World MTB Marathon Champs, Les Deux Alpes, France
by Kevin Evans of Team Raleigh
The marathon world championships held last month in France was always going to be a tough race, due to its location. The race took place basically on the same mountain as the infamous Alpe d’Huez. In fact in the race we climbed up the back of the mountain, off-road obviously, and headed right through the ski resort en route to the finish in Bouige Oisans at the bottom of the mountain.
The race started in the ski town of Les Deux Alpes at 1 860m above sea level and finished off in the small town at the bottom of the mountain at 700m. Sounds like a downhill route? Well in theory it’s downhill, but there is the 3 600m of vertical climbing in around 92km that stands between you and the finish. Throw in 130 of the world’s best mountain bike racers and a world title for the first prize and you’ve got one super hard race.
So it began similar to last year, when it was one of the world cup events that I took part in, so I was confident that I knew the route and what I was in for. However, not being able to attend the managers’ briefing or having a manager there for the South African team, I was unaware that the route had changed somewhat towards the end. Instead of the last 20km being a flat run into the finish, the last 30km had really technical singletrack, most of which was climbing (grades of 25% and more) and it made the going really hard.
We (the SA riders) had to rely on the feed zones manned by the race organization and the water points were few and far between. On the only two occasions I managed to grab a bottle, they both bounced out of my bottle cage on the really rough descents and so I was left without water for too long. Many of the top teams had multiple seconds all over the route, which is a huge advantage. Like for example on the first major climb, which is 20km long and ascends 1 400 vertical metres, it would make a big difference to be able to ride with one small bottle and be able to take on a fresh one half way up or even at the top. Also the weather was freezing cold at the start with rain and, at that altitude, it would have helped to have been able to warm up in my warmest clothes and take them off right before the start to hand it to a manager. It’s all the small things that make the difference.
Anyway the race tempo was extremely high, as you can imagine, and I found myself trying to ride my own race and just settle into a pace that I could sustain for around five hours. The course was an absolute beauty and the area and terrain is really tough and demanding on both rider and equipment. I rode a very steady race and settled into a small bunch with two Germans and a Swiss rider and managed to share turns on the front to keep a consistent pace. Once through the resort of Alpes d’Huez (and, let me tell you, where the tour de France climb finishes is by no means the top of the climb), we descended some of the most technical singletrack, made worse by rain and cold conditions. This was followed by a lot of running as the track soon became too steep to ride and the energy levels were completely run down at this stage - to the point where I managed to find someone’s bottle lying on the ground, and it became my saviour. This small bottle gave me the last liquid I would see until the finish nearly 50 minutes later!
I finished in 42nd place and was very happy with my result. Although it was down in position from the previous year, it’s nearly impossible to compare a course like this with the previous in Norway.
The two SA ladies, Tania Raats and Yolande de Villiers, also rode superb races and really showed the rest of the ladies that South Africa is capable of producing world class riders!
Thanks to Mike Bradley and all at SAMTB for the good wishes and much needed funding for the trip - it all adds up and it all helps. Big thanks to team Raleigh and all at the Probike team for supporting me while racing abroad - it’s really appreciated.
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