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Mountain of Hell - The Muc-Off Recap

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Mountain of Hell - The Muc-Off Recap

Last weekend saw the 20th edition of the Mountain Of Hell take place in Les 2 Alpes, France.

As mentioned before (right here), this race not only features the highest glacier start in the world at 3,500 metres but is also the only race of its kind to feature a “mass start”, where all 1,000+ riders start from the top at the same time. 

Muc-Off was an official sponsor of the event and with such an exciting line-up ahead we decided to fly down from the UK to support our French distributors Race Company and cheer our Muc-Off supported racers on in Les 2 Alpes. 

One of those racers was Flo Baladier, Customer Service Manager at Race Co. Flo’s an incredible enduro rider (he came 4th in 2018) and was keen to turn beast mode back on and try to better last year’s effort.

Hey Flo, what a rad weekend! What were some of the highlights for you this year?

It’s difficult to pick only a few highlights, there’s been loads!

Friday: the first few rides around the Bike Park with my mates were awesome. Pressure-free practice ahead of the event is the perfect way to get accustomed to the trails, your bike and your setup. Not to mention the Muc-Off party!

Saturday: after my qualifying run I managed to head back up to the track to support my mates on their runs. It’s quite rare that you can do that on other races so it felt really special.

Sunday: getting up on the Jandri (chairlift) at 4AM is quite a special thing, as well as lining up on the start line right at the top of the mountain. I enjoyed the welcome we had in Venosc too, where we’d all arrive one by one and enjoy a few snacks to get the energy levels back up.

In the end, it’s all those little things around the race that stick to your mind, some really nice memories for the years to come.

How did you find the qualifying track and your quali run?

For a few years now, the quali round has been run almost entirely on non-permanent tracks. It’s a complete enduro track and features pedalling sections, steep downhill sections, rock gardens, singletracks through fields and even a road section towards the end. There’s also an epic section by a waterfall, probably the most technical section of the whole weekend in fact. Generally speaking, the quali round is more technical than the final race. I love it!

On my run, I started really strong. I was quite ahead of Kilian Bron until I hit a stone on a berm, my front wheel washed away and I crashed. I saw him race past and followed suit, but then got a puncture which ended my goals of a first line start on finals’ day. I ended up playing it safe for the rest of the run to ensure a second line start which I managed.

Can you run us through the final day antics? From the time you woke up to the time you arrived in Venosc?

3:30am – Early wakeup call made difficult by the fact that we were up until 10PM the night before running through the last bits of tuning on the Ibis. Gotta love it!

4am – We’re headed to the gondolas where I got a little surprise… Forgot my uplift pass in my other riding shorts! Nothing like an early warm-up: a return trip to the flat to get my pass. On board the gondolas, it’s clear to see I’m not the only one struggling with the early start. Everyone’s still half asleep!

As we arrive at the top of the station (2,800m high), we can finally get a feel for the snow. It’s pretty icy at this point despite the forecasted 4°C, but this means one good thing: grip! We’ll just have to see what it’s like come 9am.

5:15am – Second uplift and we’re now at the top of the glacier at 3,400m altitude. I find my mate Joris and after exchanging a few words of encouragement, we head over to the start grid to place our bikes. At this point, the sun is just about rising over the mountains. It’s beyond beautiful, but it’s time we find a cosy spot in the station hall and finish our night’s sleep.

8am – second wakeup call of the day. Everyone’s now at the top and I see a lot of friendly faces. As I make my way up the grid to find my bike, I realise how lucky I am to be on one of the first starting lines. There really is a lot of riders this year!

9am – everyone’s in place, we wave to the helicopter flying by and get amped to the sound of ACDC’s Hells Bells. It’s a really special moment when you know the starting horn’s just about to go off.

Photo: Luka Leroy

9:10am – GO! Over 1,000 riders throw themselves down the glacier. The start time was delayed a few minutes so that the snow could de-ice a little more. As I jumped on the bike, I struggled to clip in to my pedals properly, but eventually manage and find myself flying down the mountain at 120km/h (almost 80mph). I’m sitting 6th at the bottom of the first straight but as the snow changes the lines are harder to pick, and I go over the bars! Luckily, I don’t lose too much time.

At the end of the glacier section, I managed to push harder than most on the pedalling sections and get closer to the top group. The leaders are within reach but catching up is going to be tough. This is where race management skills start to kick in.

I manage to catch up with and overtake 4th then decide to take it easy as I ride through the village. Keeping energy levels up for the final section in Venosc (for which we did the track walk the day before) is super important. It’s all about how well you can memorise the track and its shortcuts. As I cut my way from door to door, I start catching up with 3rd and can feel his dust on my goggles! I put extra effort in to try and overtake him but end up snapping my chain, which means I’ll have to rely on gravity alone to finish the race. Thankfully the guy behind was far enough so that I could retain my position. The last few sections are definitely some of my favourite on this race and I cross the finish line 4th overall and 3rd in Senior.

9:45am – the race is over, and all my mates arrive one by one at the bottom. I couldn’t count the amount of high fives thrown at this point. The stoke is real!

Overall, the final run is more fun than the qualifying one. No matter your skill, everyone can enjoy it. The top pack tend to cut corners a lot and take more risk but most others follow the track and follow a safer path. If you’re into downhill and adrenaline, this race is an absolute must.

What’s the plan for next year?

Where do I sign up?? I’ll obviously be here for the 21st edition of Mountain Of Hell.

Generally speaking, the plan will be the same. Be here for the full three days, make the most of the mountain and spending time with friends and if I can beat my 3rd place by a spot or two, then that would be ideal.

Hey Flo, un weekend incroyable ! Quels sont les temps fort pour toi ?

Les temps forts du weekend end, difficile à dire il y en a eu pas mal.

Vendredi : les premiers tours de roues en station avec les potes c’était bien cool. Les rides pour le plaisir et la prise en main du bike c’était l’entame parfaite pour le weekend !

La soirée Muc Off, c’est un autre registre mais c’est bien de faire la fête aussi.

Samedi : à la fin de mon run je suis remonté sur les pistes encourages les copains des vagues suivantes. On ne peut pas faire ça sur toute les courses.

Dimanche : l’embarquement dans le Jandri à 4 h c’est un moment particulier, autant que la mise en grille un peu avant 9h. Je retiens aussi le ravitaillement d’arrivée à Venosc, quand on arrive les uns après les autres et qu’on grignote en discutant de la course.

En fait c’est tous les petits moments autour de la course qui font de beaux souvenirs partagés !

Comment as-tu trouvé les qualif’? Tu es content de ton run?

La qualif’, comme depuis un petit moment il me semble, le tracé n’empreinte pas ou peu de pistes permanentes. C’est un tracé enduro marathon complet, alternant entre des portions de pédalage, de grands dévers dans les cailloux, des dalles de pierres aux nombreuses trajectoires possibles, des traversées de prairies et même une portion de route pour finir. Puis il y a le mythique passage de la cascade, peut être un des plus techniques du weekend. De façon générale la qualif’ est plus engagée techniquement que la finale.

Bref, un tracé complet comme on les aime.

Pour ma part je pars fort, je suis devant Kilian jusqu’à ma première chute. S’ensuit une crevaison qui me prive de tout espoir d’être sur la première ligne du glacier. J’assure le reste de la descente pour me glisser dans la deuxième.

Tu peux nous raconter comment se passe le jour de la finale ? Du réveil jusqu’à ton arrivée à Venosc ?

3h30 – Réveil difficile car il a fallu veiller jusqu’à 22 h la veille pour les derniers réglages sur le Ibis. Ah la mécanique <3

4h – Direction les télécabines ! Au moment d’embarquer, plus de pass ; il est resté dans le short de la veille. C’est parti pour un échauffement forcé : un aller/retour à l’appartement pour récupérer le pass. Une fois à bord de la cabine je constate que je ne suis pas le seul à somnoler, tout le monde dort à moitier.

A la descente du télésiège à 2800 m nous pouvons enfin poser les roues sur la neige. Elle est bien gelée malgré les 4°C annoncés. Bonne nouvelle : ça grippe ! Mais quand sera-t-il à 9h au moment du start.

5h15 – Nous voilà au sommet du glacier à 3400 m. Je retrouve mon coéquipier Joris, après quelques mots échangés, nous allons positionner nos vélos sur la grille de départ. Une fois en place on regarde un peu le lever de soleil, c’est magnifique ! On retourne vers le funiculaire, on s'entasse tous dans le hall. Il est temps de finir notre nuit.

8h – On se réveille une seconde fois. On se rapproche de la grille, on croise les copains ! En remontant toutes les lignes je me rends compte de la chance que j’ai d’être dans les premières lignes. Car put** il y a vraiment beaucoup de monde.

9h – Tout le monde est en place, on tape dans les mains sur une petite chanson d’ACDC, l’hélicoptère tourne. On attend le son de la corne de brume synonyme de départ.

Photo: Luka Leroy

9h10 – Feu ! 1000 furieux s’élancent sur le glacier ! Le départ a été retardé de 10 minutes pour que la neige dégèle un peu plus. Mon départ est mitigé, j’ai du mal à trouver les pédales ! Finalement je suis sur le bike et je file à 120km/h ! Je raccroche rapidement la 6eme position. La neige devient plus compliquée à rouler avec des portions moles. Il y a pleins de lignes possible et je choisis celle de l’OTB ! Heureusement la chute ne me fait pas perdre trop de temps.

Fin du glacier, je reviens rapidement sur quelques coureurs au pédalage. La tête de course est en vue mais il sera difficile de revenir ! C’est le début de la gestion de course.

Je rattrape et double le 4ème sur une portion de gros pédalage. Je traverse le village en mode soft, il faut garder de la force pour Venosc ! Sur le tracé piéton de Venosc qu’on a reconnu la veille, c’est un jeu de mémoire. Je coupe de porte en porte ! c’est aussi ça la MOH ! Je grapille du temps sur le troisième. J’aperçois sa poussière il n’est pas loin. Mais à trop forcer, je casse la chaine. Je me laisse descendre, je vais devoir terminer en roue libre. Un coup d’œil derrière, j’ai assez d’avance pour conserver ma place. Je me laisse filer jusqu’à la ligne d’arrivée. La fin n'est que fun pour savourer ma 4eme place. Certainement une de mes portions préférées !

9h45 – Ça y est le run est finit, les copains qui arrivent les uns après les autres ! On ne compte plus le nombre de high five ! Encore une affaire rondement menée.

Dans l’ensemble le run final est plus fun à rouler que celui des qualif’. Peu importe le niveau, chacun prend du plaisir. Les premiers prennent des coupes plus engagées quand aux autres, ils suivront la piste tracée plus sécurisante. C’est une course à ne pas louper pour les amateurs de sensations fortes et de descente !

C’est quoi le plan pour l’année prochaine ?

Où est ce que je m’inscris ? Car de toute évidence je serais là pour la 21eme édition.

Après globalement le plan sera le même ! Etre en station pendant 3 jours, profiter de la montagne & des potes, et si on peut gratter une place ou deux on le fera 😉

One of the other highlights for us, aside from the epic Muc-Off party we hosted at L’Avalanche Club (see images below), was seeing the next generation of downhill super stars tear it up. Cedric Prunet and Thimote Mille are both up-and-coming riders who are racing as part of the Race Co team, and we were stoked to see them smash it out of the park with P1 and P2 in Juniors respectively. In fact, Cedric’s run was so fast it earned P6 overall with 33:27, just 2:26 after eventual winner Kilian Bron! 

Ever wondered what it feels like to race one of the craziest enduro events on earth? Take a look at Cedric’s complete POV run.

To catch up with all the behind-the-scenes shenanigans from the event, head over to our Instagram Story Archives, and for the full gallery, check out our Facebook album

Until next year, Mountain Of Hell. It’s been a blast.

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