2014 Egg Throwing World Championship

I have finally joined the elite ranks of those who have represented their country at two different sports, luminaries such as Johnny Arnold and Andy Ducat, two of only twelve men to have represented England at both cricket and football. Those of you who have been reading my ramblings on here will probably have noticed me riding bikes for long periods of time but earlier this year I made my debut at The Egg Throwing World Championships.

I don’t recall seeing the same level of media coverage for his event as there was for the Olympics a couple of years ago so for those of you who missed it here is a brief explanation of the rules:
A team consists of two people, a ‘Thrower’ who throws the eggs and a ‘Catcher’ who catches the eggs
Selection is by the rigorous process of turning up and saying you want a go.
Starting at 10 meters the teams get three attempts at each distance.
The Catcher is not allowed to move from behind his line until the egg has left the Thrower’s hand. A broken catch does not count, all eggs must be caught intact. Surviving teams then progress to longer and longer distances until only one team remains, the World Champions. 

 Ginge, the defending World Champion Catcher being interviewed
for the telly prior to the event

We were eliminated in the second round, entirely my Thrower’s fault of course and so we had to sit out and watch the rest of the contest.

A one-handed catch from the defending champions
It actually turned out to be a lot of fun watching, it was an excitingly close contest. The last three pairs made it to 40 meters, where the rules change slightly and the Catcher is no longer allowed to move forward of his line at all, even once the egg is in motion. One team was eliminated at the distance and so two teams progressed to 45 meters.
Both succeeded and so they moved to 50 meters.
Both failed, and so 50 meters was re-run.
Three times.
It was decided that neither could catch successfully at 50 meters and so they returned to 45 meters.
Both succeeded.
The tension in the crowd was palpable.
Back to 50 meters. Both failed.
A conference of the judges followed. 

I can barely see the Thrower, never mind the egg

Sudden-death was introduced, the three attempts rule was rescinded.
The first team missed again. The second team also missed.
The first team caught theirs. The crowd went wild, the pressure was on the second team, they had to catch to stay in.
They did!
The first team missed.
The second team missed.
The first team missed.
The second team caught!!! World Champions! We have a winner!!! Titch & Ginge, a hard fought victory for Team GB over some very strong Dutch opposition.

This had surprised me, I was expecting something like Egg Throwing to be one of those events which billed itself as The World Championships but which was mainly full of slightly eccentric locals, like Cheese Rolling (which I have done) or the International Lawn Mower Racing Championship (which I haven’t)
However, it turns out that Egg Throwing is a really big sport in Holland and there was a significant Dutch contingent at the event. There were also Germans, French, Czechs, Americans and probably quite a few others.

While Titch & Ginge went off to celebrate their victory attention in the main arena moved to the Trebuchets. The rules for this were simple, it had to fit within a 2m2 area and be solely gravity-powered. Eggs would be launched over distances of 20, 30 and 40 meters, three at each distance, with 3 points awarded for a catch and 1 point for a broken catch.

The trebuchets being inspected by the Official Tosser
This was another excitingly close contest, precision welded steel against cobbled together timber, form over function against elaborately decorated machines, traditional designs against left-field ideas.

Standing six feet behind the contraptions I managed to catch one of the eggs as it sailed off into the crowd and away from the waiting Catcher. This was unusual though, most of the catapults were surprisingly effective, apart from the one which had clearly been hastily assembled that morning from some spare 2x4 and string. This was abandoned shortly into the competition by it’s makers, but was then taken over by enthusiastic group of spectators who completely failed to make it work any better.

At the other end of the scale it was proving to be a tight race between the metal catapult with the slider, the rotating-arm design which threw the eggs horizontally rather than in an upwards arc and the traditional style design of the German team over the far right of the field. (note the lack of jokes about the Germans and the far right, I have resisted)

Eventually the German precision-engineering won through against their British and Dutch opposition and they were crowned as the new World Champions.

Attention then moved to the finals of Egg Roullette, the preliminary rounds having been conducted earlier in the day before the Egg Throwing got under way. The principles of Egg Roulette are simple. It’s a knock-out competition, played one on one. Four eggs are placed in front of the participants, three hard boiled and one raw. Each player picks an egg in turn and smashes it as hard as he can against his own forehead. The player who draws the raw egg is eliminated, the surviving player progresses to the next round.

I had sailed easily through the first three rounds earlier that morning and so found myself in the main arena for the quarter finals. Whatever happened here I was guaranteed to finish in the top 16, not bad for my first attempt competing at World Championship level. I was drawn against Ashley Dean, I had a bit of a bone to pick with him, he had knocked my Thrower out in the first round.

The quarter finals getting under way.

We sat down facing each other. The four eggs were placed in front of us. The coin was tossed and the call made. He would won and would get to go first. The more mathematically astute among you will have noticed that going first gives a player an advantage. He chose his egg and brought it up hard against his forehead. Hard boiled. I chose my egg and did the same. It was also hard boiled.

He chose his second egg, which of course left me only one. I picked mine up, we would go together. We looked at each other and brought our eggs up. I felt mine crumple and the white run down my forehead. I was out.

 The raw egg, I'm out

We stayed to watch the remainder of the competition. My nemesis went out in the semis and we were onto the grand final. Egg Roulette is a sport at which mn and women compete n equal terms and it was a mixed final. Six eggs were produced for this most important match, but the raw one was drawn third, giving Norman Fowler (GB) a resounding victory.

 We have a winner! Norm takes the title

The event concluded with the Egg Cups being presented to the winners by the Official Tosser, upon which the crowd began pelting them with the remaining eggs.

Team Germany holding their Egg Cup aloft

Titch and Ginge collecting their medals as the Official Tosser
catches an incoming shot.

The Wet Highland Way Race

No, the title isn’t a typo! This all took place a very, very long time ago, way back in May in fact, but I’ve just been far too busy since then to get around to telling you all about it until now, so anyway, here goes:

San sent me this picture. Looks like Glen Etive to me.
Either this wasn't the same day or he was in a completely
different race to the one I was in!

Rich Rothwell rode the West highland Way last year and having survived it intact decided that it would be a good idea to inflict it on the rest of us. Invitations went out to a number of riders and there was the usual bravado of people saying how much fun it sounded but as the allotted day approached the numbers dwindled as people realised what they were actually about to let themselves in for.

It was forecast to be the hottest day of the year so far, pretty much everywhere except for a bit of the West Coast of Scotland north of Glasgow, you know, the bit where the West Highland Way is. We knew it would be wet, we didn’t realise just how wet!

Ten brave souls turned up to tackle the route. The event was supposed to start at 6am but a few riders had grasped the size of the task ahead and elected to give themselves a headstart in order to stand a chance of making it to Fort William before nightfall. They set off anywhere between 4am and 5:30am.

It was dry at the start

So seven riders gathered in the centre of Milngavie for the main start. It had rained overnight but wasn’t actually doing it as we set off. We headed north out of the town and into Mugdock, enjoying the easy rolling paths and not enjoying the endless succession of gates. In fact we were enjoying the fast sections so much that no-one was really paying that much attention to where we were going, until we reached the village of Drymen. Yes, I know Drymen isn’t on the WHW.

We paused for a navigation break. This wasn’t easy, Rich had assured us that the WHW was all very neatly signposted and we would therefore not need any maps, so we only had one between the whole group of us. We were off to one side of the one map we did have and John’s GPS had no signal. We eventually worked out where we were and were able to rejoin the route without too much fuss and set off toward Conic Hill.

It was here that my troubles began. Having only seen the northern end of the route, the area around Kinlochleven and the Devil’s Staircase, I had been wondering about the suitability of my XC race bikes and, being unwilling to risk them the week before I set off to Italy for the European 24hr, had decided to hire something a bit beefier. I was therefore riding an Orange Five. I had been for a few laps of the car park the day before to set the bike up, just the basics like shock pressures and swapping to my own pedals. However, the ascent of Conic Hill is a little more arduous than a few laps of the car park and as soon as I tried to put any significant power down my gears started jumping all over the place. I had to stop to fiddle with them and the others all took the opportunity to disappear off into the distance.

A couple of minutes later the chase was back on. I made up a fair bit of ground and I rounded the hill and the summit came into view. I caught sight of four of the others on the final section with their bikes over their shoulders.

I managed to stay on the bike a little longer than they had, closing the gap slightly. Being a fell runner I closed it more when I did eventually have to get off and run and was almost on their tail as we crested the hill and remounted. I had been going less than a minute when I heard the pinging sound of a chain on the spokes and did that special lurch forward to smash my knee on the bars that accompanies a snapped chain. Fixing it cost about five minutes and the others were long gone by the time I got going again. My gears still didn’t feel quite right though, and also sounded a little peculiar. Probably just an unfamiliar bike, I couldn’t see anything wrong.

There was a lovely swoopy section of trail somewhere near the south end of Loch Lomond, the water visible through the trees. It was a lot of fun, all short sharp rises and falls, lots of fast corners and a few bridges dotted here and there. Most of the bridges were pretty straightforward but there was one which had some bigger steps up to than the others and also some bigger steps off it, with John standing on them waving his arms at me.

I came to stop and joined John in trying to pick up a fellow rider. He had obviously hit the steps at some speed, performed a frontal dismount and then applied the helmet brake to stop himself when he landed quite a distance from bridge. He didn’t seem too badly hurt but I think it was that kind of crash where one daren’t move afterwards in case it turns out that something is actually broken and trying to move will just highlight this and make it hurt.
Once we had established that he was just shaken and not injured I left them trying to fix his bike.

I had to stop again shortly afterwards as I got my first pinch flat on a rock, I put my 26” tube into the 650B tyre, got the gas out and hoped for the best.

There were some more lovely swoopy sections along the bank of the loch, overtaking the ferry which I could see over to my left, but very shortly I was slowed to a crawl. The section along the north part of the loch took hours and hours and hours. The rain had set in by this stage, proper heavy rain. They do say that if you don’t like the Scottish weather you should just give it five minutes, and sure enough every five minutes it did change, going from heavy rain to very heavy rain, and then five minutes later from very heavy rain to very, very heavy rain and continuing like this for most of the rest of the day.

The hardest aspect of this section was of course the boulders. I had been told that a bit of the route may be unridable, but there were miles and miles of it, just relentless huge boulders to climb over, with no grip from the wet rock for the metal cleats on the bottom of my shoes and attempting to drag a pretty heavy bike behind me as best I could.

For some reason my front tyre took the opportunity to explode somewhere along there. I have no idea why, the bike was on my shoulder so nowhere near any rocks to pinch on. Also, a bang that loud that close to one’s ear does make you jump a little... It wasn’t even the one I had fixed earlier so I can’t blame the cold gas doing funny things to the rubber as can happen occasionally. I paused to fix it while under the relative shade the trees offered from the rain. Unfortunately as soon as I became a stationary target I was very easy pickings for the seven million midges which were also sheltering under that particular tree.

The route continued along passing Rob Roy’s famous cave which, being in a race, I didn’t take the opportunity to explore. I should have realised, given the fact that Robert the Bruce had also hidden in it and no-one had managed to find him there despite looking very hard, that it would probably be quite difficult to get to, and so it had proved. It also turned out to be just as difficult to get away from as I continued north along the banks of the loch. Had I not been lugging a bike along behind me getting into the water and swimming may have been the quicker option, and with the rain now at very, very, very heavy probably not that much wetter.

Another one of San's pictures.
Wonder if anyone rode those steps?

It was an enormous relief to reach the end of the loch and to be able to remount the bike and ride it rather than carry, or more usually, drag it. It was less good to be out of the shelter of the trees and out into the full force of the rain.

I made very good progress for quite a while, I had to keep riding fast to stand a chance of keeping any heat in me at all. I even managed to catch and pass two of the earlier starters, which was a bit of a psychological boost. An even bigger one was meeting a couple of bikers and some walkers chatting at a gate. The bikers were going the other way, north to south, and were attempting to ride the whole of the route in two days. This impressed the walkers enormously. I just smiled, said good morning and carried on.

The next big milestone was Tyndrum. This was excellent news as it meant that I had passed halfway but was even better news in that I could buy food there. I went into the little shop and got as much flapjack as I could carry and then came out to find Paul just pulling up in the support truck. I pulled on a dry base layer and some new gloves, refilled my bottle with Accelerade and set off again into the downpour.

The gears on my bike were still skipping and so I decided to sit down and figure out what the problem was once and for all. It actually turned out to be very simple, the lower jockey wheel on the rear mech had a ‘fat’ side and a ‘thin’ side and had been put in back to front, something which was very quickly resolved once it had been spotted. It had however taken me the best part of eight hours to find it, most of which involved constantly twiddling the barrel adjusters, which unsurprisingly had failed to help. I had noticed early on that the cable end was all frayed and straggly and would therefore be almost impossible to adjust, removing the bolt holding it to the mech would just cause it to unravel itself. This is the problem with using someone else’s bike, you never find the problems until it is too late.

There were two others which I had little option but to ignore. When I had first picked the bike up I had detected a very slight movement at the rear end, which felt very much like a worn shock bushing, hardly a major issue and one which I was prepared to just forget about. This actually turned out not be a shock bushing at all but instead the whole main pivot coming lose, leading to a rather disconcerting side to side movement of the rear wheel. Even more annoying was the rear shifter, most of the time this was fine but sometimes I would press the lever and it would fail to return and have to be pulled back manually, which was a real pain in the bottom if I was trying to change lots of gears all at once. This particular shifter, I forget what kind it was, wouldn’t do multiple shifts like the XTR units on my own bikes, changing eight gears at once at the bottom of a steep climb would be a trial of patience if I had to reset the level manually after each change.

The other problem with stopping to mend stuff was that I got very cold very quickly. I tried to pick the pace up in an attempt to get to get some heat back into my body, but this failed, partly because I was quite tired and struggled to go much faster and partly because any attempts to go faster just made the windchill even worse.

Anyone spot where we got lost?

I had to have a brief stop in the pub at Inveroran to ask directions, the trail crossed a road with the pub on the corner but the signs were hidden by the weather. It really was very tempting to just sit there and order a beer and some hot food but I forced myself out into the cold again and set off over the hill. Had I been able to see anything this would have been one of the most spectacular sections of the whole ride. I have been running on the south side of Glen Coe before and so had a rough idea of where I was, it was a very welcome sight to see the back of the Three Sisters looming up at me out of the murk and even more welcome to see the Kings House Inn appear at the side of the road. I found out later that two more of my competitors had dropped out here, most of the others having called it a day at Tyndrum. I had a brief pause in the meagre shelter offered by one of the doorways, had I gone inside I would probably not have emerged again. I ate the last of my food and sent a text message to Paul “At Kingshouse. Pressing on to the finish” I got one word back from him “Legend”

The climb up from The Kings House was probably the toughest part of the whole event. The trail zigzagged up the side of the mountain, riding into the wind was really, really hard. There was the wind itself trying to push me back down, but it was also driving the rain hard into my face, it was actually very painful to look forward, where I was going. I think there was probably some hail in there too. Then I would get to a switchback, turn the corner and shoot off like a scalded cat, the fact that it was quite steeply uphill making no difference at all as I hurtled towards the next corner propelled along by a force nine tailwind, but once round that I would have to battle once more into the elements.

The relentless rain was really starting to mount up along here, the water flowing on the surface of the trails was four or five inches deep, it was actually quite surreal. Eventually cresting the hill I then had to descend the Devil’s Staircase, normally a real hoot to ride but it was a headwind section this time and so very, very slow, despite being quite steeply downhill. The river crossing near the top was actually quite scary. I came to a halt just before it and looked at it, it was fast flowing, quite deep and a lot wider than normal, not a good combination. I put the bike down and set off on foot to look for a better crossing point. Nothing was obvious, so I returned to the bike and walked it into the river, leaning against it on my left, trying to use it to help stop myself getting swept away. I could feel the force of the water pushing hard against me as I waded through it but made it to the other side unscathed. I could barely feel the water itself though, I was so cold and wet already that being thigh-deep in a river was barely noticeable.

There were innumerable smaller streams on the way down, some bigger than others, but the water was flowing so fast and the rain was battering into my face so hard that I had no chance to see what the bottoms were like and so I was just barrelling into the them and hoping for the best. I had one or two interesting moments on some of the larger submerged rocks but got away with it.

I resisted the temptation of the cafe in Kinlochleven, it had occurred to me that if I was to stand any chance at all of making it to Fort Bill before nightfall I really would have to press on. I had a decent light, an Exposure Joystick, which was perfect for a trip like this in almost every respect, enough light to see by at speed on these trails but it doesn’t weigh a ton when being carried around in daylight for 12hrs before you really need it and it has about 3hrs of battery life on full whack, which would have been plenty. In fact, the only thing I can think of which was wrong with it was that it was in the tool box in my van in Milngavie, about 85 miles away.

The trail from Kinlochleven to Fort Bill was a lot longer than I remembered it being, I had last ridden it the other way around in the 2012 Tour of Ben Nevis, which had been a lovely warm sunny day. It was of course much less sunny this time and the trail looked very much like a river, there was an impressive amount of water flowing along it. There was an even more impressive amount of water still falling from the sky.

After more than an hour of splashing along the riverbed I came to a trail junction. This was yet another place where I was really tempted to throw in the towel, and I could really, really have done with a towel. Heading left I knew would take me down to the tarmac road, the road we had ridden up at the start of the Ben Nevis race and the fast way into Fort William, no-one would ever know. However, I had come this far, I was going to finish it properly. I kept going towards Glen Nevis and into the gathering darkness.

Everyone else enjoying a post-race curry and looking concerned
about my whereabouts. The empty seat at the back right is mine

There is a problem with the approach to Glen Nevis. For several hours I had been riding along in the torrential rain, desperate for a bit of shelter as I ploughed on across open moorland. Now as it was getting dark I was finally entering the forest, getting some much needed respite from the downpour. However, dense woodland is not really the kind of shelter you want as dusk is falling. I could see next to nothing and my pace slowed even more, which did little to help with keeping warm.

It was properly dark before I rounded the last mountain and finally entered Glen Nevis itself. I could now see nothing at all beyond about three yards ahead, I was just riding and hoping for the best. A sign loomed at me out of the darkness indicating that the trail ahead was shut and that there was a diversion down the mountain to my right. I looked down, I couldn’t even see the trees, just blackness. If I attempted to ride that I would just hurt myself and so I decided to carry on along the closed off part of the trail, climbing over timber stacks and some very large forestry equipment as I went.

This eventually brought me out onto the tarmac road at the bottom of Glen Nevis. This had all kinds of lovely things to speed my progress, a nice even surface, drainage and best of all, street lights. I headed up the road and into Fort William town centre. I don’t know exactly where the end of the West Highland Way is but our unofficial finish line was Spice Tandori on the High Street. In my exhausted state I was completely unable to find it, but luckily Paul spotted me riding passed through the window and he came out to find me huddled in a shop doorway trying to get enough feeling back into my fingers to be able to phone him.

He carried me into the restaurant and sat me down in front of the table. A huge cheer went up from everyone else, the biggest cheer I have ever had for coming last at a race. A pint and a birriani appeared out of nowhere and were placed in front of me. Someone, I forget who but thank you very much, left briefly to retrieve some dry clothes for me from the bunkhouse. I couldn’t eat the curry as my hands were shaking far too much to be able to hold a fork. I had been OK while out on the bike but as soon as I stepped into a heated restaurant and sat down everything just gave up and stopped working, hands, feet, brain, everything. I abandoned it and went to get changed but this took ages as my fingers wouldn’t bend. I eventually managed to get enough clothes on to be allowed out in public and so returned to the table to try to finish the curry.

Of those who had set off only three of us had managed to get all the way to Fort Bill, Rich Rothwell, Keith Forsyth and then myself. I was such a long way back that they were only going to give me another 30 minutes before they summoned mountain rescue to go out and find me.

Everyone had a story to tell, some had made it Tyndrum, some even as far as The Kings House. Some had pulled with mechanical problems, some with injuries, I think John B takes the prize for the worst, the only one with a broken bone, and some had just completely lost the will to live. Paul and Pete had been fantastic all day helping out distressed riders and picking up those who had fallen by the wayside and ferrying them to the curry house.

Same time next year.

PS I would like to say a big thank-you to The Indian Fire Trail himself, Mr San Kapil for the photographs. He made it as far as Tydrum I believe, not quite sure how he got the one of Glen Etive, but given the weather in it he may have come back on a different day

PPS Since this event Keith has returned to the West Highland Way and set a new record for the double, there and back, by a very narrow margin of 14 minutes over Phil Simcock's previous best.

Megavalanche - Race Day

Race day. It has been announced that the Megavalanche will start from the glacier. I am going to do it. Help!!!

Bikes and skis heading for the top
The first time I saw the glacier close up was on my way to the start line. As I am sure you recall from my previous posts on here I had been unable to reach it during the practice sessions, either the lift had been closed due to the weather or the glacier itself was closed if the rescue helicopter was unable to fly.
The glacier is there somewhere. This really is as much of it as
I had seen before I raced down it!

However, in a dramatic break from tradition Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny, or at least less bad than of late. I took the main lift up to DMC2 at 8:30, and then the cable-car from there up to the summit of Pic Blanc, at 10,800ft. The results of qualifying had been used to determine who would be allowed to race, only the top 69 from each heat would be in the mass-start events, and I had just scraped in at 65th, so I would be starting three rows from the back.

 This is the view from the top of the second lift, DMC2
We would be starting on the summit, the lift cables
are visible, the lift itself is hidden in the fog

Everyone in front of me was already lined up and ready to go, so I slithered my way down to the back of the grid and took my place over on the left. There was blue sky behind me, but cloud and fog in front. I could see the rest of the 400-odd riders, some odder than others, lined up in front of me but beyond that the ground just disappeared over the crest and down the face of the glacier, everything beyond this was completely hidden by the mist. My first go down it would be in a race, blind, and with 400 other people. Everyone I had spoken to was in the same boat. This would be interesting.

 This is my home-made bungee and Velcro tether, to stop the bike 
getting away from me if when I come off on the ice

There was quite a long wait between being gridded and the start of the race, which did little to calm my nerves. Eventually that music began playing and amid much enthusiastic shouting, the tape rose and we were off.

I had seen the videos of the start and it appeared that the best line was to be found over to the right hand side, stay high and there would be less chance of ending up in the catch fencing along the top of the cliff or the huge pile of bikes and bodies which seemed to accumulate there. I realised with hindsight that these videos all showed the main race, which was fine - it is the one everyone wants to see, but it also happens to be the one with the nicely pisted snow, which is nice and easy to ride on. Starting near the back of a group of nearly 400 after another 400 have already raced meant that it was somewhat less well pisted by the time I launched myself over the crest and into the unknown.

Because of the gradient picking up speed was not hard, but the deeply rutted snow was extremely difficult to steer on and soon the bike was travelling faster than I could think. The first time I fell I slid quite a way, my tether doing it’s job nicely, just keeping the bike close enough for me to able to grab the bars properly. Getting back on again proved rather tricky and I rode, slipped and slithered the rest of the way down the first section. The course flattened out slightly after the first corner but in the deep snow it was much quicker to get off and run than to attempt to ride. I leapt back on at the top of the next big drop and flung myself down it.

The next time I hit the ground I couldn’t even get back up again, I was picking up speed so rapidly that I was unable to get to my feet to climb back aboard the bike, so I remained seated, picked my feet up in front of me to reduce drag, and held onto the bike as I sledged down the mountain on my bottom. I have no idea what speed I was doing here but it felt like a lot!

Eventually reaching the bottom I was finally able to resume an upright position, although not resume riding. This actually worked out quite well for me, I’m a reasonable runner and was able to make up quite a lot of places as we all dragged our bikes along through the snow. The running here was a lot harder than I expected, I’m used to running in snow from my time fell-running in Scotland, but I’m not used to that altitude. Even by this stage we were still at about 10,000ft and it was noticeably harder than normal trying to breath deeply when putting in any effort.

We eventually cleared the snow and set off down the mountain. The course was much easier than the qualifying track, there weren’t so my places where I was out of my depth and I felt fine riding it blind. There were a couple of steep chutes which were taken by just holding on and hoping for the best, but because there were so many of us all racing at once it was easy to spot the really tricky bits as these would tend to create little bottlenecks. Once we were on the narrow singletracks it also became quite difficult to get passed people, the trick seems to be just to hurtle up behind them shouting gibberish and generally making a lot of noise. There are so many languages spoken there and everything is so distorted by the full-face helmets that trying to shout anything polite is a bit of a waste of time.

We eventually joined the qualifying track somewhere above the town and split off from the main route. The main race had continued down to Allemont but because of the conditions Race 3, my race, was to finish in Alpe d’Huez. There was a final blast down the swoopy, jumpy section into the top of the town to the finish line by the main lift. The race was a lot longer than it had felt, it had taken me 1hr04m, I would have guessed about 20 minutes. Time does go quick when you are enjoying yourself.

364 riders finished from my race, and I was 104th. I had a rough attempt to work out where this put me overall, if we say everyone in the other two races beat me, and I beat those who didn’t qualify, then I make it 724th out of about 2,200, not bad for my first ever DH race. I’m not just saying this because I finished so far down but the positions don’t really matter here, it is one of those races which people do just for the experience and I can see why. The atmosphere is fantastic, it really feels like we are part of something special, the start line in particular really is something which everyone should experience at least once, and despite everything the weather had thrown at us I had thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I would like to say a very big thank-you to loads of people, far too many to list, but I will mention Sam Acland for helping out so many times during the week and especially for being the genius who thought of the underground car park. All of the lightweight Mt Zoom bits on my bike somehow survived a week of DH racing by a complete novice, not at all what they were designed for, but they all proved more than strong enough. Accelerade kept me fed and watered throughout.

Saturday Muddy Saturday

Because of the conditions at the top of the mountain it had been announced that the Saturday races would not start from the glacier. These were the womens’ race and the Challengers, followed by the faster of the non-qualifiers. They would instead start from where qualifying should have started yesterday. Sunday’s races, the main race and the Amateurs (me) followed by the other non-qualifiers may start from the glacier, it would depend on the weather and if the rescue helicopter could fly.

After a brief respite from the atrocious conditions for Friday qualifying normal service had been resumed for Saturday. We had moved camp down to Allemont but even several thousand feet lower down it was still cold and miserable. I eventually dragged myself from my bed and out into the cold and went to watch the finish of the women’s race, Melanie Pugin (France) taking the win from Meggie Bichard (New Zealand) and Manon Carpenter (UK) I then headed into town for breakfast, mainly so that I could sit in a bakery and try to get warm again.

When I returned there were a lot more people there, and what a sorry sight they looked. There was mud everywhere, everyone was a uniform shade of brown from head to toe, making it rather difficult to tell who was who. The bikes which were coming across the line were so clogged with mud the wheels would barely turn. There was a huge queue for the bike wash and the stream was full of people trying to get rid of the worst of it from themselves. A significant number of people were arriving with parts missing from their bikes, mainly chains and rear mechs, but also spokes, tyres and various other bits.

This bike belongs to a New Zealander, who's name I have forgotten
Look carefully, there is a rear mech and chain in there, just not
where you might normally expect to find them. Several spokes are 
broken and there is no air in the tyre.

I decided to wander up the track to see exactly what I was in for tomorrow. I crossed a river and then headed up the hill. This was quite a major undertaking, it was pretty much impossible to stand on it, never mind walk, and I ended up in the undergrowth on the left dragging myself up with my hands. I saw a huge crash here, someone came barrelling into the top section at about Warp Speed 3, lost the back end of the bike and veered off the track to his left, my right. Myself and another guy were about 50 yards from him but clearly heard the sound of helmet on tree. He didn’t move. We somehow found some extra speed and headed for him as fast as we could. He was still conscious and, although quite dazed, seemed unhurt. He was still also clipped into his bike, which we managed to remove from him. He got to his feet very unsteadily looking a little like a drunk trying to stand and then, once we had reminded him which way he was supposed to be going, slid off down the hill towards the finish.

I continued up the hill. The next big crash I saw the person concerned remarkably got away with. A steep right hand turn lead into a steep left, dropping down over some tree roots, polished smooth by the riders who had already been across them. He made the right turn OK, lost his back wheel on the roots which sent him left and over the edge of the cliff. I am not exaggerating here, the cliff must have been 30-40ft high. It’s difficult to be precise as the bottom was largely hidden by the trees and undergrowth. These appear to have saved him from serious injury, slowing his fall as he crashed through them.

Me and another spectator ran over to the top and peered over the edge. We could see nothing through the foliage, so we shouted. A faint voice came back in a Dutch accent:
“I’m OK”
“How do I get back?”
This was a very good question. We could see the broken undergrowth where he had gone, but nothing beyond that, as far as we could tell it was pretty much vertical, almost impossible to climb at the best of times, never mind in full armour and with a 40lb DH bike. A discussion ensued of the likely options, but in the absence of a rope they were all abandoned. We could just about see the river behind him so directed him to go that way and then wade along it to his right until he crossed the track further down. I’m sure he wouldn’t be penalised for missing part of the course in the circumstances. As he was unhurt we just left him to it, we could hear him for quite some time fighting his way through the ferns and brambles. We remained there a while longer, shouting encouragement and a warning as the last of the non-qualifiers made their way down one by one in various bedraggled states and with their bikes in various states of disrepair

He got to about here and then turned left.
Not caught on my camera, I hope he had a helmet-cam on.

The official announcement as to what would happen on Sunday would be made at 7:30. Would I actually get to ride the glacier? The notice went up in the main arena in Alpe d’Huez. The start of both races would be one hour later than scheduled. The main race would start on the glacier and finish in Allemont. The Amateurs (me) would start from the glacier, but would finish in Alpe d’Huez, as would the non-qualifiers who rode the course after us. Perfect, I get to do all the fun bit, without the horrible muddy section below the town.

All subject to a final weather check in the morning of course. Nothing is guaranteed.

The news we were all waiting for.

Megavalanche Qualifying

We emerged from the underground car park early on Friday morning. It was warm and sunny and, even more unusually, not raining. We then went back inside in order to check that we were indeed awake and not dreaming. No, we were right, it had actually stopped raining!

Qualifying itself would consist of 15 heats, each of 130 riders. The top 23 from each would go into the main event, 24th down to 46th into the ‘Challengers’ and 47th to 69th into the ‘Amateurs’. Anyone finishing 70th or lower would not be able to compete but would be allowed to ride the course after the races. The ladies would have a separate heat on their own and would race on the Saturday, followed by the Challengers, with the main race and the Amateurs racing on Sunday morning.

I have no idea how the numbers had been allocated, as far as we could tell it was more or less done at random. However, I was not complaining, I had been given Number 210 and this meant a front row spot in the second heat.

 The start was moved to new location just here

Because of the atrocious weather in the preceding days it had been decided to move the start of qualifying to just above the second life, DMC2, near the end of the fireroad section. The wind, and especially the fog, meant that it would be difficult to get the rescue helicopter up high enough were it to be required.

I headed up to the top nice and early and was in plenty of time to watch the first heat assemble and then depart. The atmosphere up there was electric, I don’t know many races I have done over the years, literally hundreds, but this was something special.

The second heat were called forward a row at a time to take their positions, I got a spot over on the right hand side, being on one side in any race is always the favoured position, too much can go wrong starting in the centre. The only downside with being over there was that I was starting on quite a lose surface, I used the wait between the heats to clear a few of the larger rocks out of my way and got ready for the off.

I am sure that you will all know exactly what I am talking about when I refer to that music, we have heard it so many times before. However, hearing it standing on the top of the mountain, on the front row of the grid with 129 riders behind you all fired up and ready to go is a feeling which is very hard to describe, and so I won’t. If you haven’t been there and done it you should.

The music peaked, the tape lifted and we all shot off like the proverbial from the shovel. Well, not quite all of us. I wasted my front row advantage in a hail of stones and wheelspin. This actually turned out to be rather a good thing. Those who had got a better start all barrelled into the first turn at quite a significant speed and immediately collected each other in a tangle of flailing limbs and cartwheeling bikes. I was far enough back to see this happening and take avoiding action around the righthand side.

Those of us who had survived the first corner encountered another bottleneck a little further along, someone got it wrong in the snow and everyone else behind them came to a stop, I leapt off and ran before remounting and sprinting down the hill towards the lift station.

You may notice that I am not in my usual XCRacer/Scimitar team kit. These are instead the colours of Team Romeo Racing, worn in tribute to Kane Vandenberg who was tragically killed shortly before the 2013 24hr World Championship

The track narrowed significantly as we plunged down the mountainside and we were into the techy rocky singletrack which is so much fun. There was another bottleneck at the boardwalk section, which I expected. A number of people had been struggling here in practice, the lack of grip on the wooden sections causing all kinds of problems, and so it was no surprise to see so many having difficulties in the race. I had expected this and planned my lines accordingly. I rounded the turn and dived left into the drainage channel, sliding down over the rocks. This missed out the top section of the boardwalk where braking to line oneself up for the second section had been such a problem, and meant that I joined it on the little flat bit between the two sections. There was some swearing behind me as I obviously got in someone’s way doing this, but then I was down, off the jump at the end, landing nicely on the downward slope and leaning into the next corner, absolutely perfect.

I stopped briefly to put my chain back on and then set off again.

The fireroad and little rocky climb up to the lower lift were both fine. Ever better the traverse below it had dried out considerably, so much so that it was now possible to steer on it, a big improvement over the previous few days.

 Hover bike

There was one section of the qualifying track which I seemed able to do better than most, a little descent with a couple of line choices and a short, sharp climb after, it was the climb which everyone else seemed to be struggling with. I also struggled today as my chain came off again on the descent, forcing me to run up the climb and over the little bridge. I paused again at the top to put it back on and resumed my chase of those in front.

The section along the side of the road had also dried out and was rolling pretty fast, there were a lot of spectators here as it was quite simple to get to.

We plunged down through the town of Alpe d’Huez, a lovely little section riding through drainage channels, tunnels, bridges and jumps, people out in force here to cheer us on. The final section down to Huez was a bit like a helter-skelter, partly because it was composed of a seemingly endless succession of steep, tight, twisty turns, but mostly because all you could really do was hold on and hope for the best.

The very bottom had been changed slightly from practice; in order to slow us we entered the last tunnel two new chicanes had been added. These took us all by surprise as we hurtled into these new corners far too fast and outbraked ourselves. The guy behind me had obviously seen what I was doing and had a little more warning, he emerged from the tunnel right on my wheel, heading for the final drop-off. I went left, he went right. Our handlebars touched in mid-air, we landed together, bumped shoulders again and both sprinted for the corner. He just got it, and I sprinted down the road after him and across the finish line.

As mentioned above, only the 69 fastest riders from each heat would actually get to race. I knew my time, but not my position. It was a long wait to find out if I had done enough. There were also rumours circulating that the forecast for the following day was looking a bit grim to say the least. It was therefore looking likely that the ladies, the Challengers, and half of the non-qualifiers would not get to start on the glacier at all. Sunday’s starts were by no means guaranteed either.

After I’d had a bite to eat the results were posted. 65th, I was in a race. Job done. But would I actually get to race on the glacier? Let’s be honest here, the glacier is the Mega, it was a long way to come not to do it, I’d done my bit, it was now up to the weather gods.