Riding in Grenoble in winter can be great fun, especially when there is a lot of snow, they are good at clearing the roads here so you can ride all the way to the top pretty hassle free then find a nice steep trail to almost ‘ski-bike’ down. However I had the opportunity to go spend some time in the south of France and do a bit of riding, the temperature down there was hovering around 15-20 degrees and sun every day, choosing between the sun blessed Côte D’Azur and wet, muddy trails of Grenoble wasn’t too difficult. It also happened that there was an enduro race on in the area whilst I was there.
This year I have decided to start racing more enduro races, given that I have done a few in the UK and managed to do quite well, I thought I would have a go over here in France since there seems to be an abundance of races all throughout the year! For my first one I entered the Rallye Enduro D’Hiver in Levens, which is just outside of Nice in the Alpes Maritimes region of France, it is also located right smack bang in the middle of the region of France where the majority of the top 50 EWS riders seems to originate from, so I guessed the quality of competition was going to be quite good, this kind of made me nervous before even entering. So I had a few days of riding in L’Esterel region of France (just west of Cannes) lined up finished off by a race on the Sunday before heading back towards Grenoble.
I also have a friend who lives in London who has been over to visit me in the various places I've been living the last few years and who is almost always up for a quick trip over to ride – providing he is able to get time off work. Here I was at the beginning of January with this week of riding in the sun lined up so I thought I would try make him a little bit jealous what with all the rain the UK have been getting, I sent Jonny a message… ‘hey man, I've entered into an enduro race at the end of Jan in the south of France, you wanna come?’, just to rub it in thinking he wouldn’t be able to make it since he already has 20 holidays organised for this year and no holiday left at work, he asked me the dates and checked flights. It turned out there was a flight out to Nice from London on the Friday night and a flight back on Sunday night, perfect. Flights were booked and Jonny was on his way for a cheeky weekend of riding on the Côte D’Azur! A welcome break from the relentless rain he had been getting back over in the UK.Saturday – Blausasc and Menton
The race was actually only on the Sunday so I spent a bit of time trying to plan a route in the area for Saturday, since we were so close we decided we really wanted to be able to ride on the mountains that overlook the sea, Menton and Monaco. We ended up finding a cheap AirBnB in the small village of Peille which is just next to Blausasc (the town which held a French cup enduro race last year) so that we could do a trail up onto the Cime de Baudon and ride the hills above Monaco.
I met Jonny at the airport on Friday night and grabbed the rental car (which cost us £16 for the weekend by the way), stoke was pretty high when we met, I think we were both pretty excited at the prospect of the weekend, riding the sunny Côte D’Azur and competing in our first proper enduro race in the middle of ‘winter’. We arrived at the house and it turned out the owner was actually an ex-mtber turned sponsored roady and knew of a lot of trails in the area, once we explained our plans I think he was a little confused as to why we would venture away over the hills towards the sea given that there were so many trails literally behind the house.
To get to the first stage there was a pretty long 6km climb, but that meant the majority of the climbing for the day was already done
In the end, we decided to stick to our original plan since we really loved the idea of riding up above the coast but also to take his advice. Once we sorted out breakfast in the next village, which of course consisted of a coffee and several pain au chocolat's and bought ourselves some epic filled baguettes for lunch, we decided to do a little warm up before hitting the big hill by doing a little loop around the hill towards Blausasc. We quickly realised why our host had pointed us in this direction, there were trails starting off in every direction, we must have passed 50 or more disappearing off into the woods as we rode towards the one we had chosen to do! We managed to resist getting sidetracked and rode our trail which arrived pretty much at the back door of our house, we made a quick pit stop to dump the 6 layers too many of clothing we had taken as we set out in the cold air earlier and set off up the hill towards the coast.
The ‘village perché’ of Peille seemed to arrive pretty quick, despite being a good 500m up the hillside.
We stopped in Peille for a bite to eat and to explore the quaintness of the tiny streets, the sunny side of the village square was full of activity.
With only a short stop in Peille we seemed to hit the top of the Col De La Madone pretty quick, we decided the warm up lap around Blausasc must have got us going pretty good, we didn’t hang around too long at the top of the Col either, for we were trying to reach the top of the Cime De Baudon. A 1250m peak with a clear view all the way down to the sea, from here it would be an out and back as we would later ride back down to this point, cross the road and head along the ridge towards Monaco, meaning as we climbed the trail we analysed all the drops and technical parts to see how we would ‘send it’ on the way back down.
This is the highest point we got to, views all the way down the valley to the sea.
Pee with a view…
We ended up not quite making it all the way to the top, since the trail started to get really steep and technical, we decided it wasn’t worth going all the way up to walk our bikes back down, the view was already pretty majestic (yes… majestic) from where we were, so we downed bags and bikes and broke out the baguettes.
The first properly rideable section from the Cime de Baudon was this big scree slope traverse.
We had a good little descent back down to the road to get the wheels rolling and leave us excited for the next 1000m or so of descent to come later before one more little section of ascent up to the peak you see in the top left of the above photo. This is where the real descent started.
This spot was possibly the best view of the whole route, the sea fret had lifted and we could see all the way down to Menton and along the coast to Italy.
The landscape felt kind of epic up here, with views for miles and trails disappearing off long into the distance.
These were the views that greeted us when we arrived. We took the trail that led us all around the hillside towards Monaco and felt like we passed all types of trail on the way there; technical rocky dusty trail, fast exposed flowy singletrack, loamy trails under the pines, slipper rocky sections and fast loose shaley singletrack before emerging onto what felt like a freshly groomed bike park trail!
The trail down from Bompin down to Peillon village was really something special, we got pretty excited riding it in the setting sun.
There was some fantastic pieces of singletrack, nice technical sections which wound down between the trees above a huge view away down the valley.
At the end of it all we popped out above the tiny village of Peillon which sits cramped onto a rocky outcrop surveying the valley below.
We rode all sorts of trails on the descent, it seemed to change every few hundred metres, my favourite for sure was the trail coming down into the mountain top village of Peillon, it was a true piece of singletrack. Jonny set of first and I stuck the GoPro on and tried to keep right behind him to get some decent footage, he seemed to put some pace on this section and I was struggling keeping up, especially since I was seeing the trail so last second following behind him, my bike ended up in all sorts of shapes and angles while Jonny seemed to glide off ahead no problem. The trail wound in between bushes and trees with a nice gradient to keep us powering on, every now and again there would be a good technical section full of rocks and slabs and little pieces you could double up, all the while we were trying to catch views of the sun filled valley below. We managed to come to a stop to enjoy the view just before we arrived at the village and stood for a minute recounting the trail we had just done.
After the village we had one final section of trail to do, it was fast open and a bit slippery from all the dust, once or twice I almost fell off the edge or high-sided hitting the bank-side. As we dropped down into the last few hundred metres the trail changed again, it was like drift alley, it seemed as if someone had been up the trail with a hoe and a rake and left the soil all mushed up, the trail was pretty wide so made for some interesting overtakes before arriving at the valley bottom.
After a last blast of singletrack into the valley floor we fired up the Moka and got the coffee and Panettone, very Italian.
We ended up getting back fairly early evening and despite there being enough light to go explore more trails we decided to sit, have a coffee and relax for the evening so we weren’t too knackered for the race tomorrow.
Of course a typical 26 yr olds Saturday evening consists of faffing with bikes and searching for any loose linkage bolts or play in wheel bearings, most normal 26 yr olds do that on a Saturday evening right? right?Sunday – Levens Enduro
Sunday morning started well, we managed to set the alarm for an hour later than we were supposed to so instead of having a chilled out breakfast in the apartment we had to chuck everything in the car quick sharp and have our pain au chocolat's whilst sprinting across the hills to the race.
In the end, we needn’t have rushed as we got arrived to a huge queue of people waiting to collect their number boards, whilst others were already setting off up the hill.
We arrived to find a huge queue of people waiting to collect their number plates while some riders were already setting off – typical french organisation for you.
We were being set off in groups of 3, Jonny was about 20 people ahead of me and was due to start with a random Frenchman. As Jonny set off at his start time I could see his new french friend waving him on, telling him to come with him and he would look after him for the day however Jonny promptly ditched his new mate and waited for me, I can only imagine the french guy must have thought how daft can he be to not know which way to go only 20metres after starting. Anyway I got started and was joined by another french guy and Jonny, our second new french friend didn’t speak any english but he was there on his own for the day so he kind of became part of the gang as we met him after each stage and discussed the trails for the rest of the day.
To get to the first stage there was a pretty long 6km climb, but that meant the majority of the climbing for the day was already done.
The start gate for SP1.
After a pretty long climb we got to the top of SP1 which had a nice long queue again, helping to build the nerves, we saw that they were setting people off with really small intervals and soon realised it would be a pretty busy course!
We got word from our french friend’s girlfriend who was waiting at the bottom that the stage was around 6/7 minutes long, very dusty and loose which sounded scary however once we got into it it actually felt like the stage was over in a flash! I set off about 10 minutes after Jonny and after a short sprint along the fire road the stage plunged down into the woods straight into two tight switchbacks, it got me worried thinking the stage would be full of these as I'm terrible at tight turns, Jonny confirmed he has the same thoughts when we met again, however after that it opened right up with fast trails and multiple lines, dusty loose tracks full of little technical sections. It was pretty eventful, I got stuck behind someone who fell off in front of me after about 300m, my chain came off after about 600m and I managed to miss the track near the end! I rode pretty tentatively, afraid to open it right up in case I ended up way off track or I came over a crest into some super tech section but in the end it felt like it was all done in about 30seconds. 7:01 I heard the guy say amongst various 8 minute somethings and 9 minute 20s, not bad I thought, that gave me some good confidence for the rest of the day and Jonny was right behind with a 7:21.
SP1 – Getting back up to speed, I had managed to go the wrong was just before this corner and had to run back onto the track!
Some got a little too sendy.
Jonny hot on the heels of the next guy.
SP1 – Things got pretty busy sometimes with riders being set off at only 10s intervals.
A short climb/push brought us up to SP2 which turned out to be probably the hardest stage. The first section made it seem not too difficult with some fairly fast trail through the trees but after a few switchbacks it turned into a fairly tight off-camber traverse with a good bit of pedalling, I decided I didn’t want to push it too hard in case I ended up down the bank and loose a load of time climbing back onto the track, luckily I stayed on and the track finally started to descent more. It only lasted 50m or so before it opened into a long rocky traverse with a lot of awkward rock sections, the key to this section it seemed was to keep your momentum over all the rocks, near the end the track started to descend with some really dusty corners whilst continuing with the awkward rock feature theme, despite the lack of ‘flow’ I loved it, just my kind of track – nice and technical.
I got to the bottom to find Jonny waiting, I got the impression he had not enjoyed the pedal however once we got onto talking about the last section we soon got excited again… we are both still wondering where the photographer from that stage got to as we’re sure the photos from the corner he was standing on will look pretty sweet!
SP2 – A short stint in the open then plunged you into the trees and along a long off camber.
SP2 – Jonny just getting things started on stage 2, concentration!
SP2 – The start of a long off-camber section.
The start of SP3 was pretty crowded as we had a bit of a delay with the timing.
A short complimentary refreshment stop and cycle further down the road and we were at SP3, I struggle to remember all of this stage as I guess the tiredness kicked in a bit, I do remember it being an absolutely amazing track however.
The first section stuck in one or two quite steep sharp climbs which had you tired right from the beginning, there was then a gentle piece of singletrack through the grass before dropping into the more technical steep stuff. After the climbs I had passed a couple of people pushing and was right in behind another rider ready to overtake at the next opportunity, I guess I was a little too close as a few moments later he made a mistake and stuck his front wheel in the side and went over the bars, I ended up with his back tyre in my chest! He was OK and very apologetic but I shouted it was fine and raced off, we met at the end of the stage and had a laugh about it! The rest of the trail was full of drops, jumps, technical rocky sections and freshly cut singletrack along with dusty corners and steep gullies, on one of the corners I managed to get it a bit sideways and my bike made an awful sound, I was worried I had broken something but it seemed to still roll… and pedal… so I powered on. I got to the bottom to find that I had somehow completely deformed my tyre and it was rubbing on my frame! I tried to bend it back into shape for the ride back to the car but it didn’t seem to want to go, oh well, at least, it was right at the end of the day!
Who has the better line….?
Who has the better line….?
At the end of the race it was only 2:30pm so we decided to do another little loop for an hour or so.
‘How are you going to send this corner Jonny?’
I originally said I would be happy if I came in the top 1/3 and Jonny had said he would be happy with mid-pack so after three stages and about 22 minutes of racing we ended up 44th and 104th respectively out of 210 riders so we were pretty happy with that!
Full results can be found at http://www.amslvttlevens.fr/rallye-dhiver-de-levens/resultats-2016/
Local pro Florian Nicolai won it and we even spotted Nico Vouilloz hanging around for the pasta party afterwards which was pretty cool, I think he was racing in the E-bike category though – not cool.
We had a few hours until Jonny had to get his plane back to London, so we chilled out by the car faffing with the bikes before heading down the maze of roads to Nice airport (really, French roads don’t make sense in cities and motorways!). We eventually found it in time for a quick flick through our photos and reflection on an awesome weekend riding on the Cote D’Azur before Jonny hopped on the plane to be back at his Central London desk come 8:00am Monday morning and I for my lift back up to Grenoble.