Mega Avalanche 2011 Roadtrip

I didn’t believe my Dad back in January when he told me that for my 18th birthday I would be heading to France to race the infamous MegaAvalanche and after a few days passed it still hasn’t quite set in how amazing the race was and that I actually did it.

I think for any mountain biker the Mega is an event which everyone looks up to and hopes to race one day, which I think it should be for any rider. Why would you not want to throw yourself downhill a mountain side from 3300m to 700m in 33km in around about 1 hour and 15 minutes?

Day 1 we had driven all day from Calais port and arrived at our fantastic campsite in Allemont. We had chosen to stay in Allemont (which is about 30 minutes from Alp D’Huez) mainly because its were the race finished and was ideal for getting away early after the racing finished. Even though Allemont is quite a way outside of the main happenings of the event, access to get to places is very easy. Thanks to a frequent shuttle bus that took you the nearest lift station (Oz En Oisans), then it was a quick ride on the gondola and your up to all the tracks, including the qualifier track.

Hot Pursuit set up

Day 2 was our first real day riding. After picking up our lift passes we headed up to Alp D’Huez for our first run. Being our first time in the Alps and this area, we didn’t have any knowledge of trails to ride, so we basically followed the crowd. This ended up to be a really fun downhill trail with lots of sweeping berms and some nice table tops. This run lead right down to the Alp D’Huez town and a small bike park where I found this drop I was impelled to do. (Pictured Below). Next we headed all the way up the DMC lift from Alp D’Huez to give the qualifier track a go. This was possibly one of the best bits of singletrack I have ever ridden, it seemed like an endless trail of lovely corners, steep technical descents and fast open sections. The track then headed behind the lift station and into some pedally singletrack before heading down a fast descend into Alp D’Huez town. On this day we also discovered an amazing bit of singletrack that last for about 30 minutes and finished right outside are campsite! This was a good day.

Drop off in Alp D’Huez

Day 3 was official training day so we headed up the lift to practice the top of the qualifier track and experience our first snow! This experienced didn’t go to well as I went down hard as soon as I hit it, not really knowing what to expect as this was my first proper ride in the snow! We then continued down to the bottom of the qualifier and stopped at a nice cafe for lunch. In the afternoon we decided to head right up to the top of Pic Blanc at 3300m, this where the Mega started from and featured snow, rock, ice, a bit more snow, more rock and amazing riding. The ride up in the cable car was very eery, we were on the last ride up to the top and there was only 4 guys in the lift with us, along with us was a French local and a German fella. As we approached the top we suddenly entered a thick cloud and every around became cold and dull. This made me very nervous, I didn’t know what to expect as we stepped out the cable car as we couldn’t see anything and we did not want to stick around in the cold. Ahead we saw a sign that read “MegaAvalanche” so we followed and oh my what followed next. We were thrown into what felt like a lunar landscape there was nothing but rocks and ice, this continued for about 15 minutes and gave us there strangest feeling of, “this is so mad, it doesn’t even feel like we should be riding here”. Our next experience was the glacier, previous years the glacier had been covered in snow but for us there was none, only a bare field of off camber ice. The plan was stick to the brown and pedal lightly, which luckily worked and neither of us were claimed by the ice. Then followed more technical singletrack bliss that again seemed never ending, before heading down to our favourite single track trail, back into our town and into the pub. This was an interesting day.

A qualifier race underway

Day 4, nothing really happened today. I was suffering with a killer soar throat and so we decided to chill out around the campsite. Day 5 was the qualifier day and we got positioned ourselves on our row and readied ourselves for the start. I had a little mass start experience from my early motocross days, my Dad however had a lifetime of mass starts, not on a push bike though. The euro music began, then we were off. We were in the 6th group to leave so the track had become very beaten up and loose and previously smooth fire roads were now not. After what was very open track riding, it pushed into the singletrack where the queues began. Which can be frustrating as slower riders hold you up and its very difficult to pass, it can make you so frustrated that you end up hucking off rocks trying to cut corners. Probably one of my best moments of the week was racing through Alp D’Huez town centre, on what appeared to be a mini 4X/dual slalom track. It was a fantastic atmosphere with lots of people cheering. After the town the track headed down to the next village of Huez, this section consisted of what felt like hundreds of switchbacks and if you weren’t in race mode these would have been amazing to ride. As I crossed the finish line I had a glance at my time of 29 minutes, which I was happy with as I wanted to sub 30 minutes. I came across the line in 82nd place and I was frustrated as I had let a lot of guys pass me in silly pedally places. However this was enough to place me 4th row for the 3rd race. Dad on the other hand wasn’t so lucky and a front puncture denied him placing a good time and he just managed to get into the Affinity 1 race, he was annoyed to say the least. That evening we headed up to Alp D’Huez and picked up race stickers, came back to the campsite then prepared Dads bike as he was racing the day after.

MegaAvalanche Qualifier Start Video:

Day 6 was race day for Dad, he left super early in the morning and headed up to the top (3300m). I got up and walked over the finish line nice and early to watch him come in and across the line. He had a good clean run with no problems or mechanicals and finished on a 1 hour 20 minutes. He even had me confused as he caught the group in front of him and finished while they still were! He placed a good 59th out of 250 and a solid 11th in the over 40s. After yesterdays problems he was much happier with this result. That evening he filled me in with stories of what happened, tactics and what the race was like. I was now very excited for Sunday.

Dad (Chris) crossing the finish line

Day 7, I was up at 5.00 ready to head up to the lift station, sensibly the organiser had a time system for boarding, as there is a lot of guys to get to the top of the hill. The first gondola for queuing wasn’t too bad, well actually there was no queuing at all. It was just the second cable car, which only took about 30 guys up a time. We queued for a good few hours for this one but I was kept company from some of the guys from MBUK and we discussed the race ahead. This would be my second time up to Pic Blanc and this time it was much clearer, no cloud and the wind was sheltered by the mountain side. Before I knew it I was lined up for the race and raring to go. Being 4th row back I wasn’t close enough to see the line ahead and I didn’t actually know what was over the other side of this edge but I was excited to find out. Then the infamous euro music began and all the guys started to gear up, then just carnage. Again similar to the qualifier it was tough to really push yourself as there were so many guys around you but I had great fun in the snow, with a couple of crashes and drifting on the ice. After followed a lot of what I had previously discussed long singletrack with the odd occasional technical bit. There was only one main climb in the route, which lasted for about 15-20 minutes but for the descent after, boy was it worth it. Unfortunately  at this point I have no idea how it happened but I managed to snap my gear cable. So I had to do the rest  of the route with only bottom gear and a very noisy rear mech. This wasn’t a huge problem but it was frustrating on some of the small climbs which were tough to ride up. As I crossed the river I knew the end was in sight, a quick blast down a path then into the finish line and possibly the best feeling ever. I came across the line in 1 hour 15 minutes, which put me 131st of 250 overall and 9th in Juniors which I was more than happy with. After a quick breather and a nice lunch provided by the Allemont council, we headed back to camp, got showered up and packed the tent down ready to go home.

MegaAvalanche Start Video:

The MegaAvalanche is a amazing week and I would highly recommend to any keen mountain biker. Just make sure your prepared for what your getting in for!

Father and Son at 3000m

Video from our road trip: