Shimano Epic Enduro – the return of XXXC

Sometime in the spring of 2014 an unusual bike race crossed my attention – it was in the south of France, was called the ‘Epic Enduro’ and had stats to make your legs tingle. 90km, 4,300m of climbing and thousands of metres of special-stage descending on natural, rocky trails. I saw some very pretty photos online, and thought about for a moment. “Sod it, I’m doing that next year”. A few days later Sam from bikevillage put up a blog post, having ridden the inaugural event, and that settled it. You can read Sam’s post here.

So that’s why, 12 months later, I arrived in Bourg Saint Maurice with a battered cardboard bike box after 2 flights and a succession of just-in-time train transfers caused by a LATE Swiss train. Madness. The sun was shining, it was as warm as the warmest Scottish day, and I felt like summer holidays had come early. The smugness faded a bit when we set off to the south in Sam’s van with Tim, and started talking about the race. Course-setter and EWS enduro-rocket Theo Galy had decided that last year’s stats were a bit tame, so the epicness had been boosted this year to give a total of 105km and 4,800m climbing. As Sam said, it would only be polite for other event organisers to return their marketing material to Theo along with a note, apologising for mis-use of the title ‘epic’.

In case you need reminding of the stats...
In case you need reminding of the stats…

There was a spare rest day of sorts before the race, so before registration opened we went off to look at Stage 8 (of 9!), which I’d been told was one of the best. I imagined buff singletrack, long sweeping traverses and flattering corners. I was mistaken. If you’ve ridden Grey Mare’s Tail at Kinlochleven, then you’ll know the infamous set of steep, tight and rocktastic switchbacks near the bottom. It was like that, but drier, and it went on for about 15 minutes. Now take that, but stretch it out over 8 other stages, all of which gave a total of an hour and a half of racing for team BMC’s Florian Golay, the eventual winner. Now that section at kinlochleven is hard, but it only lastss a minute at most. Sit down and think about that.

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Fortunately, as well as being bonkers it turned out that the epic enduro is also the best race you’ve (probably) never done. 700 of us lined up in a rustic village square in deepest, darkest rural France at 5 in the morning, and only 200 of us returned at the end of the day having completed all of the stages. By 9am we were back at the van to refill bottles, having already done a 1,500m ride and raced 3 fifteen-minute stages of which 2 were in the dark. I used a grand total of 3 Exposure lights, a Toro and a Diablo on the bars and an Axis on my helmet, which combined to make me into a small sun. Water refilled and sandwiches nailed, it was on to the next ‘day ride’ of 1,500m, and then repeat…

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Following some time cut-offs that we squeezed through far too close for comfort, we were out for a total of 14 hours. By the ninth and final stage my arms were starting to struggle to support me over the bars, and little involuntary ‘heuurghhh…’ noises were escaping every time I barrelled through a compression. I had worried that the Santa Cruz Nomad I’ve been riding since December would be overkill on such a long day out, but the only things holding it back were my knackered arms and legs, and once it wound up a head of steam on the strung-out, warp speed rock gardens trying to stop it didn’t seem like a sensible idea.

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Of the 8 of us that had set up our little base camp by the river, 7 of us finished which is not too shabby at all. I was super happy with 23rd spot, Sam rocked the luminous Orange Alpine Five into 55th, and Tim bulldozed his way into 73rd despite the minor inconveniences of riding a hardtail and picking up a suspected broken hand on stage 2. Don’t make him angry. Somehow, despite all that climbing, it was type 1 fun all round rather than the dreaded type 2. Many thanks to Jungle, Sweet protection and Hope Technology for the support that made the riding that bit more epic – I’ll be back next year, and if in doubt, enter and find out!

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