You can ride all the terrain in the world and experience the thrill of competition, be it against the clock or elbow-to-elbow with your fellow competitor, but nothing can prepare your senses for the Megavalanche in Alpe D'Huez, France. Perched high on a glacier, bike at the ready while staring down the barrel of the first straight with the intermingled sounds of a helicopter buzzing overhead and the pulsing beats of some euro pop blasting from a distant sound system while your feet slowly sink into the melting snow below, the knowledge that this is not your average bike race hits you like a brick wall. Adding to this maelstrom of madness, you're also surrounded by 400 similarly suited and booted riders who are all thinking the same thing you are... Welcome to the Megavalanche, the god-father of mass-start enduro races.
Bringing one of the original prototypes of the much loved 26" Nukeproof Mega, back to its spiritual home was a sight for sore eyes.
This race has long-standing ties to Nukeproof, where, in 2009 we first took a prototype all-mountain machine to test its limits. After all, in 2009, this was and still is one of the most demanding events on the calendar. While the Nukeproof Mega has evolved over the years that followed, it's also safe to say we've been looking for an excuse to return and after the recent launch of the new Mega 275 and Mega 290
, 2016 was the year to take the Mega back to the slopes from which it came.
The vital ingredients of machine fit to take on the Megavalanche.
After over 14-hours of driving from the UK, ascending the 21 hairpins leading Alp D'Huez village certainly got our pulses racing. Considering the high volume of riders crammed into such a small space, there is an eerie calm early in the week. The awesome weather, groomed trails, lack of queues for the gondola, good food, and a little "drink" were the perfect lead up to what was to come. After a few days of "acclimatizing to the altitude", riding the course we believed would make up the qualifying race (which turned out to be totally wrong) and just having fun drifting in the snow on the Pic Blanc glacier whetted our appetite...
The lounge, AKA the workshop.
We could pretend and say we had months of hard training to get race fit and ready for this, but that would be a lie. The usual local rides were mixed with the team trying to discover that competitive spirit. Ali (our brand manager) and Rob (marketing manager) raced a couple of enduro races with Dale (Nukeproof engineer) and Ian (our office manager) racing the IDMS and First Tracks races in Ireland. But the usual day job and office vending machine hampered our dreams of being pro riders. Onwards and upwards...
The dining room, AKA the parts bin
To add extra speed and style to our office team we invited our longest serving athlete, Matti Lehikoinen, and our Irish wild man and enduro racer, Kelan Grant. One of the fastest men with a camera bag, Laurence Crossman-Emms, also joined us to document the trip on film. As with any trip with multiple riders and bikes, the beautiful Alpine villa, which in winter is probably inhabited by high-class ski customers, quickly descended into a mobile workshop, filled with plenty of potent odors, and a laundry room for dirty riders trying to dry 5-day old kit ready for the next day.
The kitchen, AKA the wheel room...
It's worth making the trip to Alp D'Huez just to ride as access to the lifts and the stunning Alpine trails which await you here, are included in the entry price. The local mountains have a vast trail network beyond those used for the race to be explored. But being here for the race, we smashed in a few runs to help ease us into the weekend's festivities.
Gondola access is never taken for granted when you come from the UK and Ireland, where we don't have any... apart from Fort Bill.
3600m up and the views are breathtaking.
Lining up to practice a start with the crew.
Kelan engaging the mega speed tuck.
|I have to say a massive thank you to Cathy and the Mega team for helping us out. The Alp D'Huez trails were class and the race is like nothing else! It's physical and massively nerve-racking lining up, but the race just has an incredible backdrop and is just good craic with the team and other riders. Roll on 2017. - Nukeproof Marketing Manager, Rob Sherratt|
Stunning views in every direction... mesmerizing!
Do you even drift...bro?
It's fair to say that everyone fell off.
Matti Lehikoinen on the skids.
Yep, these here mountains are a touch bigger than the ones we have back in Northen Ireland.
|What an incredible experience and a definite must do for every bike rider! This was my second visit to the top of Pic Blanc and the experience of knowing what to expect didn't make it any less intimidating or exciting this time around. If you are considering the Megavalanche, gather up a group of mates, pack some spares and don't look back! - Nukeproof Brand Manager, Ali Beckett.|
Big Wheels, big terrain. Job done!
The singletrack down from the glacier was absolutely epic!
Always follow the man in the Red Bull helmet if you want to know all the rad lines.
Decisions, decisions...fast rolling but lack traction in the snow, but make for better drifts?
Terry the legend and one of the many riders we met smashing the Mega on their Megas.
As well as racing, It was an awesome opportunity to meet up and hang out with all the riders at the event. We also had a load of promotional tees for everyone repping Nukeproof Megas, as a way of saying thanks for choosing the Mega and making the trip. We also brought a mechanic and plenty of spare parts to keep every Nukeproof rider going throughout the week. Come Thursday, Alp D'Huez kicks off with an explosion of over 2000 riders who all miraculously arrive in time for the qualifying races and session the tracks. A quick tip - be sure to get down the sports hall early to sign on, collect your number boards and find out where and when you will be starting in qualifying.
Ali and Kelan taking things seriously...as always.
Radical French Coffee. It's a thing!
When in France, enjoying Mexican food.
Kelan railing one of the berms.
A highly domesticated Chalet.
The Perfect trail weapon? A few choice upgrades and this thing was lit!
The views...so good and very distracting.
Qualifying on Friday can only be described as pure chaos. A favorable start line is always welcome, but nothing prepares you for the bar-to-bar, do-or-die racing down a 25-minute track to decide where and what race you start in for the Megavalanche. The nerves on qualifying morning are like nothing else. We lucked into a front row start which just meant that we had to get away quick to avoid being bull-dozed by the 200 people behind us. Top 35 get into the main race on Sunday, with the next 35 in the Saturday race and so on; everyone gets a turn! The qualifying track is slightly shorter than the main event and starts on wide rock laden roads with a light snow covering. Once you have survived the mass start, the pack seemingly thins slightly into a ribbon of rock gardens into the open fields above Alp D'Huez. Then it's a sprint through town and to the sports hall for the finish. Only 25+ minutes of pain!
That early morning race feeling...
Piste bashed to perfection; this doesn't last.
For Sunday's race, we arrived at the top of the mountain early preparing for utter carnage on the glacier! There is a 1km queue to the toilet as 400 other nervous riders like you who have similarly woken up too early and already emptied the drink in their hydration packs. When we had finished raving to the sound of Euro-trance and watching the helicopter fly just meters over our head it was go time!
By the time the tapes raise, the back of the pack is on the front of the pack sprinting towards the packed snow. This soon becomes slush and a filled with bodies... A word of advice, never let go of your bike when you crash! After 5km of energy sapping snow, ice and slush, you're into the good stuff! Some awesome rocky singletrack around the side of the mountain with a few technical rock gardens to clear (there are some sneaky lines if you are looking for somewhere to overtake) before hitting the meadows above Alp D'Huez. Then, the short road climb, which is lined with spectators to motivate you to pedal before a final drop which spits you into some fast flowing singletrack to test your nerve, arms, and brakes before arriving 30km later to the valley floor and the finish in Allemond...simple.
Matti Lehikoinen pinned and making it look far too easy.
You've got to make it down in any way you can.
Never let go of your bike...never!
Ahead of the masses and away from the carnage.
That finishing feeling... exhausted, sore and about to sign up for next year's race!
Best see where we ended up... time to inspect the results board.
See you next year and don't forget to #Enjoyresponsibly!