The weekend of the 28th April saw the 2nd incarnation of the MacAvalanche held at the Glencoe Ski Resort in the Scottish Highlands organised by No Fuss Events. While the rest of the country was enduring torrential rain, Rannoch Moor was bathed in sunshine all weekend, perfect conditions for one of the craziest mountain bike races out there! The MacAvalanche is a mass-start mountain bike race that is pretty much all downhill, starting high up on the snow at the top of the resort, finishing back down at the main ski centre.
After a long drive we woke on Saturday morning to a completely clear blue sky, a bit of a rarity for Glencoe. After signing up first thing, we got the bikes built and prepped, ready for practice and qualifying that day. There was a mix of race bikes out there, some opting to race on full blown downhill rigs while one madman was on a fully rigid Surly 29er complete with V-brakes! Anyhow, my Giant Reign X seemed like the perfect tool for the job and off we went up the chairlift for the first practice run of the day.
Not sure if health and safety laws have made it up as far north as Glencoe, the chairlift for me was probably the scariest thing about the weekend. The 2nd chairlift involved holding onto your bike while waiting for the little wooden seat suspended from the cable to smack your legs, at which point you had to quickly sit down and lean back as there was no safety bar! I'm not great with heights at the best of times and this really did test my nerve.
The course was a real mix of both manmade and natural trails, the top starting on the snow then working its way down through a huge bog (sounds worse than it was, it was incredibly good fun to ride). This then led on to the top section of the main downhill course at Glencoe which was rocky and featured the odd jump and berm, while after that the course took a more natural turn again before finally spitting you out on an old jeep track that went all the way down to the finish. The course was taped nearly 100 feet wide in places allowing for some creative lines to be found, this was needed as come race day when there would be over 40 riders at a time jostling for the lead!
Practice went well, even if it did mean that I crashed at least twice on each run, then again each run was nearly 10 minutes of full-on riding through some pretty technical terrain. After the lunch break it was time to head back up to the top, this time for qualifying. Qualifying was split into 3 separate heats of nearly 40 riders in each heat so it was good practice for what to expect in Sunday's mass-start race from the very top of the mountain. My qualifying run didn't go so well, not the best of starts and 2 crashes but I did end up crossing the line in 11th, just missing out on qualifying for Sunday's A final. Happy with the fact I made it down in one piece it was time to retire to the Clachaig Inn which was home for most of Saturday night...
Waking up in the tent on Sunday morning feeling substantially hungover and rolling over to find a pair of fancy dress antlers (?!) was definitely not the best of starts to a race day. Flashbacks of the amazing band, copious amounts of whisky and even a streaker running naked through the pub crossed through my mind while frying up the bacon, I knew I was going to be in for a rough day.
After making it up to the venue I decided to miss out practice in the morning, I like to say I was conserving energy for my race run but in reality I was feeling too ill to ride... I sat outside the café with my coffee watching the other riders come down, the course being mostly natural was changing all the time so no 2 runs were the same, maybe missing out practice wasn't so bad after all.
After the rider briefing at lunch time I got my bike together, got myself psyched and jumped on the chairlift ready to get to the start of the B final. After getting off the 2nd chair, all of us in the B final group had to wait for the C final to start and ride past as there was still a 25 minute hike to the start of the race. It was at this point seeing how spread out the riders already were when they came past that we all realised that there must be a lot more snow up the top than first thought!
Once the all the racers in the C final had gone past it was now our turn to begin the hike to the start of the race. After walking round the first corner we were greeted with what might as well have been a cracking ski piste taking pretty much the fall-line down the hill with some nice off-camber thrown in for good measure. Once at the top it was time to take in the stunning panorama, Buachaille Etive Mor lay just to our side and it really gave a good scale to the race as we were at the same height as the top of the Buachaille and the finish was at the same height as the bottom - this race was never going to be easy! Some people out there were even claiming that the altitude(!) was taking a toll on them - I just think some people aren't used to pushing a bike uphill after a heavy night out...
We all lined up in order of our qualifying results from the previous day and nervously waited for the countdown to begin...
"5 minutes"... "2 minutes"... "30 seconds"... Silence. "5...4...3...2...1... GO!!!"
It was chaos. There were riders falling everywhere trying to ride the snow at the top, I tried to ride but then soon realised that running with your bike was both quicker and easier. I managed to get a great outside line in the snow that allowed me to ride straight down the outside and pass a few people but then lost all that when I took a line that was a bit too creative... By the time we had joined on to the start of the qualifying course I was hanging. I thought ‘No way am I able to hold on and ride to the bottom of this course' but as I was in race-mode I tried my best to ignore the pain that I was in and keep pushing. After the not-so-great start on the snow I began to then slowly pick off riders down the hill, sometimes playing it tactically, other times less so. The course now was so beat up, there were lines appearing everywhere and some of the boggy sections were now a real slop-fest. Amazingly I stayed upright for my entire race run and by the time I could see the finish line there was a real sense of relief, even though it wasn't over and I could still bin myself.
After passing one last person just before the finish, I crossed the line and at which point as I relaxed, the pain kicked in. I could barely feel my hands for holding on so tightly down the last section, I felt completely beaten up. I stopped to watch the rest of the racers come down, there were smiles all round when everyone crossed the line, smiles of both relief and of stoke. In the end I placed 8th in the B final, I was pretty happy with that considering how ill I was feeling that morning, I know now for next time just to take it a little easier on the whisky before a race...
The MacAvalanche was a great success, amazing course, amazing weather, very well organised and a great craic, will definitely be racing this again next year!