In the summer of 2016, a new European stage race was born, and this year the team at MarathonMTB.com couldn’t be more excited. Not since the Swiss Epic launched in 2014 has Europe hosted a new stage race with all the trimmings and all the ingredients for a truly epic experience: a journey through hidden environments and historic sites in the Alps, full-service packages, mountains, and pairs racing.
The Alps Epic has been inspired by France’s spectacular Great Hautes-Alpes Crossing (Grande Traversée des Hautes-Alpes) mountain bike route. This route, linking La Grave to Laragne in France’s south east mountains, covers 350 kilometres and is usually completed in about seven days, with a high point at 2,400m. It traces its way from the feet of mammoth glaciers to sun-drenched fields of lavender, tracing its way along lakes and following generous stretches of first-rate singletrack.
The team behind the Alps Epic saw an opportunity to showcase the region and take advantage of its incredible natural beauty and ruggedness. Responding to the landscape, this race is far from easy. In the words of event organisers, it promises to challenge ‘all the strength and bike handling skills a rider has’, but also lets that be every rider’s focus, with everything else taken care of.
Full service racing
Stage races have evolved in recent years to offer participants all the trimmings – so that rather than having to organise your own transport between stages, hotels, meals, and race nutrition, races like the Swiss Epic, and now the Alps Epic, offer packages that include everything you need to turn an event into a holiday, or a holiday into a race. The Alps Epic offer two options: A Blue and a Black Package. The Blue Package, for 1090 EU per person, offers six nights’ shared accommodation (we expect this means dorm-style with shared bathrooms), plus nutritious meals that are sourced from local and organic produce wherever possible (vegetarians can also be catered for). Meanwhile, the Black package at 1890 EU per person goes a little further, catering to any strict dietary requirements, and, most important of all, offers private rooms for teammates in cosy hotels.
No matter which you choose, there’s a high ‘baseline’ bar set by the standard offered by both, designed so you can relax and immerse yourself in your riding without having to worry about logistics and things like cooking and shopping. Both packages include in-race nutrition at food and drink stations, bike wash and lube service, bike repair service (replacement parts invoiced), massage, secure bike storage, luggage transport between hotels, entry to opening and closing parties, and a return shuttle service to the start town, where you can pick up your car or hop on the train to your next destination.
If you want to save a bit of cash, or you like a challenge, you can of course enter the race alone for 550 EU.
Adventure through the Alps with company
We’ve noticed a trend over the last few years. Increasingly, stage races are opting to save money and nightmares by staying in one place for either the entire event, or for more than one day’s racing in the event journey. While we firmly appreciate the advantages of staying in one place (once our team members raced eight days with toothbrushes in their jersey pockets because they wanted to attend to oral hygiene after breakfast, when bags had already been collected by race logistics), there is something unique and special about a stage race that journeys. Like Transalp, TransPyr, and South Africa’s joBerg2c, the Alps Epic travels with a continual and persistent rhythm through changing landscapes, hopping from town to town, always on the move. Something epic, something that harks back to humankind’s nomadic roots. It’s great to see a new race daring to design such a route, inspired, of course, by the wealth of trails and panoramas the Grande Traversée has on offer.
Then there’s the pairs racing. Many of our team members are based in Australia, where for some reason the power of mountain bike pairs racing hasn’t caught on. Whether for safety, inspiration, physical or emotional support, pairs racing, especially when there are mountains to climb and vast distances to cover. Just. Makes. Sense. It also makes for iron-clad relationships and indelible memories.
Keeping it small in the Alps
The Alps Epic is limited to just 200 entries, and keeping it small will be integral to the atmosphere and services promised by the event. Not only that, the race is an accredited ‘eco event’, so there’s special focus on things like encouraging racers to use public transport to get to and from the event, using local produce for meals (this means some amazing cheese, surely!) and local businesses for support, recycling waste, and promising a high-standard of trail care and maintenance, even after the race has passed through. On the downside, with just 200 places each year, there’s a chance some of us might miss out.
We can’t wait for our turn to race in France’s Haute Alpes. The French love of local culture, trails, and everything bike, as well as spectacular landscapes and incredible trails all promise to make this new event pretty special. Maybe we’ll see you there in 2017.
If you want to find out more details – head to the event website.