Avalanche Enduro – Ae Forest
Spring is in full swing with summer just peeking her eyes around the corner. Olivia and the rest of the Avalanche team made their now annual trip over for the UK Avalanche Enduro. A race they’ve been running here at various venues for the past four years, each year tweaking the format and style of race stage slightly to produce a better, more rounded race format.
If you’ve had your head buried in the sand for the last few year’s I’ll explain the format briefly. Like a car rally the route is set with a series of timed stages which are, on the whole, downhill. The rider is given set start times for each stage but these are generous enough to give you a 5-10min breather before you set off again. At the end of the race your times for each stage are added together to give a cumulative time. A well crafted route can result in different stages playing to different strengths arider may have. Hopefully by the end the winner is the rider with the best balance of stamina, speed and skill. Unlike last year with two races, this year Ae was the only UK venue. However, another race is planned in Vaujany the week before the Mega with a number of Brit riders signing up for both that promises to be a busy week!
The format for racing was altered slightly from previous years. As usual the Saturday was given up to practice and a Prologue TT in the afternoon to determine the seeding for Sundays racing. This year the organisers announced a couple of weeks before the race that they would be running a 2 by 2 format. Racers would be not just racing against the clock on each stage but also against their neighbour in the seeding. This was greeted with a healthy dose of scepticism. Was it a cleverly thought out format to make racing more fun or exciting or was it simply a logistical plan to get more riders round the route and finished by a reasonable time? Whatever the thinking behind it, comments afterwards were split depending on the riders motivation. The out and out racers weren’t fans whereas the weekend warriors found that chasing another rider (or being chased) often pushed them to ride a little harder than they would usually.
The Avalanche team adopted the same stages as last year’s race with some different start points. On a couple of stages this changed the stage sufficiently to consider adopting a different tactic to the previous year’s race. The route, essentially, followed Ae’s red route with a wee extra challenge of The Shredder freeride descent. The Prologue and Stage 1 were conducted on a section of trail that is usually used as a climb, Rabs Slippy One. This meant it had a plethora of flat, loose corners. In fact I can’t think of any piece of trail I’ve ever ridden with quite as many consecutive flat corners. It also featured a short piece of natural trail down a short rooty gully into a tight earthy corner. This section drew the biggest crowds during the Prologue on the Saturday. With riders being bated as they entered the section and humiliated in good humour should they fail, it was like being at a student champs all over again! Stage 2 followed Granny Green Love down to Capel Water. One of the few stages where your saddle could be put out of the way and the downhill riders within the field could get a bit loose. Stage 3 followed Bran Burn Bash, this had been extended on last year to include a short climb straight out of the gate.
There was plenty of chat up at the top as to whether you should save a bit on the climb to open her up on the descent or whether all out on the climb was the way to go and rely on the flow of the trail to carry you to the finish. Stage 4 was the longest and for some the most feared as it mercilessly exposed the unfit. This stage was long, it demanded stamina and a cool head to be able to pace yourself over the course of the stage. Go out to hard and you risked hitting the wall on the uphills, take it to easy and you had a lot of work to do later to make up the time. Of all the stages raced, this one could make or break your ambitions for the finish line. Losing 3-4mins to the leaders was not uncommon here. Stage 5 took in the Omega Man trail. Not as steep as Stage 2 meant there was still a bit of leg work to be done here, it was a flat out lactic burn sprint. Finishing this stage you knew there was only one more stage to go after climbing to the top of Knockspen hill. The Final stage saved the best (and for some the worst) till last. One last effort down The Shredder. Rough, rocky with a healthy dose of doubles and drops carried the riders in style to the finish line. In fact, why not take a look at the stages for yourself, courtesy of some cracking headcam footage from Descent-World regular Stuart Nicholson.
Rumours have been circulating this season of a return to regular racing by Nico, maybe this was a wee leg stretcher for the 10 times world champ before Maribor this weekend? He recovered from a slow (by his standards) seeding run to take the win from Aidan Bishop on the very last stage by 7secs with Ben Whitehouse taking 3rd after battling his way from 12th in seeding. Mike Thickens kicked his season off with a very strong and consistent performance to take 4th, it’s great to see Mike building on last year’s successes on the Avalanche circuit. The quadragenarian Crawford Carrick-Anderson finishes off the podium giving us all hope that there’s still time to peak.
In the end a great weekend was had by all with plenty of time spent on the bike and plenty of good banter flowing at the start and finish of every stage, British riders in particular seem very receptive to this format, after all it’s how we ride our bikes every weekend. Cruise up chatting with your mates before putting on the game face for the descent. Every year I read race reports from enduro races across Europe, every year more and more folk enter and every year there is a greater buzz surrounding this format of racing. It’s been said many times in the past that one day this kind of racing is going to take off. Well, maybe that day’s not as far off as we once thought. Steve Parr and David Tallontire have big plans for a full on BC supported gravity enduro series next year. Five locations, so far, have been ear marked for rounds. Talking to Steve on Saturday the guys obviously have a strong vision of what they see happening with ultimately a standardisation in format and BC Enduro points being awarded. Ears to the ground on that one.
1st – Nicolas Vouilloz, Lapierre 21:06,06
2nd – Aidan Bishop, Rapidracers 21:14,03
3rd – Ben Whitehouse, All Terrain Cycles 21:22,02
4th – Mike Thickens, mtbskills.eu 21:36,07
5th – Crawford Carrick-Anderson, CCA-signs 21:40,09
1st – Nicolas Vouilloz, Lapierre 21:06,06
2nd – Mike Thickens, mtbskills.eu 21:36,07
3rd – Chris Buchan, Ibis Cycles 21:58,06
1st – Ben Whitehouse, All Terrain Cycles 21:22,02
2nd – Rupert Fowler, MBR 21:49,01
3rd – Joe Rafferty, ABCC 22:08,06
1st – Aidan Bishop, Rapidracers 21:14,03
2nd – Glyn O’Brien, Mad Dog 21:41,07
3rd – Stuart Bowers, Dorset Rough Riders 22:11,03
1st – Crawford Carrick-Anderson, CCA-signs 21:40,09
2nd – Patrick Bruce 23:32,03
3rd – Michael Hodgson 24:04,03
1st – Garry Higgins, The Hills Have Eyes/CCCC 25:44,07
2nd – Tony Flanagan, I Wish I Was As Fast As Dave 27:29,04
3rd – Jimmy Docherty, Team Mulebar 27:36,02
1st – Joshua Hurley, Galloway Hillbillies 26:26,02
1st Robbie Nelson, Hetton Hawks 23:40,04
2nd – Guillaume Coquen, Rivierabike.com 23:52,07
3rd – Ben Egginton 27:57,02
1st – Carrie Poole, Crosstrax 26:34,07
2nd – Meave Baxter 28:09,07
3rd – Sam Hill, The Breakpad 28:12,09