La Thuile, not racing.

La Thuile Enduro World Series round 4

The world series of who’s best at ‘going out and riding their bike about a hill and calling it ENDURO’ has come to La Thuile, which I reckoned was probably the best place I’d been for ‘going out and riding a bike about a hill and calling it ENDURO’ when I first rode there a few years back, so that seems pretty fitting.

As the E.W.S. races are open to everyone I thought it would be good to head through the tunnel and ride against the world’s best. Alas work was less interested in this idea and thought it would be better if I stayed in Chamonix and turned up on the shop floor.

La Thuile trail awesomeness.

The La Thuile round falls under the organisation of the Italian Superenduro series whose rules allow for 2 days of practice before the race, so instead I went over with Nina (who has no job) to “help” with practice. Which is pretty cool really, its not like you can rock up in Monaco on the GP weekend and take a spin round the track.

Photos of riders with a visible Mont Blanc in the background are as rare as rocking horse poo at the moment!

The pit set up for the race was huge, not DH world cup level quite yet but the amount of money being poured into enduro racing is considerable. Our pit set up wasn’t quite as impressive.

Pantechnicon v Kangoo

After a worrying moment at the lift office where they asked for my name to check off on the race list (appointing myself team mechanic surmounted this problem) we headed up to check out the stages.

Stages 3, 5 & 6 all have the same start section, so it made sense to check that out first. The shared section is the trail that I least liked when I rode here before, which is a bit disappointing, but it was more fun than I remember. Fast, rock, some new tech sections at the start. We arrived at the first junction for Nina to get her first flat in 2 years, a rock had sliced the tyre carcass.

Just out the start on stages 3, 5 & 6.

Optimistically we thought the sealant had filled the hole, but a bit further down stage 3/5 accepted it hadn’t and put a tube in whilst watching assorted pros barrel past.

For the rest of stage 5 we followed the bike park trail Muret in what turned out to be my favourite stage of the day, mostly as it didn’t involve any pedalling.

What most trails looked like in the woods

Back to the car to stock up on more tubes and we headed down the common trail to the first junction, where Nina had her second flat in 2 years. The rocks up high just seem designed to shred tyres and as we were stopped a steady stream of flat tyres arrived either to be repaired, or ridden on the rim to the mechanic (the bikes hadn’t been marked yet, so you could replace all the broken parts you wanted, or could afford).

Questionable mini-pump technique in action behind me.

Stage 6 this time, which turned out to be pretty physical in the upper sections, not climbing but very flat so very pedally. Lower down it got steeper and techier through the trees and somehow, despite the biblical rain and snow storms this week, we then rode some bone dry loam!

Loam, dry loam at that.

Another trip to the car, this time to put on a spare DH tyre and tube, and back up for the last of the 3 common front face stages. This time, thanks to an extra 1/2 kilo of rotating mass and 35psi, there were no punctures.

Nico Lau, the effort he put into beating me last weekend seemingly hasn't tired him too much.

Stage 3 links the trails Muret & Garin which are all brilliant bits of riding in their own right, but in linking them there was a nasty sharp climb for a few hundred meters about 3/4’s of the way down the course that was not being appreciated by the racers. Fine if you’ve just turned up to ride though.

Some lad called Jared, could do well if he trained more I reckon.

Karma almost got me at the end of the trail where I came up short trying to double then triple the 5 pack of jumps on the dual slalom course into the finish paddock and lift line. The fear of going down infront of such a huge crowd was greater than the fear of getting hurt and I managed to suck up the impact and ride out as if I’d meant it like that all along…..

Joe Barnes destroying the dual slalom section

Stage 2 was the only stage of the day not accessed from the lifts. Instead a 600m climb on the opposite side of the valley was needed. With limited time and energy, we skipped it. Instead Nina collared Thomas Lapeyrie as he wandered past our pits and asked him what it was like.

Heading up (and up and up) to Stage 1 & 4

Finally stage 1 & 4, the opening stage for both days, was up. Fred Glo was involved in sorting out the trails for the race, and it wouldn’t be one of his races without some trackless alpine pasture and wide spaced gates. As there isn’t much of that from the top of the lifts, you have to pedal and push for “a cool 40 minutes” (Thomas Lapeyrie), “a hard 1hr 20” (German bloke on a Orange alpine) or a “relaxed 50 minutes” (us) to get to the start on the border between France and Italy.

Random mine below (literally) the start of stage 1 & 4

This stage really showed the difference between something that’s fun to ride, and fun to race. After the open pasture and rock gardens the stage joins “Super Kappa” or “K”, the trail of choice from the last visit. The difference is that the short flat sections you coast along sitting down and chatting are now stood up sprints, and the brief climbs you sat down and span up feel like you’re going to vomit your lungs when racing.

The opening stage for each day.

Still, I was here to ride not race so could just enjoy the trail and not worry about it.

I hope the race showcases how incredible the riding is in La Thuile and gets more folk along to pay for lift passes and encourage more trails and more investment. The bike park is so hard to beat for anyone that just wants to have fun thrashing a bike about in the mountains.

Stage 2 on race day, looked pretty good!

As for the race, I predict it will be won by someone with huge levels of fitness, bike handling skills and a solid bike with 2 wheels (that have to be the same size)

Nina rolling out on race day. Bonne chance eh.