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Over the weekend I had a chance to test out some exciting new wheels that have been in the works for a couple of years now from an Adelaide based Bouwmeester Composites with input from Luescher Teknik, Melbourne. I picked up the wheel and first thoughts were – weight. This wheel is light…and has a very low profile.

SchwalbeBCRimBuxton2

Off to Buxton and first impressions are – silence. The Bouwmeester is noticably quieter than anything I’ve ridden before. I’m not sure if the low profile has something to do with this but it’s always nice to just hear your tires hooking up. With striking looks far removed from it’s road bike counterparts it’s reminiscent of a motocross rim. Great touch.

I had a Schwalbe Hans Dampf up front and a Rock Razor out back – a combo I’ve been really happy with for a year or so now. Particularly on fast dry tracks. The Rock Razor rolls very well and has some pretty aggressive side knobs to keep things gripping when you tip it in to a corner. I also haven’t noticed any big transition point blackspot where the tire has a loss of traction as it’s dropped into the corner. I settled on pressures of 24PSI up front and 26PSI out back, with a wider rim profile, 36mm, than the Arch EX’s I’ve been riding for the last year (24.6mm) I found lower pressures can be run as the tire is held much more securely with a near vertical sidewall. This results in more grip from a larger tread contact patch and better pedaling efficiency from tire small bump compliance with the ground. Win-win! The set I tested were pre-production, and I hear that the final version will be slightly wider and further refined.

SchwalbeBCRimBuxton

In corners the wheel felt very direct and assisted in holding my line well. I didn’t experience any burping and only felt the tire roll slightly in a heavy corner where the tire was experiencing some pretty high lateral loads. Great for relatively low pressures and the grip was crazy good!

I committed to one corner expecting the tire to break traction a little – Nope. Looping out and fighting to stay on the bike as I had an off track excursion!

Bouwmeester have put in some serious testing over the last couple of years. This has directly translated into a solid feeling wheel – I felt at home railing turns right from the start. The profile has been carefully optimised to maximise impact strength – so there is enough strength to run them on a downhill bike and take a few hits but featherweight enough for XC/trail/Enduro.

It’s super exciting to see an Aussie company taking a ground up analytical approach to research and development in a market filled with Chinese catalog or uber expensive American made rims. The wheels will be 100% Australian made in rAdelaide and I can’t wait to get hold of a set of my own when they go on sale in the near future.

BuxtonBCOverall

Race day

Sunday came and my guts were turning in anticipation! I hadn’t been able to get onto the glacier for practice during the week. For the first time all week we were able to see the peak of Pic Blanc from the village. Hooooollllyyy. It’s a long way up. We got sardined into the gondola and winched to the top.

Megavalanche Pic Blanc Summit - if only it was this clear for us! Credit: Laurent Salino

Megavalanche Pic Blanc Summit – if only it was this clear for us!
Credit: Laurent Salino

Surprisingly my nerves calmed down once I got onto the snow. The start was very close now and the tangibility of it seemed to make it less intimidating. After a couple of hours of dancing in the cold we were lined up at the start. Each seeding group separated by a tape. The vibe was pretty cool, lots of Damien Marley and chilled tunes. There was no need for heavy music to get everyone amped. The 40 degree slope ahead of us took care of that.

Yep - the track goes down there

Yep – the track goes down there

Just like qualifying the 15min. 2min and 30sec flags were waved like a rag to 400 bulls. Helicopter blades sounded above then “ALAAAARMMMMMMAAAAAAAAA” the cheesy euro electro pop  signalled the main event was on again. There were yells from the troops and the anticipation was high. The tape went up and we were off. A scene reminiscent of Lord of the Rings unfolded.  Hundreds of riders lurched off the line and down the ski slope. In a word – carnage. Rider after ride went down in front of me and it felt like even more passed.

2mins to Armageddon

2 minutes to Armageddon

 

So far so good!

So far so good!

I got the first corner without falling, I took the human-bike tripod method. I struggled to get my feet up as the riders in front of me chopped the  soft snow up. Any videos did no justice to how physical this part of the race was. A mixture of soft snow and altitude ensured I was pretty wrecked by the time we hit the gravel. A long procession of riders in front and behind made a snaking line down the sharpy shaly single-track. I overtook a few dudes on the downs with a shout of “Rider” following by less friendly words.

Lovely day for a ride

Lovely day for a ride

My heart was absolutely peaking by now and I struggled to get into a steady state rhythm the more altitude acclimatized were knocking on my back door when we hit the climbs. I got passed. The most frustrating thing was I would catch them as soon as I hit the flowy down parts. Passing was difficult as it was either a risky high speed affair on the downs or required an extra blast of energy on the small climbing sections which I didn’t have in the tank. As we moved from the high altitude shale into the alpine meadows my race started to change to survival mode! The mud was super slow and the uphill sections that normally could be negotiated with a bit of momentum were clogged up with riders.

Some interesting encouragement

Some interesting encouragement

In the middle of the track there is a 300m climb which was lined with spectators – consisting mostly of riders from other classes. It was great to get a bit of a boost on the hardest up in the track but things went downhill figuratively and literally straight after this. The track moved down to the forests deep in the valley and onto the finish in the small village of Allemond, 2500m vertical metres below the start. At the points where the track was it’s least steep the mud got super gluggy and almost impossible to ride.

Yelling

 

 

MUD

The mud was thick and NASTY!

The next 20-30mins was spent pushing through any flat sections and riding as fast as possible on the steeper sections to keep the tires clear, my Gopro cutout about 30mins from the finish so unfortunately I missed capturing the action in the steep forests coming into Allemond. I crossed the line in 129th place which I wasn’t super happy with but my main goal for the race was to Qualify for the main event and finish the Mega so – job done.  I couldn’t believe how much energy was required to finish this truly epic race I collapsed after crossing the finish line and enjoyed 3 apples, 2 Clif bars, 1 sanga, 4 bottles of water and a pack of chips!

Thanks to all the crew we rode with that made the trip so great!

Mega Crew

I’d love to go back and race in the dry in the future. I’d like to thank all our affiliates in helping us get over and live the dream. In particular Clif (Rob Hurley from Shimano Australia for all their support), Schwalbe tires, Fox Suspension Australia and Pushie Enterprises (KS, CSixx and Mucky Nutz), TLD (Lusty Industries) and a very special thanks to Claire for putting up with constant bike talk and lots of behind the scenes work.

 

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Qualification day arrived and I was a whole lot happier as it’s wasn’t raining! I was a little nervous before the race –  first mass start race. I forced a croissant, yoghurt/muesli and coffee down the gullet. We ascended the gondola to the top few corners of the quali track to see the first group fly past. It looked like a fox hunt on bikes. I started to get pumped up! I realised my battle group was assembling, off with the jackets and down to the start. A bit of jostling and everyone was lined up at the start. The 30 second board was waved and the tacky Euro-electro blasted through the speakers like fox horns to the hunt:

A few battle cries later and we were off. The experienced guys got the jump on me at the start but I managed to enter the first corner in about 6th place – good start! Someone went down in the snow in front of me. Remembering Ben Watkins video from last year’s Mega I gripped the bars tight and dragged my bike straight over him. Good start!

Oh no! First corner crash!

Nom Nom Nom – tires!

Highlights of my run:


I went well in the top section getting a bit vocal passing someone but then got passed later down. I kept the passer in my sights for the next 15mins of the race right up to the finish line. I rode everything a little more conservative than practice but maintained my position and placed 7th – with the top 23 going through to the main event I was very happy!

 

Near the end of the top section rock garden - feeling good!

Halfway down – feeling good!

 

At the bottom of the qualification track - lungs busted but still feeling good

At the bottom of the qualification track – lungs busted but still feeling good

Saturday was filled with croissants, crepes, coffees, Clifs and cleaning (the all important 5 C’s). It started to rain again. There was talk of the glacier being excluded from the race. Luckily we got news that the weather was due to improve so we were going from the top! After a week of the worst weather in Mega history it was uplifting to know we could do the whole race.

 

All the race highlights to come in Part 3…

Mega is one of the most iconic races in mountain biking.  It’s been on my list for a while so I decided to make the pilgrimage to Alp d’Huez for the 20th Anniversary of the race. Alp d’Huez is a riding Mecca, drawing cyclists, from all over the world to ride it’s steep peaks,  shaved legged roadies and fat tire mountain bikers alike.

 

Epic battle scene

Epic battle scene – who would want to do this?!

Intro to Europe

I arrived in Milan, Chris picked me up in the van (thanks mate!) then we headed straight up to the North of Italy to a small town called Madesimo for the Italian Superenduro series race. I decided not to race here but instead take a few days to get up to speed and ride off the jet lag on Alpine trails. Lots of roots and rocks!

Dan McMunn, Daniel "No stress" Switzerland, Nina Ginsberg, Myself and Chris.

Our Crew (Minus Tris and Dylan) Dan McMunn, Daniel “No stress” Eiermann, Nina Ginsberg, Myself and Chris Panozzo.

 

Crane climbing in Madesimo

Crane climbing in Madesimo

 

Change of plans

Next stop scheduled was the European Enduro round in Flims, Switzerland. A huge rain cloud covered almost all of inland Europe so plans changed to go somewhere sunny – it was meant to be summer! We cruised down (by cruise I mean van maxxed out @ 160km/hr) to Finale Ligure, a popular holiday destination on the Mediterranean coast. Famous for its temperate weather and rocky, dusty trails that rise up to 1500m vertical from the pebbly beaches.

 

Van life travelling to Finale Ligure

Van life travelling to Finale Ligure

Our time at Finale was spent riding epic days of 4hr rides, ascending 1000-1500m then punching down the flowy Italian trails back to the ocean.  Followed by copious amounts of Gelato and many coffees!

 

Getting some late arvo sun and wheelies.

Getting some late arvo sun and wheelies.

Mediterranean views and rad crew. Dingoes abroad: Chris, Myself and Dylan Wolski

Mediterranean views with a rad crew.
Dingoes abroad: Chris, Myself and Dylan Wolski

 

View for days...

View for days…

 

 

Dan McMunn searching out the sweetest trails in Italy

Dan McMunn searching out the sweetest trails in the area

 

Abandoned NATO base looking out over the coast.

Abandoned NATO base looking out over the coast.

Some footage from Tris of our times in Finale:

On the Trail in Finale Ligure, Italy from Tris Kearns on Vimeo.

Off to Alpe d’Huez

Ready for alpine adventures we packed the van and high tailed up to Geneva Airport to pick up our mate Sam. The drive up to Alp d’Huez involved climbing the famous Tour de France stage of 12 steep hairpins and an average grade of 8%. The road is painted with the names of the great drug lords (Tour de France climbers) and spectators alike that have left their blood sweat and tears there.  Many Ole ole ole’s where called out to the cyclists tackling the climb and even a few calls of “Get off the brakes” to lift their spirits.

 

Morning light finally no more rain!

Morning light at Alp d’Huez

 

 

Day 1 of practise started great. The mountain is big! Pic Blanc reaches 3300m’s into the clouds. The summit is ascended by a near vertical cable car. We had a chance to check out the qualification track – which is a totally different track to the race track. My goal was to qualify for the main event so learning this track was critical. After a couple of runs the clouds rolled in and the rain started. It didn’t stop till Friday.

I was hoping for a few overtaking maneuvers like this come race day

I was hoping for a few overtaking maneuvers like this come race day

Next post – Part 2….

Qualifying’s up next with lot’s of baguettes, crepes and flying Frenchies!