European road trip & EWS La Thuile

Jul 17, 2014 by     No Comments    Posted under: Uncategorized
Following the EWS in Valloire I had a two week gap unitl the next race in La Thuile and there were plenty of options of where to head in the van. Our friends Gabby Molloy and Matteo Nati live in Finale Ligure on the Italian coast, and being an easy 3 hour drive from Valloire it seemed the best bet. Sunshine, sea and amazing trails awaited! The drive to Finale is pretty impressive, as the motorway threads through the Ligurian mountains, quite literally in more than a few cases! Huge bridges carry you high above the valley floor, before ducking into long tunnels and back out into the sunshine again. It really is a spectacular drive and made the journey fly by. Reon, Kate, Matteo, Anka, Gabby, Me, John (Sven is taking the photo!)camping
Sven and Anka Martin were also joining us in Finale, as were Kate Fluker and Reon Boe. Kate and Reon live in Queenstown NZ, and Kate races World Cup XC while Reon races Downhill. They are really easy to hang out with, and it was lovely getting to know them better. Kate is racing the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, so was in full training mode, dragging Reon with her on his trail bike. 
After an easy couple of beach days to recover from Valloire, we were all itching to ride again and Matteo was itching to show us his home trails. We used a couple of vans to uplift on the road, and each took it in turns to drive. The tracks were completely different to Valloire, all in the woods on totally different soil, yet so flowy they rode awesomely on the first run. Gabby and Matteo were such amazing hosts, showing us the very best tracks the area had to offer, and also all the local favourite places to eat. Finale Ligure
Next on the agenda was Sospel, an area I have ridden in before while competing in the Trans Provence, but never one I have had time to explore. Still conscious of the potential for the van to explode at any moment, we cruised slowly up the tiny mountain road leading into sleepy Sospel, heading to an even more sleepy campsite just outside the town. The campsite office had quite relaxed opening hours, an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, outside of that the owners just shouted from their living room window. The lady assured us we could just pay in the morning, and that we could simply park wherever we wanted, a very French way of doing things! sospel
Ash, the guy who runs the Trans Provence, had put us in touch with one of the local shuttle drivers, and Christian was waiting for us at the meeting point as planned, (once John had spoken to him in French after Sven had completely failed to grasp what he was saying!) Kate and Reon had decided to meet us at the top of the climb, a solid 26km Col, and even the drive up seemed to take quite a long time! Arriving at the top minutes before us, they joined the ride already pretty knackered! Heading out along a misty ridge line the town was a long way below us, deep beneath the clouds. Sven was leading the way, and having only done the ride once before, he was a tiny bit vague with his directions, but apart from one bonus hike to a peak and some bushwhacking on the way back down, we were in trusty hands! Photo: Sven Martin
Always carrying a camera with him, Sven does an amazing job of documenting our rides, and while it is often easy to get a bit blasé riding such awesome trails all the time, it is so cool to look back at the shots after a long day in the saddle! Cheers Sven Doggy! Sospel, France
The area around Sospel has seen a lot of conflict in the past, and there are relics of past wars littering the hillsides. Bunkers and Forts hold commanding positions atop vast cliff faces and there are First World War cannons lying right next to the trail. Dated 1918 and produced in nearby Genova, the cannons were massive chunks of iron and it is incredible to think how they were dragged up to the top of mountains, a huge contrast to our fancy carbon Mountainbikes!  
The ride seemed to go on forever, changing trail surface as we lost altitude and neared the valley floor. Finishing right in the town, we had a beer in a nice little bar right in the town centre and watched the sleepy town come alive. Dead quiet at midday, Sospel is a different beast in the evenings, with people everywhere and Kids doing wheelies on scooters down the middle of the street! The cold campsite pool was a welcome respite from the madness, and we went to bed in the van thoroughly knackered.  John's bike stand :)
Deciding we needed to put in some proper hard work the following day, we eschewed the shuttle option in favour of a long road climb. 700 metres in 30 degree heat is never going to be easy, but I whizzed up the climb feeling really strong and fit which is a nice feeling! Dropping into the trail after a quick Orangina and some fresh home made foccacia in a restaurant at the top we didn’t get far before Svens derailleur was the vicim of a rock strike. A dab hand with the zip ties, John managed to bodge it back together well enough to finish the ride, and we carried on. Finishing the ride with a quick dip in an icy river was very much the cherry on top of a great day. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
After Sospel we headed to Les Deux Alpes for Crankworx Europe. 
The trails there are not great, but the lifts are fast and you can do loads of runs which is brilliant practice for Enduro. Punching out long brake bump infested runs is one hell of a way to put your hands and arms to the test. Each morning we climbed up to the top of the lifts and I rallied my Yeti ARCc carbon hard tail back down again. It is an absolute machine on the climbs, and it almost made climbing 600 metres first thing in the morning at high altitude fun! ARCc
Crankworx doesn’t have an Enduro this year, so there was no racing for me to do, although I was half thinking about giving the pump track a go. Mainly it was a week to train and practice my technical skills on the bike. There were a couple of trail features John, Anka and Sven encouraged me into trying out, and I was really thankful for their support. It can be pretty scary hitting a difficult section for the first time, and it certainly helps having good friends to talk you through it. The week in Les Deux Alpes flew by in a blur of friend filled dinners and downhill runs and before we knew it we were back on the road heading to La Thuile.
French crepes and wine!
As we got closer and closer to Italy the weather got progressively worse and worse, and visibility was next to nothing. Getting out of the van was something of a shock, it felt like winter had arrived 4 months early! Wet and cold La Thuile!
It was lovely to be back in Italy, and La Thuile is a beautiful little quiet town. Jean Pierre from Bluegrass had arranged to meet me to drop off my sweet new MET Parachute helmet, so we had a coffee and he explained to me just how safe it is. It both passes and exceeds the new CE standard for Full face MTB helmets, and somehow is also about 300 grams lighter than a normal DH lid. With some pretty solid climbs in the stage liaisons coming up over the weekend, I was keen to try it out.
MET Parachute
Super Enduro EWS races in Italy have open practice, so everyone had all day Thursday and Friday to get comfortable on the tracks. Stage one had a fairly long climb to get to the top above the height of the chairlifts, stage 2 had an even longer climb entirely without the help of chair lifts and the rest of the stages started just above the lifts. I decided to save practicing stage 2 until Friday, as being a completely fresh track I thought the lines would develop quite a lot over the duration of practice. The original plan was to head up to the top of stage one right at the start of Thursday practice and get it ticked off first, but cresting the last section of the hill on the chairlift the weather had other ideas. 
Strong winds and fairly heavy snow was a bit of a shock to the system! Myself and most other people decided to ride a shorter track, stage 3, to get back to the bottom of the hill as quickly as possible. I was prepared for the cold with plenty of layers on, but even so, it is difficult to concentrate on learning a track in a blizzard. Luckily the weather calmed down a little later in the day and I did a good run from the top of stage 2. Friday dawned a little warmer and practice went well, I felt like my speed on the tracks was improving and I was looking forward to a fun weekends racing. La Thuile Enduro World Series
The tracks were absolutely brilliant; physical, technical and challenging, and also really fun with a lot of flow. Having some wild snowy conditions at the top added a bit of big mountain adventure feeling and everyone had to be properly prepared, very different from the baking sun of Valloire! As well as chocolate, bananas, and tasty snacks, there was hot sweet tea at the top of each stage which was awesome and really hit the spot. The organisers had thought of everything! It was hard to know what to wear for the stages, as it was a snowy gale at the top but got pretty warm quite soon after setting off. I stuck to wearing just a small race top, pre-empting getting hot and sweaty very soon! The one time I left on a jacket I regretted it after a few minutes. La Thuile Enduro World Series
Stage 1 was the most demanding stage and by far the longest, it seemed to go on for ever which was no bad thing as it was a brilliant stage. As the girls started first, we luckily managed to climb to the top of Stage 2 before the heavy rain started. I loved the special stages, sociable liaisons, and we were even finished by mid afternoon! All three stages went well, no crashes, no mechanicals, I felt really good, my bike was awesome, it was a really fun day of racing!
Race day 2 was warmer and the bad weather had cleared quite a bit, we even got a glimpse of Mt Blanc! Riding up to Stage 4 (which was a repeat of stage 1 from the day before) felt like deja vu, as we’d done exactly the same 24 hours earlier. This time there was a lot more water on the ground as it had rained overnight. The rocks and grass were pretty slippery, and at times it was like riding down a river! A great stage once again, lot’s of new mud and water made it fun and added some exciting sketchy moments! Stage 5 and 6 were lift accessed, so no long climbs, just two final brilliant fun stages! I loved these last two, downhilly fun trails with some punchy climbs thrown in. The final 100 metres down the kids dual slalom track was really cool, with lots of people cheering the final sprint to the finish! La Thuile Enduro World Series
What a brilliant 5 days in beautiful La Thuille, and the sun even came out for the Sunday evening podium. I finished 22nd, which I was pretty happy with. Plenty to work on, all the girls are incredible riders and racers, so racing with these awesome girls and pushing myself to go faster and get stronger is brilliant! My brother Joe finished in an amazing 3rd, only 4 seconds off the win! I was and am so proud of him! Joe and I
Straight after we’d cheered Joe on at the Podium and said our goodbyes to everyone, we packed the van up and hit the road. It was a good 22 hours of driving to get home to Fort William, so it was good to get a chunk done that evening. Driving towards Mt Blanc, throughout the tunnel, away from the Alps and North to flat land and motorway, we reminisced about what a brilliant trip we’d had in awesome places, and what lovely people we and spent it with. Loving having a few days at home right now before heading to Colorado!
driving
Thankyou John Parkin and Sven Martin for the sweet riding photos!
Happy riding and see you on the trails!  🙂

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By: Rashid Azar