Arriving back in Morzine after spending my week in Munich with Lena I had only 3 days to sort myself out and get back riding before we were due to leave for the European Crankworx in Les Deux Alpes, France. Crankworx is a big mountain bike festival that originated in Whistler, Canada around the turn of the century, since then it has grown to be the single biggest festival on the mountain bike calendar each year with over 60,000 people congregating on Whistler Mountain to watch the Freestyle event which is the main draw card of the festival. While the festival has also expanded to have a Crankworx in Colorado, This would be the first time the circus had migrated over the pond to invade Europe so the organizers were keen to make a good first showing.
The drive from Morzine to Les Deux Alpes was filled with a lot of epic scenery plus the obligatory motorway antics when you travel in a convoy with a bunch of Downhillers. 3 hours later and TomTom (the GPS) took us on an alternative route up the last part of the climb to Les Deux Alpes where we were treated with a dual lane road that was only wide enough for one car and had a 200 meter vertical drop on one side. Luckily for Gladys we didn’t have to take a crash course in base jumping as things may have gotten slightly hairy and I don’t think there is a parachute big enough to fly the big blue van. With our tightrope walk over we made it to Les Deux Alpes without any further incidents before getting a meal at the local Kebab joint (we didn’t know this at the time but we would get to know this dude VERY well over the next 5 days). What we hadn’t planned on though, is where we would sleep that night. Luckily we managed to find a public car park/caravan park where we were able to set up camp for the night and indulge in some chairlift climbing (don’t try this at home) to keep ourselves amused.
On Monday an early wake-up was followed by a trip to registration to sign in for the event that we would be participating in (the Giant Air DH) and a check of the event schedule which allowed us 2 hours for a track inspection before practice started at 2pm that afternoon. Getting on the gondola to head to the top of the track we received a couple of interesting looks from the gondola staff but didn’t think anything of it until we were passing the start of the track 50 meters in the air and the top gondola station was another kilometre away…Oops. Getting out at the top of the wrong gondola we considered our options and decided that taking another cable car back down a part of the hill and then walking up a small bank would be the best idea. Jumping into the 2nd cable car we took off down the hill whilst being mobbed by a million little French ski-school kids, I should mention at this point that we were 2500 metres above sea level and that the lifts continue right up to 3400 meters where a glacier allows for year round skiing meaning that you see some people in town wearing interesting attire and looking fairly out of place amongst the downhillers that had taken over.
Cable car ride over and the walk began, naturally as we got closer, the “small bank” got larger until it could be considered a “large hill” and at altitude this turned into quite a hike leaving us a more than just a little tired before we even got to the track.
Upon starting our track walk we found a very open first section with a couple of big jumps leading into a long off camber straight, a couple more wide open straights and road gap number one was in the sights, landing this was a very loose right hander that was followed by 2 particularly tight switchback corners that would prove to be highly challenging leading into road gap number two, some more wide-open fast stuff and it was into the single-track section, this was a change from most tracks that we ride on as the single-tracks don’t normally allow for much line choice but this looked like it would make for a nice change to the usual motorways. Two creek crossings and more off camber trail was next on the menu before coming into a drop off and the two big jumps that were a spectator favourite over the weekend. A long straight followed by a left hander set you up into the first solid 30 foot step-down over a road was followed by railing around a bank and up a 35 foot step-up that caused more than a few people problems over the course of the race. Post jumps, a long pedal was greeted with yet another road-gap into the finish arena. As well as being a long track (2.8km) it was also a pretty steep beast with a vertical drop of 700 meters being well over the normal drop for a Dh track meaning that brake pads and tires were going to take a particular beating this time around.
Normally on your first run down a track you go slowly to look at everything and make sure you haven’t missed any particular nasties while walking. However this day I was really excited for some reason and just decided to hit everything straight up. Luckily for me this turned out to be a good idea and I managed to snake my way over all the jumps without too much hassle and cruise back to the van to make some adjustments to my cleats. Heading back up the hill I was unlucky enough to miss out on the cut-off time for the short practice session by less than 2 minutes but (having to get down the hill somehow) instead got to indulge in one of the jump tracks on the hill. This proved to be a great alternative and provided a lot of entertainment with the tiny jumps allowing for some interesting lines to be explored with jumps up onto the bank and sometimes over the next jump entirely being tested out.
I forgot to mention the weird French rules and so will tell you about them now, for some reason unknown to the rest of the world, when you participate in a French race you have to wear an additional back-plate and elbow guards as well as your helmet, gloves etc. Now for a kiwi dude who doesn’t have these items it could be seen as an inconvenience and so provisions were made in the form of a cardboard strip for the back plate and two bits of foam padding for the elbow guards. Honestly it was pretty comical and I looked like a Lego person but it did its job and the officials let me race without any problems…. however what that bit of cardboard was supposed to protect me from I will never know.
Tuesday we awoke to another perfect blue sky day and I wasted no time in getting up and amongst it. Cardboard and padding on, I pedalled out of the start hut feeling good…for about 20 seconds. Being in a far to lower gear for the first big jump I sent it anyway with no way near enough speed and as you can imagine came up VERY short. I was so far short that I didn’t even make it to the top of the landing resulting in my bike flipping up and over the landing ejecting me over the handlebars and into the dirt. Dusting myself off I couldn’t help but feel as though I had gotten very lucky with that effort and should spend the rest of my days knitting or train spotting but unfortunately I still had to get down the hill beforehand. The rest of the run passed without incident and after making some more adjustments to my cleats I headed up for run two.
I must also apologize for a lack of riding photos, I have been searching the internet but no luck so sorry about that and I will try and get in some at the next few races.
I was having a pretty good second run and was starting to get used to the style of track when things came a bit unstuck. In the tight part of the track I got a little bit off line and couldn’t unclip to stop myself from going off the track and before I knew it I was over the bars and down the hill on my head not feeling very good. Aside from a sore head I could tell straight away that something was wrong with my left wrist, I have hurt my wrists numerous times over the years and the feeling I was getting at that stage I knew it would be a trip to the medic tent once I was at the bottom of the hill. However I still had to get down there so the easiest way was to ride, Coming into the big jumps at the bottom I knew that it was going to be an effort to hold on and overshooting the step-up just about blew my hands off reminding me that something was wrong and to not do anything stupid.
Off to the medic tent to find that there was no-one there and the pain in my wrist was getting worse, back to registration and after a few phone calls a medic was found and before I knew it I was off to hospital and 2 hours after that I was out of there with a brace on, a diagnosis of a broken radius bone in my wrist and with more drugs than a Mexican Cartel.
Having never really broken a bone before I found myself in a weird position, watching everybody else ride is horribly annoying because all you want to do is ride and to know that no matter what you do is not going to allow you to do so is highly frustrating, this was made even worse by the fact that the weather was nothing short of fantastic leaving me with nothing to do but hang-out in the sun and soak up the atmosphere, it doesn’t sound too bad like that but I definitely wanted to be riding and not doing so was making me crazy!
I did consider racing with my broken wrist but after heading up and doing a couple of runs on the Wednesday of the cruisy jump trails I just knew that no safe amount of painkillers was going to do the trick and so I made the decision to pull out of the race and start the insurance process (always a mission).
I spent the rest of the time in Les Deux Alpes cruising around and soaking up some sun before we were due to leave on the Thursday for Val D’Isere, the venue of the next World Cup round for some pre-training which I’ll talk more about in my next post.