There are few events that year after year attract more chumps than others and one of them is the MaxiAvalanche Vallnord
in Andorra. And hey, don't get me wrong, those chumps are also my best friends. Heck! I'm one of them!
So, after a couple of months of careful planning, five of us chose death by MaxiAvalanche—booked what ended up being top notch chalet in the outskirts of La Massana, and got our bikes ready for four days of pain, dust, and crashes. Oh my friend, yes, crashes. Be ready, you will not escape, it doesn't matter how skillful you are, there are literally hundreds of other riders ready to take you down any single meter of the 9km track down to the finish.
Once you get to La Massana and are settled in, either at your luxury hotel, hostel, apartment, or van, the next step is to pick up your race plate and chip. Without it, you will not be able to take the lift up to the top and train the days before the race. Then, quickly, go all the way to the top and start training… or not… maybe not, amigo as this is a downhill marathon, so if you do the usual up/down/up/down endless times as you are used to at a bike park or downhill track, you will be trashed for the qualis and the race itself.
This year the track was around 8.5km long, with a mix of old and new trails. The newest part was a steep section, with roots and holes everywhere. The weather was good but too hot and no rain, so by the end of the first day we knew the key word was "dust"; lots of dust, dust everywhere. The terrain has a mix of everything, flowy bike park sections with berms and jumps that are all destroyed by the day of the race. Rocky sections with sharp rocks ready to take you out by cutting through your tires like butter. Tubeless and high pressures are recommended in order to get to the bottom without flats. I was lucky and just got one flat in the training session and another one in the second run of the main race, that one was not so lucky.
If you are traveling in a van or car with some extra space, bring everything you think off, hell, bring a second bike if you have one and it's ready for the MaxiAvalanche course. The track eats brake pads for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so pack at least two new pairs. But I don't brake, I'm quick and fast as lightning
...ohhh... let me tell you, it doesn't matter how fast you are, there will be more than a couple of riders slower than you in your front and more than a couple faster in your back. Everyone will be fighting for the best line, pedaling, braking and screaming every second of the race. So you will use your brakes more than you usually do. And together with that, the dust will play its part to take down those brand new brake pads in a couple of runs.
Saturday was qualification day. After four times racing this race I still got chills when on the start line. This year, even starting from the last line on qualification, I managed to get into the second group, the so-called Challengers
group. To get into the pros group or Eurocup
group, you should get into the top 20 of your qualification group. The next 20 go to the Challengers and the rest to Amateurs. Each qualification group has 150 riders, ordered on the start in 10 lines of 15 riders each. I was on the last one. Never thought I could finish 35th in my group, but with a good start with no falls, no crashes on the course and no slow riders in front of me and lot of luck, I managed to get to the finish line on 25:55. Not the best run ever but good enough for me.
Sunday, race time. The race goes as follows: Two runs, same course, same starting position. The good thing, usually on the second run you will have less riders as there are some that are just so tired they prefer not to do the second run, others had a crash and can't continue either due to mechanical or physical injury. So, Sunday, wake up early, breakfast, toilet, and up the gondola. Based on the time you of your qualification run you are given a starting line letter; I was letter 'H', fourth in line of the Challenger group. Be prepared to spend at least one hour waiting for the marshalls to call your name and then stand in line waiting for the start. In the meantime, you can scream, shout and cheer the pros starting on the first group.
This year, as usual, there were lots of pro riders from around the world, known riders from the Enduro Worlds Series, DH World Cup, and more. Damien Oton, Cedric Ravanel and his sister Cecile Ravanel, Nico Quere, Yound Deniaud and others. French riders make up the majority of this race, followed by Spanish riders. Seeing those riders on the start line and how they pedal down the track is plain mesmerizing, is like they start with a slingshot.
[FONT size=14 italic align=center]This is what all is about, correct? Beers and friendship.[/FONT]
In between practice runs, qualifying and the race, there is more than enough time to recover, check with old friends, have a laugh or two and remember old stories. I managed to meet some of my first riding group that came from Mallorca—a good group of riders.
My race was not bad. The first run was clean, without any falls, but with a slow start. I got to the finish line with a 27:16, 1:21 slower than qualification, in position 85, scratch from 120 riders, 16 for Master 40. The second run was going to be my good one... or that's what I thought. Music playing, nerves... gooo! A really good start... oh man, this is good! I'm on top 30 or so! First turn, second—hard on the pedals! Third turn—more pedals… here comes the last turn right, and then... shit! I got caught up wigh one of the sticks that hold the orange security net in place. Arrrgghhhhhh! I lost about 30 seconds trying to release it. And that was enough to put me back on the slow paced part of the peloton.
Time to pedal and overtake as many riders as possible. And then, shit happened again. While trying to overtake on a dirty, rocky line I got a puncture that the tubeless sealant couldn't close. So, race down the toilet, time to put a spare tube in and continue down, now as the last one of the pack.
All results can be found here
It was a weekend with a lot of fun, friends, and laughs, for sure will repeat. Or maybe MegaAvalanche? Don't you know about that one?