“If you’ve got more than a passing interest in mountain biking then the chances are you’ve heard of the Megavalanche. It’s one of the sport’s most iconic events – and the sight of hundreds of riders enthusiastically hurling themselves down an Alpine glacier makes compelling footage.
“The race starts at 3,300m on the Pic Blanc glacier above Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps, plummeting to the valley floor 2,000m below in Allemont – via 30km of snow, ice, rocks, roots, switchbacks and singletrack.
“I’d previously declined the opportunity to take on this MTB rite of passage, but 2013’s race coincided almost exactly with my 40th birthday – an omen that seemed too significant to ignore.”
“I arrived with friends half a week before the race, the idea being we’d have time to check out the trails and get used to riding at altitude. In reality it gave me the opportunity to crash my bike repeatedly and leave myself with a collection of minor injuries and a helmet smashed in half on a rock. Whoops.”
The Megavalanche Qualifier
“There’s a qualifier race at the Mega – essentially a way of working out where you start. Those who do well in it, get a place in one of the three mass-start races, while the slowcoaches have to be content with riding down individually against the clock.
“The qualifier track was short, steep and rough – and on one particularly narrow part of the trail I found myself on the floor in a tangle of handlebars with another rider. I watched in dismay as dozens of riders poured past me but I managed to make up lost ground and snuck into one of the mass-start races. Hurrah.”
The Megavalanche Main Event
“I was in the third-tier race, which began mid-morning on the Sunday – and I made my way up the mountain via two cable cars to join the 300-odd other contenders in the thin air atop the glacier.
“I’d had an awful night’s sleep with an unexpected attack of pre-race nerves, but as the event’s trademark Euro-techno played, and the MC told us all what crazy motherflippers we were for being there, a surge of adrenaline kicked in.
“And then we were off!
“Or rather we weren’t. It seemed to take ages for the riders in front of me to begin moving across the start area and down onto a steeper section of ski piste.
“The bunching at the start may have been a good thing in hindsight though, because it meant I had a slim chance of not ploughing straight into somebody else as soon as I let go of the brakes.
Getting used to the handling of my bike in the snow, I gradually built up speed and began passing plenty of riders
“Getting used to the handling of my bike in the snow, I gradually built up speed and began passing plenty of riders. I even caught up with my pal Pete – who had been nearer the front – and gave him a shout before promptly taking my first tumble of the day.
“The gradient was slackening now and I was pedalling through the slush, trying to follow tyre channels in the snow. I hadn’t been working this hard at such a high altitude before and I was shocked how quickly I was panting with my muscles aching in protest. How on earth was I going to survive the next hour?
The majority of riders were sliding on their backsides with bikes on their laps
“I didn’t have long to worry about that though, as I’d come to the steepest section of the course, where it turned off the ski piste and straight down the snow-covered mountain. Only a few brave souls were attempting to ride this – and most of them were falling off. Instead, the vast majority of riders were either walking down or sliding on their backsides with bikes on their laps.
“I took the latter option and covered ground quickly – with the only downside being that my shorts had filled up with icy slush. Not an experience I’m keen to repeat.
“As I plugged through the snow there were a few pinch points where riders bunched up, with most taking a typically French attitude to queuing – so those with the sharpest elbows got through first.
“After doing quite well at these, I was delighted to see the snow finally give way to a rocky trail ahead – and was getting my breath back now that the air wasn’t quite so thin.”
Getting Taken Out (And Not For A Movie And Chips)
“But just as I was starting to feel like I was getting back on top of the race, fate – or more precisely another rider – dealt me a cruel blow.
Landing hard in a ball of dust and pain, I got back up as quickly as I could, but it soon became clear that all was not well
“The track briefly turned from rocky singletrack to grass and I took advantage of the smooth surface to put in some uninterrupted pedal strokes. But just as I was getting up to speed the rider behind came alongside and grabbed my handlebar, pushing it quickly forward so that my bike stopped dead and I went flying over the bars.
“Landing hard in a ball of dust and pain, I got back up as quickly as I could, determined not to lose too many places.
“However it quickly became clear that all was not well. I tried to lift my bike by the handlebar but one of my arms wasn’t co-operating. I couldn’t lift it from my body and it hurt like hell.
My Megavalanche adventure ended with a free helicopter ride down the mountain and a fancy sling
“It was obviously broken.
“My Megavalanche adventure ended with a free helicopter ride down the mountain, a fancy sling, and a prescription for co-codamol.”
The Silver Lining To My Megavalanche Disaster
“It was going to be months before I could ride a bike again, but I couldn’t just go cold turkey, so I bought a turbo trainer and set it up in the living room – pedalling away while watching the Tour de France on TV.
“Surprisingly, when I got back in the saddle for real in the autumn, I seemed to be fitter than ever and I’d lost weight – inspiring me to push on and make much bigger gains.
“Friends often ask if I’d do the Mega again – and I don’t even have to think about the answer.
“No f***ing way, but you should!”
The Megavalanche 2015 is running from 6-12 July, to find out more visit the official website