What do you do with two riders fresh from the Valloire EWS stage? Send them to nearby La Grave for a week with photographer Dan Milner to juggle training programs, massive calorific intakes and nailing images aboard their new SB5c bikes. Coming straight from the chaos, intensity and race win at Valloire, spending a week in the little village of La Grave was like stepping into another world. The village is tiny and with only 700 inhabitants, all hardcore mountain folk and most lured here by the extreme-ski tag the resort has in winter. But with few distractions, the week allowed Richie Rude and Jared Graves to focus on their training, get further acquainted with the SB5c and squeeze in photo sessions, while Yeti mechanic Shaun Hughes kept everything moving. With a lift right outside the apartment door delivering riders to a 900m descent, gravity laps weren't a problem, nor was accessing some of the nearby backcountry trails with a few hike-a-bikes. Dominated by the 3983m high peak of La Meije, La Grave is unique. The cold, stone-built village and the steep, no-nonsense resort is not for everyone, and its trails threw in a few curve balls when it came to both training and photography. But we're glad we experienced it, its glaciers, weather and body-punishing trails. What doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger, right?
Richie cuts it loose during his first time down during a 500m off camber, skinny, scree trail descent at the end of a long day. Shooting at La Grave that week was all about trying to work with a very changeable weather pattern. Frustrating at times, rewarding at others, all helped by a 7 a.m. lift up the mountain.
La Grave is not known as a mountain bike Mecca. It's steep and unforgiving. In the winter it's two curious lifts hurl backcountry skiers straight into 10,000ft off-piste descents that dodge glacial crevasses and seracs. In summer, its five dedicated trails carry a similar feel: committing. But, just outside the resort, we found trails that oozed flow like an over-ripe Brie.
Head up the valley a little and the type of trails you find could be a million miles from the glaciers of La Meije, the mighty peak that dominates La Grave and its surroundings. Richie and Jared find some dusty flow to finish the day.
Fitting in a photo shoot around some winning racers' training schedules means working late. After a recon on this trail, we hit it up to shoot for a late light session, but got clouded in as soon as we hit the peak. A full 90-minute wait in a cold wind didn't help morale, but when the light popped again, the descent was worth the wait.
After a sunny day recon' at the Col d' Izoard, one of the Tour de France's famous battlegrounds, we drove an hour to explore the unique terrain. Five minutes after arriving, the rain set in and we huddled in the van with Jared keeping us amused with Australian-twanged anecdotes. Just before calling it off, the weather cleared enough to go have a play on the incredible trails that flow through this lunar-landscape and the boys put the SB5c’s great climbing abilities to good use.
We only got to scratch the surface of the trails at Izoard, trails that on the map run out in every direction for tens of miles. For me as the photographer, the bad weather actually served up a lot more atmosphere than we'd have had with sunshine, really helping pick out the rock formations. For Jared and Richie, they got to throw the bikes around on some very loose corners that felt more like the Dolomites than the Alps.
It never feels good getting up to grab a 7 a.m. lift, especially when you have to wait in near zero temperatures for it to open while the liftie gets his coffee and cigarettes sorted first. But as soon as you step from the lift up the mountain and back into those first rays of sunshine, there is little that can compete in both riding in this light or shooting it.
The official bike trails at La Grave have consistency. Beginning above tree line they are steep, rocky and technical. Once in the trees, they are steep, rooty and technical. It was a great proving ground for the SB5c's ride-anything capabilities.
With the SB5c not officially launched yet, it was important for us to keep the bike away from public eyes and Instagram. Riding at La Grave, we needn't have worried. Nobody rides here - you have the trails, either in the resort or in the nearby backcountry, to yourselves, every day.
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