This is real mountain biking! The Alps Bike Festival and La Clusaz delivered with kilometre after kilometre of technical trails through beautiful mountain scenery.
La Clusaz, a cycling destination.
I should have known better than to bring my hardtail, this race is all about showing off the 112 kilometres of dedicated mountain bike tracks. La Clusaz want this to be a summer cycling destination. Road riding is well known in the region with the Route de Grand Alps going through town, a route which takes you from Lake Leman near Geneva all the way down to Nice! I’ve ridden numerous other MTB resorts locally and La Clusaz in my experience offers a far greater choice of cross country trails than any other.
My hardtail looked out of place on the start line amongst the full suspension machines. I expected lightweight mountain climbing hardtails with semi slick tyres and skinsuits like most other mountainous marathons. There were a few skinsuits seen but I’ll be on my full suss for this race next year, this is real mountain biking and you need some help on those trails. I was clenched on a lot of the trails, gracefully slid down the trail on my side once and came close to hitting the deck on numerous other occasions. All with a big grin on my face! Petrified but happy.
The town sits in the Aravis mountain range at 1100 metres altitude. There’s a good range of hotels in the area, we stayed in Hotel Alpen Roc which is a 3 star hotel with all inclusive breakfast, dinner and bar. With fantastic views over the mountains, comfortable rooms and communal areas, plus a good selection of healthy food at meal times. La Clusaz is just 50 minutes drive from Geneva airport.
Apart from the shock and delight of seeing so many trails I had a very positive race. Sensations were good from the start and my breathing felt strong, all the recent VO2 Max training is paying off. I opted for a conservative race here, in my last race in Belgium I rode aggressively challenging the leaders because I knew I had support in the feed zones with bottles and gels. Here in France I raced with no support, it’s not financially possible for me to bring support to all events which sucks because racing 5 hours through the hot mountains on 2 bottles whilst everyone else gets handed up nice ice cold tasty bottles at 5 or more feed zones isn’t a fair deal. Stopping to fill a bottle might only take 30 seconds but that’s a big chunk of time to make up to a fast moving elite group. I rode with Robbert de Nijs in third and fourth place with second just ahead until 50 kilometres where I took a tumble, we got caught by a quick bunch of racers on full suss bikes and Robbert smashed his oval chainring on a rock.
I tagged onto the speedy descenders to make a group of 6 which stayed together until the last climb, this group was competing for second place. For a while I was thinking about the race win and then the podium, I was already writing the race report in my head. I’d been keeping something in reserve but it wasn’t my fitness which held me back in the end, the dehydration took me out of the race for the podium mid way up the last climb. I was seeing stars, this climb was hot and steep! I somehow made my way to the last feed zone where I reluctantly stopped for a slurp of coke and bottle of water. From there I negotiated the final descent on more amazing trails, my new Schwalbe Racing Ray front tyre hooked up great even in the mud, it was designed for the new aggressive style of cross country and today was definitely that! I crossed the line happy in 6th. Support and podium next year.
On the Saturday I rode the cross country race with a couple of Brits who arrived late on Friday. It was fun to ride around, take some pictures of the scenery and enjoy the “cheese zones” (feed zones), one of these being positioned next to a fromagerie with the cow bells signing. The cross country race wasn’t as technical as the marathon route, instead there was 30 kilometres of fast flowing trails. Not really a beginner’s race but an easier introduction to racing in the mountains. The quality of event for me is heavily weighted on the quality of the trails so I was a happy cyclist.
The marathon was just a small part of the 3 day event with enduro, cross country and kid’s races, plus trials expos, live music and the exhibition village. With such a variety of events it made for a great atmosphere all weekend. This was definitely helped by the town pulling out all the stops to make the event feel welcome.
We love the mountains so it’s easy to fall in love with La Clusaz but the Alps Bike Festival offers a great 3 day adventure for the whole family. We’ll see you back here next year.