Archive for the 'Holiday' Category

Promo

“There was this massive log-jam in the first corner, couldn’t see what caused it.”
“Yeah, that’d be me.”

It was an adventure just getting to the start.

Alpe d’Huez was a dark grey that morning, with the mountain-tops shrouded completely in cloud. Shortly after I left the apartment the rain began to fall. Then the thunder started clattering around the valley and all the lifts closed. We wouldn’t be starting from the glacier today. Everybody took shelter under the ticket office. Some riders gave up and headed back to bed.

It took an hour or so, but we eventually got the go-ahead. The race would start from the top of the qualifier, before re-joining the main Megavalanche track a little way above Alpe d’Huez. I set off to the top with Garry. We met numerous riders coming back the other way — they’d got up early for the A-final, had frozen halfway up a mountain for a couple of hours and were heading back for an early bath. Infamous mountain-biking hard-nut Martyn Ogden was like a poor lost little lamb. Not us though. The thought of quitting now never even crossed our minds.

Fast-forward. I’m stood at 2800 metres again. It’s freezing. I, along with one of the Megavalanche girls (wearing a bright-red binbag) and a couple of others are bouncing up and down to the pumping euro-techo in an effort to keep warm. It’s almost working. A few minutes later, the A-final begins. We cheer like mad. They’re gone. Time for us B-finalists to get on the grid.

I lined up on the second row alongside Chris Seager-Smith (who went on to finish third in his category — nice work fella!). We shared an energy bar and generally readied ourselves. The sun poked it’s head out from behind the clouds. It might even turn out to be a nice day!

Then comes the briefing. The banging techno kicks in again. Allemont! The tapes go up and we’re off. Everything goes mental. This is fantastic!

I get as far as the first corner. Someone’s pedal finds it’s way into my front wheel, which suddenly stops rotating. Almost as suddenly, I find myself crashing to the ground, with hundreds of riders trying to get past or over me. I try to get up only to find someone is standing on my head. I relax for a moment, struggle harder and get off the ground. Jump on the bike. Start riding again.

That completely knocked the wind out of my sails. I spent the next couple of miles travelling backwards through the field. I think Garry overtook while I was on the floor. Brett caught and passed me in the hardcore rocky stuff. Anton (who could hardly hold onto the bars thanks to some accidents earlier in the week) was with me shortly before we reached Alpe d’Huez.

Then things started to change.

By the time we reached the town we were riding in blazing sunshine. A crowd cheered us all the way through those fast open corners and out the other side of the town. The perfect catalyst. I powered through there as hard as I could, before sitting down for the slog up the fireroad.

I laughed at the superhero helping someone fix their bike at the bottom of the evil zig-zag climb. I had a great time blasting down the open stuff on the other side. I got caught in traffic jam every time the trail went uphill. I chased a lad on a Commencal down the faster stuff. I charged past him up a road climb only for him to pass me once we got back into the woods. The singletrack seemed to go on forever, with streams, rocks, roots and braking bumps only making it more fun. The comedy lurid mud-slides down the steep, claggy switchbacks were brilliant!

Then all of a sudden I was at the footbridge. I know this bit — it’s the bottom!

I charged through Allemont like a maniac and crossed the line smiling. I’ve finished the Megavalanche! I’m still alive! Wicked!

I looked down at my front wheel to find one spoke had snapped and was flailing, a couple of others were very bent and it had a hell of a wobble in it. I hadn’t noticed all the way down, which was probably a good thing.

Results? Who cares?

Oh, alright then. Charlie finished 69th overall (great result), Alex took 103rd, Stu came in 121st and Rich was 190th. In the Promo (B-final) Garry was 94th (winning Masters 3 again!), Brett came in 150th and I strugged into 213th. Anton retired due to the aforementioned hands thing.

Same again next year?

Qualifier

This isn’t right. I’m getting nervous. I wasn’t expecting the nerves.

It might have something to do with where I am. 2800 metres above sea level, on my bike, lined up amongst 200 other riders. We’re ready to start our qualification race for the 2008 Megavalanche Alpe d’Huez.

The top 51 finishers go through to the main Megavalanche. The next 40 go into the Promo (or B final). The rest don’t count.

It’s all good though. I’ve ridden the whole course. I know the fast lines. I can do this. What’s more, I’m lined up next to Alex Marshall. He’s done this before and he’s quick, too. Just tag on and follow him down. It’s all good.

There’s the waiting. There’s the briefing. There’s the helicopters. There’s the mad techno playing over the huge speaker system. Thirty seconds to go. Alex and I wish each other luck and put on our goggles. Bike’s ready. I’m ready. Everyone tenses.

The tapes go up. Two hundred riders charge at once. This is complete madness! Sublime, brilliant madness.

Start of the qually

I pedal hard, change up a couple of times and slot in behind Alex. There’s riders everywhere. We go around the outside on the first corner and make up a lot of places. Somehow I stay with him on the inside through the next few hairpins before being barged off my line on the way into the final one. I’m forced around the outside and lose loads of time. Still, I pedal like a nutter down to the first of the snow and get through there in one piece. Alex is long gone. Plan B: Go it alone.

Suddenly I’m reminded of the altitude. My body is screaming that it needs more oxygen. Breathe deeply. This is really bloody hard and it’s only the beginning.

I pedal as hard as I can across the rocks. Follow Charlie’s line up and around the worst of the snow, missing out the utter carnage happening over there, then pedal hard again, across the rocks and onto the fireroad.

I want to push harder but I can’t. My body won’t let me. I pass one, maybe two people.

I reach the first of the tricky trialsy sections at hyperspeed. I don’t quite understand what’s going on here. Clearly someone up ahead can’t ride it, but just about everyone behind them is forming an orderly queue. Don’t they realise it’s a race? I ride past the lot of them, jump off the bike, run through the chaos, jump back on and head into the next section like a man posessed.

It’s a big rock field. Everybody’s going straight through the middle. I know better. I stick to the extreme right, hug the edge and come out onto the fireroad at roughly a million miles per second. I pass two people going up into the next section and dive into the rocky singletrack corner faster than ever before. Nailed it.

From here down, the trail goes mental. It was probably a nice singletrack down the side of a mountain once. Today, it’s a technical, rutted jagged rockfest. Exactly what this bike was built for. It’s all going fantastically until that nasty double-drop. I take the left line, something goes wrong and I’m flying over the bars. GARGH!

Stand up. Pick the bike up. Everything’s in one piece. This is still a race. People are squeezing past. Get on. Breathe. Ride. Get your head back in shape.

More rocky singletrack madness. I’m hitting it pretty fast and the flow’s coming back. The field’s spreading out a bit now. I pass a couple of people, a couple of others pass me. More of the sublime madness.

Eventually we hit the fireroad climb of death. Nearly everybody’s off and walking. I’m stood on the pedals grinding a 45lb downhill bike up there. This hurts. A fellow rider mumbles something about some people being too fit as I pass. There’s pretty girls cheering us on here, so I pedal harder. This really hurts.

At the top I hit the traverse. This should be a nice opportunity to rest — it’s a simple, fun downhill singletrack. Except we’re in a race, I can see riders ahead and I’m going to catch them. Oh, and I can see the base of the valley, a good few hundred metres below me — and nothing in between. It’s very fast and proper scary, until the trail suddenly zig-zags right. Scrub off speed, turn in early and I’m on someone’s tail. No way past here, so I follow them into a steep and gooey bit. A dopey english rider shouts “Allez!” from behind us. Nothing I can do but laugh as he slides off the bike and into the hedge.

Now it’s the switchbacks. I’m being held up now (unusual for me). I wait for a bigger corner, see the rider up ahead go wide and throw the bike down the inside. It’s messy, but it worked.

I’m passing loads of riders now. They’re all pulled over with mechanicals, punctures or they just plain can’t hold on anymore. These switchbacks go on forever and ever and ever and ever and WHOA! I get one wrong and nearly ride off the side of the mountain. There’s a whiff of hot brake pads around here.

Eventually the trail straightens out a bit. I catch another rider in the singletrack. I know there’s a fast fire-road section coming up though, so I’ll try and pass there.

No chance. They block every attempt.

I’m getting really tired now, but I know it’s not far to the end. Keep on pushing. I’m following the unpassable rider down a fast old cart-track. What was once a smooth stone road has become a veritable rock garden: BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BAMM! We both get through unscathed, then cross the bridge and onto the final section. It’s fast, except for the mad straw-bale chicane (which nearly claims me), a few scary steep drop-ins (one of which claims the unpassable rider) and a fast corner to the finish at Le Bessey.

I cross the line to find there’s absolutely loads of riders here already. I feel instantly dejected. I thought I’d done OK, but judging by the amount of people down here there’s no way I’ve qualified. I find Alex, who had a good run down, beating some big names.

I chat to an aussie in the bus queue and we agree that it’d be nice to qualify at all. We get on the bus up to Oz where lunch is waiting for us. I find the results, scan down them and go from dejection to happiness and then frustration. I finished 55th — good enough for the Promo, but just four places shy of the main event.

Bacca, Charlie Alex, and Rich made the main Megavalanche. Garry, Anton, Brett and Jez were joining me in the Promo. Now, to prepare ourselves and our bikes for the main event.

Tarw

Coed y Brenin rocks, quite literally. I spent the weekend up there with a bunch of friends, old and new. The trails are rockier than just about anywhere else I’ve ridden in the UK, save perhaps Fort William. It’s the sort of terrain the current breed of “all mountain” bikes were built for.

Me on Pins and Needles

We started with Temtiwr, which is the shortest of the trails. A mere 9km or so and sadly too much of that is fire-road (this is a running theme). The Dream Time section is fantastic though — so much so that we went back to ride it twice.

After a hearty lunch we took on MBR. Again, too many fire-roads, but the singletrack was a great pay-off. Brutus is one of those incredibly technical climbs that you’re happy to get to the top of without putting a foot down, while Cain, Abel and the legendary Pink Heifer are all fantastic descents.

On sunday, Brett and myself had a go at the Tarw trail. The fire-road theme is all to evident here too; The bit after Heart of Darkness was particularly disappointing because it’s all downhill! Luckily, the singletrack on offer is nothing short of brilliant. Hitting Snap, Crackle and Pop at high speed is like tackling the dragon downhill track at Gethin; rocks everywhere and no easy way through it. Keeping momentum through there is a challenge in the best sense, while the slightly smoother Rocky Horror Show is absolutely flat-out fun.

There’s a few more photos on flickr. Thanks to Andy for organising it, and to Brett, Neil, Ash and Darren for making it such a good weekend. Fire-road be damned — I want to go back for another go at all that singletrack!

Val d’Isere, Baby!

Dave, off-piste

Nine of us went to Val d’Isere and spent a week having fun in blizzards, blazing sunshine, powder and pubs. Sadly we had to come back. You’ll find more photos on Flickr.

Pushing the envelope

Reading Khoi Vinh’s Passing on Periodicals made me stop, put down the Mac and pick up the latest copy of Dirt magazine. I spent most of the evening engrossed in it. One article, Jumpers for Goalposts, got me thinking.

It got me thinking about fitness. It got me thinking about fun. It reminded me that the best days are the ones where you push the envelope that little bit further than usual.

A couple of weeks ago I was out riding with friends in the French and Swiss Alps (the pictures are on Flickr). I’d just spent a day getting angry with myself and my inability to pilot my bike down the various parts of Chatel’s bike park at any sort of pace. I’m never the fastest in the group but this was just ridiculous. It was especially frustrating because just a day earlier I’d been riding out of my skin. I’d lost my self-belief somewhere.

Anton, Charlie, Nick, Garry and myself

The following morning, we got up bright and early and hooked up with the long lost Nick Maher, who took us to a little known trail somewhere near Morzine (nope, not telling). The day started out much like the last. I had no confidence in the bike and more importantly, no confidence in myself. I just couldn’t do it.

I was riding the whole thing at a snail’s pace already, but I got to one bit and just stalled. It’s a big, steep, diving left hander and I was just plain scared of it. The really steep stuff has always been my nemesis. I was on the verge of walking down it, but something inside me said “Nope, you’re going to do this one”. Besides, my mates were all waiting around the next corner.

So I forced myself to ride it. It was slow and it was ugly, but I proved to myself I could do it.

Chatting to Garry about it on the lift back up there helped. Put your weight on the outside pedal and lean the bike into the corner. Oh, and stay off the brakes as much as you can. It all sounds so very simple, but putting it into practise was pretty bloody scary. Nonetheless, it worked. A few more of the evil hairpins and it was starting to come more easily. A couple more runs and I was even beginning to flow down them.

Nick, killing it

Of course, that was just one of the challenges awaiting me. I won’t even get started on the wildly off-camber corners, crazy chutes, rock gardens, drops, gnarled roots, north shore and so on. I learnt a lot that day. The sense of satisfaction I got from being able to ride it all was huge.

Just a day later, I had to go through the same thing in a very wet, foggy Verbier. I started to get angry with myself again, but then I thought back. “Come on Olly. You were riding harder stuff yesterday.”

So I bloody well rode it. It was a real challenge just getting down some of it at all. And you know what? That made it really good fun.

I’ve been blog-tagged

Sheila² got me: The object of the game is to reveal 5 things about you, which most readers probably don’t know, then nominate 5 friends to do the same.

So then, here’s five things you might not know about me:

  1. My dad and I went to watch the Isle of Man TT several times on his classic bikes, including a Matchless G3LS (350cc single), an AJS 500cc twin and later a Honda CB750 (the rest of the family followed in an old VW Minibus). The Honda was my favourite at the time, though I look back on the 350 most fondly. The last time we went, the I.O.M. Steam Packet Company crashed one of their ferries into Douglas harbour. Joey Dunlop was a boyhood hero of mine, so seeing him win at the TT was pretty special.
  2. At school we built a wall-climbing robot that got us second place in the local Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. It used compressed air and suction cups to climb up smooth surfaces. I did all the artwork – it was probably my first proper bit of design. Looking back, it was a bit rubbish. The awards were held at the old motor racing circuit at Brooklands in Surrey.
  3. On the same day I had a look around the Sultan of Brunei‘s old private plane which was housed there. Very plush. A few years later at college, I became friends with Steve, who comes from Brunei. The plane was still at Brooklands when I visited an Auto Italia event with Owen & Anne a couple of years ago. The three of us finally made it out there for Steve’s wedding earlier this year.
  4. I’m a founder member of the Kusatado Ninja and I’ve got the bright yellow jersey to prove it. We took turns “racing” mountain bikes round in circles for 24 hours. I use the term “racing” in the loosest possible sense – we didn’t do very well, but we had a great time burning round on bikes, burning on the blazing sunshine and getting high on RedBull. Wonderful.
  5. When I was a kid, we used to live right on the River Wey, in Guildford. We had a large canvas-covered canoe that my dad, my sister and I would row up and down the navigation, carrying it around the locks and generally having a laugh. We had a big adventure one day after some particularly heavy rain. The current carried us for miles, we took some interesting detours through water-meadows (they take the overflow when the river floods) and nearly got dragged down the odd weir. In the end we had to phone my mum and get her to come and collect us in the minibus.

You know what? It was good fun reminiscing about that lot. Good times.

And with that I tag you Weon, Matt, Simon, Rich and other SimonAndy.

Our bicycles are cursed

We’re riding in and around Morzine in the French Alps. It seems the trail-pixies up here don’t like Orange 22x bikes for some reason:

  • Nick fell off his Orange 222 in a big way within thirty seconds of starting his first ride out here a week or so ago. He broke nearly every major part of his bike and he’s covered in scabs and bruises, but at least he’s out there riding.
  • Gary fell off his Orange 224 while riding the Mega Avalanche, busting a rib. He can’t sneeze, cough or laugh, let alone ride his bike.
  • Anton re-opened a large wound in his leg whilst riding his Orange 224 into a tree somewhere near the Super-Morzine on Tuesday.
  • Charlie fell off his Orange 222 on the way back from Chatel on Wednesday. He went down hard on his front, before bike came down square across his shoulders, doing in his clavicles. He’s on his second day off the bike.
  • Literally two minutes after he got back up, I fell off my Orange 222 in a big way (trying to overtake him) and busted my right hand. Simon told me that was the biggest crash I’ve seen in a long, long time. I too am on my second day off. It’s feeling a bit better today though.

Of course, everybody else in the group is still in one piece. It’s quite clearly because they’re riding Santa Cruz, Mr Big, Ancilotti and Intense bikes.

My theory is completed by Mr Steve Peat, who fell off of his Orange 224 on the last corner of his World Championship run two years ago. At the time, he was a good couple of seconds ahead of the eventual winner, Fabien Barel. Where was this? Why, it was just up the road at Les Gets.

Thankfully, the two days riding that preceeded the accident were fantastic fun, including a great run right from the top of Les Gets’ Mont Chery course (the lift doesn’t go all the way up – you have to walk from the top of the bike park lift) and a stormer of a day riding in Chatel with Colin Williams of Team Yeti UK fame. The 303 DH rail bike does work after all, and it’s a really lovely thing in the flesh. Another one for the wish-list: I bet it doesn’t pick up enourmous rocks and fling you over the handlebars…

Memory loss

Them: “So what were the highlights then?”
Me: “Um…”

It’s amazing what happens when you’re on holiday for three weeks. You do so much that you start to forget things. I started looking through the photos this evening and it all started to come flooding back.

That awesome fountain in Kings Park. The DNA tower. The bikini photoshoot. The mental waitress and the Arsenal-supporting (HA-HA!) waiter from Islington. Waffles in Fremantle. The scary prison tour. The tandem on Rottnest Island. The supermonsterpatrolmeister 4×4 behemoth truck. The evil seagulls. The penguins. The only miserable aussie. The biggest ants ever. The steaming lake at sunrise. The trees you can walk through. Dôme. The high pitched receptionist. Owen’s crazy ladder tree – and the bonkers granny who went all the way to the top. Hardcore offroad driving (dude). Those amazing caves, and the guide who’d clearly spent too much time down there. Tales of the runaway “controlled” bush-fire (oops). The wine tour. The streak, ah, the steak. The road-trains. Getting up before sunrise to see the pinnacles. The sand-boarding. The snorkelling. The trek through death valley. The world’s biggest spider (except for that even bigger one). The stripey feet. The parrots. The reunion. Dim sung for breakfast. The booze run across the border to Kuala Lurah. Sushi. The crown prince, twice. The water village. The most ostentacious hotel on earth. The lagoon. The most apologetic staff in the world. The safe. Getting the bride. The wedding. The reception. The hangover. All-you-can-eat noodles. The goodbyes. The not wanting to come home, but being glad to be back. The passport with a nice selection of stamps.

…and that’s just scratching the surface. Man, we did everything! I’ll start uploading photos at some point. There’s just sooo many to work through… I’ve started uploading my photos to Flickr – there’s a whole set dedicated to them.