Only one way down from 3300metres....
Mulebar Girls on the Glacier - Anna, Louise and Hannah
6 months ago I met my MuleBar sponsor, Jimmy and he told me to do the Megavalanche because he could give me free entry. I'd heard of it already because my Big bro was going, and it turned out my teamie Hannah was also going. So I peer pressured Louise into joining us and suddenly it was booked.
I didn't really know what it was, I didn't have a bike, a full face, body protection or anything, I just knew I was going.
Over the 6 months leading up to it I mentioned it in bike circles and was rewarded with "Oh yeah, I'm going too, see ya out there" or, "OM F G, you'll die!! Do you even know what you're doing? You will actually die!" It put the fear into me, so I bought some body armour.
The perception people have of "The Mega" is interesting, and I'm not sure entirely realistic. I didn't die, and no-one else did, and I hope here I can give a realistic impression to the people who haven't been.
The Mega is a downhill race down the Alpe D'Huez mountain side. It starts on a glacier, a black run ski slope, and as you head down the mountain the terrain changes and so do the riding challenges. I got given an Intense Tracer to ride for the week, and it was perfect for that type of riding. Enough travel to absorb the rocks, but light enough and a big enough range of gears to keep the bike moving easily on flatter and uphill sections.
The snow part is visually terrifying, it is wide and steep and overwhelming. But as soon as you start riding the fear subsides and gets replaced with laughter. We practised it first with a big group of mates, and we were falling off all over the place, some people found the fastest way was to sit on their bums, pick up their bike and slide down. It's guaranteed to put you in a good mood.
As the snow got more rare the rocks started showing through. This was a challenge, the top of the mountain where nothing grows and the rocks are sharp, loose and harsh from the seasonal elements that they deal with. A single track path on shale with rock drops and a steep cliff edge to one side forces you to look ahead and nowhere else. This path is yours and yours alone, you cannot be pressured from someone faster behind you, ignore 'em and get down in your own pace and it really isn't as dangerous as it sounds.
Slowly the rocks get smaller until seamlessly you find yourself riding on a dust path through green meadows. This is the moment to take in the view and appreciate where you are, or get your head down and gun it. You have to concentrate riding over the occasional boulder or though a snow-melt stream, but it is the time to get a lot of speed and feel like you are on top of the world.
A sloggy, uphill traverse takes you onto the next mountain, giving you an opportunity to wash the dust out of your throat with a much needed drink, and a chance to rest your fingers from the brakes.
And it starts again. This time between shrubs, but the path is still dusty. It gets steeper and steeper as the trees get taller around you. Eventually you find yourself with your bum as far over the back wheel as you can go, following the course around switchbacks on virtually vertical slopes. The back wheel will slide out, kicking up loads of impressive looking dust, and blinding the person behind. You need to leave at least 3 metres between you and the person in front if you want any visibility at all. Even in the less steep places you can't let your fingers off the brake levers, as there are ruts and braking bumps (series of small bumps created by the hundreds of people who have churned up the course before you). Tree roots cross the path, at which you have to embrace a bit of speed and let the bike flow over.
The course randomly takes you though someone's driveway and over a bridge crossing a milky, blue lake. The change of scenery makes you feel that the end is near, and sure enough, you pop out into a village that marks the end of this epic adventure. It's so long and so variable that it's hard to remember the top, as the sun beats down on you and your arms tremble from the strain.
And that was just the practice!
With all the riding and exploring that happens if you arrive a week early, the race seems miles away and irrelevant. If you have never ridden down a mountain, you will be so stoked and excited just to be on your bike with ski lifts to bring you back up. The learning curve is immense, things that scared me on the first day became super easy, and I started to make the transition between "doing stuff" and "doing stuff fast." When race day was upon me I thought I felt ready.
Nothing I say can prepare you for the nerves you feel standing at the top of a mountain on a start line with 100 other girls with bikes. Over the course of a week you will have seen some horrid injuries and you will probably face a battle in your head between wanting to do well and wanting to stay safe. Of course I'm going to say opt for staying safe, it's not worth an injury that stops you riding for months, but you will have learnt where your limits are so there is no need to pansy-up about it. The organisers build on your fear, imagine gripping your bars, one foot on the ground and the sound of your heavy, high-altitude breathing resonating in your helmet. They switch on the "Mega Music" which is a noise of Euro-house with fog horns blaring out. You will see your forearms shaking, and the legs of the person in front trembling, and the last thing you are aware of before they lift the tape is the helicopter appearing next to you over the peak of the mountain.
However, the fear and the nerves are not proportionate to the racing. As soon as you are moving and start to get into the flow of things you relax, it feels familiar and you will find yourself going faster than some people and slower than others. There is a natural selection filter as you enter into singletrack sections, and so long as you don't have a (fairly possible) mechanical, you will finish in a position that you deserve.
It's not bunch racing, so you will go at a pace that suits you, and I think for that reason, despite it's fearsome reputation, the Megavalanche attracts downhill World champs like Ann-Caroline and Petra, as much as it attracts newbie cross-country riders.To put that into perspective, first place finished a full two hours ahead of last place. But I bet that they both loved it.
Friday, 30 July 2010
Thursday, 29 July 2010
"Multiple mechanicals and some muppet taking out my rear derailleur and wheel didn't help, but still managed to salvage a podium." ... . Go mule
Our very own Damo' getting serious...