After going to the event last year, there was never any doubt about going back in 2007 – it’s a truly awesome event. Like the guy says in Earthed 3:
you can’t call yourself a mountain biker until you’ve ridden the Megavalanche
So we’re not only going back next year, we’re hiring a chalet in town so we can run a special ‘Mega’ week in Alpe d’Huez. More details and prices here.
And here’s my write up of the 2006 race to wet your appetite!
Or just check out this video – it’s the first half of the race filmed on a helmet cam – (not my video)
Mega Avalanche 2006
What can I say… A truly crazy race that’s been going on in Alpe d’Huez for the past 12 years or so, something like 4000 meters of descending over 32km of the craziest, most diverse mountain biking terrain you can think of – from snow to ice to scree to rock to dirt – with the odd grassy patch and a fair amount of rootyness thrown in. As it was happening a mere 3 hour drive away I simply had to try it out If you just want to look at photos go here, if you want to read more – read on.
Firstly there was the registration – a faily painless affair all done online. And a bargain â‚¬38! for a weekend of racing with uplifts, food and all the other bits and bobs that come with a bike race. So then there was the companion – Joe flew out for some biking in Morzine prior to the race – a whole morning’s worth before we set off on the 3 hour drive down on Friday afternoon.
With limited information about the race and details on registration and venue a little sketchy, we packed up the Rude van (thanks to Chris and Helen at Rude Chalets for the loan!) and headed south. We figured that there would be some sort of info / signage near by telling us where to go (as is normal for the big UK races – nice AA signs telling you where to go). However there was none, so we just drove up the 21 hairpins to the top, and continued upwards until the road ran out and we found the race ‘village’ – Phew. We also found a handy makeshift campsite right next door where we decided to pitch our tents. Only we hadn’t banked on the fact that at 1800m the nights are pretty damn cold!
The next day: qualifying… Having been told the previous night that we had to be up on a lift at 8am to reach the start line, we got out into the freezing morning air at about 7am to assemble bikes and generally faff and shiver for an hour. Once we got onto the lift there was an air of expectation and excitement at what the morning had in store: A qualifying course of about 20km – with a vertical drop of around 1500m.
Starting on a barren mountain side down some scree hairpins and onto a big chunky rocky area followed by some of the best singletrack you’re ever likely to ride – nice. With over 1200 riders attending, the qualifying was split into about 5 groups – with the top seeds and pros taking up the first line of each group. The choppers buzzed around and the music blared out of the PA system – all adding to the rush of being lined up alongside 200 riders all aiming for the inside line of the first corner.
When we set off all that you could do was ride as quick as you could trying to avoid the early casualties strewn across the track and get through the first few switchbacks as high up the field as you could – from then on it was down to luck and line choice across the rocky area. Once passed that, the singletrack started and you had most likely found a fairly good set of riders in front and behind to keep the pace on.
Then disaster struck – a pinch flat – my chances of a good qualifying time vanished in an instant. I had managed to get through a few 24 hour races and 12 hour races without a single flat – but not this time. It probably cost me about 15 minutes in all to get it sorted (pumping up 2.5inch DH tyres with a minipump is not quick). Still, I did have a fairly empty track in front of me to start making up time. And time was made up, I managed to pass a good handful of people on the next few sections – Unfortunately the lead riders from the second qualifying group were starting to catch up and I was being passed, sometimes with warning, and sometimes without. And then disaster struck a second time – another puncture, another pinch. In my haste I had not put enough air into the tube after the first one, and had paid the price. Another 15 minutes gone. No chance at all of qualifying anywhere but near the back.
10 more minutes of glorious singletrack and it was over – by this time I had stopped racing and just rode it out to the finish. After the scrum of the bus uplift to Oz we were treated to some lunch and the results of the qualifying. Top spot went to Nico Vouilloz in a time of 28 minutes. I got a time of 1 hour and 9! Joe scored a far more respectable 38 minutes – He found his way to row ‘R’ – second row of the second group, not bad for a first effort. I was in row Z17 – two from the back of the final group. The group consisted of slow people, and people who had issues on the qualifyer!
Day 3: The race.
When we got our qualifying times and rows, we were also told the times we needed to get on the lifts – the leaders had a 6am start, Joe was due at 7.10 and I was due up at 9. In the end we both went up at about 7 so we could get to watch the pro’s start – and what a start. The snow was back this year (no snow last year due to none being left up there!) – the piste bashers had been bashing to give the front runners a head start on the rest of us. After a lengthy wait, the race was off – the pros showing no fear of just pointing their bikes downhill and rocketing off the start line, truly impressive stuff. Then there were the regular riders, a little more fearful and a lot lot slower. It made for very entertaining viewing to say the least. Then finally it was my turn….All pretty much a blur, so here are the higlights:
- Starting piste – slow to get going, both feet out, one foot out, on the floor a few times but down fairly unscathed
- The glacier – surprisingly grippy stuff ice! No falls, picked up a fair few places as well
- Rocky singletrack traverse – goggles steamed up, take goggles off, dust in the eyes, people falling over, people pushing to get by, bit of walking due to traffic, hot after the icy start
- Wide open grassy descent into Alpe d’Huez – super fast, super grippy, lots of places made up, big grin factor
- Climbing! – I thought this was a downhill event! – oh so hot, the full face + goggles + body armor jacket aren’t helping. Nor is the 40lbs bike I’m riding
- More Climbing! see above
- Some amazing singletrack – fast, flowy, nice views – all good
- Even More climbing! This is getting silly now – camelbak is out of water as well – oh dear
- Another amazing descent – this time all the way to the finish – dusty rooty wooded singletrack. All I can think about is water
- The finishing straight. For some reason I feel compelled to sprint home. Must have been watching the tour too much
- The finish line. And water. And food. And i can take my soaking wet body armour off, it’s all over
And that was pretty much it. One hour and twenty eight minutes after leaving the start line at 3,300 meters I made it to the finish line at 789m. The winner (Nico again) did it in just 50 minutes. Something to aim for next year Some photos of me!