I expect this was one of the hardest days for the race organisers and marshals – heavy rain, buses that were late and closed lifts due to weather. The plan for the day before Mother Nature intervened was 4 stages and 4037m of descending, a total bike time of 58km. We all knew rain was forecast but I don’t think anyone wanted to believe it and certainly not in the amount that we had! The day was due to start with an hours coach journey to the lift station, then taking the lift up to 2739 meters. We were expecting snow at the top, due to it being so high so straight out of the lift and onto the first stage was going to be interesting!

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That first stage was due to be a massive one, a variety of trails from pick your own line boulder fields to tight single track with plenty of exposure. The stage was 6.3km long and would take an average 32 minutes, descending 1,363m. This stage would have brought us out in Champagny en Vanoise where we would have had lunch. A chair lift and short liaison out of this town would have taken us up to stage two, a short one at 1.9km, going down 390m, full to the brim of switchbacks and off camber roots. The longest liaison of the trip would have been next on the cards – 9km and 850m climb to stage 3 which would have been well worth it by the sounds of things. This trail only had 16m of ascent in the whole 4.3km with a total descent of 753m, in the pre-race notes this stage sounds fab described as “fast, loamy, rollercoaster of a trail!” Lastly a 1km climb took you to stage 4 with another 750m of descent taking in some extreme exposure where enforced dismount would have been in place! The day would have ended in Bozel and a new base camp for the next two nights.

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So, as you can guess, the rain changed plans significantly but this wasn’t the only factor the organisers had to contend with. We were all set to board the coaches at 8:30am for the hour trip to the lift, unfortunately the buses were late, arriving at 9:30am. Then ensued the near hour long debacle of attempting to get over 100 modern enduro bikes fit in a trailer meant for road bikes. I even heard the saying “this trailer is so not enduro”. With marshals already at the top, in the snow no doubt, awaiting our arrival we set off for the lift. It came as no surprise that the second half of the lift was shut due to the bad weather so the plan had to be rapidly re-thought. Ali and his team devised a way for us to get over to stage 2, via a 300m climb, then riding this stage towards stage 4 and back to camp. This meant moving signs, marshals and the feed stop – a massive effort! The decision had also been made not to time any stages today due to the weather and condition of the trails.

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After the coach journey we used the first half of the lift that was open to take us up to about 2000m in height. Just making it to the top of this stage was a palaver in itself – two awkward ladies working the lift insisted that we go in the lift four at a time, then sending our bikes up one by one! I think this pretty much doubled the time it took as we stood in an awkward group at the top awaiting our steeds to arrive each in their own private carriage! Reunited we set off on the climb, initially fire road but then muddy single-track, there was something quite satisfying about grinding up the hill, I was well waterproofed and warm and quite happy. As were most of the racers, everyone was just happy to get out on their bikes and really appreciating the team for enabling us to ride. We rode as a train down what would have been stage two to the feed stop. Stage two was nothing else other than switchbacks and roots, it would have been so much fun in the dry! I slipped and slid, walked and ‘tripodded’ to the end along with many others, I finished with wheels that wouldn’t go round and about 5kg of mud carried on me and my bike. Apparently that stuff is ride-able and extremely fun according to some, I saw the fun part just not so much of the riding!

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Racers then tucked into lunch and a hot cuppa under rapidly constructed tents, the team did an awesome job on the hoof! I had a quick bite and headed off with the first pack on the trail down to the camp. I don’t think this trail was in the itinerary, just a laid back trail to get us home and leave us smiling and brakes stinking! Dropping down to the town hall that we would be using for food and bike storage we proceeded to make ourselves right at home. From washing the bikes in the lake to making the hall look like a laundrette by hanging endless amounts of wet kit around it. The bored looking lifeguards at the lake looked like it was completely normal for 100 bikers to turn up and wash themselves and their bikes in the water! Later was dinner and another awesome edit from the media crew before an early night – tomorrow is going to be dry and holds in store another 50km day!

Words: Rachael Gurney

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