Enduro des Belleville

Enduro des Belleville

I’ve been wondering what the point of going racing is recently. It’s great pushing yourself to be faster/higher/stronger/whatever (I think there’s some other big global sporty thing on at the moment) and all, but there’s not that much excitement in the battle for 58th place, I doubt anyone else cares any either. This is probably why I’ve not bothered writing owt about races much this season (I took my start number 256 or last-man-to-start to 58th last week in Samoens, but as mentioned already, it’s just not that interesting)

Fortunately, as in all the best bits of story telling, along comes something to save the day and provide me with a bit of content I want to write about.

Flo and Nina throwing dust and horns on the Saturday. Obviously everyone was waay more serious on the Sunday.

Last weekend was the Enduro des Belleville. A wee (weel, 170 odd riders, no that wee) enduro race near Les Menuires over in the Savoie, run in the most relaxed manner possible and with 4 close to perfect stages. Throw in a Saturday night downhill street race, local friends to put you up in (unfinished) luxury chalets, beer at the feed stations and blue skies from start to finish: you’ve got a winner.

Even breaking the car on Saturday morning and making Nina detour a couple hours worth of driving to pick me up didn’t kill off my enthusiasm.

Entering stage 3, if it wasn't for the full face lid you could see my smile.

Saturday passed in a series of mishaps that for most races would have me far grumpier than even my standard background level of mild irritation at the world. From my car putting us a couple hours late getting to Les Menuires, then finding we actually wanted to go to Saint Martin des Belleville (I’ll read the full text of where sign-in is next time….), to heading up the hill to meet Sam for practice…..and going the wrong way so we ended up in Les Menuires. Again (though this did allow for a no-pedal drag race and a flashing “trop vite” warning sign on the road back).

I'd add 'effondrement' and 'halètement' to that, but that's my fault for not being in shape

Fortunately Flo Arthus was about to show us stage 4 (and how to get to stage 4, probably our bigger issue) which was good, as stage 4 was pretty sweet and getting to follow a shit hot local like Flo down it is even betterer.

Nina chasing Flo on stage 4 Saturday.

It looked like we were going to be too late for the 2nd chair up to stage 3 (how could that be possible, everything had run so well till now) but a couple minutes late is the new just in time, so we got to play on that too, another great trail, maybe my favourite of the weekend.

Nina on stage 3, bit of singletrack, bit of bike park, bit of open hill, bit good.

Some more general faff later it was time for the street race. One lap to have a look-see then one lap with the clock running down through St Martin des Belleville, where it seemed like every inhabitant had turned out to heckle. The general Saturday theme continued with arriving at the start line to find I’d brought 2x left gloves and Nina’d forgotten her go-pro. With no UCI officials in sight I rode gloveless and Nina had to rally back to the chalet in the couple of minutes between runs.

Not the street DH, but the sentiment's the same!

After surviving a little over 70 seconds of concrete edges I was a bit surprised to hear “second place” at the finish. And more surprised as no one seemed to go any faster…..until newly met English rider Rob Newman arrived 0.23sec faster than me, followed by Julien Roissad 0.12 sec faster than that.

I’m not bitter at all about missing my first podium in a couple year and definitely don’t think world cup podiums of 5 should be introduced. Here’s Antonin Gourgin’s head cam showing what 0.26sec slower than me and last step on that WC podium looks like. Congratulations to Emmanuel Allaz for taking the win, and Nina for adding to her champagne collection with the win for the ladies.

Nina and Emmanuel discuss the finer points of vintage podium champagne.

And then there was food and beer. You never got that in my DH days. Well, not included in the entry fee anyways.

Sunday morning rising over the course

The race: Thanks to Sam, I’d been given a start number of 16, and even better I had Sam infront of me so, combined with the 30 sec intervals between riders, I would have to be motoring 1 minute quicker than a quick rider to have to worry about passing anyone. Just as well given the dust.

How many riders does it take to fix a chain....

The first two stages were completely blind for me and anyone not local. It’s been a whiles since I got to ride walking trails (these stages are normally interdite fae the VTT, yet another cheers to the organisers for getting them for the race) blind and flat out. It’s one of the most entertaining things in my life to ride just on wits and intuition that there will be a landing behind that rock, or that the corner is going to open up instead of cliff out. Perhaps that should be most terrifying now I think about it.

Is Flo guessing correct at what he's airing into? Probably.

Even better the taping was deliberately vague in places. I know #endurolines are a sore topic but sometimes it’s just cool as to take a guess on what’s about to happen and batter across some open ground to giggles or screams, depending on how it all works out.

This was as hard as the liasions got. There were some views to distract you and all.

The final 2 stages kept the same theme, albeit with a little more idea what was coming up. Even a return to yesterday’s levels of competence where I broke my shifter on the first real corner of stage 3 didn’t really ruin the fun. If anything not changing gear was one less thing to worry about.

It's good to get a reminder of just how great playing on bikes is every so often.

Racing over, the A4 print out put me 10th senior men, with my 30 second target Sam (watching him stand and sprint up climbs into the distance was just a bit demoralizing on the final stage) in 6th. So neither of us would have made it on a WC podium.

Cigarettes and alcohol. Not sure the Gallagher bros are riders, but they'd fit in on this race.

Racing to get into the top ten is much more fun than the top 100, but better still is when you get handed beer at the finish line by the race organisers, the restaurant next to the finish line is providing food, you’ve gone through the day knowing that arriving late to the start isn’t really a great issue, when the craic sitting about in the sun at the start of each stage for is one of the best parts of the day.

Done and dusty. Time for post race rehydration...

So it seems that’s what the point of racing is for me at the moment. Getting to go somewhere I probably wouldn’t have gone, see new mountains, ride new trails, meet new people and enjoy it all with friends. Maybe I’ll get competitive again next month.

Nina on stage 3. Have I mentioned it was a really good stage?

Huge thanks for everyone involved in organising the weekend, Flo for showing us the trails and putting up with Scottish, Nina for saving me from a very long cycle to the race and usual high standards of conversation and Sam for putting us up and doing plenty to make a good weekend even better. And everyone else I met too.

Some views take a long time to get old, cheers mountains.

 

Yeah, but what’s the best descent in Chamonix……

best chamonix bike descents

Dinnay fret, I’ve not gone full buzzfeed, just written too many replies to emails* asking “what’re the best bike descents in Chamonix” and figured if I write it here then a link will do the job.

That and I’ve been riding a lot of these trails recently but taking no photos and kinda wanted to share how good the trails are with folks.

Chamonix at its finest. i.e. in September.

Hence, in no particular order, here’s nine of the best descents in and around Chamonix plus a sandbag just to keep y’all on your toes. Obviously I’ve missed out my favourite line and a couple that are seeing enough traffic already.

It also turns out that I’ve not actually written about all these lines, so the links might just cover half the trail. Get a copy of the Chamonix Bike Book and/or the IGN map though, you’ll work it out. What’s the worst that could happen, etc….

Aiguillette des Houches, about halfway down, or halfway to go depending on your outlook.

Aguillete des Houches to Merlet
Bit of a double whammy this one, not only is there the descent of the Aig des Houches, but you also then get the Merlet (or Animal Park as it’s sometimes kent) trail too, and without the effort of pedalling up the Merlet road. Winner winner chicken dinner.

Surprisingly hard to get a good photo on the Vallorcine track, partly as no one wants to ride it with me. Sandy, come back to Chamonix!!!!!

Vallorcine DH track
Totally unmaintained, unloved, unknown and awesome. One of the best DH race tracks I’ve ridden. The bigger features have fallen into disrepair a bit of late but the lower half is raw as, and all the better for it. Unmaintained is not quite true either as there’s been some good work done on it this year. And I love it so that kinda knocks the rest of the opening line too.

How's that for a backdrop? Or just a drop.

Nid d’Agile to Champel via Col du Tricot
Some of these descents come easy, others a bit less so. This one (two really) is in the less so category. Still, only 900m of climbing for 2200m of descent. The first descent is in fairly full on mountain biking territory, you’re passing folk resplendent in mountaineering gear ready for a jaunt up Mont Blanc, and there some huge exposure and the odd ladder to down climb. Well mint descent though. The second down is still out in big scenery, but this time much more flowy with 2+km of sinuous singletrack contouring along the hillside.

Trient is a lot of singletrack below here.

Col du Balme to Trient
Total Chamonix classic, despite being totally in Switzerland. Big open alpine views singletrack at the top then tighter and rockier when you get into the the trees lower down. Probably the easiest of the ten lines here.

Don't be fooled, it's not all like this. There's lots of forest trail too....

Col de Balme to Chatelard
Better than the descent to Trient? Almost exactly the same amount of pedalling back up to Vallorcine (it’s only 15mins at an easy spin, no, you don’t need to take the train) as the descent to Trient but it feels much closer. Less flow and more tech than the Trient line lower down, but the upper singletrack through the alpages is what photographers’ dreams are made of (if they can be bothered getting far enough away from the trail for the shot). And yeah, I know the link isn’t actually for all of this descent, but it covers about half of it and I’d not realised I’d not written anything about it before. No one’s perfect.

This is pretty much the worst bit of the Loriaz trail, but it does do a good back drop.

Loriaz
The best evening ride in the world? Take the train over to Buet, pedal your way up to the Loriaz chalets, sit and watch the view for a while, there’s no rush, then enjoy one of the best “easier” natural trails in the alps. From Vallorcine you can either sit in the station cafe for a bit then get the train over the col to enjoy the ride back into Chamonix, or just pedal up. It was one of my first rides when I moved to Chamonix (cheers Spence) and through it I’ve met some amazing friends and had some amazing times.

High in the Brevent Couloir, a lot of trails start from here, and a few rides end.

Bellachat trails via Sentier Des Guards and the Brevent couloir
The hillside below the Brevent and Flegere lifts is covered in steep singletrack. It’s also covered in families out walking and off limits in July and August. The riding’s great, but you need to be early or late to really enjoy it without constantly stopping to let folk pass or chat. Sentier Des Guards is a bit further out the way and much less travelled, so it gets the pick here. Obviously you need to start from the high entrance about 100m above the Plan Praz station rather than the 4×4 track, anything else is cheating…..

You want tech, you can't handle the tech. Or maybe you can, in which case you'll like this.

Plan de l’Aguille
Normally the best areas for skiing are the worst for bikes, and vice versa. Below the Telepherique Aig di Midi is the exception to this rule. Of course, the skiing is easier as you can use the lift. If you want to ride the trail it’s 1300m of climbing, most of it carrying or pushing the bike. Good descent mind. Climbing up by the Pre de rocher side and descending via le Grande Foret is the more interesting loop.

Just cos a trail isn't photogenic doesn't mean it ain't good.

Chalets du Souey
Early and late season ride usually this one, either waiting for the snow to melt high enough or hoping it’s not settled too low. It’s also a good trail for when I’m pining a bit for Scotland, the easy but long pedal up on tarmac and forestry road followed by tight trees, rain runneled gullies, root mazes and the odd well built bit of walking trail is a lot of what I miss. That and I’m usually riding there in the rain.

No photos of the Prarion descent, so here's a bonus shot from the Col de Tricot.

Le Prarion Summit to Les Bouchards
It doesn’t matter how good you are, there’s always something too hard for you, something that you know you need to get better for. This is mine. I might never be able to ride the full trail, but the challenge is always there and I’m pretty sure it’s possible. If there’s a more tech trail in the valley (that doesn’t have ladders or a glacier in the way) please let me know.

Picture this: Another one of Chamonix's top trails, it just didn't make the cut though...

*I hardly ever check the emails, so if you’ve got a question and want an answer in the same month, ask it on an instagram picture and I’ll get back to you quick-sharp. Or in a week at least.

La Thuile EWS, Veni Vidi Perdidi*

La Thuile EWS, Veni Vidi Perdidi

Amongst the many, many things that annoy me (unnessecary repetition, spelling necessary, etc) is the phrase “have a good time all the time”. The idea that you can have only the good and positive with none of the bad. The yin without the yang, the single market without free movement of people…. Life needs a balance to work.

Hence the crackingness of the La Thuile race weekend; the courses, the weather, the friends, the kicking about in the pits in the sun…. all had to be balanced out by a negative, which in my case was arm pump.

Top of stage 1 on race day. That's what I call a backdrop...

I thought I knew arm pump. Turns out I was wrong. Six stages of average 800m vertical drop of steep and technical terrain showed me what arm pump really was. Fortunately pretty much every racer was getting embarrassed by the leaders of their category (U21 Men being the exception) so I was in good company with my disappointment at stage results.

Practice backdrops weren't bad either. Liaison to stage 4.

All pretty much irrelevant anyway as, outside the top 10, no one other than you gives a shit about where you finish, so might as well relax and enjoy the experience. Easier said than done admittedly, but with some grand company from a Canadian infront and a Kiwi behind me on the hill for pre, during and post stage chat, it was still a pretty chilled out affair.

The practice days were probably better than the race days to be honest. The courses were without exception exceptional but better enjoyed in sections with stops to session the more entertaining bits. Practice was in a multi national crew of (probably) Denmark’s fastest enduro racers of the weekend, Nina and Frederik, plus Melanie Pugin who is France’s (probably Europe’s) fasted female enduro racer without a proper deal. Seriously, bike companies, why will none of you support her?

Melanie reccying stage 5 and moving a bit too quick for the camera.

It’s kinda a shame we have to have races to ride like this, it would be good if you could get huge groups of riders together to rag about some trails, share the fastest/funnest lines with each other, then kick about in the sunshine after.

Nina helping wear in the loam on stage 5 practice.

I’m no expert on van life, but the privateer pit area laid on seemed pretty good. Flat car park, fresh running water piped in, toilets, restaurant playing poor quality covers of pop tunes at high volume, views of massive mountain. Not much more to ask.

The pits. They were pretty good really.

Well, a van would be good, which fortunately I got upgraded to when photog Tom Gaffney got upgraded from his van to a hotel, and let me use his Transit. Cheers!

There’s more than enough media out there to explain the racing and give a better idea of the trails and I was just taking snaps with the phone all weekend so try these: A proper race report day 1 and 2, Preview of the stages, and the full video thingy.

Melanie on stage 6, pinning it for 5th on stage and 6th overall.

Rude & Ravanel are making it all a bit boring this year for the who’s gonnay win, but there’s plenty of interest in the rest of the field. Melanie Pugin in 6th for example. Also, I’m not getting the surprise at Sam Hill doing so well. Enduro is all about cutting the inside line, and who’s the king of the inside line?

Joe getting back on form, stage 6 race day.

But (other than my apparent need to keep sticking content up) the main point for the this post is this: Away over to La Thuile for the day to ride your bike. The lift pass is cheap, the trails are incredibly good, well laid out. Even if the EWS tracks aren’t on the bike map yet, the race map is easy to find (see, I just found it for you) and all of it is worth raggin about on.

Cheers to Nina, Frederik, Melanie and Tom for practice day entertainment, shuttle sharing, pit company and for lending me somewhere to sleep, Canyon and SRAM for saving me (or rather the bike) from my mechanical ineptitude and the La Thuile bike park and race crew for putting on such a great event.

Ciao La Thuile, see you soon.

*Aye, so turns out Latin is quite hard. I thought this title was just going to be a case of lifting the “Vici” and going on google translate for “vanquished”. Which is “Victus”. Except that means to vanquish, not to be vanquished, which I was, or were, or something. So after a fair bit of research and some help from other non-Latin speakers (cheers Antoine) ended up with “Vini Vidi Victus sum”, or “Wine, I saw I am conquered”. So that got changed to “Veni, Vidi, Victus sum” which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue and looks a bit odd, so a bit more searching about came up with “Perierat”, or lost, and then some conjugation and stuff later, boom, a blog title.

It’s possible I should put more effort into riding my bike and less into writing about it.

My stage 5 didn't go to plan on a number of levels. This is the head level issue.

St Gervais / So that was the first big crash of the summer

P1140200

starts Thursday as usual with a canteen quiz and again no-one wins the big cash prize” Means nothing to you? No, well, your loss.

It’s been hard to keep track of events recently. The constant state of flux between what’s in and out, who’s calling the shots, behind the scenes negotiations, false promises. The dust seems to be settling now though and it seems the state of play is this:

Brevent & Flegere. No playing on bikes, or at least no uplift for bikes, until the bike ban ends at the start of September.

Megeve, Les Contamines, St Gervais & Combloux. All good and all included on the Mont Blanc Unlimited lift pass.

Nowt for it but to skip Brevent and Flegere, pedal down the valley to Prarion then over to St Gervais for some exploring.

If you get telt that there's no flowing singlertrack in Chamonix, just assume the person just hasnay ridden here much. High on Who's Way.

Conveniently, getting to St Gervais involves riding Who’s Way, which is maybe my favourite trail off the lifts in Chamonix. Certainly one of the more complete. Today it was even more complete with 2 sidewall slits in my possibly a bit past their best tyres. Lessons learnt being 1) tyres have a finite life span 2) when the sealant is pissing through the sidewall, it’s not going to plug itself 3) remember to put your tyre plugs in the rucsac you’re taking with you on that ride and 4) Lorne’s Lezyne minipump is infinitely better than my Specialized minipump.

More Who's Way, less tyre pressure.

Anyway, slightly slower than usual, we make it to St Gervais, where the next hold up is the unique shuttle timing system of the St Gervais lifts. They run for 5 minutes every 30 minutes. Don’t expect to get Pleney style fast laps here.

This is Lorne's front tyre on the beginner loop.

The next main difference to Pleney is when you get to the designated blue “whizz” trail (honestly, what possesses folks to give trails such awful names) and discover a complete absence of braking bumps. A hardtail would be a better weapon than a DH bike. A BMX bike would do the job pretty well if the dust isn’t too loose.

Smashing berms / smashing berms.

This is a good thing mind. Being based in Chamonix means I read commentary on t’interwebz about the death of “real” riding and the takeover of flow trails with a hint of bemusement. We just dinnay have anything like that near to us, so it’s a grand wee treat to get to ride a well sculpted flow trail where we hardly had to pedal or brake for 6km and just pumped transitions and found things to hop over.

Table top courtesy of St Gervais, facial expressions model's own.

After a lap for photos, it was still lunch time at the lift. (oh, aye, forgot to mention, closes 1200-1330) so we had an icecream (Lorne being well pissed off that there were no Calypsos) then went up for another lap with no stops before exploring other trails.

Seriously, smooth well built berms are a real treat for us folks. I know, your heart bleeds again.

It should have been no stops.

There’s a bit of boardwalk about a third of the way down where I was just thinking “this’d be bloody lethal in the wet” then I was sliding across said boardwalk using my skin as a brake. I’d also tried to impale myself on my bars, which wasn’t apparent at first, but got worked out by not being able to breath for a minute or so, my favourite bike t-shirt being ripped open pretty much nip to nip, and a line of broken skin from sternum to my left bicep.

My chest is no happy at this point. I'm bloody ecstatic however.

And that was pretty much the end of my day really. I was blinking sore, felt like I’d been kicked by a donkey and didn’t have the spirit for exploring. So instead of me now getting to tell you about the pure super-sick-gnar-fest of megarad natural singletrack we then found…..we cruised back to Le Fayet on easy trails, took the tramway back to Bellevue then the “easy” way down of GR5. Which is still a fair bit of good riding.

Plenty more days to explore this summer, so we’ll be back with something more useful before long, but until then, give the St Gervais trails a go. It’s not going to keep you entertained all day, but it’s pretty good for a bit of a change.

How's that for a berm with a background?

Crankworx Les Gets

Crankworx Les Gets

Way back in the dim and distant mists of time, when a DH bike had 6″ of travel, 150mm disk brakes, a 69 degree head angle and Steve Peat was only in his mid to late 20’s, I raced downhill.

Back then nobody trained (or at least, nobody admitted it, turns out quite a few were cheating with a road bike), if you were lucky you had a couple of spare tires, but certainly not any spare wheels and, in Scotland at least, you were racing on some of the best DH tracks ever made. Raw, loose and fast.

Raw and fast. And quite muddy and a bit chilly.

Then I got the chance to race in the British national series. The tracks were shit, if you didn’t have a wheen of money to bring spare parts you didn’t have a hope, people were taking it seriously. I wasn’t having fun so sold my DH bike and just rode street and trials.
Jump forward a few years. An enduro/trail bike has 6″ or more of travel, 203mm disk brakes, 66 degree head angle and Steve Peat is still racing world cups. I guess I should race downhill again.

You wouldn't have got away with that case on a DH bike of my yoof.

I’ve ridden plenty of world cup and iXS level DH tracks over the last few years. Some I’ve thought were amazing (hello Pila) some I’ve been less impressed with (looking at you Val d’Isere) some of my favourites don’t feature on any calendars (Vallorcine, really, in it’s prime that was such a grand course) and as a rule I prefer as little building work as possible. Partly because I seem to be better at riding natural terrain, mostly because big jumps scare the crap out of me.

This is a big jump and it scared the crap out of me.

Hence, it was with just a wee amount of trepidation I signed up for the Crankworx DH in Les Gets, I mean, it’s kinda known for being a jump, berm, jump, berm, jump style bike park.

Shouldn’t have worried.

Old school track with nairey a built feature in sicht.

I’ll rephrase that. I shouldn’t have worried about it being a bike park course. Turned out there were plenty other things to worry about. The track still had a few big ol’ jumps, fortunately 6 chicken lines had been built for chickens like me. But the rest of the course was wide taped, fast, loose and raw.

Having missed track walk, I rolled in off the start ramp built over the Grand Ourse restaurant terrace with little idea what was to come, but battered off down the track with the intention of having a fun fast lap to see where the ground went.

After skipping round the initial road gap you held on and hoped for the best as you bounced over the as yet un-worn open hillside. Using the natural shape of the hill to help you gain and lose speed without the need for pedalling, the course kept rhythm until dropping, literally, into the woods.

Again, the track was barely ridden in with just some catch berms and small jumps added to keep things flowing, and some great steep inside lines though the still present and only slightly damp loam. Joining the original 2004 world champs course canyon section the speed picked up even more as you rattled through the massive berms, over a drop and then launched out into the open.

2FO 4 gas 2 flat. Wide open corners on the lower section, pick a rut and hope for the best....

From here the course returned to the football pitch wide taping higher up, but with some small stream gap jumps even I could hit blind on the first lap. What I couldn’t hit first lap was the wooden road gap/drop that ended up claiming so many elite riders race runs by Sunday or the natural cliff drop into the finish arena, but that’s what chicken lines are for.

One of the easy gaps. Until your bike gets covered in 30kg of mud.

I was feeling pretty happy about things coming into the end of the first practice session, I’d still not hit the first big jump (It was closed for most of my laps whilst the initial guinea pigs were scraped up off the landing, hopefully no one got hurt) but even with the track rapidly cutting up it was still fun riding.

The fun came to an abrupt end as I ran out of ability towards the end of the woods and landed on, as a friend once explained to an exasperated head teacher following a primary school fight, “a delicate area of the male anatomy” before seeing my bike launch over my head. Freed of it’s pilot it tried to prove that modern trail bikes are faster than their owners can ride them and shot off down the trail at a good pace. This didn’t last long and the bike then also crashed, ripping the hose out of the front brake in a spray of mineral oil.

Practice over for the day, bike and rider limp off to get fixed. It rains overnight.

Saturday wasn’t quite as wet as Friday, which initially seemed like a good thing. The slopestyle comp might actually happen and the track might dry out for seeding.

A lot of the weekend was spent here. This is what 1 lap'll do to you.

The slopestyle didn’t happen, and whilst the track did dry out for seeding, it transformed into an unrideable gloop. Turns out #enduro bikes don’t have the same tyre clearance as a DH bike. The mud was so thick the wheels hardly turned and I was pedalling hard down some fairly steep slopes just to keep moving. Once in the lower open slopes even that wasn’t happening and the wheels just refused to budge. I couldn’t even push the bike, so I tried to pick it up and run down, but it weighed too much for my feeble ski bum arms to lift, so I left the track, dug all the mud out, went for a spin up and down the road for a bit to clear the wheels, then eventually finished my inglorious lap.

A chance to escape the mud. Yay!

I wasn’t the only person suffering, anyone with poor mud clearance or just a bit scrawny was having a poor time of it on Saturday. It’s rare that there’s one “best” bike for a track, but if you owned an Orange 324, Manitou Shiver forks, 26″ wheels and a pair of the original Michelin DH Mud tyres you were sorted.

Not often you’ll hear that….

Line choice....

The mud raised the most frustrating thing about the weekend for me and many other riders. If you had the skill and balls to keep it lit for an entire lap then you were going to get a great time. Unfortunately as soon as you slowed down, the mud had a chance to build up on the bike and the tyres, making the bike heavier and slowing it down. As soon as this happened, you get more mud build up and….. You get the idea.

As a result a slip off line, a near stall, was enough to end your run. And if you crashed, then you were going to crash a few more times as a result. Once the mud was blocking up the frame and forks, it had the effect of dragging your brakes constantly, and what’s the main thing you shouldn’t do in slippy condition. Exactly.

I spent 3 days cleaning the bike, marvelling at how far into the frame the clart made it.

So, when you watch the videos of races in stupidly muddy condition or see the massive spread of times in the result sheets, don’t just assume that the riders canny ride in the mud. There were a lot of folk looking very average on a bike when if you could just have magic’d away 20kg of mud and let their wheels turn, well, they’d be much happier.

Keeping it rolling by keeping it lit. The only way for the weekend.

Crankworx is about more than the racing mind, so Saturday did also involve wandering about Les Gets, bumping into friends, drinking beer, watching the pump track challenge, questioning just why people still take chainsaws to bike races, drinking beer and generally not getting cold wet and muddy for a while.

Sam heading up for the last practice session.

Sunday morning brought us back to the cold wet and muddy game. Torrential rain overnight had removed almost all the traction there was on the course, but more importantly for me had thinned out the mud nicely from crunchy peanut butter to a good seafood chowder. I was also now riding with Sam who was definitely more up to speed than me.

I might not have been having the best of times all weekend on the course, but ragging down the upper sections of the track, holding my poor battered bike wide open as I tried to keep sight of Sam on his beast of a Orange 324 (Fox 40’s not Shivers) was ace. If terrifying. Even the lower sections were more fun again now the gloop could be blasted though without bringing you to a complete halt.

Braaaaap. etc. Moto X experience was a big help.

The race run didn’t go quite as well. The upper section was super grippy and riding as well as it had at any point of the weekend, but from there down the track had headed back to heavy gloop. Somewhere in the woods my chain fell off, I considered putting it back on, but I couldn’t find the cranks under the mud, so gave up on that and scooted off down the track, having to push and carry the bike through far too many sections to mention.

Your senior men 12th, 3rd, 16th and forgot place finishers. And mud, who was the real winner on the day.

An hour later and I was feeling fairly smug, stomping about the course in my winter boots whilst others fell about in skate shoes, and watching the top elites deal with the conditions. There’s not many sports where you can as directly compare your abilities to the best of the world, they’re coming down the same course as you, their bikes are better but not that much better. Aye, you’ll be found wanting for the skills, but far too many folks get away with thinking their mediocrity makes them special in some way so it’s good to be firmly put back in your place. It was interesting how much some were struggling, not due to a lack of ability, just due to a combination of their sponsors bike not having mud tyre clearance and an error at some point dragging them down.

Flip flops for course walking, nae thanks.

Les Gets has a 3 year contract for the Crankworx, here’s hoping we can hit the trail in the dry in 2017. And does anyone want to sell me a cheap DH bike?

Vote Leave*.

Col des Planches. Trying to make it out through the murk, if only there was some sort of analogy link wi the referendum there....

I left the EU today**. It was easy too. Me and 3 fellow EU citizens packed the bikes into the car, went to the boulangerie and drove over the border into the wildlands of Switzerland. Then after a days riding came back to the EU.

There’s still a couple of days to go until the Chamonix lifts open for the summer so lazy riding needs a bit more effort. Fortunately Switzerland’s Postbus service can provide just the help we need to get 1700m of descending for only 700m of up.

Woop.

There's some stunning views of the Rhone valleys. Apparently.

The Col des Planches area is new to me but Oli and Jarno have ridden there (and quite a few other places) plenty so there was none of the route finding stress I normally associate with riding somewhere new. Perhaps there’s something to be said for riding with a guide and bike holiday organiser in the crew.

There’s also a lot to be said for riding with a photographer in the crew, however the batteries died in Tom’s camera (possibly due to the several hundred artistic shots of “roof-rack mounted bike shadow on assorted roadside surfaces” on the drive over) and for most of the downs we were moving too fast and enjoying the flow too much to be having with any of that stopping for just push-up-one-more-time malarky, so don’t expect many insta-bangers the day.

Trailspotting

Enough of the scene setting. We’ve driven over to Martigny, taken the road up towards the Col des Planches, and parked the car at the village of Chemin Dessus (yes, that is the name of the village). A relaxed pedal up the hill later and we have to make the first choice of the day. A longer ride, with more climbing, to get two big descents or a shorter climb for a shorter descent to start, then a much bigger descent for main course. With the cloud settling in around us and the forecast for heavy rain early in the afternoon we went with the shorter day.

Looks a bit muddy, but it wasn't.

Said short climb through the mist done, we were ready to drop into Sentier des Mines. It’s called Sentier des Mines because it’s the path to the mines. The mines that you can still wander about inside (we’re not in the EU anymore Dorothy, them thar Belgian bureaucrats canny stop us getting killed in an abandoned mine now….) for quite some distance, though bringing a torch would be a good idea.

Mines. Better with more equipment than an i-phone app and a camera flash.

Fun as the dietrus of the industrial age is, the trail down was lots more interesting, and made even more interesting by the 4 up race to the end of the trail. The only thing better than trying to overtake 2 riders in one move is trying to overtake 3 with one move.

Sentier des Mines done we headed back up the same tarmac for the main line of the day, 950m descent from the junction of Route du Planard and Route du Col des Planches.

The ellusive mid crash photo. Tom en route to a sliced elbow.

Jarno and Oli were warning that there’s a couple of tricky hairpins near the start. They weren’t joking! Tight and steep is not too bad, but when you add exposed into the mix it’s all a bit more interesting. Oli got the only clean descent of the 3 of us, but Tom won most dramatic when he celebrated surviving the hairpins by clipping the side of the trail on the last narrow bit and firing him and bike off down the scree. He received a good sized slice through his elbow as a prize, and the first aid kits got raided to stick him back together again.

Stoppie turns for the win!

That was the last of the drama, and pretty much the last of the photos, as from here down the trail was just fast and swooping singletrack through a mix of alpine style trees and Mediterranean coast style brush. All grand fun if eyewateringly quick in places.

Any takers? I'll hold the camera.

Then, as there’s the unbreakable rules of physics to contend with, what went up finished coming down and we cruised back along the valley floor to the Martigny amphitheatre to watch the lions eat the Christians whilst we munched our sandwiches.

Fittingly some roadies arrived and sat down on the other side to do the same, so obviously a gladiatorial duel ensued. 6.9kg road bikes are nae match for our enduro gnar and no sooner had we bludgeoned them to death than we got the emperors thumbs up and headed off to 21st century Martigny for a coffee whilst waiting for the bus to get us back up to the car. Tae be fair, dropping the 5.60chf plus 1/2 fare for the bike would be the better way of making our way up the hill, but the bus timetable is a little limited, so bus at the end of the ride it was.

Hail bikers.

As we headed back to the shining bright lights of the EU we got stopped at the border, which reminded me, have you ever seen the length of the queue for the Non-EU citizens passport booth at border control? This referendum shouldn’t be about the economy or if you don’t want to share your island with other folks, no, just think of your holidays people.

Light at the end of the tunnel/oncoming train.

Please, please, please don’t vote leave! but if that’s the majority choice from the public, then out the EU we go. At least it will be the common will and so the UK should go forward looking to see what it can do for the world rather than what the world can do for it irrespective of the outcome. For your random non-bike lesson of the day however……consider Socrates.

The Socrates who accepted his (wrongful) execution by the state, even though he had plenty chance to escape, on the grounds that it was prescribed by democracy and therefore was right***. Even if it was wrong. That’s the Socrates who tried to prove the oracle at Delphi’s proclamation that he was the wisest of all was wrong as he considered himself to posses no wisdom. He questioned all the wisest members of Athens society and found them to think themselves wise, but there was more they didn’t know than they did. He knew he didn’t know very much which paradoxically meant he was wiser. And a bit of smart arse too, so aforementioned Athens high heidyins, who were a bit fed up now of being made to look foolish, sent him to trial. You can guess how it went from there, but if you want more, try looking on the internet.

*Not actually today, it was the 8th, but that doesn’t scan quite as well.

***Yeah, I know, the scholarly jury is still out on this interpretation but it’s fairly well accepted and fits my analogy well.

Apologies to the majority of readers who ain’t from the UK and are just looking on in bemusement at Brexit.

Useful things guides. Tom gets patched up.

Finale Ligure is waiting for you

Finale Ligure. We still like to be beside the seaside.

“Finale Ligure is waiting for you” reads the tagline on the trail map. Which does kinda imply the next sentences are “Outside the school gates 4 o’clock. Finale’s gonnay pure batter you.” showing the problem of speaking second languages and context (ever flown from Prestwick airport).

Once again the original purpose of this blog, to give mtb trail information for Chamonix, is getting ignored and we’re off on holiday to Finale Ligure where there’s plenty of sunshine, absolutely no snow and it’s not Chamonix.

Dust and limestone. We're not in Kansas/Chamonix now Toto/Spence.

We weren’t the only ones, ascension weekend holiday meant a 90mins queue to get through the mont blanc tunnel and enough familiar faces from here, there, that chamonixbikeblog maybe is a valid title still.

It also meant that our plan A of getting some uplift in was scuppered by several thousand teutonic bergfahradders (languages have never been a strong point of mine but I hide it well) getting there first. Fortunately the friendly folks at Evolve managed to squeeze us into a van up to Din, meaning we only had to do about 2500m of climbing on tarmac roads over the 3 days riding.

Quintessential Finale trails. i.e. fractionally tighter than you'd like and peppered with mech destroying rocks.

Accommodation was in short supply too, however we’d been offered space in an apartment rented by several ex Chamonix Irish lads. Accommodation is always a bit of a lucky dip down in Finale. Airbnb has all sorts of weird and wonderful choices but you never really know what you’re going to get until you walk through the close door.

What lies behind the green door? A bloody massive flat, that's what!

Andy certainly lucked out on this one. Walking though the close door, a massive green barn gate just 50m from the main square, the hallway stretched out infront and past the series of marble busts into a never ending staircase lit from the side like all the best mafia films. Efficient use of space never gets priority when you’ve briefed the architect for full ostentatious, so the theme of big rooms continued all the way through. The apartment might have been for nine in Finale, but drop that place in ChamSud and you could rent it to a couple dozen Swedish ski bums nae bother.

Home sweet home. For a few days at least.

Finding the best trails in Finale is easy. Ride up to the top of a hill, look for a trail dropping into the woods, follow it and you’ve just found the best trail.

Of course, it might not be the best trail for you, but someone out there will like it.

This was my best trail, and I really liked it. Isallo Extasy.

With only one lift up a hill available for us, we were pedalling up the tarmac a lot, and when it’s your own power getting you up the hill you generally want the trail down to be best for you. Trying some of Spence and my favourites from trips past didn’t completely work as trails like DH Donne and San Michele have a had a fair old kicking over the last couple years and now have more resemblance to a gravel quarry than the tracks they once were.

Still better than most mind.

DH Donne. When I wert lad, twas just loam and trees here. Loam and trees.

The other issue was the ever so slightly unreliable nature of my memory as once you’ve been to a few thousand trail heads they all kinda, sorta, look a bit the same. So we didn’t always hit the trail we were aiming for but it didn’t matter as frequently what we ended up on turned out to be better anyway.

To infinity....and barhump! (it's only now I realise just how clever the pixar scriptwriters are)

As good as riding trails you love again and again is, I can’t get enough of finding a new favourite trail and fleeing down it for the first time not knowing what it’s got for you next. The highlight of the trip was getting in the Evolve shuttle bus on Saturday morning with a group of German and Swiss riders, getting asked “NATO or Din?” and them saying Din. So we went to Din and worked it out.

Spence near the top Isallo Extasy. Din good riding. See what I did there?

This wasn’t as blind as it sounds, Andy had ridden up near Din before and raved about the trail Isallo Extasy, so we pedalled about for a while until we found the spot and dropped in. The trail had been destroyed by forestry work about a year ago, but one inspired local had spent 8 months refurbishing and perfecting the trail. There probably is a better way to descend 800m, but I’m struggling to think of a more complete trail.

Yet more Din descent.

The rest of the ride back to Finale didn’t drop the quality either. A 330m climb up the road from Magliolo was going to drop us into the cancelled stage 1 from the 2015 EWS, the (THE) trail of the race and almost everyone’s favourite from practice. Alas I got a bit lost at the trail head but what we ended up on, Kill Bill I think, was every bit as good. Possibly better for me as I had no idea where I was going.

A quick stop for coffee in Calice Ligure and another 300m tarmac climb got us to one of the 2014 EWS highlights, Neandertal. Fortunately Spence had ridden here before so we managed to ride the right way down a trail just as good as we remembered (though not before I clocked another trail I could get lost on…) followed by a happy cruise down the road to the coast and gelato.

Gelato. Lorne approves.

Gelato, coffee, pizza, aperitivo. would Finale be what it is without these things? The main square was almost as busy as race weekends with bikers “rehydrating”.

Spence perhaps not quite getting the right end of the stick.

The last trail of a trip is a tricky one, it’s going to be the last memory of the holiday so it better be good….do you finish on a well kent classic or take a gamble on something new? We gambled and for the last bit of pedalling headed back up to the Rocca Carpanca to try the Pino Morto trail I’d spotted the day before.

This is no where near the best bit of Pino Morto, but once going you ain't stopping just for photos.

It took about 25m to know we’d made the right choice. It’s not the best trail ever, but for simple dumb enjoyment it’s hard to beat. Fast and loose with catch berms and little kickers in all the right places to keep speeds high, you just kept dropping and rolling through rock gardens, bobsleigh sections and whoops. Whoever built it found the perfect formula to make you feel like a way better rider than you are. Three well excited kids skidded out the end of the trail into the dust, the right way to end the trip.

Lorne back on the Isallo Extasy trail. Always try to end the post on a good shot...

Turns out we only got the slightest kicking fae Finale, which is good. The bikes got rather more with some impressive creaks coming from all manner of parts by the end, but still, no crashes and only 1 puncture between us would suggest Finale would never be much good at being school bully.

Three men search for the answer, which is the best trail? I said it was a big apartment didn't I.

A load of shout outs here for the trip, to the assorted German, Swiss and Austrian riders we bumped into who seemed more happy and excited to be where they were than I thought possible and also had the organisational skills to bring GPS units to direct a bunch of Scots who were navigating by guesswork, to the folks at Evolve bike shop for sorting out a shuttle when it shouldn’t really have been happening for us but most of all to Andy and the lads for inviting us down to piggy back on their holiday and let us stay in their apartment, hope the rest of your trip was a grand as the start.

Poor sad tree, it's at the start of Pino Morto and Neandertal but it canny go a bike.

Une Tranche de Tarte Française*

Back on the lifts already, lazy wins the day.

Seen A Slice of British Pie yet?

Grand, innit. I’m not completely sure if it’s a good thing or not that the best bit of bike filming I’ve seen in years is so good because it’s emulating edits (or “videos” as we used to call them, what with them generally being actual physical things rather than just interweb) from 15+ years ago, but that’s not really important. It’s mostly grand because it’s a tour of the Uk’s regional accents with some pissing about in the mud thrown in for good measure.

Trees, damp earth, bit of gradient, motocross clothes, #enduro bike, poor photography. All the ingredients you need.

And everyone(ish, probably, maybe, I don’t know) on the internet loves it, so it will dictate MTB fashion for the next year or so at least. Hence, ever keen to get in at the start of the curve, a trip to the French alps version of a muddy British forest. La Saleve.

Mati on a shiny 2016 Banshee Legend and a less shiny Saleve trail.

The carpark was filled with folks 2016 toys. New bikes, new parts, new clothes. Some folk were even getting their new pro-model clothes with their name on it…. Lots of shiny clean stuff ready to get covered in the perma-damp clay of La Saleve, though it turned out not to be too muddy and the waterproofs of the first lap were quickly ditched.

The most useful "new" thing to have on your bike on Saturday. New rubber.

Every time I go to La Saleve I ride some trails I never new existed and Saturday was no different.Helped no end by being with folk who actually knew where they were going.

Pan-shot not friday. Ben is pretty rapid on a bike, fortunately the breeks make him easier to spot in the woods.

Whilst following someone with a rough idea of where the trail goes does help with navigation, some of them thar French riders are kinda fast on slippy, steep, technical trails so you could quickly find yourself going sideways into trouble. Just as I was thinking even Bruni would be struggling to keep pace with me I nailed a perfect 2 wheel drift into tree headbutt.

New helmet tested, no damage done.

"Case or No Case" A new gameshow coming to Saturday night telly soon.....

Alas not everyone was so lucky with crashes, Mati picked a fight with a tree stump and managed to do something fairly unpleasant to his shoulder. After missing most of last summer with a broken collarbone he was pretty gutted but strapped himself together with an innertube and got on with getting off the hill whilst Ben went to find a van and the rest of us cruised back to the carpark and sort the gear.

Crash padding on the trees. Safety first kids.

A shitty end to a great day playing about on bikes. And continuing that theme, as an anticlimactic end to the post, here’s some information. The 10 ride pass is now 46.30euro, you canny swap it between people anymore, but you can take a photo of the QR code and show the lifty your phone instead. It’s like the open university this blog. Informative AND fun.

One of those drops that photo smaller than they are. Nina makes short work of it anyways.

*Just to make everyone absolutely clear, the title in no way implies any relationship between the bike handling skillz in the film and us lot up La Saleve, it’s just a lazy link into something interesting happening now and saves me having to think too much to get the posts up and running.

A jaded hack rides again

Guess the uplift, and spot the new Gwin Onza pro-model tyre....

***Edited on 30th May with the updated opening and closing dates for summer 2016. Two weekends to go y’all…**

I did some reading over the winter on how to betterer use english good for right stuff.

“Start with an analogy or an image” is one common recommendation for getting over the awkward hurdle of sullying the blank sheet of white paper (pixels) infront of you.

Rising, like a phoenix from the ashes, the bike emerges from its winter slumber. Sounds a bit too heroic a comparison for me digging the bike out the back of the cave, shaking the dust off it (or the worst of it at least), pumping up the tyres and heading out for a wee pootle about the grand trails low in the Chamonix valley.

Servoz. The usual first ride of the season, and the usual watering stop on the way up.

In fact, it’s all so mundane that I’ll skip the riding bit and move straight to that rarest of things; a useful blog post.

The where-can-I-cheat-gravity-and-get-myself-carried-to-the-top-of-the-hill-and-when-does-it-start list, complete with a new 2016 innovation, when does it finish. Elon Musk ain’t got shit on me.

Chamonix (usual CdMB caveats apply)

Bellevue: 11th June – 25th September
Le Tour: 11th June – 25th September
Flegere: 11th June – 18th September
Brevent/Planpraz: 11th June – 18th September
Tramway du Mont Blanc: 11th June – 18th September
Prarion: 18th June – 11th September
Grand Montets: 25th June – 25th September
Vallorcine: 2nd July – 4th September

And some other handy places

La Thuile: 25th June – 4th September
Portes du Mont-Blanc: 24th June – 4th September (and part of the MBU pass now too mind)
Grand Massif: Assorted start and finish times across the area, but basically between 2nd July – 28th August
Pila: Weekend 18th/19th June for the Gondola then full opening 25th June – 11th September
Portes du Soleil: Full area opening 24th June – 4th September with limited openings from 11th June and Les Gets weekends only 28/29 May & 4/5 June
Verbier: All weekends in June then 27th June – 30th October

Spence has been dreaming about bikes all winter, seems to have kept his technique sharp.

The paradigm shifting change that is including closing dates into my early season lift opening dates post isn’t the end of the innovation here at Chamonix bike blog, oh no.

Sometime in May(ish) an instagram link thingy will appear over there to your right in the side bar where more regular updates on trail conditions will appear and also you can ask questions that might get answered in the same month as they’re asked because, to be honest, I really don’t check the email or facebook inboxes that often and when I do I tend to just delete 1/2 the messages anyway.

Normal Caillet trail still needs a bit longer to melt out, but the descent down to Les Bois is dry.

It’s not just me that’s been changing stuff either. CdMB has extended the summer pass to include the whole Portes du Mont Blanc area, so you can now ride from pretty much Switzerland at Vallorcine all the way through the Chamonix valley and over to St Gervais, Les Contamines, Megeve and Combleux with barely an uphill pedal stroke along the way. And back again. Maybe. We’ll test this one out in a couple months.

An interlude.

Not sure if the implication is persevere with the riding, or persevere in the hope winter will arrive.....

It’s December. The day of the longest night to be exact. Eleven days before the end of the year, and we’re riding our bikes.

As a lefty-liberal-pinko-socialist who will talk at you for hours on why capitalism will fail as it doesn’t obey the 1st or 2nd laws of thermodynamics, it’d be expected of me to launch into a rant about global warming and how it’s all our fault here.

Guess the month? Spence not feeling like it's the second shortest day of the year.

But it’s christmas, you’re saved, I’ll be nice and no bother. Anyways, December is often a poor month for snow, often warm, often dry. Mibbies not so often good for biking, I guess this years that’s the silver lining on the cloud. Not that there’s been many clouds.

The biggest patch of snow we found on the Brevent side of the hill. Bit worrying really.

Still, I’d rather be skiing.

Tree skiing deep fresh snow in the cold of mid-winter is where it’s at for me and right now it’s not looking like a great winter for it. Instead of complaining though, we should be celebrating. This is the 2nd “bad” Christmas in a row. Another couple of these and the ski holiday trade will be scuppered, leaving a handful of operating lifts and hardly anyone able to make a living in the alps. The snow will truly be be ours for the taking, once them pesky locals who’ve grown up here and need us monchus, seasonaires and ski bums to work in their businesses and live in their apartments have had to leave town.

Not quite sure what we’ll do to keep food on the table, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

Still been going skiing mind, just it's a bit more work to find something interesting to ski that's all.

In the absence of good skiing, we’ve been going for some good biking.

Trail side-hit fun. More hassle when your dropper post has died, imagine having to use a fixed seatpost!

On the sunny side of the valley it’s autumn. Hell, on the north facing side it’s pretty much autumn! Either way, as long as you’re not in the shade and below 1600m then you’re safe from ice and snow. By the time you get to Servoz the conditions are perfect.

Dry empty trails, not too warm for the pedal up but not too cold for the ride down. The only complaint would be that the bronze carpet of fallen leaves might look picturesque, but it’s a bugger for knowing where the trail’s going or what might be underneath said foot-deep carpet. It’s about as close as we’re getting to riding pow for the now though.

Servoz magic carpet ride.

If that’s not enough for you, Les Gets is putting the bike hooks back on the Mont Cherie lift for this Saturday.

When switchback rolling-endos go wrong..... (sorry Spence)

Still not enough? Verbier are giving free guided #enduro rides on the lower section of the Le Chable-Verbier gondola this week.

Up above the (cold in the shade) streets and houses.

STILL not enough? Pila are already letting bikes onto the lower gondola. Get your days right and you can ride 3 countries in 3 days…..

Get your tech on. Not somewhere you want to find ice on a boulder.

Looking into the crystal balls of ECM, GFS & assorted websites I’m going to forecast that there’ll be more riding of bikes had in the next few weeks, but 2016’s a whole new year so let’s see if the predicted wetter & warmer than average plays out.

Pissing about in the woods on bikes. More of this in 2016 I hope.

So, there might be some more posts here this winter, or there might not. I’ll hazard a guess at the next post being 12th March 2016, but don’t hold me to it. Either ways, happy non-denominational winter capitalist fest (hey, I had to get my left wing killjoyism out somewhere) and check out Lorne’s ski blog if you want to see much of the same but on 2 planks not 2 wheels.

Ok so there might not be much snow, there is a fair bit of ice. What maxxis tyre for 10cm thick ice then interweb?