After arriving in Chamonix full of excitement and with an eagerness to ride everything on the first day, I tried to settle down and focus on the job at hand. The first priority was to rid the legs and body of the fatigue inflicted by 30hrs of travel and the 8hr time difference. This meant trying to be patient, sleep well and take things a bit easy on the bike. It was also an excuse to do some touristy things like visit the Mer de Glace and sip coffees while looking up at the Aiguille du Midi and the Mont Blanc, but I knew all along that it was the calm before the storm because I wanted to do a big day on Friday, which I was actually starting to get a bit nervous about.
Friday dawned and it was time to test how well I had recovered. I wanted to do a big ride, to in some way, simulate the kind of punishment that I would put myself through during a marathon. The plan was to do 5 hours pretty solid with the last hour as hard as I could. I started off by climbing up the valley along the Petit Balcon Sud to Argentiere, before doing a U-turn to follow the same trail all the way down the valley past Chamonix to Les Houches. I had heard good things about this trail and it didn’t disappoint! For the most part it is benched into the hillside, but there are still some steep ups and downs as it winds its way down the valley. There are no shortage of slippery polished rocks and teflon roots that are so typical of European mountain biking, as well as some super exposed sections that had me questioning the consequence of a fall as well as my choice not to dismount. By the time I got to Les Houches a couple of hours in to the ride, I was having so much fun that it seemed that any trepidation of how hard this ride was going to be was unwarranted. Plus the weather was the clearest I had seen on this trip and the constant views of the needle-like peaks in the soft Autumn sun across the valley were another welcome distraction. After crossing the valley things started to get tough with quite few long steep climbs. I gradually made my way back to Chamonix and then picked up the Petit Balcon Nord trail for another ascent of the valley and my final hour. I was happy with how I was feeling and motivated to empty the tank by imagining that every climb was the last, as I made my way up to Le Tour before turning again for the return to Chamonix. An awesome ride: 83km covered, 2600m of climbing and 5h15m in the bank.
Content with a solid ride and some good sensations, I now had a fun weekend to look forward with a visit from my good mate Matty Z who flew over from London. We spent Saturday trail riding around Chamonix with my newly found trail knowledge valuable in being able to put together a 2.5hr single track loop. Matty & I had shared many ski mountaineering trips in this very mountain range and it was great fun to explore it together on mountain bikes. We then said goodbye to Seth & Jaymie (who had lodged me all week) and made the short drive to Annecy (possibly the most beautiful town in the world – I’m not being funny; if you have been there you know what I mean) to visit another friend Yohann. Annecy is the first place I ever went to outside Australia when I raced the finals of the MTB world cup in 1997 (as a junior); it always feels pretty special to be back. Unfortunately Sunday was rainy, so instead of riding the trails on Le Semnoz (where that WC was held), we decided to do a tour of the lake on the road. It was still nice but I was quite cold and wet towards the end; this was good news for Alberto Contador though, because it meant that his time for the Lac d’Annecy ITT from the 2010 Tour de France still has the record on Strava. Luckily the weather cleared up for a touristy afternoon which included a visit to the Chateau de Montrottier, the Gorge du Fier (a 30m slot cut through the rock with a boardwalk cantilevered off the side) followed by a leisurely walk around the old town of Annecy which included a meal of Moule Mariniere overlooking the canal.
That evening I received the bad news that Chris Jongewaard had crashed in China and broken some ribs, which meant that he wouldn’t be able to come to Ornans for Marathon Worlds. What a bummer, I hope you heal quickly mate. In a second curious bit of news, a French friend who had looked up the start list for the Marathon Champs informed me that she could not find my name, or any mention of any Australians for that matter! Hmmm? That could be a bit of a show-stopper, so I wrote a quick email to MTBA to hopefully get it sorted out.
On Monday morning dropped Matty at Geneva airport and continued on to Ornans. I got pretty excited when I passed through Metabief as I remember seeing video of Nico Voulliez shredding that place in a World Cup (or champs maybe?) back in the day. Ornans is a small town in the Loue valley in the department of Doubs in the France Comte region. It is really pretty with a typical French charm, a beautiful river (the Loue) and dramatic cliffs overlooking the town. I found my accommodation for the week which was an old Moulin (mill house), which sits right in the river Loue and used to use its power to turn the old mill but has since been converted into a guesthouse. In the afternoon I headed out for my first reconnaissance on the Worlds course. I rode the first 20km and it was a bit of an eye opener. The opening 5km is pretty flat but fairly narrow and a bit slippery in places. I found myself thinking about the reality of starting from the back (thanks to not having any UCI marathon points)…..this will be hard! The course then headed up for a solid climb and wound its way up to the top of one of the limestone cliffs before a super steep, muddy and slippery descent that lost all the height I’d gained in a matter of minutes. The weather wasn’t even been that bad, yet it was super muddy and caked my bike in gunk. It might be a job for the 29×2.0” Maxxis Beavers, also some studs in the shoes and an extra bidon of water in the feedzone to clean the drivetrain….ahhh Europe! J
Anyway, that’s it for now. I’m off to ride some more of the course.