We drove over to Val d’Isere yesterday to watch the qualifying session of the UCI Mountain Bike Downhill World Cup. The mountains definitely showed us who was boss – we were chewed up and spat out…
The day started off well with not a cloud in the Chamonix skies. So we bought a baguette and packed the car up to head over to Val d’Isere via the Mont Blanc tunnel and Italy. It was a long journey over the Col du Petit St Bernard with lots of slow drivers and camper cans but we eventually arrived at about 11:30. We parked the car in a street and headed over to the course. There were bikes everywhere as the downhill word cup and the cross country world cup were both in town.
After firing off a few photos at the finish jump on the course we took a tour of the pits. We saw lots of famous people – Rachel Atherton having her leg bent sideways in the floor by her physio, Steve Peat trying to fix his jersey and Sam Hill just looking cool.
We broke for lunch, moved the car into an underground car park we discovered to keep it out of the sun. After our baguette we had a little wander round Val d’Isere which really is a lovely place and hadn’t changed a bit in the 10 years since we were last there. A jet screamed over our heads and turned over several times before disappearing over the mountain – it came back a few minutes later and did a loop the loop before skimming low down the valley – a real life top gun!
We took the lift up to the top of the course after lunch to watch and photograph the qualifying runs. We planned to walk down the course, taking pictures as we went. Although the lift was free, a lady still asked me if I had a press pass – what did it matter if it was free anyway? She gave me a paper ticket (!) and off we went.
The women were due to go first with Rachel Atherton, the first lady on course. The second she hit the track raindrops started to splash on my arms and the thunder started to rumble! With the hot sun and big raindrops we started down the course. I quickly found that I could not walk on the steep ground and take photos at the same time. I was just too slow and had to watch my feet so that I didn’t break an ankle rather than watch the action. So we’d walk for a bit, stop and take photos and then walk, slide, stumble a bit more!
It never ceases to amaze me (especially with the women) just how fast they go and how they manage to hang onto the bikes. They are not built like men, they’re just like me and I fell off recently going a tenth of the speed that these ladies were going and they were on a world cup downhill course – massive respect to them.
The rain started to get a little heavier and we sheltered under a small fir. The thunder got louder and then, below us on the other side of the valley, a lightening bolt struck – below us and we were under a tree – yikes!
As soon as the rain eased we started off down the course again. They’d stopped the qualifying at this point as they can’t run the lift in a thunderstorm so we were able to get to the next big viewing area before they started back up again.
We watched Steve Peat come down looking awesome and then the rain started again. This time it did not let up and was heavy. We had our jackets with us but my shorts and shoes were soon soaked through. We got to the bottom of the course and the rain was ‘biblical’. Water as squelching through my shoes as we headed back to the car. We even tried to buy new shorts and a new t-shirt rather than drive back soaking wet but we couldn’t find anything.
So we gave up and drove home. The sun was shining by now and we hung my shorts out of the rear window to dry! Two minutes into the journey we saw a parking ticket under the wiper blades – I wasn’t aware we’d violated any parking laws and we have no idea how to pay it either. Oh well!
On the return journey, on the Col du Petit St Bernard a marmot ran out in front if us on the road. We’ve been hoping to see one of these furry creatures the whole trip and here was one on the road! It was a long day, the photos weren’t great and we got soaked but I’ll take that over a day in Milton Keynes anytime!