Race day. It has been announced that the Megavalanche will start from the glacier. I am going to do it. Help!!!
Bikes and skis heading for the top
The first time I saw the glacier close up was on my way to the start line. As I am sure you recall from my previous posts on here I had been unable to reach it during the practice sessions, either the lift had been closed due to the weather or the glacier itself was closed if the rescue helicopter was unable to fly.
The glacier is there somewhere. This really is as much of it as
I had seen before I raced down it!
However, in a dramatic break from tradition Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny, or at least less bad than of late. I took the main lift up to DMC2 at 8:30, and then the cable-car from there up to the summit of Pic Blanc, at 10,800ft. The results of qualifying had been used to determine who would be allowed to race, only the top 69 from each heat would be in the mass-start events, and I had just scraped in at 65th, so I would be starting three rows from the back.
This is the view from the top of the second lift, DMC2
We would be starting on the summit, the lift cables
are visible, the lift itself is hidden in the fog
Everyone in front of me was already lined up and ready to go, so I slithered my way down to the back of the grid and took my place over on the left. There was blue sky behind me, but cloud and fog in front. I could see the rest of the 400-odd riders, some odder than others, lined up in front of me but beyond that the ground just disappeared over the crest and down the face of the glacier, everything beyond this was completely hidden by the mist. My first go down it would be in a race, blind, and with 400 other people. Everyone I had spoken to was in the same boat. This would be interesting.
This is my home-made bungee and Velcro tether, to stop the bike
getting away from me
if when I come off on the ice
There was quite a long wait between being gridded and the start of the race, which did little to calm my nerves. Eventually that music began playing and amid much enthusiastic shouting, the tape rose and we were off.
I had seen the videos of the start and it appeared that the best line was to be found over to the right hand side, stay high and there would be less chance of ending up in the catch fencing along the top of the cliff or the huge pile of bikes and bodies which seemed to accumulate there. I realised with hindsight that these videos all showed the main race, which was fine - it is the one everyone wants to see, but it also happens to be the one with the nicely pisted snow, which is nice and easy to ride on. Starting near the back of a group of nearly 400 after another 400 have already raced meant that it was somewhat less well pisted by the time I launched myself over the crest and into the unknown.
Because of the gradient picking up speed was not hard, but the deeply rutted snow was extremely difficult to steer on and soon the bike was travelling faster than I could think. The first time I fell I slid quite a way, my tether doing it’s job nicely, just keeping the bike close enough for me to able to grab the bars properly. Getting back on again proved rather tricky and I rode, slipped and slithered the rest of the way down the first section. The course flattened out slightly after the first corner but in the deep snow it was much quicker to get off and run than to attempt to ride. I leapt back on at the top of the next big drop and flung myself down it.
The next time I hit the ground I couldn’t even get back up again, I was picking up speed so rapidly that I was unable to get to my feet to climb back aboard the bike, so I remained seated, picked my feet up in front of me to reduce drag, and held onto the bike as I sledged down the mountain on my bottom. I have no idea what speed I was doing here but it felt like a lot!
Eventually reaching the bottom I was finally able to resume an upright position, although not resume riding. This actually worked out quite well for me, I’m a reasonable runner and was able to make up quite a lot of places as we all dragged our bikes along through the snow. The running here was a lot harder than I expected, I’m used to running in snow from my time fell-running in Scotland, but I’m not used to that altitude. Even by this stage we were still at about 10,000ft and it was noticeably harder than normal trying to breath deeply when putting in any effort.
We eventually cleared the snow and set off down the mountain. The course was much easier than the qualifying track, there weren’t so my places where I was out of my depth and I felt fine riding it blind. There were a couple of steep chutes which were taken by just holding on and hoping for the best, but because there were so many of us all racing at once it was easy to spot the really tricky bits as these would tend to create little bottlenecks. Once we were on the narrow singletracks it also became quite difficult to get passed people, the trick seems to be just to hurtle up behind them shouting gibberish and generally making a lot of noise. There are so many languages spoken there and everything is so distorted by the full-face helmets that trying to shout anything polite is a bit of a waste of time.
We eventually joined the qualifying track somewhere above the town and split off from the main route. The main race had continued down to Allemont but because of the conditions Race 3, my race, was to finish in Alpe d’Huez. There was a final blast down the swoopy, jumpy section into the top of the town to the finish line by the main lift. The race was a lot longer than it had felt, it had taken me 1hr04m, I would have guessed about 20 minutes. Time does go quick when you are enjoying yourself.
I would like to say a very big thank-you to loads of people, far too many to list, but I will mention Sam Acland for helping out so many times during the week and especially for being the genius who thought of the underground car park. All of the lightweight Mt Zoom bits on my bike somehow survived a week of DH racing by a complete novice, not at all what they were designed for, but they all proved more than strong enough. Accelerade kept me fed and watered throughout.