We’ve now been in Alpe D’Huez since Sunday, and riding as much of the Megavalanche course as possible. Two words basically sum it up for me: ROCKS & DUST. Lot of both.

Having only ridden in the Alps once before, I was expecting trails similar to Morzine and Chatel, but here you get a sense of really riding on and over the mountains, the higher up you go. The first time we rode the top section of the qualifying track, I thought we had landed on the moon. Riding on the moon is pretty special though and safe to say all of us just loved it.

The course is split into roughly three main sections, all with the stunning alpine scenery as a backdrop. You have the top of Pic Blanc (3300m) on the glacier, which is basically snow and rocks (though not much snow this year, so more ROCKS. Then you come down to the resort level of Alpe D’Huez (1850m), and then down to Allemont (730m) – where the trails start getting  a lot more like what we are used in the UK.  One of the great things is the sharp contrast in terrain you get to ride – from rocky slabs and shingle, to roots and singletrack through the forest. Having not seen the very top section yet, I’ll reserve comment – but I have heard the words ROCKY & WINDY. So back to the moon then.

This is my ”what have we let ourselves in for” face.

Steep sections, technical rock drops, corners and tight lines. And then more rocks probably.

The actual race itself is organised by a qualifying run, which then ranks the riders in the line up for the race on Sunday morning. Today was the qualifying run down from Dome de Rousses (2800m) into town. Not a lot can prepare you for a mass start of 100 riders piling down loose rocks, a helicopter above, and blaring euro pop with a  big siren to say ‘GO!’. It was chaos basically.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE!

I did OK to begin, cleared the first sections of fireroad, snow and drops, hit the second fireroad uphill, pedalled like a loon, and then it was into a DH section of berms and rocks – I had almost cleared this section on the last berm when my front wheel slipped, I went down, and a couple of riders then rode over me and the bike. No injuries though I thought so all good and hopped back on – to find the rear tire had punctured. This was the start of my problems.  The wheels on the Spicy are tubeless specific, and a ROCK had gouged the rim, putting a hole through the tire bead. So I popped in a tube, which then promptly pinch flatted in 50 yards. In hindsight I should I have banged the rim back in with a rock and at least tried to patch the damaged rim somehow. But as we all know hindsight is a marvellous thing, and in the heat of the moment we don’t always think so rationally, so I patched the tube and managed to get about another 100 yards before the next pinch flat and end of my qualifying run – DNF against a very dejected rider #438 then. C’est la vie, and lesson learnt.

However, not all is lost – you are still allowed to ride the official race course on Sunday morning after the main race sets off, even if you do not qualify – HURRAH!

Special mentions to all the other riders in our group who stormed it – Barry, manager of our west end store for his overtaking skills, Duncan, Lee (despite being on the back row from start), Gav for completing with no drivechain and MEGA Pete who came in 10th in his group, so he’ll be lining up next to the pro’s on Sunday then! Also our thoughts with rider down Gareth who broke his wrist a few days earlier and sadly had to go home (pesky ROCKS again).

BIKE CHECK

The main thing about ROCKS is they break things, and almost everyone has had mechanicals of one sort or another. At least two smashed mechs, a broken saddle and a bent handlebar so far in the group. And one pedal.

But so far our Spicy has been riding really well and no problems (barring todays wheel ding incident),  the only tweaks I’ve had to make are winding in the brake levers to save my hands tiring out, and bringing them in slightly to get maximum pull with the one finger. I also had to bring the Straitline chain device in a bit closer after the chain dropped twice on the worst sections a couple of days in. Although I think the bike is generally a bit big for use in the UK, it is PERFECT for riding (and I mean pedalling up) mountains and anything with more DH style features on the way down. It has also definitely helped me develop my cornering in berms, leaning the bike more and digging in the tires. Also, being quite light you can flick it round well in tight stuff.

You can see I’m now running a Gravity Dropper seatpost – the Rockshox Reverb, despite being very happy previously, lost all pressure, and despite the attempts of pretty much all of us to fix it on the fly, it seems a seal has gone. The Gravity Droppers may not look as swish, or operate as smoothly, but they just work consistently being mechanical. Bar plugs French style:

That’s it from the craziest mountain bike race in the world, stay tuned for what happens in the main event, and probably some shaky shouty Go pro footage! Meanwhile, here’s Rowan Sorrell ripping the Avalanche Cup DH track in Oz en Oisans earlier this week.