It's the end of the season and that means only one thing for the French enduro scene...the tiny Indian Ocean island of La Réunion and the southern Hemisphere edition of the Megavalanche. Last week saw the annual mass start brawl return, this time not only with enduro rivalry, but a multi-discipline clash with a touch of a sibling face-off!
This year's mega track remained mostly unchanged from the last few aside from a few (fun) deviations in the upper woods for safety reasons. The lava from the start being as brutal as ever and the woods deep in dust all the way down made for some interesting conditions if you were further back in the field. The climbs in the middle actually provide some respite for tenderised arms before the brutal flat out fast lower sections finish them off. This mega track is probably more technically and physically demanding than it's alpine counterpart and all in much higher temperatures, although it was cool by Réunion standards this year.
This year the organisers went back to a traditional(ish) three stage enduro format, albeit with riders starting in motos of three. Stage one was an absolute epic, fourteen minutes and 8km of amazingly varied terrain. Starting on the flat out solidified lava that you were lucky to get through with air in your tyres and/or wheels in one piece - the faster you go the easier it makes it, but the less likely you to come through it! Jerome Clementz fell foul of the brutal stuff about ten metres in and spent the rest of the day trying to get back on terms in order to be near the front for the main event. After the lava comes a sublime wooded singletrack interspersed with technical root and stepped sections. A short road sprint follows this then things turn a lot steeper again, all in over tyre deep dust and loam. For qualifying the dust was still there but the roots had turned greasy in the morning mist making for some interesting times in the jungle.
Stage two was an all out old school three-way downhill sprint along the wide double track paths through the sugar cane fields. Some of the corners being flat and tricky, again with deep dust and some having natural berms to keep you on course. All of this was academic in the end as a fair amount of course cutting through said fields was witnessed and the stage was declared void in the interests of fairness.
After a long downhill road liaison stage three was in the sweltering heat a stone's throw from the sea. Weaving through through rock strewn grassland area near the coast, the top section picking its way through lava boulders and tight turns. After a very short fireroad climb it was into some sweet flowing singletrack before a sharp turn into a water culvert and the finish. Remy took qualifying by just one second from local Sicard with Gracia 45 seconds behind in third after stage two had been discounted due to some shenanigans further down the field.
Due to lack of numbers, the ladies started at the front of the challengers race rather than having a start of their own which lead to a bit of worry from a couple of them. This was unfounded in the end as the two Paulines lead out the men and stayed out in front of all but a couple of them for the duration of the race. Enduro specialist Pauline Dieffenthaler coming in about 45 seconds ahead of XC, CC and road all-rounder Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. It was always going to go down to these two but in the end Pauline Dieffenthaler had the edge on such technically demanding track.
The men's race had a fair bit of leader changing, but one man was very much in control and riding within his considerable limits. Once out in front whenever someone got near him Remy would turn it up a level and still be in control. Beating the downhillers like Flo Payet on a course this technically brutal and someone as fit as his brother Julien with two not insignificant climbs just underlines what a talented all round bike rider he his. That's seven wins here and twelve Mega wins in total, which is some achievement when you consider how many competitors take part in these races, and just how punishing on bodies and bikes qualifying and the main events are.
After Remy, the ride of the day had to go to second place man Jerome Clementz. Starting on row D (which equals about five rows and 45 riders back) following the puncture he sustain in qualifying, he battled his way back through the field. After trying to stay with him, third place finisher Cedric summed up Clementz as 'fu*king crazy....he was so fast'. Clementz was the only man to get close to Remy and without the effort of having to get through most of the fit and talented field, things may have been a bit tighter.
Italian Davide Sottocornola had a stormer to take fourth and a slightly enraged Sicard took fifth rounded off the podium for what was another amazing end to a week of bike battering action on a big old volcano in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Later that evening the ensemble of cross country Olympians, world cup racers and enduro stalwarts proved that they really do know how to let their hair down at the end of a race (and season). The food buffet was mainly ignored in favour of the liquid version. Top French mixed with Réunionnais rum drinks later lead to some questionable karaoke and some extremely sore heads come the morning.
Full results here