Blausasc, Coupe du France #1

Blausasc Coupe du France Enduro #1, nice to have a horizon to look at.

It must be summer, we’re going racing, and like last year the Coupe du France enduro series opened in the heat of the Alpes-Maritimes coast at Blausasc.

Unlike last year’s races though, Spencer was injured and Nina racing DH in Sweden so Sandy had the honour of co-piloting for the relaxing short drive down to Nice, through Nice, out of Nice, round random villages trying to find where we were, back into Nice then on to Barre des Alpes, the closest place we could find cheap digs.

Poor access by car, but you got to love Provence's wee villages aesthetic.

When organising ourselves back in winter we’d anticipated the usual Chamonix spring of occasional biking interspaced with snowfalls dragging you back to the skis. Hence we booked an apartment for a couple days before the race to give us some riding around Blausasc’s awesome trails. Chamonix’s pretty much clear of snow below 2000m now, but we weren’t going let that stop us getting out in the dust.

Sandy gets his first taste of Blausasc trails.

We had planned just to follow random trails, Fabian Barel lives in the village so surely they must all be good, but the retired lady of a certain age who’d rented us the apartment casually mentioned that she’d been vtt’ing here for the last 20 years, and the best trails were…..well, dotted about, but here try this website!

A local who's not Fabian Barel, but seems to be able to jump higher

For the most part though, someone else had chosen the trails we were riding and marked them out for us. In the new “rallye” format for the series gone is the Friday trail walk, replaced with the rule that the trail map will be released on Friday evening, the trails can’t be ridden from the Monday before the race nor walked from the Friday when they get taped out. All a bit existential, how do you not ride a trail you don’t know is in a race?

Sometimes looking out at a majority blue isn't good news. Friday 8th was one such day.

The blind racing on Saturday is now untimed, letting non-locals get a feel for the trails, and everyone get an idea of how the liaisons will go without the stress or effort of doing it at race pace.

The new race format also meant I got to take photos of photographers photographing the liaisons. Riveting stuff.

This turns out to be a great innovation and for me probably is the best balance of all the enduro formats I’ve raced to negate the advantage of local trails and prior racing on the tracks without having mid week practice sessions that the 90% with jobs can’t make.

Some folk were getting to grips with the trail pretty quickly.

It also means you get to just chill out and enjoy the trails. Which was good as I completely failed to do that on the Sunday race day, riding terribly and generally questioning whether I enjoy racing and what I was doing here.

Until stage 3.

It's not all rocks and roots, you get some slick village centre limestone slabs here too.

Stage 3 on Saturday was everything I hate about French enduro races. Designed to break your bike, or your body, or both, and with a brutal off the bike pushing climb followed by a steady incline to destroy you completely.

Come Sunday it reminded me why racing is so good. It was flat out, desperately holding on to the bars and hoping you got through each section intact, ready to sprint out the end then do it again into the next pile of rocks.

Stage 2 not 3. An all together more relaxed and fun affair, which I didn't enjoy 1/2 as much.

Of course, then I managed to crash and pootled down the rest of the stage with my tail between my legs. But for those few minutes when all your focus is on going as fast as you possibly can it was worth it.

THIS is why I love racing! Ridingl the knobs off your tyres whilst trying to catch the guy in front, to win nothing.

At the end of a day of riding mostly mediocrely I was 71st, which is quite a bit further down the list than I wanted to be, but really it doesn’t matter. For most of us the racing isn’t about being the best, it’s about being better and about going as fast as you can without worrying about some family wandering up the trail round that blind bend.

Probably (hopefully) the worst picture I've put in the blog. But I was too excited to finally watch up close the legend ride to bother looking at the camera instead of the rider let alone actually framing a shot.

Nico Vouilloz won (and you can see how everyone got on in the event video here complete with not 1, but 2 appearances from me. And neither whilst crashing this time! 1.24 and 4.06 if you need help). Nico is the rider I worshipped as a gangly youth racing DH, amazed at how he could make the best riders in the world look like amateurs in the mid to late 90s. For me he’s the best gravity bike racer of all time and on Sunday he was 17% faster than me, which actually, I’m ok about.

Sandy duct taping his tyre together on the Friday night. Not only did this work, but so did the rest of the bike for 100km of race beating!