m of climbing and Nina strength is definitely in her downhilling and she had a less than perfect lead up to the race. You can see what she thought of it all here. I tried too hard on Saturday, multiple crashes on every run, usually whilst overtaking (All the riders were excellent at getting to the side of the track as you caught them and shouted rider, alas I wasn’t so good at guessing the best side of the track to try passing on….) combined with the blow out left me way off the pace, so on Sunday I played about with various techniques and discovered doing jumps and wheelies and riding how I do normally got me my best stage placings, which is convenient.

Enduro Champion du Monde 2027

A massive thank you to Nina’s relatives for being so welcoming to us all for the weekend and giving us the run of their amazing house. Also cheers to the team and volunteers who organised the race. Finally cheers Spencer for fixing up my bike as well in his official role as Nina’s mechanic (and doing most of the driving, photo taking, food prep……) and Concept Pro Shop for the pre-race bike tune in their incredibly well equipped workshop.

Ellie. Team mascot for the weekend

Next stop, Val d’Allos.

Heading home