Coupe du France Enduro series round 4, Samoens

Coupe du France enduro series 4: Samoens

There are 3 certainties in life; death, taxes and the Samoens round of the Coupe du France being muddy.

But to be honest, on Friday afternoon as the car was getting packed for the short drive over to register and deal with scrutineering, I wasn’t so sure. And a quick track walk to see what the trail conditions were didn’t have me convinced I was going to need my newly purchased second hand wetscreams.

Then it started raining, then pissing it down, then the warm up act ended and the real storm arrived. The certainty memes were safe, it was going to be a wet race.

Another bunch of 3rd rate phone pictures. The view was better in real life.

Samoens is part of the Grand Massif lift network and gives an interesting change from Chamonix’s mostly steep and rocky trails without the crowds of Morzine. Of course, steep and rocky trails generally drain and dry quickly after rain. Mellower angled loam under trees doesn’t and with there being something in the order of 250% of average rainfall this summer there’s not been much in the way of dust recently.

Possibly helped by the announcement Samoens will host a round of the EWS next year there were more French pros and international riders than usual, including the Irish/Scottish combo of Greg Callaghan and Katy Winton, which was great as my French sucks so I could have slightly more in depth conversations between stages than;
“It’s muddy”,
“Yes, it’s muddy, but I’m Scottish, I like muddy”,
“I’m from the south of France, I hate muddy”,
“Ah.”

Riders ready, pedals ready..... Nina on countdown.

Anyways, the stages were a little complicated to follow from the map, with 11 stages between the 2 days, but only 6 traces. As ever the event video helps, but they worked out something like….

Saturday
Stage 1 & 3. Starting outside the main Samoens lift, fast but a little peddaly grass into the trees for lots of fresh cut loamy trail and the odd bit of built up bermed track, a wee blast down some fire road then back into loamy earthy natural banked stuff in the trees before you were spat out at the finish, thankfully short of some northshore and a couple of minute spin along the tarmac to….

Stage 2 & 4. The pedalliest of the weekend, but still not too bad, a mix of quite tricky to nail tight tech and faster more open trails.

After a lunch break and another trip up the gondola you had the first proper pedal/push liaison up to Stage 5
A good 500m of fire road down to some open trails in new growth forest, then a mix of very rocky 4×4 with regular taped of excursions into the undergrowth.

Another flattish pedal along some road finally got you to Stage 6 & 7 under the Morrilion gondola. A sprint across grass and tarmac (for instant cure to constipation, try cornering at race speed on tarmac with full spikes), through a tunnel where you had to use the walls as a berm (again, try committing to that on full spikes), then some reet fast rooty loams trails, the odd short climb, and more fast rooty loamy trails.

Stage 1 on Saturday, someone fast pedalling off into the distance

Sunday featured just the 2 traces, each repeated twice. The main Samoens lift gave you most of the height gain, then it was a 30 minute ride push to stage 1/3 and another 30 minutes or so push to stage 2/4

Stage 1 & 3. A short uphill sprint along some fireroad lead to a punchy 10m high climb then about 150m of gently rising boggy singletrack ensured you were knackered as the ground dropped away beneath you and you were into a roller coaster of natural berms and ruts down the hill where often the best bet was just to hold on and hope you bounced out of the end of each section still in the right direction.

Katy nailing the gap/drop at the start of stage 2 Sunday, earning a mixed cheer from the guys. Happy cheers for her hitting it, depressed cheers because after 4 of the top 20 guys taking the chicken line, they'd lost their excuse to do the same.....

Stage 2 & 4. About as good as it gets in my book! A bit of everything, but mostly fast flowing singletrack in the trees. The only thing that didn’t feature was a real climb, all the pedalling was to go faster, not to just go.

So all in, a grand selection of trails with very little serious pedalling, but racing doesn’t always work out like racing and it definitely didn’t this time.

Sunshine AND mud. What could be better?

Milling around at the start of stage 1 during the obligatory delayed start the feel was more of a (massive) group ride than a race, a distinct lack of aggression and competitiveness in the air. The track was pretty slick, but fun. The only problem was if you fell, you were stuck on the ground like a beetle on it’s back with a serious fight on your hands (and knees) to get up. And as the course was narrow, if the rider in front of you went down, you were probably going into them and down. As would the rider behind you….

Stage 2 was much the same and, with only a short pause before heading back up, there was a quick clean of the bike, a swap to flats and a bite to eat before getting on the gondola for Stage 3.

Enduro racing is all about surprises, and the surprise waiting for us was the news that stage 4 was to be cancelled because it was too claggy. The reason this was a surprise was that on the first run down, stage 2 was way, way less claggy that stage 1. Still how bad could it be?

Worse than this years Megavalanche was the answer. According to Melanine Pugin at least and, as she won the Mega, she should probably know. The mud was so thick you had no warning between the bike feeling a bit slow and so much mud getting behind the fork brace you were flipped over the bars. If you had the strength to lift your 100kg bike, running was generally the quickest option. Until you fell over. The results from this stage were all over the place, but that’s racing.

Scraping the barrel when a shot like this makes the cut. General pre stage milling.

Down to the pits, clean the bike and time for the secret weapon. Off with the wetscream/High roller combo, on with my 15 year old 1.9″ Michelin DH muds, from when spikes meant SPIKES.

Of course, this meant the next 3 trails were no where near as bad and had a fair bit of firm ground, but I think my sacrifice was worth it for the good of the group.

With the weather staying sunny through the day and into Sunday the trails were drying fast, but hopefully not going to unrideable clag again.

My lack of power to sprint up hills was made brutally apparent on stage 1 Sunday when my 10 second man, series ranked 17th Julien Roissard, passed me within 150m of the start before the trail headed downhill. I blamed still being on flats.

Sunday stage 1 start. Nicely uphill.

Stage 2 was going just brilliantly, with Julien taking until about 1/2 way to pedal past me and generally having so much fun I almost forgot that this is meant to be serious when I went over a blind rise into a sea of orange spraypainted rocks. Riding ┬áblind, fast, is one of the reasons I enjoy these races, unfortunately it wasn’t until 1/2 way through this rock garden I remembered I had a 1.9″ rear tyre with a tube in it. As the tube deflated I briefly considered doing an Aaron Gwin, but then realised that that would just be stupid, so shouldered the bike and started running. Only about a 1/3rd of the course to go. Still, if you feel you don’t get enough cheers at a race, wrap your tyre round your frame and get running, the crowd loves you!

No way Nina could let Katy be the only girl to hit the Sunday stage 2 drop.

Anyway, after a good feed (as ever, it’s almost worth doing the races for the free food and brake pads), a change to a big Minion DHF for the back and spuds on the bike, the day was reset with no aims of improving on my placings and instead just having fun. As the 2 stages were amongst the best I’ve raced all year, in fact stage 2/4 is one of the best trails I’ve ridden all year, this was pretty easy.

Neither Nina or I were particularly happy with our results over the weekend, but points mean prizes, or at least they hopefully do for Nina sitting in 3rd for the series going into the last round, I’m less hopeful that the prize fund makes it back to my end of the score sheet.

One more race to go then it’s autumn and the best time of year for some real riding.

Waiting for the start of the final stage, the top 20 guys decided to, err, dunno what really. This is enduro something.