Thursday, July 17, 2008

Anka's Megavalanche Race Report

Fluidride athlete Anka Martin sent out this Megavalanche race report this morning. She raced the Avalanche Trophy at Alpe d'Huez, France last weekend:

So with all my years of racing downhill and recently racing some pretty tough endurance cross country events, I can truly say that I have just completed the toughest, most grueling race that I have ever entered.

Imagine 1400 people all sprinting off as fast as they can possibly go down 30km of super technical singletrack and ice, with more than 4000 meters of descent. Sven and I just got back from racing the Megavalanche in Alpe d'Huez, France and it was the best, most exciting race that I have ever done. It was organized chaos and I loved every minute of it.

The scenery and the singletrack were breathtakingly beautiful, so majestic and vast, the trails just carried on for days. The altitude was something else. It felt like I had a concrete block tied to my chest that I could feel with every gasping breath I tried to take. The course was so technical that you had to wear full body armor, full face helmets and goggles. We raced on our Ironhorse MK111, 5" trailbikes, because there is also a lot of climbing involved and frankly I would have died if I were on my DH rig. They were set up full xc style, with 3 rings and no suspension seatpost.

It took us two full days to practice the two race tracks.It is so vast out there, you ride through and to different towns and you have to catch buses and ski lifts back to towns, and it was all very confusing to get dialed and with 1400 other people, the bus and lift lines could take a while.

Riding down the glacier was the scariest, weirdest thing ever, you get to the top of this huge mountain, get off the lift as usual, put on your goggles, look over the edge and take off on the ice, not knowing what the hell to do. I got the chest on the seat, bum on the rear wheel, shoe out ski technique dialed, except for the cramps that developed after a while of holding such a position - the glacier is about 5km long and steeeeeep!

On the Friday you have to race a qualifying race to seed for the main race on Saturday. The track was 15km long, starting at 2810 m and dropping down to 1290 m. The track that was way more suited for a downhill bike that a little xc bike, but under race pressure, I rode that little xc bike of mine as if I was on my DH bike. I paid the price though, with a front flat near the top part of the track, while lying in the front five girls. Flustered and in complete disbelief of my luck, I pulled off the track and tried to fix the flat as quickly as I could, only to find my CO2 cartridge didn't work anymore. I had given Sven my pump earlier in the day, and luckily I had another cartridge to half fill my tire. Now in a complete flat spin, I jumped back on track and started passing back the girls that passed me, knowing that I had to finish in the top 32 to get a front row start in the race. I ended up 29th and secured my spot in the race. Phew...

Waking up to a massive storm with thunder and lightning and pouring rain on race day, I knew we were in for a treat. The start was at 3300 m and we would finish at 720m, dropping 2580 m in 30 km. You have to get on the chair lift 2 hours before your start, to get all the way to the top, so setting off in the pouring rain at 7am, I had no idea what to expect. The race almost got canceled because of the storm, and we couldn't get up to the glacier - it was dumping snow, so they changed the start to the beginning of the Qualifying track and then it merged into the Mega track. With major delays, we ended up waiting in the pouring rain and cold for three hours before we raced.

You can imagine how great it felt to be in a mass start and not being able to feel your hands and feet, never mind trying to ride your bike and dodge all the people...and that is exactly what we did. It was the most technical riding I have ever done on a little bike. I got the hole shot at the start - wishing now that I had done some more four-cross races in my day, and off I went. My body went into complete lactic shock after the first few turns and my hands were still numb from the cold. It was insane, with people falling down cliffs all around you, and falling in the snow and ice, and cutting you off, it was painful. My chain kept coming off, and I had to stop three times to put it back on and get it untangled from my derailleur, super frustrating not having a chain guide and a suspension seatpost for the climbs.

It was so hard to pass people as it was just gnarly singletrack riding, I tried to pass whenever I could, and after 1h8min, I finally crossed the finish line in 7th place - only 30 seconds from 4th place. I was so stoked to be done and pretty happy with my placing considering all my mechanical stops. I have never been so physically exhausted after any other race - even the Cape Epic. 100 women were entered, 55 were left after qualifying, and 35 managed to finish the race. Sven killed it too, he was 88th out of 1400 guys - not bad for someone that has hardly been riding at all.

It would be such a fun event to get a bunch of friends together to do - a definitive must for next year.

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