Today definitely had its ups and downs, it probably wasn’t the same for everyone but I found today tough going. Today was a 64km day with a total of 4,179m descent in the five special stages. The stages totalled in length a massive 19.7km! The sun was out and stayed the whole day, so much so that I now have some very interesting tan lines. The ground here also dries up really well considering the amount of water we saw yesterday, it wasn’t dry but it also didn’t resemble Wales in summer so I was happy!

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So, onto the ups and downs of today, first positive of the day was of course the sun. My mood rapidly made a turn for the worse though when I realised how wet my kit still was even after being left in the hall to dry. I’m not a moaner but let’s be honest shall we, who likes the feeling of damp sweaty body armour straight to skin? Next up, literally up, was a massive liaison straight from camp. An hour’s road climb on tacky tyres took us up to the first lift which took us up to 2100m. A further 200m ridden ascent and a total time of two and a half hours later got you to the start of stage one where I promptly walked about the first 200m vertical descent! Stage one was super steep switchbacks and ridiculously rocky. It was so hard to ride that about 90% of the field walked this top section. Getting out of the boulders saw you in the woods, left to contend with some of the biggest, most awkward roots I have ever tried to ride over! Once in the flow though, the latter part of this stage was challenging but great to ride, just the right amount of tech but still able to maintain some speed.

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After a brief early lunch, we took a chair lift to somewhere above Meribel, rode a green DH route a liaison to another lift much further above Meribel. The views from up here were simply amazing, I wanted to stay a while longer but with 4 stages still to complete there was no hanging around. Dropping into stage two we were straight into a man-made downhill style route this meant plenty of rocks but in a much more rideable way! Stage two was 9km and entirely bike park berms and jumps, pretty fun to pump your way down but also physically hard to go at it hard for that amount of time. I was pumping and jumping for 23 minutes! Ending the pump fest in Meribel again we took another lift to a ridge above the town and rode the short liaison to stage three.

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This stage was fairly straightforward singletrack, if you rode this whilst out in the Alps on holiday you wouldn’t be clamouring to give it another whirl. Untechnical, this stage took us to the bottom of the single-track climb to stage four. I was going to say stage three was uneventful but the bottom parts were extremely muddy and I managed to slip on a submerged boardwalk, where I ended up off the wooden platform with both hands firmly in the muddy puddle. This was definitely the lowest part of my day, much worse than the body armour ordeal this morning! My mood was lifted somewhat by the epic scenery taking us to stage 4. The views were the best yet, breath-taking, alpine goodness, I could have sat up there all day.

After stage three I was sceptical about the rest of the day, I shouldn’t have been! Stages four and five were, without doubt the best trails I have ever ridden! Both very similar and deep in the woods, these were full of loamy awesomeness, with swooping natural turns, switchbacks to keep you on your toes and trail features in exactly the right places to make you feel like a mountain biking god (or goddess)! Two whole stages of this amounted to over 25 minutes of riding, absolutely brilliant! After riding these two trails, hoping it would never end I sat at the end of stage five watching the other riders come through. Each and every one had an identical grin knowing that they had just ridden some mountain biking gold. In fact I think the marshals at the end of this stage also had a brilliant time, the mood was infectious and they loved seeing the racers come through on such a high!

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We were all then shuttled back to the campsite for yet more bike washing and another excellent dinner. New leaders were announced after the food, in 3rd place currently is Martyn Brookes (Whyte Bikes), 2nd place is taken by Gary Forrest (WTB Enduro Team) and in the lead still is Jamie Nicholl (Polygon). As for us ladies; Lisa Curry is miles ahead in the lead whilst Alice Flower and I are battling it out for 2nd place, I’m just 3 minutes ahead at the moment – crazy close riding over such a long race. Tomorrow base camp moves and the sun is again due to join us so should be a great day!

Words:Rachael Gurney

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