Cycling: Justin Leov led by a wide margin after day one of the Enduro World Series in Valloire. But the Alps didn't spare him either and so he was knocked off the throne by a technical defect on the second day of the race. Read in his diary how he experienced the race weekend.
I have to say I've been very busy since the EWS Scottish race. As coach of the Trek World Racing de Descente team, I accompanied the team to the World Cup races in Fort William and Leogang. I'm learning a lot myself at the side of the track, analyzing the best possible lines for the team's drivers.
The route has since gone over the Italian Alps and Mont Blanc, a good opportunity to stock up on coffee and breathtaking panoramas!
Whether rock or forest, exploring on foot allowed us to discover the beauty and wildness of the Valloire routes. The French race format limits reconnaissance to one per stage, favoring equal opportunities for all.
1st race day
The first special stage started straight away with a rather rocky section, then came a faster section, some climbs and a piece of forest. I felt good on the handlebars of my Trek Remedy 29er. My run was clean and I finished 3rd, a good start. I was full of confidence and felt able to close the gap to the best time. Due to suspicious noises at the end of the special stage, I discovered a smashed chain link, probably caused by a stone chip. So I started the 2nd special stage with a new chain.
The second special stage should be driven twice on the same day. It was the longest and most strenuous special stage of the weekend. Shortly after the start, a section in the snow was fatal to more than one driver. The snow had softened with the heat and in some places the bike disappeared into the snow and in an instant it threw the rider over his handlebars. It was easy to lose 10 to 20 seconds on this section alone. My tactic was to go full throttle and forestall any loss of control. That worked rather well! Apart from this section, it was important on this special stage to maintain a high level of performance to the end. However, given the level of technical difficulty, I was a little too aggressive and I ended up having to expend some energy to balance my flights, which threatened to lose control. Despite everything, I finished the special stage in best time. It was the first time that I was the fastest driver on an EWS special stage. I knew I could do it, but when I did it was exhilarating!
The third special stage was a repeat of the second. I told my mechanic and my team manager that I wanted to drive more "conservative" this time. Since I was a little early at the start, I used the time to take another look at the snow-covered area out of curiosity to see what condition it was in at +30°. Deep ruts had formed and I decided to change strategy for the next leg. I'll be driving at a reasonable speed in the deepest rut, which seemed like a solid foundation to me. I finally drove off, and as I neared the snow, I held my breath. I took the approach curve in a wide arc to drive straight towards the rut... the wide wheels ran without the slightest hesitation and I was on my way again for the “cleanest” run possible. I controlled the effort and fluidity as best as I could and I got back to the best time!
It couldn't have gone better. At the end of the day I was in first place with a 30 second lead. What a day!
The previous day was very tiring for both the drivers and the mechanics. I swapped the pedals, derailleur, chain and tires. My wheels were more oval than round at the end of the day but Ray did a great job on my bike to keep me riding in the best conditions. My goal was to drive cleanly and without unnecessary risks. I could afford to lose a few seconds, but I had to avoid mechanical problems or a fall at all costs.
The fourth special stage was rather short but complicated. Lots of rocks and a very steep descent in the forest. Constantly slipping away with loads of fun! We had increased the tire pressure to prevent nasty surprises. I finished 7th and was a bit disappointed in myself. I don't like to drive "carefully" very much, but I admit that there is nothing smarter to manage your lead. I was surprised that my lead over the second-placed rider had increased to 38 seconds.
The fifth stage was longer and faster with some climbs that made your legs hurt, but I felt good and my gear was great. With a bit of luck, I'll be able to complete the last two special stages without any problems. I definitely thought so!
Before I left the paddock, Ray noticed a cut in my rear tire. To reassure myself, I drove on with a new tire and an even higher pressure.
I drove off and carefully tackled a very rocky section. I had misjudged a passage and I was already on the ground. I got back on my bike. I had lost 5 seconds but I knew that wasn't a problem yet. I immediately got back into a good rhythm. But what happened next was truly a nightmare. There is no other word to describe this situation. The sound of a rock cutting the tire, the whistle of the tire deflating and my dreams of victory coming to an abrupt end. I was devastated. 38 seconds ahead of the last two special stages and now 2 minutes behind!
When I got back to the paddock I tried to analyze what had just happened. Why! What could I have done differently? Arrgh, the competition can be so cruel sometimes!!
I had lost a lot of time, but I wasn't about to give up. I had nothing left to lose which was a good excuse not to drive 'carefully' anymore! New tyres, a good warm-up and I was at the start of the sixth and final stage. I was determined to win her to restore my standing!
When I crossed the finish line I knew I had set a good time. I ended up winning that last special stage. A little refreshment at the end of a particularly strenuous day. I ended up 11th overall. Just enough to keep my second place finish in the 2014 EWS Interim standings.
Thanks to Trek Factory Racing Enduro, Bluegrass Protection, Met Helmets, Fox Racing Shox, Shimano, Bontrager, Adidas Eyewear, Stages Power Meters, CNP Nutrition for their support.
What a weekend! There are some lessons to be learned, and again some more experience.
A new installment of this epic battle in La Thuile continues in less than three weeks.