Coupe du France Enduro series round 2, Val d’Allos

Coupe du France Enduro round 2, Val d'Allos

12 years ago in a small ski resort (not that) far far away, a new race was born…….

The riders of Val d’Allos took DH racing, but went further, creating the “Tribe 10,000” where riders would race laps of different trails, with no practice, over a weekend clocking about 10,000m of descent (that’s 33,000ft, 18 laps of the Fort William DH course or 26 empire state buildings, depending on if you read The New York times, Dirt or The Sun). Like DH, but more endurancy.

Aurélien Giordanengo fully pinned. #soenduro

The event went well and grew year after year. But what to call this new fangled endurancy DHy race?

Back to 2014 and the 12th edition of the Val d’Allos Tribe 10,000 is the second round of the Coupe du France enduro series, so the car was loaded with 3 bikes, 6 sets of riding gear, 3 riders, many tyres and lots of food for the drive south. The optimistic sat-nav was trying to convince us that the drive would only be 5 hr, but as we crawled up the pass to the Col d’Allos battling oncoming road bikers, motorcyclist, sportscars, broken barriers and several hundred sheep, 5 hr passed and we eventually made it to our apartment for the weekend about 6 1/2 hr after setting out.

Battling up the Col d'Allos

Saturday started with an obligatory 0715 rider briefing. With 3 people who don’t do mornings it was always going to be a struggle, but somehow we managed to get ourselves to the grassy field under the main chairlift in time.

Speaking of the chairlift, the lifts used for the race are being replaced this summer (you could see why…) and aren’t running in 2014, except for this weekend where they were opened specially. I can’t see Compagnie du Mont Blanc doing that! The staff put in a huge effort not only loading hundreds of bikes onto chairs, but coaxing the lifts into life despite the mechanisms obviously not being happy about working one last time.

The slightly clapped out lift kept stopping, everyone got up in the end

Back to the briefing where Fred Glo, Coupe du France heid honcho, told us that this wasn’t the EWS, so they could use whatever rules they wanted. Instead of 3 courses on Saturday with a reccy run followed by a chrono lap on each we would be getting a single reccy run of the 1st track, then the next 5 runs would be timed. The second course (laps 3 & 4) shared the same 1st 1/2 as laps 1 & 2, but the last course would be run completely blind.

Fortunately the reccy run showed that the trails in Val d’Allos are amazing. Fast, scary scary fast in places, singletrack sweeping through meadows and trees. Not much in the way of technical sections, but equally you could pretty much ride the whole trail chainless.

Trace 1 & 2 ran under both chairs, giving you a chance to check the lines

The second laps were the same but different. Fast swoopy traces of dirt meandering through the trees with the odd new cut section through the grass.

Hard to make out on a phone-photo, but the track runs left to right down the ridgeline. Quickly.

The final stage was something different though. A flat pedal for a 100m or so dropped you without warning down a steep chute into a 90 degree left. The trail then swapped between some of the sweeping singletrack of before, tighter rockier chutes and linked by widely taped meadow sections which felt more like skiing than cycling as you picked a line to air over small rolls and use the features to help cornering.

If all that’s a bit hard to visualise, just watch the offishiul race video here.

The weather stayed dry pretty much all day and, with temperatures just warm enough to stop you needing too many layers it was a pretty good day’s riding.

Then Sunday came.

Not looking forward to stepping out into the rain

All week the forecast had been calling rain on Sunday, and sure enough in the middle of Saturday night the sound of water on tin roof came into the apartment. It eased up at points during the day, but when it rained, it rained…..

With the less than perfect weather, some changes to the format were announced. Instead of a reccy run of today’s stage (which was completely new, never raced, and featured mostly fresh cut trail. Perfect in the wet) followed by 2 chrono runs then a final “super special” stage on a secret trail, we would get to reccy the first half of the stage, then go straight up to the top for our first timed run.

Of course, most folk were planning on using the reccy run to work out what tyres to run, but now there was no time to swap before getting on the chair up. Most folk were on all round tyres anyway, with a few having gambled on the conditions and swapped to spikes already, but there were plenty concerned looking people still on fast rolling semi-slicks.

No no, it's fun.

The reccy run was interesting……starting above the tree line it was hold on and hope over open hillside with slick grass and slick off camber rock. Once into the trees it was steep lines through more slick grass and very wet loam. I was one of the early runners on the reccy and the loam was amazingly tacky, but what would it be like after about 300 riders had slid through?

Back to the top and everyone huddled together like a penguin colony in the Antarctic winter trying to keep warm. Then the thunder started. The peel of thunder was followed by peels of laughter, what more could happen to the track now!

Once on the course the section below the reccied route turned out to follow old trails and paths so wasn’t as treacherous as up high. It was a long stage though with about 1000m of vertical taking us down below the finish village from Saturday.

With only 3 hoses for 300 riders, you had to look out for alternative ways to clean the bike between laps

We had thought there would then be a cycle back up the hill to Allos, but instead yet another lift was coaxed into action and we were returned to the paddock to sort bikes without having to break sweat.

After much milling about and hiding in the feed tent the next change in running order was announced. As the weather was only getting worse there would be no more runs on the new stage, instead the second and last stage of the day would be the lower part of the second course from Saturday.

When the finish arch gets blown away, you can accept it's a bad weather race.

How did the racing go?

I went into the weekend chanting the mantra “slow is fast, slow is fast, slow is fast” and cruised down my first few runs where I discovered that slow is still just slow. Nina was having none of the this approach and was flying when still on the bike, unfortunately some mechanicals and rider mistakes were holding her up. Read her thoughts on it all here.

The other problem holding us up was that the narrow trails were very hard to overtake on, and with more than 10 riders to pass on most laps, you had to get quite used to bouncing through the undergrowth. It was the same for everyone outside the top 20 though and just adds to the experience. I told myself.

Nina heading for the finish on day 1

The first run down the final trace of Saturday was my riding highlight of the weekend. I’d abandoned “slow is fast” in favour of “trying a bit harder but not too hard”. There’s not much better than riding fast into blind terrain and it always (or at least mostly always) working out like you hoped it would.

Turn, pedal, turn, pedal, turn, pedal, finish, find food.

Sunday’s weather knocked a lot of the enthusiasm out of us though and the long first trace was hard to race. I took the run far too cautiously and was never anywhere close to a crash, but also didn’t overtake anyone and was passed twice. Fortunately this was down to me sneaking a start in with the fast folk and I ended up with my first top 50 stage time.

I hoped that swapping to flats would let me ride looser on the second lap and move up the standings, but the second running of the course never happened.

Nina hitting the finish paddock

Instead we were back on Saturdays narrow singletrack. The flat pedals stayed on, but I was too lazy to swap to spikes instead hoping that the trail would stay firm. It didn’t, but even if it was slower without spikes, it was so much more fun! Pretty much every corner was foot out and drifting. Somehow I got away with it until virtually the last turn in the woods before the final berms when I slid out, off the trail, through the tapes, over a drop and down an embankment into the trees. It was fun while it lasted.

Sunday trace 2. More fun than riding a bike in the mud, or something.

Nina’s first time on mud tyres went much better and despite catching the girl in front of her, crashing, then catching her again and not being able to pass, she rode in to 5th for the stage and only 12 seconds away from 3rd. Suddenly she liked riding in the wet…

Overall an improvement on my pretty rubbish performance in Blausasc with a 65th in category on the Saturday and 48th on the Sunday, but still plenty room for getting betterer.

Again, thanks to the Tribe team and all at Val d’Allos for another great event and cheers to Nina for letting me jump queues with her (the girls get to start after the top 20 guys, so get to go to the front of all the lift lines) and Spence for driving, mechanicing, chefing and taking the photos.

Next, something more local. Megeve racing.

This apple haunts Spence & me and it's everywhere in the southern alps watching you. Just watching you.