In a scant few weeks, from the 4th to the 10th of July, the Megavalanche takes to the Alpe D’Huez; it’s perhaps the most famous downhill marathon event on the planet. Mass start, glaciers, and if you’re really, really good, you can make the descent in less than an hour. And this year it will see eight riders entering from the Battle Back centre in Cattrick, which is a Help the Heroes centre looking after wounded veterans and service personnel.
Ben Gerrish popped along to a practice day at Lee Quarry in Bacup – here’s his report:
I recently had the pleasure of meeting a group of people who have come through the utmost adversity, a thirst to put themselves in new and challenging situations very much intact. The Help for Heroes team I met at Lee Quarry early one Saturday morning aim to put together a team of 8 riders and 2 reserves to complete the 2016 Megavalanche.
The Megavalanche at Alpe d’Huez is one of mountain biking most infamous races. After a gruelling half hour track and a lung full of dust, you’ve only just finished qualifiers and earned your place for the hundreds deep, snow packed start line. The prospect of Mega puts the most accomplished riders on the edge of their seat, with training plans and bike adjustments racing through their minds.
Headed up by Roger Coates from Battle Back, the team is looking to complete the event as one unit, each playing a vital part in assuring they all get down together. As well as the minor issue of the race itself, the team will also have to deal with a range of issues, both mental and physical.
While most of the guys and girls are riding regular bikes, Lee ‘Sonny’ Smith is hoping to complete the race on a pretty unique bit of kit, an Explorer 2 Trike. He was paralysed from the waist down in a road traffic accident – but when he was offered the chance to try out to qualify for the Mega, he grabbed the opportunity. His Explorer is a three wheeled, fully suspended, hand cranked monster. Complete with internal gears, chest and handle bar steering and hydraulic brakes, this is one serious bit of kit; it really is amazing where it can take him. Along with the hand cranked system, others with tow lines work with Lee as a team – from what I saw at Lee Quarry there won’t be much they wont be able to get through.
This opportunity that Help for Heroes has provided has been motivational and progressive on many different levels. John Quinlivan used to race bikes for his regiment in the Royal Engineers and Help for Heroes gives him a chance to ride (and compete) in the company of people of a similar background.
Simon Taylor used to be a keen fell runner, but his injuries put paid to that – mountain biking has allowed him to reclaim his freedom and given him an opportunity to spend time in the hills. His prosthetic lower leg – which tech-weenies will happily note is *very* carbon and very bling – means that he had to learn to ride switch footed, as the tilt on the pedal did not allow him to stand or properly put down the power in his natural stance.
The levels of disability are sometimes hidden by the sheer determination and grit these guys have. After pedalling from the car park at Lee Quarry up into the main skills area with Kev Bradnick, I took a little moment at the top to get my breath back. Kev was shot in the chest while serving with the marines, and now has fewer lobes to his lungs than he used to – and thus restricted lung capacity among other injuries. But *I* was the one suffering.
All of the riders have a tale and their own reason for wanting to complete the Mega – but for the most part, whether they’re new biking recruits or old hands, it’s a simple love of being on a bike that keeps them in the saddle.
The final team will be chosen on June 4th; here’s a list of the prospective racers, their nicknames and their rides – good luck folks!
- Dave Evans, Dagger, On One (prototype) 150mm 650b
- Rachel Kipling, Squirrel, Scott Genius
- Martyn Gibbons, Gibbo, Mondraker Dune RR
- Yiannis Karakousis, Yan, Orange 5
- Austen Billings, Austen, Cannondale Prophet 2 (soon to change to Orange Alpine)
- Jon Quinlivan, Quinny, Cannondale, trigger 27.5
- Kevin Bradnick, Bradders, YETI SB6
- Simon Taylor, SinglePiston, Scott Genius 650b
- Lee Smith, Sonny, Explorer 2 Trike
- Joe Kelsey, Donny, Kona Precept
- Matt Hodgson, Hodge, Scott Genius 650b
- Edward Lowman, Steadyeddy, Commencal Supreme, Megavalanche Vet and previously a Help for Heroes events manager.
- Roger Coates, Goriking, Scott E-Genius and Cube Fritzz 650b, Battle Back Adventure Therapist and Coldstream Guardsman, Megavalanche Vet.