So I’ve done enduros before, I enjoy riding my bike in the snow, and I love a mass start event. This however was a whole new ball game.
The MacAvalanche is Scotlands own version of the Megavalanche held in Alpe d’Huez each year. The MacAvalanche is a three stage blind enduro at Glencoe ski centre with many sections of it ridden on snow. The first two stages are timed, with one competitor after the other. The third stage is a mass start race with 190 other riders.
I arrived Friday night and got the tent set up. I have been using the Tentsile Stingray, three man hammock, which is certainly more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. An early start on Saturday so that we could get through the stages with plenty of time. There is a long queue for the chairlift, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be pushing up. There is definitely a bit of a technique required for getting your bike loaded on the lift, and at the same time running around in front of it to get a seat. From the chairlift you start to get to see bits of the track we will be using, looking as intimidating as ever. Glencoe is know for having a black downhill track more fearful than the World cup track at Fort William, and from the chair lift I can definitely see why. But that is for another day, today all trails finish on the red. After getting to the top of the lift there is a short push and then on to the cliff-hanger lift. A small one man hanging chair, with no space for bike. You have to hold on to your bike precariously balanced on your lap, and because the bike is there, there is no way to close the safety bar (not sure how health and safety get away with it, but there doesn’t seem to be any issues).
Because all the trails finish on the red trail, everyone must have finished each stage before they can move on to the next. Stage one started straight next to the chairlift and in to the snow, where I very quickly learned to try and avoid falling in other peoples tracks as it tends to send the front wheel in strange directions. A mixture of jumping on and off the bike, running and riding with my feet out to the sides makes it an extremely funny sight to watch. Stage 2 starts further up the mountain on the other side of the lift. This time starting on semi solid ground which is misplaced optimism as just around the corner is a large snow bowl. This slowed me down significantly before hitting a lung exploding climb. Over the hill dropped as back on to a rocky bit of single track which lead back on to the red descent. With so many people getting timed runs at the same time, I found I was consistently overtaking and being over taken by the same people as we all fall fowl of the unpredictable terrain.
After lunch we head back up the hill ready to line up on the grid ready for the mass start. The first five rows line up with the riders who had the fastest times on the previous two stages. Everyone else just piles in together behind this. As there are only five women racing, and only one podium category for women, we all start next to each other behind the seeded rows and in front of everyone else. I had ridden two mass start fox hunts before so I was familiar with the feeling and get ready to have my elbows out. Unlike the previous races though I was on the field with 190 other men, and rather than being on my bike I had opted to run the top section through the snow, jumping back on my bike when I hit solid ground. I cleared the snowy section cleanly, watching many people falling, sliding and generally causing chaos. When the snow cleared the trail dropped us on to what had been used for stage 2 earlier in the day. I cleared the second patch of snow comfortably, and the moment I hit the mud the other side I took a spectacular over the handle bars crashed (in hind sight this is probably where I lost my tool kit from my bike frame, although I didn’t find out until the bottom). After that manic start by the time I hit the climb section my legs were on fire, I pushed through and over on to the rocky trails, overtaking people as they got swallowed up by the peat ditches. Once we were on to the red trail there were very limited options for overtaking so I held my pace behind other rides, only managing to overtake when people slid out on the muddy sections. After clearing the finish line and catch my breath we waited for everyone to stumble down the hill and hand their timing chips back.
I finished a pretty happy 4th place behind some exceptionally talented riders. I really enjoyed the sheer craziness involved in this race and although I might not do it again next year (it’s a long way to go for one day) I will probably come back the year after that. And I will be looking out for other races in the area, just so I can get back on Glen Coe’s impressive trails.