Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mountain of Hell Qualifier

Today was the day! Dawned very misty in 2Alpes, but bright. The sun was out as soon as you got above the village in the lift. I headed up early, my start time was 12:30pm, I was up there for 11ish.

Watched a couple of the other waves start, various degrees of carnage ensued....:D
Mick Hannah (Australian downhiller) was there, he led his wave out by some distance. Here he is storming:

So time for me to walk the 500m or so to the start line, where we where called by number and lined up. I was apprehensive at this point because I had not practiced the top section of the course. The start was a short straight, followed by a tight right hander, followed by a straight with a small snow field, then a tight left hander, then descending rapidly. The second corner had been pile up central in previous waves. So AC\DC came on the PA and an air horn blew and we where off. I tried to take a line cutting the first corner down a steep slope, so did everyone else it seems.
Lesson 1: Next time to avoid the pile up, take the full corner the long way.
I overtook a couple of people on the straight, then got caught in the pile up at the second corner. As you may be able to see on the pic above, the surface up here is lots of loose rocks, and the second corner was steepish covered with these rocks, so foot down and elbows out got me through. The next section was across huge rocks, with even huger drop offs in some places, risk taking was high so I dropped a couple times, others I saw people in front take the wrong line and overtook them hitting the correct line. After lots of switchbacks, we eventually hit the road. The field was pretty spread out already, and I pedalled like mad to catch the guy in front, which I did as he drifted wide on a corner (this section is fast, 35-40mph fast), pedalling to keep momentum for a short uphill, then into a descent across the side of the hill and into some woods (rated red) - I was right on someones tail, but no way to pass - probably lost a good few seconds here, and then mistake number 2, followed this guy off a drop off, where I went over my bars (and my GPS stopped at this point too) - got back on after sliding down the hill for a few seconds, no one around so no one passed me, and then lots of horrible braking bump infested berms - passed a few fallers, one bike on its back with a completely bent wheel....
Lesson 2: Don't follow, ride your own lines
Dropped into the time trail track, so we're at village level now - and a pedal along the path to the descent to Mont De Lans - over the hump back bridge which goes over the summer luge track. Around here I noticed the bike not handling correctly, I thought I had a puncture, but a quick look down and it looked ok. Pedalling up another small hill, I pushed my gear selector too far and the chain went between the cassette and spokes - Nightmare. Tried freeing the chain off with the bike up right, no joy, had to turn the bike over and yank the chain out. A couple of people passed me here boo! Pretty tired at this point, I am convinced that the earlier delay stuck behind a rider on the brakes the whole time fatigued my arms a lot. So down the Mont de Lans descent (red rated) and into the village for a finish. Nectarines and Apricots were handed out, as well as biscuits and orange and water.

Spoke to a few English guys I spotted (and some Irish).

So what time? My official time was 29minutes 11seconds (1421m descending). After 3 waves, I was 170th (i.e. 170 out of 300) which I was pretty pleased with for my first race. Not sure of the final placement after the 4th and final wave, but worst case would be 270th out of 400. I suspect more like 220-230th, just over half way :D
Without the crash and chain issue and flatish tyre, I reckon 27minutes was on the cards. To put that in perspective, the top guys (including Mick Hannah) finished in just over 20minutes.

My front tyre had lost a lot of air, hence the dodgy handling, so for the final tomorrow I'll stick another wheel on. Picked up another spare front tyre from a shop in 2Alpes (56 Euros!!!!)

So, tomorrow, 6am(!), on the lift to the glacier, then onto the funicular (underground train) to 3400m and some snow fun! Race starts at 9am (the snow will be icy still, so hopefully rideable)

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