Le Cirque de Mafate, an amazing backdrop to the race.
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!
Remy Absalon has already won this race six times.
Julien Absalon - five world championships and two Olympic gold medals in cross country...
Julien Absalon is definitely not out of place on an enduro bike!
Another fish out of water...or maybe not, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot 2015 cross country and cyclo-cross world champion.
The ultimate enduro racer Jerome Clementz.
Both Clementz and R. Absalon hit this steep wheel breaking lava section at full tilt.
Winner of the Megavalanche Alpe d'Huez Pauline Dieffenthaler, favourite for the women's race.
Sibling rivalry? Julien leads out Remy during practice.
Clementz on the edge of grip and the edge of a very high drop into the Mafate.
R. Absalon knows this track like the back of his hand and with only a few minor changes this year few would bet against him.
Remy precise through the technical step section.
German EWS rider Max Schumann flat out in the dust.
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.
Schumann getting to grips with the dry (even for Reunion) conditions.
One of a handful of sections which aren't going to beat you up.
The top wooded section is generally always dry but the clouds build through the morning.
Multiple line choices on pretty much every technical section.
Clementz with some style on a relaxed practice run with the top guys.
Attempting to find a new angle on this feature.
The old one is definitely the best!
One of the fast technical sections that was altered for safety reasons during practice.
The driest of the lower woods section has been for a good few years. Rider Vincent Haulet's wheel was held together with superglue by the end of the week.
Reunion local Alex Sicard converting a V10 to enduro mode...probably a wise choice on this track.
A break from the flat out fire road sections mid-course, with some fresh cut sugar cane tunnels.
Get your line wrong here and your knuckles WILL feel it.
End of practice stroll at Boucan Canot.
Qualifying returned to the multi-stage enduro format this year...stage one was an absolute corker!
Pauline Dieffenthaler practice on the super fast stage two of qualifying.
Clementz picking is way down stage three.
Temperature and vegetation have changed significantly by the time you get this far down qualifying.
The view 2000 metres down to race HQ at Saint-Gilles from qualifying start.
Sicard getting prepped.
Road warm up.
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 one roots - these after ten minutes plus of lava, loam and a lot more roots!
Remy picking his way through.
One of the local favourites Chrisophe Payet.
An unrelated Payet...this time 2016 downhill bronze medalist Florent.
When two worlds collide, XC vs DH, Flo chats to Julien at the start of stage two qualifying.
Clementz chats about his puncture five seconds into stage one qualifying.
Gracia is always amongst friends in Reunion.
Sicard leads out Remy for stage two qualifying.
Clementz try to make up time.
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.
XC beats DH in this stage two moto... Julien leads Flo.
Threes up on a naturally formed berm through the sugar cane.
Gracia in good spirits as ever.
Alex Sicard leads Remy on the final stage of qualifying.
Max Schumann always fast and happy.
Gracia heading to the end of qualifying in style.
The Pauline's - Ferrand-Prevot leads Dieffenthaler here, things would be the other way around come the Mega proper.
Reunionnaise art near the finish of qualifying.
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.
A nice spot for a press conference.
Payet, Payet, Sicard and Remy, the locals check out the competition.
Top qualifiers are presented to the crowd on the beach, Julien Absalon takes his place on the front row.
Final bike prep down at Village Corail.
The scale of this place is on another scale!
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.
Remy psyching out the opposition?
Sicard gets out front for the mass start with everyone aiming for the same quick inside line.
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.
Pauline Dieffenthaler takes the win ahead of Pauline Ferrand-Prevot.
Men's podium - Remy Absalon on top, 2nd Clementz, 3rd Garcia, 4th Davide Sottocornola, 5th Alex Sicard.
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.
Beach, bike and Dodo beer!
There is pretty much a sunset like this every night on the west of the island.
Full results here