We pluck Stu off his road bike and give him a solid shake down at this utterly bonkers French tech fest
You know those friends who you love, but generate a slight raise in heart rate and a mild sweat when you open a message from them? I have a few of those.
‘Stu what are you doing in the 8th April next year?’
Hard to say Vik given its 10 months away.
This is a pretty standard format for chats with my long time mate who had be annoyingly absent in my world for the last couple of years, life, injuries, etc. I wasn’t going to turn down any mad idea he had in his head, not after all this time. ‘Randon Epic Enduro, 5000m climbing, 110km riding, you in, its an enduro’ Sure Vik, I’m in….5000m climbing? He must have meant 500, oh well here we go!
Details are not something Vik likes to get hung up on, however demented they may seem. The race would cover 116km spread over three loops around the beautiful but non too terrifying landscape of Olargues, about a one hour drive from the closest airport in Beziers, South Western France. The pure savagery of the course was quite literally hidden amongst the trees and hamlets that dotted this sleepy part of France, condensed and undiluted this was going to be an exercise of survival rather than podium ambition for me.
I set about watching videos of the race, trying to gauge what I would need on a budget, this was one days race, I’m not buying a bike for one day! Mmm it looks ok, nothing worse than Bike Park Innsbruck (my most recent excursion) and the rocks are a bit like Afan, rocky…what else? I’ll be fine, it will all be fine. I’ll just get some fatter tyres, oh hindsight…
Enduro is a format that has tickled the MTB community pink, mates are no longer defined as ‘downhiller’ or ‘racing snake’ more an amalgamation of skills with riders favouring alternating components of the whole. For the marathon or xc rider, you can go to a race, and not feel too outclassed by the guy who looks like he’s lost his motocross bike and vice versa. For me however, there’s no denying it, I was coming off the back of a cyclocross season and winter criteriums, my mind was not entirely engaged in dropping into the mouth of hell just for shits n giggles. My mates referred to me as ‘the roadie’ and laughed off my attempt at beefing up my marathon bike into some cross hybrid Minnaar meets Schurter concoction that would glide uphill as well as down, they were not impressed.
Be that as it may, 10 months flew by and I was about to drop into ‘Sp1’ after an uplifting speech by our new mate Jamie Carr of Ride the Alps ‘You guys better recce this, its hardcore’. We would be starting at night, something I’m quite ok with, but starting 110km full tech fest under a quarter moon was not something I would take lightly. Righto, in we drop, 11 sectors to scrub off, this will be the appetiser.
That was eye opening, the course was sharp, tight turns, drops, rocks, in 2 tiny kilometres I had surpassed the 100mm travel on the Foxs and felt the frame smack hard under load on the back, I wasn’t trying to push, you just had no choice. I don’t think I want to see the main meal, YIKES! After a bit a puncture drama on Vik’s bike we feel initiated, at least we have a full day tomorrow to truly let rip and get out eye in.
Saturday ‘official’ unofficial practice
We are heading up to SP2, after a morning of dicking about trying to bleed a suddenly squidgey back brake (thanks again Shimano) I make the decision to try out Jamie’s P7 Orange hardtail, just in case we can’t sort this sodding brake. The P7 is way more accustomed to enduro but she ain’t no lightweight. A plus bike with a long wheel base and long travel up front, this crazy green beast is the very antithesis of mine but may well prove a much better option.
God its a long climb…
We rally at the top, pads on, jaw guards clicked in, even the locals are getting padded up…this can’t be good?
SP2 is like getting your head smacked into a table while you’re still trying to drink your beer, nothing is making sense. Its steep, rocky, relentless, you make a tiny mistake and you lose momentum and then have to track stand your way into a descent of ragged unpredictable carnage. This has done zero to calm the nerves. How am I going to do 11 of these bastards and not break everything? How?
To be continued…