My two weeks of mass starts & glacier mayhem – welcome to the French Alps!
Posted on July 23, 2012
I have not had time to write about my Mountain of Hell mayhem from last weekend, so I’ll start off with the most recent race that I just completed, the grand daddy of them all – the Megavalanche in Alpe D’Huez…
It’s 4:45 am and I am lying in bed, wide-awake waiting for my marimba alarm clock to go off. The stars are still bright out and the white snowy glaciers from across the valley is almost luminous as it shines bright in the morning hours. I am like a giddy kid that can’t sleep anymore and as I lie here looking at another beautiful day unfolding, a big, content smile appears across my face. It is Sunday morning here in Alpes D’Huez and my biggest race of the year is over, I am sort of in one piece and I am a very happy girl on this beautiful day. This morning it is Sven’s turn to get up early and head up to the glacier battlefield to fight his fight from the front row start that he earned in his qualifying race.
I qualified 5th on Friday, which was a tough battle in itself, as the line up this year was absolutely stacked – definitely the most competitive women’s field I have ever raced against. All four girls that finished ahead of me had rainbow stripes! The track was so beat up as we went down last so it had seen some 2000 men come screaming down the mountain before it was our turn. I was really happy with the qualifier but knew that race day was going to be a whole other ball game and that the target was definately on my back.
On race day, I ended up in 3rd place behind super legends Anne Caroline Chausson & Tracy Moseley. It was an absolute battle from the start, with really sketchy glacier conditions, you had the choice of starting on jagged rock, snow, ice blocks or a little bit of everything. I opted for as much rock as possible, as I am not that comfortable on the ice. The glacier was getting soft and we knew we had our work cut out for us – we were getting our running legs ready, and boy o boy, did we have to run, the entire bottom section of the glacier was too soft to ride, so we went running. Of course the whole experience was completely surreal, an outer body experience like no other, you just go through the motions and do what you have to do. Survival, and in this case slow motion running & bumbling through the snow. Under normal race circumstances you would usually be red lining towards the end of the glacier, mostly due to the adrenalin rush from the mass start and the whole bike on the glacier part, but yesterday was even worse. The level of fatigue that I felt after running the glacier was insane, and then you had to actually start racing. So many things happened in that hour, so many almosts, so many crashes, so much fighting in my head, so many decisions, line choices, pushing, pushing, pushing, cramping legs, spitting & snotting into your helmet, arm pump & elation all wrapped together in one measly hour of the day. It is unreal that you can feel and go through so many emotions in one hour! I am still trying to process all the occurrences that happened during that torture hour yesterday, but for the most part they were great memories. Friends & spectators were cheering us on so hard on the climbs and I was just feeding of their energy. After what felt like an eternal battle, it was a sprint to the finish line with 2 other girls and I ended up in 3rd place. Hats off to fellow Kiwi Rosara, a top pro xc racer for finishing 4th in her first ever attempt at this craziness. I think she’s hooked now J
Once I crossed that line, I just started crying, I had so many emotions that I worked through during this race and then finishing & realizing that I had reached my goal was pretty overwhelming. I know this sounds like something you only write when you win a race, but to me this was winning a race. I had finished behind two cycling legends, and I was really happy. This race has been on my mind and irritating me for the past year, after qualifying 2nd last year and then flatting in my race run, I had to come back to face my demons and now I have conquered them. Thank God, because I couldn’t deal with another year of stressing & worrying about this race.
How many times do you do these kinds of races? For some it is something that you check off on your bucket list, or just finish, for others it is something you keep doing until you are completely satisfied with your performance and results. I am very satisfied with my result – it only took 5 tries to get there, but I got there, so now I can stop chasing this demon and keep coming back to this addictive race if I wish to or not, but whatever happens in the future, I know that I got a solid result here with some of the fastest ladies in the world and that will keep bringing a smile to my face for a very long time to come – Like Jerome said to me after the race “you earned your brakes, Anka” – Cheers Jey!
Mountain of Hell Mayhem!!!
Let’s rewind a bit and go back to last weekend though, it feels like a lifetime away, but it was only last Sunday morning that we were huddling up at the top of another glacier just across the valley from here at Les 2 Alps, where we were getting ready to race the Mountain of Hell. It was snowing at the top with a whopping temperature of -9 Degrees Celsius! Nice summer weather out here in Europe. The best way to describe this race is a smaller, more disorganized, more French (if that is possible), less rules, mass start race where 700 people – including the women start together on one fast, straight, crazy glacier where all you can do is hold on for dear life and hope to god that your bikes speed wobbles don’t turn into high siding flingers.
I qualified 3rd for this race & ended up in 4th place which I was very happy about. It was Anne Caro’s first shot at this race, and of course she took the win, but said that it was the craziest race that she had ever raced. Second & third place went to the French junior girls, Morgane & Isabeau – little pinners they are and really fun to race & battle with. It is great to see a whole new young generation of girls on the Enduro scene and I am sure that this discipline of racing will attract many more girls and women in the future. It is hard for the women to have a fair race at this event, because so much of it depends on how many men you get stuck behind and it just becomes a mass of people waiting in line to ride the trails. The women get spread out between all the men, depending on how you qualified, so you never really know where the other girls are to gauge how you are doing. Of course most of the guys go balls to walls on the glacier, so it was probably the scariest thing that I have ever been involved in, with guys flailing, flying and hauling past you at mach speeds and then piling up in every turn.
I am really happy that I was able to survive these two races. They were my two big races this year where I really wanted to do well, and I am really happy with how these two weeks in the big mountains turned out. I am feeling these two weeks in every part of my body, I am bruised & battered & scabby, but happy – I think I’ll give my bikini a skip for a few more days as I may get some strange looks from the skinny, model type girls on the glitzy beaches and they may want to lock Sven up for abuse…
Next weekend is the Enduro of Nations race in Sauze d’Oulx, which is such a great event and I look forward to carving some turns through their beautiful, green meadows and to not see a glacier for a while. Then back on the xc bike for some serious training for my personal favorite event or “gathering” of the 7 day Trans Provence race in September. www.trans-provence.com
I could not have done these events without the help of Jon Cancellier & Todd from SRAM, they were so amazing and made sure my bike was in tip top shape everyday and took care of all the stresses that go along with putting your bike through this kind of abuse day after day. Of course Sven helped me to get through all his crazy lines, sort of and he is just the most amazing partner ever 😉 Jerome Clementz & Pauline for all your help – cheering squad, masseuse provider, French translators, van fixers – the lot – it is really nice to have some good friends in a foreign country where English is not really spoken so much.
Now it is time to head up to the hill climb and cheer Sven and the other lads on to push that little bit harder! (Obviously this post is a day late, so the men’s race has happened & it was an absolute nightmare of a start for the front row men – Sven included. The guys were forced to start on a massive ice block and there was just one massive pile up right out of the start. It was absolute chaos, with loads of injuries and crashes. Sven was lying in 6th place, made it past the crash, only to get mowed down by someone slamming into his back and taking him out. He struggled to get going again, because the guy that slammed into him somehow managed to get his entire seat stuck between Sven’s spokes and the only way to get it out was to man brute the spokes apart. Poor guy. Even after all this carnage, Sven finished in 53 place after the horrible start and a bruised as hell body – not to mention his concussion from earlier in the week. I am so proud of him & I think that is a brilliant result. Well done to all the guys that had to charge off onto that ice slab.
So happy that we made it through the week in one piece – sort of. Time for some much needed R&R. Thanks for all the amazing photo’s Sven!!!