All The Gear But No Idea


It had been lovely weather here at Alpe D’Huez for quite a while and as a result the trails yesterday were all dry and dusty, I was really looking forward to riding them today. The thunder storm overnight had however dampened a lot more than my enthusiasm. I headed up the hill to the village of Alpe d’Huez and managed to get one of the converted camping spots right underneath the main lift, as I discovered when the fog briefly lifted enough for me to see where I was..

I got the bike out and got it ready to go. I have a new-to-me bike for this race, a 2008 Kona Stinky. I am not used to riding anything this size, and have only ridden this bike on four occasions prior to my arrival here. The weight of the thing is unbelievable, despite the best efforts of Mt Zoom and their lightweight bit and bobs. To be fair it has gone from being very, very heavy to merely very heavy so they have helped. I’ve been using various parts of theirs for a number of years and feel confident that even the lightest bits are more than up to the job of an Alpine downhill race.

I am also equipped with every kind of body armour I could get my hands on. Well, not my hands but pretty much everything else; shoulders, elbows, forearms, chest, spine, kidneys, knees and shins. I have a brand new full face helmet, which is still far too clean and shiny and clearly marks me out as a newbie, and some goggles to go with it.

I spent about 2½ hours bleeding my rear brake while we waited for the lift to open, apparently they are not allowed to run it while there is lightning in the area. It’s health and safety gone mad! What could possibly go wrong in metal box 80ft above the ground suspended by a metal cable from a series of metal pylons on an open hillside?


The front brake took about 10 minutes to bleed. Once I had discovered that the syringe itself was leaking air rather than the brake the process had become a lot quicker.

Eventually the weather cleared enough for the lifts to begin operating and I climbed aboard and headed for the top of the qualifying run. From the lift station we headed left and down and in less than a minute I realised just how out of my depth I was.
I made it down the first section in one piece, the bike clearly far more capable than I was. I had to have two attempts at the first boardwalk section, braking on the upper part was very sketchy in the wet, and there was a wee drop off at the end. I picked up confidence as we continued down the hill, trying to keep up with the others as best I could.

 Spot the rider

It all went wrong at the first gap-jump. I was in that no-mans land of going too fast to see it in time to avoid it and go round it but not going fast enough to actually clear it. I realised too late, panicked, braked and slid off the end, down a hefty drop into the gap. My nice new helmet now has it’s first scars and the bike took a hell of a whack, front wheel first into the back of the landing with all of my weight behind it. Once I had recovered from being winded I was able to pick it up and have a look at it. Absolutely fine, which surprised me a lot, and was more than could be said for my right hand, one of only two parts of me not covered by some sort of armour. Oddly enough the other is my left hand.

Below the middle lift station the track got easier, a slippery traverse on which I felt much more at home and then a lovely section of berms and (much smaller!) jumps back into the town. We continued through the streets, and various tunnels and drainage channels, and out the other side.

This next section reminded me very much of a helter-skelter, partly because of the succession of tight twisty corners and steep gradients but mainly because the only way down seemed to be to just hold on and hope for the best.

There is a smaller lift back up to the campsite, with just a piece of bungee keeping the bike attached to the outside. 


The main lift stopped running at 5pm and so with the weather closing in again there was little else to do than to put some dinner on to cook and see if I could get my hand working again, or at least back to nearly normal size.

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