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DAVE WATSON'S road gap - 17 years later

Nov 22, 2020 at 9:46
by Peythieu maxime  
Pic by Will Camus

It’s been a really long time that Olivier Cuvet and Maxime Peythieu wanted to clear Dave Watson's iconic road gap in Galibier, France. But they never talk about it until one day, by the end of august.
Olivier was shooting « in the zone » with Max Rambaud, and while they stopped by a lake for a quick break, Maxime Peythieu and Alex Rouaud came by and chill with them. While talking about the shooting, Peythieu talks about the road gap. As everything was already planned, Olivier told him to join mid September as he was gonna do it for the edit !

Max Peyhtieu knows the area really well as he is ambassador for Serre Chevalier. He’s a really talented rider on every kind of bike, but only own a DH bike since 2 years. He knew for a long time that he needs a DH to clear the jump, and wanted to take his time feeling confident on his bike before sending it.
Olivier Cuvet wants to jump this cliff since he saw it for the first time, many years ago. He also knows the road gap really well as he’s been riding and skiing around for years. He tried to shoot it once in 2015, but the project was canceled as massive neve was still in the landing when he came to build back the jump.

Pic by Will Camus
Pic by Hoshi Yoshida
Maxime Peythieu with his Santa Cruz V10 / Olivier Cuvet with his Banshee Legend

Fast forward few weeks and we’re up there, shoveling like maniacs for two days. The Tour the France is in the Alps at this stage, but they won’t take this route this year. So there is slightly less traffic than usual, and we’re way more quite and free to dig. The digging process went very well as Oli and Max were assisted by Maxime Rambaud and Alex Rouaud.

Let’s talked about the jump. The landing is by the road, pretty steep and long. This is a good landing, except for the big pole at the right of it. The pole is by the road and helps snow plow when they have to clear the road from the snow. It’s not that dangerous but having it a bit further would have been good too !
The ticker was a tricky part. They had to build it on a narrow edge right over the road, by the cliff. The kicker was skinny, and not flat. They were really cautious when building it, they didn’t wanted to drop a rock on a car, about 10m under them.

Pic by Will Camus
Pic by Will Camus
the building team

Once everything is built and packed, by noon, we went for lunch and waited for Hoshi Yoshida & Will Camus to get the perfect shot. The lunch was pretty light and quick, as both Max and Oliv wanted to get rid of the jump. You’ll assume that opening something that big must be nerve racking.
They were almost geared up hen Hoshi came, and went straight to the jump.

After few speed checks on the landing to make sure if there were enough space to brake, speed check for the jump begins. Max and Oli shared a lot about there feelings. Max was a bit slower than Oli, a bit less confident too. After about 5 speed checks, Oli was sure of his speed.
He told at the photographers « drop in ! » and dropped in. He couldn’t have cleared the jump a better way. This was a massive air time, felt like minute. The roll out was perfect, and it was celebration time for him ! He quickly came back to earth tho, Max was still at the top. He run to him, told him about his feeling. Max waited for the wind to stop, and went for it the same way Oli did !

Pic by Will Camus
Pic by Will Camus
Oli with such a perfect sucide no hander

What a relief ! The hardest part of the day was done ! It was pure exclamation from them. Oli was so pumped that he sucide no hander the road gap second jump, and did it two more times. Max jumped it three times in total, before a herd of sheep went on the landing and stopped the session ! It was getting windy anyway.

Pic by Will Camus
first try went well for these 2 !

As this jump was never rebuild after the famous hit of Dave Watson, over the Tour de France in 2003, we can't do it without having feedbacks from Dave himself.
So we send him pictures and ask fews questions about the history :

At this period, did you jump before something similar, as big as this road gap ? (around 9m high by 11m long)

I’d jumped quite a few big ones at that stage in my career and nearing that size range,
but nothing quite that big. I was really working on linking step ups and step downs that
year and in 2002 (vid_Back In The Saddle) and had hit a 70’ foot gap jump in
(vis_Superheroes) near Monterey that year w/ Wade Simmons, Thomas
Vanderham & Spangler that was all time - but the huge step downs were pretty early
days. The year prior Wade Simmons gapped the Marzocchi truck, so my
eyes were on something like that.

I understand that you didn't get a try before the D-day cause the place was too
busy. In which state of mind were you days before, knowing you'll go one shot ?

That’s right - we’d arrived a few days early to build – but w/ a full day taken up building
the take-off - the landing was never worked on and remained an untouched scree slope.
We wanted to, however, the second morning we awoke to crowds of people beginning
to set up camp in the grassy meadows with tents, campers etc., very near what was to
become the landing. There was no way to start raking, or even clearing a pebble for that
matter. My dream line was to build the jump and landing followed by a second booter
over the lower straights below the switchback of the road and freeride down the
mountain side from there. When we ran out of time to work on the landing, and the
second jump was a no way with just our small crew, a couple garden tools we settled.
This drove the technical side of that jump way up and added to the factors in a huge
way. Not to mention, yes - a practice jump was off. Come race day for the Tour -
though, I was pumped, and just wanted it bad. I was nervous for sure, more for the
things I could not control. But, in terms of the jump, I knew if I had a safe window, it was
all good. Crashing didn’t enter my mind.

Pic by Will Camus
a generation separates these 2 pictures

Luckily you walked after that massive crash. You didn't break anything ?

Just my shock, I faired ok, less a tweaked shoulder – and was back light riding at
Crankworx just a few days later. One of the worst parts, was that I stomped where I
wanted to land within a few inches, maybe a hair slower than I wanted w/ a small timing
check but nailed the LZ. Then, boom. You know how when mid crash, everything slows
down. I recall vividly when my shock detonated, followed by zero dampened rebound
return. I did my best to control it, but the scree slope was unforgiving. Everything else
on my Kona Marzocchi equipped bike performed well, less the prototype shock from
Romic that didn’t stand a chance. I’d even had it valved for drops, but the surface area
and components in those early shocks was so minimal compared to newer
technologies. Definitely, one of the hardest slams I’ve ever had, and it really rang my
bell with the force that I hit the ground, and the firmness of the scree slope. I was
fortunate that I didn’t break anything.

As we saw on the video (many and many times to analyse) the kicker was
downward. That's why we rebuild it a bit higher, close to flat, to try to get longer
on the jump. When we came, there still were the base with all the rocks !

Interesting, that’s a good approach. I’d love to see more photos and documentary of the
build. We really needed more time to build our line but in hindsight, were limited w/
materials as only used the soil and rocks that were natively w/ hand tools. Another wild
thing in our exploit once we nixed the balance of the build was waiting for the tour
racers to climb the valley, as fans just organically arrived in all directions up the Col and
from the Alps – it was quite the experience with the floats arriving first, then the peloton.
It’s kind’ the rocks from the original booter are still there. That reminds me – there was
a group of protesters promoting “Free Tibet” – standing on the takeoff, before we
cleared it, which I thought was so cool, and wished they’d made it in the film. I found it
ironic, as I was reading a book on Tibet at the time and will always remember sitting on
the hill waiting for a window, sitting shoulder to shoulder w/ devout TDF fans, and on the
CB radio w/ our crew and thinking how rad that there were protesters standing on our
booter, but also just hoping they don’t knock a rock down on the riders, or disturb the
take off for me. Our takeoff we built wasn’t perfect, but it was damn good.

Views: 28,325    Faves: 20    Comments: 0

I guess it was the first ever jump on a mountain bike over the famous Tour de
France. Since 2003, more precisely these last years, few riders built their own
road gap and jumped it over the Tour. But Galibier's road gap remains and will
remain the historical one. Nobody after you try it again. That's why (coupled to
the pressure of the jump) the atmosphere was a bit special the day we decided to
jump, after 2 days digging.

That’s super cool, I’ve been waiting for someone to send that GAP for years, super
stoked it was a Frenchman to bring it home. A few years back, Richey Schley
mentioned a former teammate and buddy of mine Andreu Lacondeguy had looked at it,
and was like, that’s crazy. Sure, he was just being humble, as he won Rampage
around that time, and would hit it for breakfast – but no one has. For a few years after, I
wanted to go back and hit it, but again wanted it to be when the Tour was on again, and
by the time the Tour returned to the infamous Galibier climb, it was a little over my
comfort zone as I was riding less and was a CEO by then. Stoked you stomped it.

We've also cleaned all the landing, taken off all the big rocks, put a bit of dirt at
the top. And we did a clean start with a 15 meters straight line, without any grass,
to get the right speed

That is the optimum way to ride it. Super sick. There was a smaller gap we looked at
down the road too that I wanted to no-hander, maybe 500-800m down on the ridge, but
the image was nothing like the original backdrop. That was such a unique valley to
scope. Scott Markewitz helped us nail that. Well done to you, that’s a lofty looking no

Pic by Hoshi Yoshida
Pic by Hoshi Yoshida

How do you feel seeing your own road gap, rebuilt and jumped by "kids" (actually
27 yo) who were watching you and other MTB freeride pioneers 15 years back,
and got the wish to do the same things ?

It’s pretty inspiring. Kids like you are the future, and so stoked to see that baton passed

I can't even imagine how many times we've watched the NWD series when we were
younger... and today we're living from our passion, by being pros MTBiker in our

Fantastic - it’s a great living, and life on 2 wheels is the life. When I was a kid, no kids
rode MTB’s. It was really only the team sports. Vancouver’s north shore happened, and
it was like my whole world opened up, as a there were a small caveat of riders charging
single track, dropping airs, riding steeps and downhill MTB was fresh on the scene – all
of that resonated w/ me like no other sport had. It was a fun time to be a kid, and was
all I wanted to do, just like it probably is for you guys and your buddies. I may be mid
40’s these days, and the parking lots in the sea to sky corridor and north shore are now
packed w/ riders and trails, yet the sport still feels very in its infancy because of the
happening scenes of riders like you guys all over the globe. Keep it up and come shred’
the shore sometime w/ your buddies.

Pic by Hoshi Yoshida

Feel free to add something if you want

Seems you nailed it - but must have been stressful too? For me – Something else worth
mentioning is back then, music sharing, video streams like youtube etc. were in a
contested new territory. And of course, social media did not exist. As a rider, I rode for
film premieres and time to hopefully measure up to my rider buddy’s segments. It was
such a different landscape. I think in many ways it was much less stressful as we could
be less perfect, rawer perhaps and freer’ in many ways as there was little judgement as
Freeride was such a fringe thing - a counter-culture. When asked back then, why I did
it. “It was to unite Cycling and get Freeride on the map with the mainstream media.” 2
wheels for life! I am so inspired by what riders are doing these days on 2 wheels, and
where the level of documentary and riders have taken these sports, but it looks more
stressful today than our generation had it. I couldnt have pulled it off without the crew
and friends of Freeride Entertainment, lensman Scott Markewitz, Big Bike and other
media like Sports Illustrated Magazine, the Rolling Stone Magazine and GQ etc. that
helped blow it up that year, and of course my sponsors of that era.
Today I have 2 young sons Harrison and Dorian (3yrs) who hopefully always think their
Dad is cool, and love their bikes.

Truly well done, and thanks for pushing our sport and being such an inspiration
for us !

If you missed it, to see the gap in video with Oliv here is the ARCADIA Video

Pictures : Will Camus & Hoshi Yoshida

Additional help from Alex Rouaud & Maxime Rambaud

Author Info:
maximepeythieu avatar

Member since Oct 16, 2010
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