Our intrepid racing reporter Toby Pantling gives us his take on Stage 5. Pics by Mick Kirkman:
Day 5: Arches to Beaufort: 3694m decent, 36 km.
Today’s stages were all set in race organiser Ali’s other back garden; he runs also runs guiding in the area through Trail Addiction. He calls this region “Destination X”.
The day started with about a 1 ½ hour coach journey which conveniently dropped us off pretty high, but we still had a fair old pedal of about 200m vertical to get us to the start of the day’s racing. The sun was shining and there was an amazing view of Mont Blanc and a glacial feed reservoir to keep us company most of the way up. Today’s stages were a great mix of natural walkers-tracks and lift assisted bike park stuff, but there were loads of hidden gems within the park; this was not your usual machine-built trail.
Stage 1: As soon as I dropped into this first trail I knew it was going to be good. The first turn was naturally bermed; you could in my terms “shralp it” (really, really, go for it rather hard, really – Ed). The trail had wonderful shape – again, I was amazed that it was a walker’s trail, and hadn’t been made for bikes. The trail was predominantly tree-lined, and the trail floor was littered with roots and rocks that were still pretty greasy from the rain we had had a couple of days before. I was having a lot of fun on this trail, and I started to get pretty carried away with double ups over root and rocks until I caught one slightly wrong and came to a sudden arboreal stop. This was one of the biggest crashes I’ve had for a while… It fully knocked the wind out of me and gave me a cracking headache for the rest of the day! Still a great trail though.
Stage 2: Conveniently for me this trail had a 265m climb up a quiet road to reach the start. This worked well for me; it gave me a chance to try to shake my crash off and get set for the stage. And what a trail it was. Not super long, but very tech the whole way down; a mix of tight switch backs and rocky shoots cut into an amazing mossy forest floor. A really good test of bike handling, it really tested how well riders processed the trail in front of them. I found a little flow about half way in but then got caught up in traffic – and it wasn’t a trail with multiple lines. So once you were slightly off line or distracted it was all over. I really need to go back and ride this trail again for fun and not in a racing situation.
Stage 3: This stage really confirmed why Ali uses this area as one of his guiding spots: another banging natural trail, and with lift access. The top half of the trail was a buff toboggan-run with loads of support in the corners and the bottom section had flat out fast straights in the trees with plenty of off camber roots and rock to contend with – shame I lost my straight-line pace due to my crash earlier and couldn’t let go of my brakes!
Stage 4: Another lift accessed trail that you could see from the lift and I was scared! There where some flat out fast section down ski pistes and I knew I was going to struggle to let it go and to be honest I did struggle. However, there were some amazing tech section within the trees and I remember one in particular that came early on in the trail. It was a sea of roots and rock with pockets of loam holding it all together. I found some flow in this one and remember exiting it and hearing Mick Kirkman (photographer) shouting something positive at me, which was really cool and got me properly fired up. Hopefully he got a shot as well!
Stage 5: This had the same sort of feel as the day’s stage 1, but had dried out a little more which made things easier to let go on. But the second you let things roll there was always usually a chess-move corner thrown in or a tricky rock garden to put you back in your place.
Stage 6: Fair play to Ali for putting this one in to save use just cruising down the road back to camp – I think it crossed 8 minor roads, and each one had to be marshalled; each section had a different feature to contend with and usually a blind brow to launch off after each road crossing. This was one for the crazy riders out there – kudos to those that sent the blind brows.
I can’t believe that’s the penultimate day done: another great selection of trails and good use of some local knowledge. Lets hope everyone who’s made it this far can keep it rubber side down for one more day.
..and here’s some video of Stage Five…