Mentally, Round 6 was one of the toughest weekends of my life. Since racing the Val d’Isere World Cup downhill here last year, I have been looking forward to coming back. The town of Val d’Isere is so cool and the surrounding mountains provide beautiful views; the kind that make you stop and feel lucky to be where you are.
Arrived in Geneva after a long flight from Colorado. And by long, I mean hugely stressful. I don’t recommend going to Europe from the US, with stopovers in Canada. I had a 1.5-hour layover in Toronto before my flight to Geneva. In that time, I had to collect my bags (some of which didn’t make the flight leaving Denver…including my bikes), clear customs, re-check my bags, change terminals, and go back through security. Dripping with sweat and running everywhere through terminals, I barely made my flight. I finally landed in Geneva and had to complete more paperwork in order to have my bikes delivered to me in Val d’Isere after they arrived. Our good friend and fellow Yeti Freak, Albert “The Albatross” Callis would be my team help for the weekend. He picked me up at the airport and we were on our way. We arrived late Tuesday, got settled in, and pretty much went straight to bed.
Albert had his bike here, which was a similar to mine. So, I was able to go for a bit of a ride today and spin the legs. I can’t remember the last time I tried to ride a bike with the brakes set the opposite from how I run them, it’s such a dramatic change. I found some easy single track along a river to spin along and I was so scared every time I got on the brakes…not a confident feeling at all! Not much else today and I was just trying to stay awake with the time change; getting over jetlag was the main priority for the first couple days. I’m also sure I’ve racked up about a $250 phone bill today trying to get through to the airport and delivery company as to the whereabouts of my still undelivered bikes. Everything was automated voice messages (in French nonetheless). Where is a real person to speak to?!?!
REALLY hoping my bike shows up today. I have some changes that still need to be made to get it race ready and I’m getting stressed! A couple small training sessions today to get the body ready for racing with some plyometrics and a few intervals, but I decided to stick to the road to avoid having to deal with Albert’s backwards brakes…haha! My bike was supposed to be delivered this afternoon, but it never came. I’m starting to border on RAGE! At about 9pm, I was starting to get ready for bed, when a delivery guy texted saying he was here with my bike…yewwwwwwww! So happy, I could now go to bed stress free and hopefully get my first good night’s sleep.
Track walking day. As is normal with the French format, Friday is set aside to walk stages. It takes about three hours to walk down just one race stage, so you have to pick a trail to walk and hope it pays off. The obvious choice to walk (according to the map) was the top of Stage 1 and then cut across to the bottom half of Stage 3. That’s what we did and it seemed like a lot of people had the same idea. If only I would have been given an earlier heads up that Stage 2 was the one that you really needed to walk. My legs were already feeling blown out after almost four hours of walking, so there was no chance I was going up for another three hours on them. A small easy spin for an hour before dinner, make sure the bike is 100% dialed for day 1 of racing, then off to bed.
The format for this weekend was three different stages with one practice/sighting run on each course, and then racing on twice on each course, making a total of six race stages.
Stage 1/2 started by using the exact same start as the World Championship DH skiing course, which was pretty cool. From the top of the Gondola it made for a brutally steep, bike over shoulder hike, to the very top for our first two timed stages. The course was fairly flowy and fast, and I thought it was very cool they just taped virgin trail through grassy fields and used some very cool natural features of the terrain. There were so many dips and holes and natural berms and it was super fun…the sort of trail I would absolutely love to get a full days riding on to get to learn properly and really get up to speed. From the top natural grassy stuff, it went in to some very rough and unused single track that had okay flow. The track eventually joined back into some DH type switchbacks near the end and finished on part of the XC world cup track’s descent from last year. I enjoyed the stage and felt confident on it.
Stage 3/4 had so much going on with very tight and awkward trail, without much flow through most sections. It also used some bike park trails in small sections to give you a bit of a mental break from looking for lines, which was nice. The hardest part came after massive storms rolled through and turned the stage super greasy and slippery. I just tried to remember three key points for this stage, all of which completely stalled me out in practice.
Stage 5/6 was very long at 17 minutes and very physical. Similar feel up top as Stage 1/2; with a lot of natural grassy flowing stuff. I really enjoyed that and hope they do more of that stuff in the future. That was a big thing I heard from people this weekend; racers enjoyed the flow of a lot of sections, but sometimes things got a little awkward and flow (and fun) was lost. The middle of this stage had a fairly prolonged climb, a good few minutes with another minute or two of flatter stuff as you crested the top…a huge leg and lung burner! The bottom 1/3 dropped into steep wooded switchbacks before a few more short punch climbs before the finish.
Found my flow straight away today, and didn’t have that first run tight riding like other races this year…PUMPED! Everything went well, and I was eating into the 20-second interval that I started behind Jerome Clementz. The only problem was the dust. It got to a point where all I could see was his dust. I just couldn’t push to get any closer in the last minutes of the stage as it steepened. I couldn’t see where I was going and the dust just lingered. I was happy to take some time out of him to start the day, but a little annoyed about the dust. Still a stage win to start the day…can’t complain!
Such a rookie start, my brain was out of gear and I crashed into the very first turn. I just completely over cooked it, so dumb! I didn’t panic; it was an 11-minute stage and I got back into my rhythm. From there, I rode almost perfectly and was catching Jerome again, but the dust became the biggest issue again and I couldn’t push. Once I got to within 8 seconds of him, that’s where I stayed. I had to accept that was as close as I was safely able to get to him and keep any sort of visibility. The last thing I needed was to smash a rock and get a mechanical because I hit something I couldn’t see. Finished with another stage win and feeling happy.
Lunchtime storms rolled in right on time. At least dust wouldn’t be an issue. The storms however made for quite a long delay before we actually got to ride. Conditions were now super slick and mud tires would have been the call. But, travelling by myself (and travelling light), muds weren’t an option, which made for some wild times! My run started really well…for about 45 seconds. Anyone who raced this weekend got a feel for how bad the visibility was in the heavy fog. Combine fog with only one practice run to remember hundreds of sections of track (impossible) and I found myself coming into a turn through the fog with no visibility and I launched straight through the tape and down an embankment. I was soaking wet and covered in mud, including my gloves. By the time I got back to where I left the track, Fabian Barel had caught me (so I had lost 20 seconds). We ended up riding the whole run together and I tried to push to build small gaps on the pedaling sections, but Fabian was right behind me. And my mud covered gloves made it very difficult to hang on to the bars…it was like having cakes of soap for grips. I got all the way to the last turn when I decided to put the bike down one more time and I slid for what felt like an eternity! I got back up and my number plate was missing from my bars, but I found it and grabbed it quickly. I could feel that I’d hit my thumb pretty good and was disappointed to have just thrown away another 15 seconds on the VERY last corner. The 20-second lead I had over Jerome had turned into a 25 second deficit after this stage. I was feeling very frustrated. Once I finished, I realized that I had put an 8 inch long gash down my right quad and that it was bleeding fairly heavily through my shorts, and I could feel my thumb seizing up more by the minute. Time loss, nagging injures to deal with, and still a full day’s racing tomorrow. My mental state just took a massive blow, and I was very frustrated.
I also felt bad for my good buddy Justin Leov, who was sitting 2nd overall just behind me after the first two stages and would have been in the lead at the end of the day’s racing but he suffered a puncture and lost 7 minutes on this stage. Racing can be brutal sometimes!
Due to the delays and storms yesterday, Stage 4 was delayed until Sunday morning. After a night full of rain and freezing conditions with fresh snow up the top of the Gondola, it was time to head to the top of the mountain for an 8am start. This was going to be a rough one; my thumb had swollen up fairly well and hanging onto the bars was difficult. As my run got going it wasn’t too bad, but I had to go easy through any rough sections. I just didn’t have the strength to hold on with my left hand, combined with freezing temperatures that made my thumb feel even weaker. I had to try and survive and limit the time loss as much as I could. It was a pretty bad stage for me, but not as bad as it could have been. I made it down and was still hanging onto 3rd place overall. Jerome won the stage with another solid run and set himself up in a strong position for the overall win.
This ended up being the final stage. We had more delays with heavy fog up top that made getting a helicopter in impossible (should anyone hurt themselves). The race was simply unable to go ahead if the medical situation wasn’t up to par, which is a good decision. This however meant that we would only be racing this stage once, instead of the planned two runs.
My thumb was feeling much better as the day warmed up a little. Some brief sunshine and some much needed ibuprofen helped, too! Overall, I was feeling really good about this stage after our practice run. My plan was to make sure I stayed 3rd overall, stay safe, and try and push to make up the 26 seconds I was behind Fabian Barel and take back 2nd overall for the weekend. My run went great; I rode almost perfectly…just like the final stage in Whistler two weeks ago. By the midway climb, I had caught and passed Fabian (who started 20 seconds ahead of me) and had my 40 seconds man, Jerome Clementz, in sight. So, I set out after him. I pushed right to the line and was right on his back wheel as we crossed the finish. What a perfect way to end what started as a very rough day! I got back into 2nd overall, and was only down 11 seconds from the overall weekend win. I was really happy, but a bit disappointed at some less than ideal circumstances and some rookie maneuvers on my part that cost me the top step of the podium. Fairly bummed as well that they decided not to run Stage 6. After taking 40 seconds off Jerome on Stage 5, I could have gotten the win if the race had gone its intended full distance. Not sure why we didn’t do Stage 6, as we had all afternoon to do it!
So that was it, round 6 of the Enduro World Series done and just one round left to go in Finale Ligure in Italy in October. But for now, I’m at the airport in Geneva, my bags packed, and on my way to the Downhill World Champs in South Africa this weekend! Been excited for this race all year, can’t wait!
Words: Jared Graves/Joey Schusler Photos: Yeti