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Adam Craig diary: Racing mountain bikes down the slopes of the Alpe d'Huez

  • By Adam Craig
  • Published Aug. 30, 2012
  • Updated Jan. 9, 2014 at 2:31 PM EDT

Rosara and I had a forced rest day — which was extremely necessary — after our dispersal of equipment en route to Val d’Isere left us bikeless on Monday.  We kept it real with our Alpine travel plan.  Taking the bus from Geneva Airport to Alpe d’Huez with three bikes, a wheel box and two bags saved us a rental car for the first week.  Anna from Massageme.co.uk came down from Bourg St. Maurice to give us (and Tracey Moseley’s crew) some much needed massages before the Mega, and we sent parcel # 1, Rosara’s bike bag with my spare XC tubular wheelset, with her. 

The big package, my bike case with my XTC Hardtail in it, almost went to Enduro of Nations in Italy with Dan Atherton.  Fortunately, I swung by as he was leaving, identified this conflict in destination, and was able to get his mechanic, Pete, to take it to Val d’Isere.  It’d be more useful there anyway… 

SRAM BlackBox manager Jon Cancellier was kind enough to take Rosara and my Enduro bikes, but left on Monday morning, which meant a sort of bummer (to be missing out on more idyllic alpine riding) and sort of amazing (we were beat up) day off. 

Tuesday we caught a ride with the New Zealander-strong Lapierre DH team over the Col du Croix Fiere and Col d’Iseran to the awaiting World Cup scene of Val d’Isere.  Whew, Keepin’ it Real feels great, but sure is complicated.  Thanks for the non-same-team help, folks…

This could very well have been my last World Cup, although I’ll probably race Mont St. Anne again someday (hopefully with the aforementioned DOSS seatpost). I was thankful that Ross tricked me into coming to Europe, for two reasons.  First was that I got to be there while Michiel van der Heijden won the Under-23 World Cup overall title.  Second was that I rode at least one World Cup race in 2012 somewhere around my potential.  Both points made me feel pretty good.

Really, though, I took more satisfaction in watching Michiel over the course of the week than I did in my own relative success.  This young man has serious talent, and has his head squarely on his shoulders, regardless of his twenty years of age. 

He had a narrow lead in the overall standings with a few riders posing a serious threat to his title.  It would take a calm, smart ride to secure the Cup.

When I woke to the sound of a steady rain I was stoked for Michiel, as he’s quite good on his bike…  This might’ve been misguided on my part, as he was involved in a pair of start-lap crashes on the rain-slicked grass and settled into the second lap outside the top twenty.  Hmm. 

Having never raced at altitude (Val d’Isere is at 1,860 meters above sea level) Michiel was inquisitive as we were pre-riding about how to play it.  I told him “whatever happens, don’t go over your limit, you have to be smart and steady.”  He did just that, waiting another lap for traffic to clear before he got down to business and rode back into 5th place, with enough time to win the World Cup by 28 points.  Solid.

I tried to do the same thing, except staying in control of oneself at the start of an elite men’s race meant getting passed by the same bunch of guys who’ve been passing me on the first lap all year.  Like my U-23 teammate, I was patient and then started methodically moving through the field. 

The course was good — not great — but the sporadic rain made it more interesting and there were lots of places that being smart and efficient would gain valuable seconds.  I gained lots of them.  I rode from 67th to 26th by the finish.  Around the dinner table, the last time I’d be sat there with the Rabobank team, the boys pointed out that my last lap was 5th fastest.  Neat.  I’m still excited about moving on to different types of racing in the future, but it sure feels good to know that I can still ride at the World Cup pace, even if only for one lap per year…

I’d made Michiel a deal that if he won the U-23 title I’d let him borrow the Reign X for a little afternoon shred mission.  He upheld his part of the bargain and I was more than happy to sneak on the Gondola with him after my race, even though I was completely effed… 

We disembarked at 2700 meters in swirling mist and dropped into the most fun forty-five minutes of bike-park and pristine alpine singletrack I’ve enjoyed in a while.  Not surprisingly, Michiel has style for days on the big bike, he’s not a just a hardtail rider, evidently, or at least adapts quickly…  Either way, I reckon Giant Bicycles and/or the Rabobank team needs to get together to give the kid a bonus.  He’ll take a Reign X for sure.  And might just ride it in the Megavalanche someday… 

It gives me faith in the future of XC racing to have upcoming talent like Michiel on the way.  Mark my words, just like the last guy who won the junior world championship at Mont St. Anne (Julien Absalon in 1998 and Van der Heijden in 2010), this guy is going to win a lot of races in his day.  I can’t wait to see how many, and what kind…

Anyway, ‘twas a lovely two weeks in France.  I’ll be back sometime soon, I promise…

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