Shimano Epic Enduro 2015
video on Vimeo
After being told about the event last summer, I was keen to give the Shimano Epic Enduro a try. It takes place in the Hautes Langeudoc Regional Park not too far from where I live, but in an area that I had not previously ridden in. With over 100km offroad, 4800m of elevation gain and nine timed "Specials" the "Epic" part of the event's name was not just there for show! The race is organised into three different loops which all come back to the main paddock in the medieval village of Olargues in the Hťrault department of southern France; after completing each loop, riders have their times for the completed Specials (timed descents) recorded and then have a short break to refuel, fix equipment and if within the time limit, head off for the next loop. Each loop is about 35km in length and has three Specials; the winner is the rider with the fastest accumulated time over the nine Specials so the rest of each loop (liaison) becomes quite sociable with time to chat with other riders -- a great event format.
Pat + Canfield Yell Screamy
Over 550 riders were on the start line, split into two waves with the second wave heading off about 30minutes after the first. I started in the first wave, along with riders who had completed the whole event last year and those who were amongst the first to register. The 4:45am departure meant lights would be required for the first and maybe second Specials depending on how fast riders rode the first couple of liaisons. Fortunately Iíd been able to recce the second Special the day before so had some idea of what I was letting myself in for and was reasonably confident about being able to ride it reasonably well in the dark. The excited atmosphere around the start area and eagerness of the riders to get going ensured a brisk pace up the first hill; I got into the lead group of riders planning to get to the first Special before it got crowded. Our little group gradually dropped riders and after about 40mins of climbing I was a few 100m ahead and first to the top. I let a few obviously faster riders start before me while I got padded up; it had been worth pushing myself a bit on that first climb as I had a pretty clear run at the first Special without too much traffic. The second liaison started easily enough but ended in a tough hike-a-bike for a few minutes to take us to the start of the second Special. We had to wait until the timing system at the bottom was setup but nevertheless set off before dawn and I was pleased to have some idea of what was coming up, especially in the second half where the rocky switchbacks-come-dropoffs required some trials skills to negotiate effectively. Riding back up the hill for a third time, we could see a trail of lights glinting through the trees, however arriving at the start of the third Special, the sun had risen sufficiently to enable us to ride without lights. This Special was nice and flowy with less rock drops and much more suited to a hard-tail (HT) and with the sun starting to warm us, it was really great fun to ride -- bringing us back to the paddock with about 35km under the belt just after 8am -- just as sensible people were starting to think about a leisurely Sunday breakfast of coffee and croissants.
The start at 4:45am. photo: Antoine Bussier
After a quick stop to refuel, it was off for the second loop -- a killer climb that took over 2hours to complete, first half rideable, second half hike-a-bike. And we did it twice! The two Specials off the top of that mountain were fun but very physically demanding especially on a HT, the first would have been about 20mins (for me, top guys about 15mins) but I flatted and lost 10mins. The second Special was a brutal 20mins (for the top guys; 30mins for me) of pounding through never-ending rockgardens (this led to a snapped spoke in my front wheel, which fortunately still rotated freely). By the end of that Special I was pretty shattered, but didn't have much time to spare to reach the cut-off to be able to start the third loop. I still had to get back to the village, climb up to the medieval castle at the top of the hill and do the third "Urban" Special -- which was very enjoyable, especially as my wife and kids were amongst the crowds cheering us on!
Killer climbs ...
... and fun descents
The last loop started on the flat leading to a steady climb to the first Special which was more dirt and less rock and more flowy singletrack, so nice and fun on the HT. This was followed by another fairly big climb to take us to the top of the "Pylons" Special; Id been forewarned that this Special was pretty full-on: lots of rock drops, steep hairpins etc. I rode pretty well on the flatter part at the top and the start of the steeper more technical section towards the bottom, but by this time I had been on the bike for about 10hours so fatigue and self-preservation instinct led to a more cautious approach and I did walk some bits. Unfortunately about 500m from the end, in a really steep, technical part of the trail, there was another loud gun-shot from the front wheel as a second spoke decided it wasnít going to take the abuse any more. This cost me a good few minutes trying to get the wheel true enough to rotate without rubbing the forks. I took the last 500m very cautiously and walked any big drop-offs. To my relief, I reached the bottom with the bike still intact and in time to make the final time-check. The final Special had some pretty fun sections but I was really nursing the bike by this stage and walking any drops. The wheel survived and got me home -- Claire (my wife) and the kids met me on the old railway-come-cycle-track for the final 8km back to the finish, arriving back at the paddock at 6pm, 13h15mins after the start gun!
So I got round the whole course and was reasonably pleased with my performance: despite mechanicals, I was 173 out of about 550 starters; 220 of whom completed the whole event (48th in the 40-49 age group). It was definitely the longest day in the saddle that Iíve ever done, a dually would definitely have reduced fatigue on the second loop which had some really long and physically demanding descents. The event included some of the most technical and punishing trails Iíve ridden: it was a real challenge and personally, riding a hard-tail, I would have preferred a bit more flowy singletrack -- but then itís an enduro not XC event! I'm looking forward to trying again next year on a Canfield Riot instead of my faithful Yelli Screamy.
Riot. photo: Canfield Bikes facebook page