The first ever Trans-Savoie Enduro race in 2013 sold out its 70 odd places within a few seconds of entries opening. Back in January when I received the golden email saying I had a place, excitement was a major understatement.
On the 16th of August I arrived in Val D’Isere for six days, 250km, 20,000m vertical descent and 28 timed stages of technical alpine enduro racing.
Racing consisted of up to five timed descents each day, with a combination of riding, uplifts and buses to regain elevation after each stage. Most timed sections were upwards of 15 minutes and 1000m vertical drop each time, over some of the most technical, exposed and steepest natural terrain I have ever experienced. Racing them unsighted meant treading the fine line between speed and safety, and made for many dodgy moments! Ali Jamieson the English race director used his extensive knowledge of the Haute-Savoie region to link together some of the most incredible descents in the French Alps.
The event organisation was great with a team of 30 volunteers pulling down the small tent village each day and us riders arriving to our tents and bags in place. A group of marshals rode out early each day to check and mark the course and set up for the timing of the stages. The excellent team of chefs provided great food all week.
The UK company Sportident provided the timing system which worked perfectly with no issues at all. Riders carried a timing chip attached to your pack, a Marshall would tag you on at the top of each stage then another would do the same as you hurtled to a stop at the bottom. At the end of each day the data for each timed stage was uploaded and soon after all riders had completed the day the overall results were displayed at the timing tent, a really great system.
Other highlights were the great bunch of racers from all over the world, lots of laughs and a great level of healthy competition and camaraderie between competitors. The scenery was absolutely amazing too, with peaks, glaciers and waterfalls everywhere.
A few points I would make for those perhaps looking to do this or a similar race:
Although this race had a lot of descending fitness still played a big role in the results, especially towards the end of the week as the fatigue built up. A few of the days were close to 80km of riding so they are big days on the bike. I calculated I had done roughly the same amount of timed racing on the first day as I had done in the whole Victorian Elevation series last summer.
Racing trails ‘blind’ is hard to train for but at least if you have that mindset and ride really conscious of preserving your bike and body, it helps. We had to carry everything with us for the day, so riding and racing with a 5kg pack is also something that takes a bit of getting used to.
A six-inch travel enduro bike seems the bike of choice for this type of event.
I raced on a Yeti SB66C, which was perfect all week; really capable on the descents, pedals well and is still light for the long days on the bike.
I ran a 1×10 XTR setup with a Saint rear mech and Saint chain device, a 50mm stem with wide Renthal bars, and XTR trail brakes. A dropper post goes without saying. Almost everyone was running DH casing tyres, I didn’t and had no flats but I think luck played a big part in that! My only mechanical was a destroyed mech, which was pretty good for a week that took its toll on frames, wheels, tyres, brakes and bodies.
I think the 26in was a good option too, as the thousands of super tight, awkward steep switchbacks were hard enough to get around with the smaller wheels!
After five hours of total racing time over six days I was really happy to end up in fourth place behind Rene Wildhaber (6x winner of the Mega Avalanche – Wildhaber cracked two ribs in a big off on day three and still gave us a lesson on how to ride a bike!), Armin Beeli (incredible young Swiss talent), and in third Neil Donohue (current leader of the UK enduro series).
It was such a great experience, with a fantastic group of people and I learnt a lot from the week. If anyone is thinking about entering a race such as the Trans-Savoie, go for it, you will not regret it!!
Personal thanks to Yeti Cycles Australia and Teva shoes, and for everyone’s support from back home!