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.

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