Toby Pantling reports from Les Arcs where he sampled an enduro race with a difference
The rules: You didn’t have to start together, you only have to finish together (as you only had one timing chip per pair). You could leave up to a one minute gap between each other at the start, allowing your fastest rider to play catch up and save you some time. You’re only as fast as your fastest rider, right? Well, kind of…
My team mate was Oliver Carter. A good buddy of mine, and we seem to always get pretty close race times at standard enduro races, so we decide to ride all the stages close together so we could take the decision-making in turns and help each other out if we had any problems on track.
Day One: Six timed stages
It’s a crazy feeling being on top of a mountain for about 9:30am for the first stage with no warm up and you’re just about to ride your first stage of the race totally blind – and hopefully flat out – without knowing what’s around the corner!
The morning stages were pretty straight-forward trails to ease us in to what lay ahead. We started on a blue bike park trail, and then the trails moved more towards alpine and forest singletrack which were what we came here for. Les Arcs has an unreal network of old footpaths that feel great to ride on a bike, which you don’t find at all lift-accessible resorts.
We started our morning off steady and settled into a good pace but not quite as fast as we were looking for when we stopped for lunch. We then knew we had to step it up.
The course notes said that the trails got more technical in the afternoon so this should suit us. We decided to push a bit harder and try to claw back some of the time we had lost in the morning.
Stage 5 is certainly one of my all time favourite trails. Rooty, rocky, tight switchbacks, blind chutes – it had it all in there even some real tight chest moves to keep you on your toes. You can see me and Olly tackle one at 1:15 into the highlights video (we took the stage win on that stage!).
After day one we were sitting in second place, just six sec behind World of MTB from Germany: the race was on.
Day Two: Another six timed stages
It felt like one of the toughest stages I’ve ever raced and I don’t think me or Olly were quite ready for it. Saying that, we rode well and kept a good race pace up, pushing as hard as we could on the pedals wherever possible.
Unfortunately on stage three, which was one of the steepest and shortest trails in the race, we threw a lot of time away exploring a mountain steam closer than intended! At lunch we were still sitting second, but first place was slipping from our grasps.
The afternoon saw us have a few problems, with Olly snapping his rocker link pivot bolt and having to nurse his bike down one and a half of the stages. Fair play to him he didn’t let it effect him and he kept pushing hard.
Like I said in one of the interviews in the video, his rear wheel was having a good party, that’s for for sure!
As day two came to a close, we managed to hold onto second and extended our lead on third, but team World of MTB were pulling further away in first.
Day Three: Three timed stages
The morning started off with a 450 metre climb on the road to get the legs warmed up, which was actually a pretty nice wake up before racing.
The second part of the liaison was on probably the slowest chair lift in Europe, which helped with my tan for sure!
We were super lucky to get to race stage two as permission was specially granted by the Mayor for the race.
It was an incredible ancient walkers track that started in the open alpine but quickly turned in to narrow singletrack though an old pine forest were the trail was covered in pine needles and cones. It made for some fun shapes being thrown down in the corners!
On the final pedal liaison of the race to the final stage me and Olly decided we were happy with how the first two stages had gone and we just needed to keep a good 80 per cent pace and make it down safely with no big mistakes or mechanicals.
The final stage was amazing and a top trail to finish on. It started on a series of flowing switchbacks which got faster and faster until you were going warp speed traversing the hillside to the finish. We were stoked to see the end of the race in one piece.
Summing up the race, it was one of the best weekends riding ever, and to share it with a riding partner so closely just added to it.
As always you meet so many rad people at races of this nature and the trails we got to ride are second-to-none. Great trails, great people and great weather – big smiles all round.
It was just a shame we had to shoot off to catch our flight before getting to take second spot on the podium!
Thanks to everyone who made it happen, banging race.