Coupe du France enduro series round 3, Val d’Isere

Coupe du France enduro series #3 Val d'Isere

I heard on Thursday morning that the latest edition of the Oxford English dictionary was going to feature the word “amazeballs“. Generally I’m of the opinion that anyone using said phrase should have bungee cord tied to their amazeballs and be kicked off a bridge, but looking at the maps for the race when they went online Thursday evening, only one word came to mind.

Sweet.

8 stages over 2 days taking you from Val d’Isere over the cols to Tignes and back. Bits in the bike park, bits on walking trails, bits in the middle of nowhere marked “here there be dragons” on the map. Of course, no idea what it’d pan out like on the ground…..

Not sure of the terrain? Take more tyres. Lots more tyres.

Last year the race was part of the Enduro World Series, this year it was mearly the 3rd round of the Coupe du France and, coming 1 week after the Whistler round of the EWS, wasn’t as well attended by the big names. Still a sell out though.

During the summer the Val d’Isere and Tignes lifts are free to pedestrians and cyclists and there’s a big network of bike trails. The liaisons were mostly on blue and red graded runs and were some of the best riding of the weekend. I’m quick to whinge about the dumbing down and over grading of biking terrain, but sometimes it’s good just to ride a flow trail, knowing that once up to speed you will hit the downslope on every jump and can rail every head-height berm.

The race stages were mostly not on the park trails though. Mostly they followed lines picked out through the treeless alpine geography of the hill. Sometimes this meant you were flowing through grassy bobsleigh runs, other times you were hopping about desperately trying to save your rear mech, or disc, or both, from the sharp pointy rocks that littered the hill.

Blue sky. Not something we've seen much of recently.

Saturdays stage 1 began at the top of the Olympique gondola 1000m straight up from town and started as the latter type, then had a bit of bike park, then some pedalling, then a bit of climbing, then some nice singletrack through the trees back to Val d’Isere and the paddock with food tent. As an added bonus, the previous days storm had left an inch or so of snow on the ground at the start.

Stage 2 was back up the Olympique lift, through the bike park to the Borsat chair. Up that for more bike park to the Tufs chair, up it and finally you were at the start. It then mostly followed the official “enduro” trail Wild 10 Nez with some added diversions into the wilds. This was even more pedally than Stage 1, with over 100m climbing in the total 695m descent down to Tignes and yet another feed tent.

Checking the lines as the top seeds start stage 3. The best line seemed to be 'pedal'.

Stage 3 started a short pedal through Tignes town and went from the town above the reservoir and back round towards Val d’Isere. Unfortunately there was a hold up to the start whilst 15 year old lass got rescued from a nasty crash, getting the biggest cheer of the day when she was walked back to the ambulance. The stage was fun singletrack through the forest, but again was very physical.

When you hear enduroists say a stage is physical it means it was more pedally than they would like.

Stage 3. Started in the gap image right, ended above the water image left.

Following a particularly exposed liaison we were back in Tignes and once more at the food tent. You can’t fault the feeding stations.

Stage 4 was back up the Olympique then heading off in the opposite direction to stage 1. This was my favourite stage of the day by far. A really well chosen line through the open terrain with lots of flow, some hard pedalling sections, but never so long you feel you’re in an xc race, and finishing off on a large section of the 2012 world cup DH course.

Nina dropping into the start of Stage 4

No idea how far or high we raced, but that’s just shy of 4000m of uplift, so a pretty full day.

My Saturday race went fairly well, this weekend was “rallye” format which means you start in your seeding order from your Coupe du France overall standings. As a result there wasn’t as much overtaking needed, but as the riders are going faster they are less keen to move when you want to overtake. As ever, the fastest folk manage it so stop whining and get better at passing. My luck finally caught up with my skill towards the end of stage 4 when I stuffed myself into a pile of big pointy rocks head first. Surprised that I didn’t seem to have broken anything on me or the bike I limped down to finish 38th in mens for the day.

The liaison back to Tignes after stage 3. They wouldnay let us ride this bit.

Nina had a change in fortunes from her La Thuile race and with no mechanicals or crashes bagged 2nd or 3rd on every stage and, despite a 30 second penalty for accidentally leaving the course, finished the day in 3rd place.

Saturdays women's podium

The podium ceremony for Saturday was in the centre of town and after everyone had stood on their wobbly tree trunk and recieved their bag of Radio Fun Val d’Isere merchandising it was time for yet more food. The race entry includes Saturday night feeding and here even free beer. You never got that at the SCU series.

Foooooooood

Sunday was another day and another set of stages. Although there wasn’t a cloud in the sky it was still bitterly cold at the top for the 1st stage and Friday’s snow was still hanging about in the shade.

Stage 5 followed the first (and worst) section of stage 1 on Saturday. Amazingly the passing of 300 riders had made this a better track as several lines had got worn in and some ruts had formed to help keep the speed. The overnight freeze helped too I imagine.

101 riders wait for their start time.

A short uphill pedal from the finish got riders to the Borsat chair and up 380m vertical to the start of stage 6. This was, for me, the stand out stage of the weekend. Like stage 4 the day before, which it joined about 1/2 way down, it was a well chosen line taped through the open hillside, linked with some bike park berms and flat or downhill fire road before joining yesterdays track on flat singletrack and on to the world cup DH and the finishline.

Here you had the chance to visit the food tent (where they even had petite fours, since when did you get petite fours at a feed tent?) before heading back up to do exactly the same again for stages 7 and 8.

Stage 6/8. Starts here, goes onto the berms screen right, heads left on fireroad and hidden gullies, then goes to the col image centre mostly downhill. That's about 1/5th of the stage.

My Sunday didn’t go quite as planned. Feeling pretty beaten up from my crash on Saturday I noticed 10 minutes before getting on the lift that my rear brake wasn’t working. How I’d missed this on Saturday I’m not sure, but with no time to fix the lever reservoir that was cracked open and dripping oil I headed up the lift anyway. To conclude, racing with only a front brake is not much fun and not very fast.

Getting back to town 2 stages later Spencer was ready with his own back brake and we quickly swapped over. The next time round was more fun, but I wasn’t really into the groove and was lucky to scrape a top 100 finish by the end of the day. Nina managed another full mechanical free day, but was also pretty beaten up from the previous day and was coughing up assorted green lumps which wasn’t helping her on the pedalling sections. Despite this she held onto enough time to get a 3rd overall for the weekend which moved her up to joint 2nd overall in the series.

Men's Sunday podium. Florian Nicolai doesn't drink, so shares the fizz, Melanie Pugin presumably does as she kept the bottle.

Not the best weekend of trails for racing, but interesting to visit another place. There’s definitely a weekends worth of riding between the 2 resorts, though I’d base myself in Tignes where there’s more options, and with free lifts it seems a good option for a short trip away. Go visit.

Once again a big thanks to all involved in yet another excellently organised race, all the lifties for remaining cheerful in the face of 300 riders and especially to Spence for making up for forgetting the track pump by sacrificing his own days riding and lending me his brake!

Spence may have forgotten the track pump, but lending me his brakes more than makes up for it!

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