Grand Raid Cristalp

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Updated 10 September 2002


The Grand Raid Cristalp - 131kms Of Heaven And Hell - Ross Fryer

The Grand Raid Cristalp is probably the world's most famous MTB race and with this year being it's 13th edition, it probably counts as the classic enduro event. The numbers are stupendous, 131k across six Alpine valleys, 5000 metres of elevation gain in 66k of climbing, 4000 competitors and a maximum height of 2800 metres. Cliff Steele and myself decided to enter this year's event in March and put the miles in on the road in preparation for a very long day. The course consists of lots of fire roads as well as some lovely singletrack sections through the forests and the odd section of road but along the route there are people cheering you on the whole way, having picnics and making a day of it.

Race day in Verbier saw us lining up with 1500 riders (2500 do the shorter 76k version of the race) in the dark at 6.15 for the 6.45 start. There were 51 British riders in this years event and the ones that had done the race before were full of warnings about what lay ahead whilst we Cristalp virgins talked up our chances of doing it in under 9 or 10 hours. The opening climb was 7k long and led straight through Verbier to a fire road that led over the summit. I went off steadily and managed to get to the top in 41 mins with the leading pros doing it in about 30 mins. Cliff went through at 50 mins. We then went down (a very long way) and up (a very long way) through the most beautiful Alpine meadows and villages and I reached the 55k mark in three hours feeling fine.

We had been warned about the second part of the race being by far the hardest and this definitely turned out to be the case. The main aim was to eat regularly at the feed stations and spare some energy for the last climb. Just after half way came a 22km climb that just went on and on and it was here that I began to cramp, feel sick and get passed by all and sundry. It was just a case of pushing through this inevitable bad patch and keeping the pedals turning.

I was eating energy gels every hour, stuffing my face with kiwi fruit, drinking the bouillon (a salty vegetable soup) and drinking about a litre of water per hour. I reached the last climb feeling better and started to overtake people as I hoped a time of less than 9 hours was possible. This dream rapidly evaporated as I reached the last feed station and saw the mother of all climbs. The problem was that it was about 3k of unrideable mountainside. We'd been warned about this final pushing section but it was much worse than I'd imagined. You would have had a hard time walking up it without a bike, let alone after hours of racing trying to push or carry 25 pounds of metal and rubber up it. I think everyone went through their own private hell up there but it was just a case of counting your steps and reaching the top. The kick in the tail when you made it was another climb, only 4k this time but it really was the last straw. The course then hurtled down past glaciers, beautiful lakes and little streams to the finish in Grimmentz but I've never been so glad for a descent to end. It was 15k of torture and I could barely grip the bars as I tore down the last boulder field!

I reached the finish in 9.21, outside my target of less than 9 hours but it was much tougher than I'd imagined. Cliff did fantastically well and came through in 11.28 having come close to mental breakdown on the slopes of Pas De Lona! 500 of the starters from Verbier had either dropped out or failed to make the time cut-offs so even to finish the event is a major achievement. The winner did it in 6.08, a new course record that beggars belief. He must have virtually sprinted the entire race! The top British finisher did it in 7.40 and I was the sixth Brit to finish. Cliff and I are already planning our race for 2003 and I'm seriously considering basing my entire years training around it, it was that good. I'm sure I can take an hour off of my time, all I have to do is find a 22k climb to do hill intervals on!

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