Radon Epic Enduro 2017
For the third consecutive year I decided to takepart in the Epic
For the third consecutive year I decided to take part in the Epic Enduro held in Olargues, France. For 2017, a change in sponsor meant that it would become the Radon Epic Enduro; also moving up to the 50+ Masters 2 category, I felt that I had a chance for a top 10 finish - given that I had a reasonable knowledge of what to expect with two events under my belt, and a good understanding of the equipment and preparation required. Furthermore in 2017 the event fell at the end of the school holidays and so we were able to head over to Olargues a few days before the race, giving me more time to pre-ride some of the Special stages.
After a long winter of training reasonably hard and feeling quietly confident - then I saw the announced route and the cutoff times and started to get a bit worried! After a relatively easy route in 2016, the 2017 route added a 10th Special and about another 300m of vertical ascent making the entire route: 10 Specials over about 115km with 4800m of climbing, including the infamous hike-a-bike to the summit of the Montahut. As usual, the start was at night - 4:30am, but this time with a 2 hour climb to the first Special: St Martin le Froid which takes about 30mins - which would mean only a single nighttime Special.
The starting wave was selected randomly, and I ended up in the second wave starting 15m behind the first. Again the weather was nice to us with dry, moderately warm weather forecast.
So Sunday morning at 4:30am, I found myself with another 200 or so riders warming up for the start of the second wave. As usual the atmosphere was electric: music blaring, lights flashing and everyone raring to go! With fresh legs, the 2h climb to St Martin le Froid went smoothly and I passed a few of the stragglers from the first wave. I completed the first Special without incident and no hold-ups to speak of. My new dropper post really came into its own for the 5min pedally bit in the middle and I finished the Special in just under 30mins - my fastest time of the three years I've been racing the Epic Enduro. At the bottom, I caught up with two friends who had started in the first wave, but didn't dally too much as I was a bit worried about completing the second loop within the allocated time limit. The second Special was one I knew quite well and brought us back in to Olargues.
St Martin le Froid by night
A quick change of clothes and refuel and I was off on the second loop with four Specials and a nasty unrideable climb in the middle. This year I made it down the rock gulley on the Cretes XL Special but unfortunately burped quite a bit of air from my front tyre further down the track, but managed not to lose too much time reinflating with a CO2 cartridge. A steep climb took us to the first new Special of the 2017 edition - Les Pins. By this time I was really enjoying myself but a bit overconfidence caused me to misjudge a small jump resulting in me clipping my bars on a tree sending me off the narrow singletrack - fortunately nothing too serious and I only lost a few seconds- however, a silly mistake and annoying nonetheless.
After a longish fire-road, then singletrack climb, the following Special was one I had ridden in 2015 and had had a chance to check out again only 2 days earlier - Colombieres. Again the dropper post and fresher legs enabled me to ride the steep uphill section where in previous years I'd been reduced to pushing. I rode all the tricky bits well, but unfortunately completely misjudged a simple corner and managed to hit an oak tree pretty hard with the side of my neck and head - fortunately no serious damage but again annoying to lose valuable seconds with a silly mistake. The following Special -Mini Jurassic- was as fun as ever, and even better this year without the short little climb at the end!
After a brief visit to the medics to have my neck wound cleaned up, I set off on the third and final loop which stated with the daunting climb towards Montahut (for the second time). Needless to say, this time round, the climb was done at a more sedate pace than the first time round - almost 10hours and 70km earlier! I had passed the most critical time-checks with time to spare so the idea was to twiddle up the climb to be as fresh as possible for the punishing descent. The wind at the top was pretty strong so I didn't hang about too long before starting the Special. A bit further down, on the more exposed areas, the wind was so strong that it was quite difficult to keep the bike on track! Montahut is a Special of two halves! The first quite wide with lots of rock slabs and switchbacks which really gives your upper body a hammering, followed by the lower section which is narrower, more technical and quite difficult to ride smoothly when your arms have no strength left - again a couple of silly mistakes (which I attribute to fatigue) cost me more than a few seconds.
It was a pretty casual bunch of riders I came across at the bottom of the last long climb of the day - spirits were high but you could tell that is had been a long day in the saddle by the weary faces. Fatigue was really starting to set in as I attempted to fill my camelback but managed to turn the tap the wrong way and managed to drench myself as well as a few innocent bystanders! I'd had the opportunity to pre-ride the two new Specials on this final loop - Jurassic and Roc Traucat - a couple of days earlier so knew that there were no real surprises and no real climbing remaining, but by this stage I didn't have the energy to really go for it and was more in survival than race mode. Riding those Specials a bit more slowly possibly paid off as I made no mistakes and completed them without incident.
Back down on the road, it just remained to ride back to Olargues for the final Urban Special from the castle at the top of the medieval village down through the narrow streets and back to the paddock. I made it to the start just as the sun was starting to dip behind the hills to the west and it was a great boost to see Claire, Sophie, Thomas and Toby up there at the start to cheer me on!
Overall a fairly massive day in the saddle - starting at 4:30am and finishing just before 7:30pm! I felt I'd ridden pretty well, despite a few silly mistakes, and wanted to stay for the podiums and soak up a bit more of the ambiance. So over a couple of beers and plate of chips we waited for the results to be posted - in the end I finished 3rd in Masters 2 (with a time of 1h51m35s), five or so minutes behind the category winner, but only 30s or so behind second place. Still the overall winner's time of 1h20m13s shows the level that the top riders are at.
I'm not sure about 2018 - despite really enjoying the event, the preparation is quite demanding and it would probably be more fun to ride the trails in the area at ones leisure with a bunch of mates than race them with the clock ticking away in the background!
Masters2 - 3rd
Le tracé 2017 en détails
Redouté, redoutable, voici le tracé du Radon Epic Enduro 2017 ! Au menu, 114km, 4800m de dénivelés +/- cumulés et 28km de spéciales…
Le parcours 2017:
Boucle 1 : 2 spéciales (St Martin du Froid, Trottinettes/La Mienne) – 37km – 1650m de dénivelés +/-
Boucle 2 : 4 spéciales (Les Crêtes XXL, Mini-Jurassic, Le Pin, Colombières) – 41km – 1650m de D+/-
Boucle 3 : 4 spéciales (Montahut, Jurassic, Roc Traucat, l'Urbaine) – 36km – 1500m de D+/-
Un parcours 2017 qui s'annonce globalement plus complet et homogène, avec une répartition de la difficulté sur chaque boucle, où chaque blason finisher (Epic de Bronze, d'Argent et d'Or) aura de la valeur...