Photo Epic: Enduro Portes du Mercantour 2015

Sep 7, 2015
by Matt Wragg  





Every September Valberg in southern France hosts the final big mountain enduro of the year. With the Autumn closing in rapidly the weather in the central Alps is rapidly getting worse, becoming too unstable to race amidst the peaks. In the south, just a few kilometres from the shores of the Mediterranean, there is still enough warmth to head back up beyond the magic 2000m mark one last time... There are no chairlifts to these mountains though, although Valberg is a ski resort, the lifts don't reach the trails, so there is only one way to reach the top: pedal. That makes this one of the toughest races on the European circuit and this year is no exception - over the two days riders face 80km, 2,600m up and 4,300m down.

Next year there will be no Enduro Portes du Mercantour, instead the Enduro World Series will roll into town and things will go up several gears. With that on the horizon many of the sports top riders headed for Valberg this weekend for a preview of what they will be facing in twelve months' time, and the start list read like a who's who of the EWS top 20 (and serves as a reminder of just how dominant the French are in enduro).




Welcome to Valberg this quiet unassuming ski resort is home to one of the toughest enduros in Europe.
Welcome to Valberg, this quiet, unassuming ski resort is home to one of the toughest enduros in Europe.

With 400 riders entered there was a small mountain forest of welcome packs to prepare this weekend.
With 400 riders entered there was a small mountain forest of welcome packs to prepare this weekend.
It takes a whole truckload of fruit and vegetables to prepare the post-race meal for riders on Sunday.
It takes a whole truckload of fruit and vegetables to prepare the post-race meal for riders on Sunday.

Given the track record of this part of the world the chances of one of these kids standing on a more serious podium in around a decade is very high.
Given the track record of this part of the world, the chances of one of these kids standing on a more serious podium in around a decade is very high.

Without the team trucks and vans here riders are left to fend for themselves this weekend - Ludo May is not even slightly phased by the prospect.
Without the team trucks and vans here riders are left to fend for themselves this weekend - Ludo May is not even slightly phased by the prospect.

With 60km 2000m climbing and 3000m descending ahead of them it was an early start on Saturday for thr racers.
With 60km, 2000m climbing and 3000m descending ahead of them it was an early start on Saturday for the racers.



Things didn t start easy - dropping into stage one riders were faced with the most technical section of the weekend accompanied by a sheer cliff to the right...
Things didn't start easy - dropping into stage one riders were faced with the most technical section of the weekend, accompanied by a sheer cliff to the right...

Last years winner Fabien Barel got off to a steady start but made a couple of mistakes on the first stage.
Last years winner, Fabien Barel, got off to a steady start, but made a couple of mistakes on the first stage.

Florian Nicolai got off to flying start winning the first and second stages.
Florian Nicolai got off to flying start, winning the first and second stages.





The climb to stage three was a monster - 1 200m up from the valley floor to the summit beyond. As the fireroad finished riders passed through a mountain hamlet before the tackled the final ascent.
The climb to stage three was a monster - 1,200m up from the valley floor to the summit beyond. As the fireroad finished riders passed through a mountain hamlet before they tackled the final ascent.

After a food stop in the hamlet it was time for the push to the top. While there was plenty of suffering to be had the view helped take your mind off it.
After a food stop in the hamlet it was time for the push to the top. While there was plenty of suffering to be had, the view helped take your mind off it.

1 000m down 200m to go...
1,000m down, 200m to go...

After the steep push there were a couple of kms across these jaw-dropping high alpine meadows to the start.
After the steep push there were a couple of kms across these jaw-dropping high alpine meadows to the start.

On the other side of the mountain the wind has blown away the grass and riders dropped into a barren lunar landscape.
On the other side of the mountain the wind has blown away the grass and riders dropped into a barren, lunar landscape.

This high up and far out from the world the grey loose earth is unforgiving terrain for racing.
This high up and far out from the world, the grey, loose earth is unforgiving terrain for racing.

Local pinner Valentin Escriou has been competing in the under-21 class of the EWS this year and this weekend he managed to place ahead of series leader Adrien Dailly.
Local pinner Valentin Escriou has been competing in the under-21 class of the EWS this year and this weekend he managed to place ahead of series leader Adrien Dailly.

Damien Oton speeding down the crest towards the greenery below.
Damien Oton speeding down the crest towards the greenery below.

Nico Vouilloz s fourth place was over-shadowed for him this weekend as his proteg Bruni took the World Champs title.
Nico Vouilloz's fourth place was over-shadowed for him this weekend as his protege, Bruni, took the World Champs title.

On the longer third stages Francois Bailly-Maitre found his stride and put in a big time to push him ahead of Florian Nicolai for the first time.
On the longer third stage Francois Bailly-Maitre found his stride and put in a big time to push him ahead of Florian Nicolai for the first time.



The stage four Grey Earth takes no prisoners...
The stage four, Grey Earth, takes no prisoners...

Rene Wildhaber speeds down Grey Earth. After his massive haematoma in Whistler he is only just back on the bike again and he admitted that maybe it was a touch too early as he had a couple of crashes on day one.
Rene Wildhaber speeds down Grey Earth. After his massive haematoma in Whistler he is only just back on the bike again and he admitted that maybe it was a touch too early as he had a couple of crashes on day one.

It was slightly overcast blue skies for Sundays action.
It was slightly overcast blue skies for Sunday's action.

Away from the pressure of the EWS the atmosphere among the top riders was noticeably more relaxed as they waited together for Sundays racing to get underway.
Away from the pressure of the EWS, the atmosphere among the top riders was noticeably more relaxed, as they waited together for Sunday's racing to get underway.

This strapping is nothing compared to what Wildhaber was wearing an hour or so earlier at breakfast. Those crashes on day on certainly took their toll but nothing slows down the iron Swiss man.
This strapping is nothing compared to what Wildhaber was wearing an hour or so earlier at breakfast. Those crashes on day one certainly took their toll, but nothing slows down the iron Swiss man.



Another glimpse of the future This is the cadet class riders too young to compete in the full race. While they may be young slow they were certainly not.
Another glimpse of the future? This is the cadet class, riders too young to compete in the full race. While they may be young, slow they were certainly not.

Everyone had their routine to get warmed up for racing - Damien Oton and Thomas Lapeyrie went for some sparring to get the blood flowing...
Everyone had their routine to get warmed up for racing - Damien Oton and Thomas Lapeyrie went for some sparring to get the blood flowing...
...but it was all love really.
...but it was all love really.

The first stage of the day was in a pursuit format - so riders departed based on their times from the day before. Florian Nicolai started things off with some clean air behind him but lost ground on the 19 minute stage.
The first stage of the day was in a pursuit format - so riders departed based on their times from the day before. Florian Nicolai started things off with some clean air behind him, but lost ground on the 19 minute stage.

That sparring clearly did the trick for Lapeyrie as he expoloded off the line.
That sparring clearly did the trick for Lapeyrie as he exploded off the line.

French Enduro Series overall champion for 2015 Sebastian Claquin got up close and personal with Julien Camellini as they sprinted for the first corner.
French Enduro Series overall champion for 2015, Sebastian Claquin, got up close and personal with Julien Camellini as they sprinted for the first corner.

Soon into the woods riders then descended 1 000m or so down to the town of Guillaumes below to be picked up by a shuttle and returned to town for the final twon stages.
Soon into the woods, riders then descended 1,000m or so down to the town of Guillaumes below to be picked up by a shuttle and returned to town for the final two stages.

The pursuit format was based on scratch times which meant more than a few men got their egos crushed as a 5 2 smiling blonde came sailing past them as Isabeau Courdurier pinned her way down towards the valley. She was supreme this weekend and based on scratch times she finished 51st in a field of 400 men...
The pursuit format was based on scratch times, which meant more than a few men got their egos crushed by a 5'2", smiling blonde that came sailing past them as Isabeau Courdurier pinned her way down towards the valley. She was supreme this weekend and based on scratch times she finished 51st in a field of 400 men...



For stage six there was no pressure for amateur riders as they dropped into the woods. That is if you don t mind being heckled by a fair part of the EWS top ten...
For stage six there was no pressure for amateur riders as they dropped into the woods. That is if you don't mind being heckled by a fair part of the EWS top ten...

There were plenty of transitions from the dark woods to the bright open meadows on stage six.
There were plenty of transitions from the dark woods to the bright, open meadows on stage six.

Alex Cure has a close fight with Jerome Clementz all weekend swapping seconds over the seven stages. In the end Cure got the better of the 2013 EWS World Champion by just 5 seconds over an hour of racing.
Alex Cure had a close fight with Jerome Clementz all weekend, swapping seconds over the seven stages. In the end, Cure got the better of the 2013 EWS World Champion by just 5 seconds over an hour of racing.



This isn t a mechanical but preparation for the final stage - a chainless race.
This isn't a mechanical, but preparation for the final stage - a chainless race.

Mary Moncorge through the flowers and into third position.
Mary Moncorge through the flowers and into third position.

Carrying speed without a chain on stage six was by no means easy.
Carrying speed without a chain on stage six was by no means easy.

Meggie Bichard took an impressive second this weekend.
Meggie Bichard took an impressive second this weekend.

Sunday didn t go Florian Nicolais way as he lost ground to both Fabien Barel and Francois Bailly-Maitre to slip back to third. Over an hour of racing he lost out to Barel by just 0.3 seconds... And with the EWS title on the line it s a good bet that Nicolai wasn t showing all his cards this weekend.
Sunday didn't go Florian Nicolais way, as he lost ground to both Fabien Barel and Francois Bailly-Maitre to slip back to third. Over an hour of racing he lost out to Barel by just 0.3 seconds... And with the EWS title on the line, it's a good bet that Nicolai wasn't showing all his cards this weekend.

The winners get all thw attention. Thomas Lapeyrie offers Francois Bailly-Maitre some TLC before the podium.
The winners get all the attention. Thomas Lapeyrie offers Francois Bailly-Maitre some TLC before the podium.

Your mens top five Bailly-Maitre Barel Nicolai Vouilloz and Cure.
Your men's top five: Bailly-Maitre, Barel, Nicolai, Vouilloz and Cure.
Your womens top three Isabeau Courdurier Meggie Bichard Mary Moncorge.
Your women's top three: Isabeau Courdurier, Meggie Bichard, Mary Moncorge.

As this is France to the winner goes the garlic...
As this is France, to the winner goes the garlic...

So there we go as the sun sets over Valberg another weekend of racing is over. The next time there is a big race here will be in 12 months time when it s the EWS that rolls into town.
There we go, as the sun sets over Valberg another weekend of racing is over. The next time there is a big race here will be in 12 months' time when it's the EWS that rolls into town.

See the full results here


MENTIONS: @mattwragg / @EnduroWorldSeries



Posted In:
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17 Comments

  • + 18
 great pics matt and sweet coverage.
  • + 1
 Next year without brakes? (should be a reply to @NoEnclumeSVP)
  • + 13
 Cool idea this last chainless run
  • + 4
 Yeah, it's really funny to race chainless. I don't think they will keep it for the EWS next year even if that would be awesome
  • + 1
 It would be awesome to do one event chainless in both the ews and downhill world cup
  • + 1
 @jaame EWS is impossible without chain, too much pedal.
  • + 6
 A pursuit stage and a chainless stage....that is pure awesomeness. Change it up a bit and keep it exciting for the riders and fans.
  • + 4
 So is everyone just going to pretend to not see that Bigfoot in the "Things didn't start easy" photo?
  • + 1
 I know right!!!!
  • + 3
 Beautiful bikes, and perfect trails. I want to go and ride.
  • + 3
 What's in the socks of Nico? Shin protector???
  • + 1
 I was wondering the same, also nice knee pads, know the brand??
  • + 3
 e-bikes??
  • + 1
 Anybody notice the rear triangle rub on the seat stay on the Rocky Mtn yellow bike???
  • + 1
 Yeah was curious about that.
  • + 1
 Must-do! It will be hard to get a spot next year with the EWS :-S
  • + 1
 Great photos

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