In January I had done the first round of the Urge 1001 Enduro Tour in Dolceacqua, Italy which I thoroughly enjoyed and ended up with a half decent result so I decided I would enter into the 2nd round at Sospel and also persuade Jonny to fly over for the weekend from London (which is becoming quite a habit!). The difference being that, on closer inspection of the numbers, this race was a bit of an epic, to be honest I should have known this simply by looking at the name, dubbed – Bévérally ‘Ultra’ Enduro, Ultra Plaisir. I knew the race was over two days however once I actually properly looked at the details of the event the numbers came out at 2 days, 3 loops, 80km, 3800m ascent, 9 stages, now we are talking and that is a serious race. We were later assured by Rocky Mountain rider Alex Cure that this was longer and harder than an EWS race even which made us feel slightly better.
2 days, 3 loops, 80km, 3800m ascent, 9 stages
I’m obviously writing all this after the race, so in reflection and knowledge of how the race actually turned out, however when we were on our way there we did not think these kind of distances were that bad, especially given it was over two days, after all we had done rides of up to 60/70km with a few thousand metres of climbing before, we were in quite good shape. The thing that makes the difference is when you add the race element into it, when you spend over an hour racing stages at full pelt you soon feel your legs cramping up on sometimes the simplest of things and you soon make mistakes and get tired where you would expect not to.
So if you would like a challenge and you like racing enduro, I would certainly recommend you have a go at this one, it is long, the landscape is beautiful, the stages are really challenging, varied and fun and the organisation is top drawer.
Saturday’s racing didn’t actually start until after lunch so the morning was a relaxed affair apart form getting our registration done and getting our timing chips. We had time for a faff with the bikes, a quick bite to eat and a chat with some other racers before a quick ‘group photo’ and we were off.
We had three stages to complete on Saturday afternoon, the first of 3 loops which was about 25km with 1200m of climbing. The first climb wasn’t too bad and we were greeted with people playing music at the top. All the temptations were there to ride flat out on this first stage and of course that is what I ended up doing, although the logical thing to do would be to keep it chilled out and save energy for the other stages given the length of the race. Despite the steepness and tightness of a lot of the switchbacks I somehow managed to stay on the bike with no big mistakes and have a clean stage, the only thing that stopped me was the two riders who fell off in front of me in a gulley, so nothing to do than ride over them.. no of coure not, my english courtesy overtook and I calmly waited until they untangled themselves.
The liaison to stage 2 was long, loooong but it was worth it for stage 2, which was a much more open trail with some really fast sections. On this I must have gotten a bit carried away as I managed to have a couple of crashes on the tight switchback section, twice getting my wheel caught in a rut in a corner and going over the bars, i’d guess there was a good bit of time lost there. The last stage of the day was much longer and technical, I was really feeling my arms and legs getting tired by that point but it was such a good trail I was trying to ignore the dead arms and enjoy the track. I much prefer technical trails and this one started off with a lot of steep rocks into some pretty awkward sections and some very tight, steep switchbacks before a long rocky section into a fast open section in the woods. I’m not too sure how but I managed to keep it rubber side down and got down in one piece and with a decent time. Before we started we stopped at the top to check out the track which quickly turned into us heckling some of the riders as they came past, Jonny did a pretty good job of encouraging the racers as demonstrated in the photos below. When he arrived at the bottom he also seemed to have had a pretty good run, he came in quite a long time behind me despite having set off just behind me though, he told me he had stopped for a rest as he was knackered, instead of just holding onto the bike in pain and being a complete passenger (as a lot of people seemed to be doing), since he had travelled so far to ride here, it was more worth while to have a little rest and be able to enjoy the trails than just getting to the bottom as quick as possible… And that is how his weekend continued, sending it with some decent times! But when things got too out of hand, stopping for a quick tea break mid stage, enjoying the view, then calmly carrying on – nice race strategy.
Saturday’s riding ended with everyone in the square comparing times after the first three stages, along with a (big) free meal of fish pasta, muffin and a live band, not bad considering the amount you pay for the entry!
We finished that along with a couple of beers before jumping in the car over the pass into Italy to our AirBnB we had booked for the night, we were greeted by a couple who didn’t speak any English or French, only Italian. Did any of us speak Italian? No. We spent the evening eating Pizza, watching ‘A Slice Of British Pie’ and getting an early night for the 5am start the next day!
The plan for Sunday was 6 stages, 50km and 2400m of climbing, just a tad long. That meant an early get up, with riders setting off at 8am and us staying about 30mins away, we were up at 5:30am and in the car by 6:30am to head back to Sospel.
We arrived in Sospel, threw the bikes together and were ready to rumble, we had managed to get a early night so were pretty fresh and ready for the 850m climb which were presented with first thing that morning. Me, Jonny, John (our new american friend) and Andy all soon found each other on the climb and ended up spinning up the hill together, since the sun had not really risen yet and the sky was filled with clouds it made for a nice cool ascent up to 1160m almost at the top of Mont Razet.
From our previous days results me and Andy had realised we were pretty close, with Andy leading the way by about 30 seconds, so the race was on between us! Andy had beaten me at the last race and I was determined to get him on this race, I was thinking the endurance side of it would be my advantage because he was certainly faster than me on the downhills.
Stage 4 started off as a fairly simple, a fast stage with some tight switchbacks thrown in of course, I managed to catch Andy up on this one as he set off in front of me but stage 5 was very long and rough with a good few pedally and technical sections in, I also had a fall in stage 5 so lost a bit of time to him so after the first two stages of the day we were still pretty similar to the day before, me 30 seconds behind.
Stage 6 was a bit of an epic! From the liaison to the start we could see the trail wind itself away down the other side of the valley. I stopped to take some photos and whilst doing so I could feel it start to rain, judging by the rocks I could see on the trail over the valley I could tell this was going to become an ice rink if it got really wet so I jumped on the bike and raced to the start and set off straight away to try and get a dry as possible run, luckily I got down before the rocks had become particularly slippery but I think a lot of riders got caught out by it and ended up walking down large sections as it was just impossible to ride. Apart from the fact this stage had a long technical rocky section, it also had a LONG pedal and ascent of about 60m which you were absolutely knackered by the end of! And you still had a good section down through the woods to hit after that, the stage ended up being 13minutes long and a bit of an epic! I did manage to make up about a minute on Andy though which put me in the lead for the first time, I think this ended up being my best stage of the weekend.
By the afternoon the sun had come out and you could really feel the tiredness from the amount of riding coming on, we still had three more stages to go and 1000m more of climbing to do.
After a good chunk of that 1000m to the top of the hill, stage 7 started off quite easy going but quickly got into a very awkward and difficult, tiring track. I ended up with 3 or 4 proper crashed on this track, twice filling my goggles/helmet with soil as I took a closer inspection of the ground, the girl in front of me also had a go at doing the same, it made me feel better to overhear Nico Vouilloz saying it had felt like he had forgotten how to ride his bike at the end of this stage though. In the end I lost a good bit of time on this stage and Andy was right behind me again!
Stage 8 was probably the easiest and fastest stage but I ended up dropping my chain and spending a long while ragging it back on past the ‘chain guide’, which saw both Andy and Jonny ride past me as I was track-side. I finally got it back on and gave it everything on the pedals to get back to Andy, I think by the end of this stage we were neck and neck.
We had one more steep climb to the top of the hill before a purely downhill stage 9 back into Sospel which was fast, loose and steep which came onto a section of the bike park at the bottom providing us with a nice set of berms to end the day, me and Jonny set of down this stage together and had a blast chasing each other down it.
After that epic final stage we rolled back down into the village all together and got ourselves some (free) food, a large dish of pasta and a muffin, we ended up finding two other english guys and sat with them eating and recounting various sections of stages, to be honest it was difficult to try and explain parts of trails as it was so long a lot of it just blurred into one.
We spend an good hour or so in the sun eating food and drinking beer and just chilling out after riding, such a good feeling. When they put the overall results up we found out we had all done better than we expected and were all rather happy with our results.
Andy – 28th – 1hr 10:42
Will – 30th – 1hr 11:12
Jonny – 73rd – 1hr 23:51
(out of 151)
Andy pipped me to it with a stormer of a run on stage 9 and even bagged himself a podium in the maters class, I got my best result so far and Jonny outdid his result in the enduro he came over to do in January in Levens!
Conclusion? This. Was. Hard.
But I would easily do it again! I love a challenge and this was certainly one, with the amount of climbing, distance and amount of descending you do it is a whole lot of fun. I would have to do it with some friends again though as I think each of us had moment where we would have stopped, cut the race short and gone home if the others hadn’t of been there giving us shit for being tired or encouraging each other on (especially for Andy… because he’s old).
When you compare the level of organisation, the amount of people, the trails, the weather, the free food and entertainment, the amount of trails you get to ride and the general atmosphere with a race in the UK you have to ask yourself why it costs so much to race in the UK. The amount you get for your money here 60 euro for a two day race with two free meals and entertainment is really worthwhile and I would even say worthy enough to book yourself a flight out of London and come over and race for the weekend!
We were exhausted out after the weekend of racing and were hit the hay as soon as we got home, I think it is safe to say we all absolutely loved it though!
Me and Jonny still went for a ride the next day however…