Preparations for Samoëns couldn't really have gone much better for me. I've had plenty of good riding in Finale both on and off road and temperatures have been in the mid to high 30's every day so it's been great for getting used to the heat.
Family life has also been great with Tory and Luca settled into our apartment and getting into the Italian way of life. We have had the opportunity to experience a Sagra in the village and plenty of local experiences of both food and culture.
So leaving for France I was in a good head space and excited to be back into the Alps on the longer more demanding courses. These are typically my favorite courses of the series and my preferred racing format for Enduro.
The weather was looking good once we arrived but forecasts suggested we could be in for a thunder storm or two over the weekend. From previous time spent in the Alps I've experienced this all too well and knew what to expect. It was going to be important to have both dry and wet weather eyewear ready to go at all times. I've been caught out without the right eyewear before and it can be a costly mistake so I had my Roll Offs, ID2 goggles with the dual lense to handle the cold or hot conditions and my Evil Eyes Evos all setup ready on standby for what ever was going to be thrown at us.
Being able to walk only one stage of the course this year was a new aspect to this style of racing for me. The stage we walked would be raced without a practice so again a new format which would be an interesting challenge.
I felt a bit rushed actually when race day one came around. I'd spent the day before running about the town getting organized and the day seemed to disappear quicker than expected. Actually finding stage 3 to walk took longer than planned and then hopping into bed knowing I needed to be at the pits at 7:15am was all a bit rush rush rush. I was running a million miles an hour in my head and sleep wasn't coming, one of those nights you wished to have an on/off switch.
Up early for the first day of racing and on the lift for a practice run on stage one. This would be a physical and demanding course, but I was excited as it would be a tough one on the body and serious time could be made. A totally dry course which had rocks, roots, fast and slow sections a real mix. Looking at the sky it was black and temperatures just started to drop...I knew what was coming!
Yet before I left the pits for race stage 1 the rain started and as we were half way up the gondola ride the lift was shut down as thunder and lightning began. Waiting in the lift when you see that kind of activity around is always a bit of a nervous time. They won't run the lift until the storm clears and you could be waiting a long time. We were lucky this time and within 10 minutes we were away again and the sky looked like the storm would be passing soon and fine weather would follow. A bit of a course delay would also hold up things so to get everyone through the day, one stage was cut from the race.
Dropping into stage one I started on the attack. The roots in the dry were slippery and having not practiced in the wet there were some bits you needed to hold on for. I felt really good and my run was going to plan when I came to a wooden bridge which prior to an uphill section. As soon as my wheels touched the bridge I knew I was going to crash and I hit the ground hard. My saddle was twisted and I had to knock that back straight before taking off again. Due to this bring before an uphill section I had no speed and was forced to run it. Now the heart rate was on red line and I needed to be fast and clean for the rest of the run. Coming out of the woods for an open section of grass there was a helicopter picking up the injured rider that had been our course hold. It was extremely windy and the course tape and grass was blowing everywhere. Slightly distracted for a second wondering what was happening I misjudged the next corner and could see I was either going to clip the marker pole or go through the tape. Aiming for the pole I hoped to shoulder it and carry on but it jammed between my forks and bars and I was thrown over the handle bars and onto the ground. Getting up I noticed my stem and bars were twisted so I kicked the front wheel to try straighten it out. Nothing with the first two kicks, and the third buckled my front wheel so I jumped on and tried to finish the run with it twisted. I was gutted, it was almost impossible to ride and I was a lot further from the finish than I thought. I didn't hear a rider catching me coming into the finish but Jerome had caught me and he was third off so that meant I had lost a minute!!!
Riding back to the pits I was totally gutted, my weekend had gone from hero to zero on the first stage! I needed to ride fast in every stage now and there was no chance to crash again, and the body was feeling the effects of the tumbles. I pressed the reset button and went up for a practice on stage 2. This was a shorter more DH style stage, I really liked the dropping turns and it was a lot of fun to ride. You needed big brakes and clear vision on this one! With the sun now out again the conditions were also improving and it would be less slippery for the race so things were looking up!
The heat had returned for stage 2 race. On the line it would have been around 30 degrees and I was keen to push on for a fast run. Things went to plan and crossing the line I had put in a solid stage to finish 4th. This was a much better effort this time but still some work to do.
Now onto stage 3 this was a 40min ride from the pits with no lift access to the start; this was the stage we walked yesterday. To be honest it was a stage I knew would be my weakest link for the weekend, it had some fun sections but I knew it wouldn't be a race winning stage for me. Being 1.9km in length I planned to ride it smooth and not let a mistake cost me with any crashes.
Dropping in things were going well but I was braking too much and fighting the bike in sections. Hitting my rear derailleur on a tight switchback corner didn't help either and now I had only had the biggest gear to deal with. Entering the main rocky area I braked quickly as there was someone on course walking up! With everyone yelling at her I actually thought she was trying to stop me as a rider has fallen. Not the case, she didn't know I was on course and soon jumped off. I finished out the run disappointed in my stage and losing another 11 seconds. What a day!!!
Going into day two I was sitting 17th overall and I had the series lead slipping from my grasp. My goal now was to attack and try get some positions back. If I could get closer to the top ten then maybe I could keep the series lead and that was my principle motivation for day two.
Stage 4 was a longer stage, a good mix again of everything and very freshly built. It would be a stage to push on but also one to respect as the tight switch back corners would be hard to ride on the limit without a moment or two. I set off smooth and made sure to be slow enough for the danger bits. One small misjudgment and I couldn't slow the bike down enough to make a corner....not crashing but I went through the tape. I pulled the bike back on course and didn't lose a lot of time. The rocks were coming out of the corners and the blown out lines were hard to push on without risking a lot. Another corner caught me out and this time my front wheel pushed and down I went. I was up super fast and able to finish the run without any more problems. I was able to still put in a top ten finish for the stage so with one more to go I needed to keep up the pace but be on two wheels!!
Stage 5 was a middle length stage and I liked the style a lot. Fast, some great rocky sections and a lot going on. I hit my lines all the way down and put in a good effort to be clean. Another top ten finish but not what I had hoped. I'd certainly fought some battles this weekend and came out second best a few times so to see I had at least pulled myself back to 12th overall was something positive to take away. Richie Rude put in an impressive ride to take his first overall victory so I was stoked for him, and I knew he would be getting closer to me in the series points. A quick math calculation would reveal I had managed to keep the series lead by 40 points so that was another positive for me to take away.
Heading to Colorado it's going to be some exciting weeks of racing coming up. France you have been a tough one to me!
Words by Justin Leov.