Team Wideopenmag’s Chris Hutchens put all his experience to practice and bagged a win in the Masters category at the 2019 Megavalanche.
On his third time of asking, Chris Hutchens gets a clean run at the 2019 Megavalanche and bags himself a 12th spot overall, and crucially, the fastest Master on the hill.
The Megavalanche is one of the longest running downhill events ever and continues to sell out each year with new riders and riders returning to seek redemption on this monstrous event. This event has to be on your bucket list. I headed back there for the 3rd time to seek my redemption and try to tame the mountain. Here’s my account on making it to the podium on race day.
For me this event was always on my bucket list. I remember flicking through magazines as a teenager seeing riders fully tucked battling as they descended down the Pic Blanc glacier above Alpe D’Huez. This was inspiring, it looked mental and I was hopeful to one-day ride the event myself. When you’re a teenager mental events seem appealing…
I spent the week with the Nukeproof team riders including Kelan Grant, Jackson Davies and Natasha Bradley. All week was spent riding and is one of the great aspects of the Mega. With a good network of trails, the qualifying track, the main mega track and other events going on during the week there’s so much to keep you busy. It was only made better with the riding company and the many recognisable faces around the town. You can’t help but bump into people you know.
2019 would be my 3rd time racing the event. I first did it back while I was a student in about 2011 tying it into a road trip in my Ex AA VW transporter I picked up cheap (these are probably collectors items now). I remember battling through the Friday qualifying run from the back of the grid to 6th or 7th to make it onto D row in the main event. Last year I battled with Yoanne Barelli but pipped him to take 2nd in my qualifying heat. This year I had a fast heat with Nico Quere winning but I was happy to settled for 3rd without too much of a battle. Check out my Qualifying run here. This would put me in the front row for the main event on Sunday, which would definitely help with achieving a good result.
For those not familiar with the Megavalanche the event is split into a number of races over the weekend with the 2000+ male riders getting placed in the 3 events of 350 riders. The main event on Sunday morning, the B race following the Mega on Sunday and the Challenger on the Saturday. Women, Ebikes and other odd categories (i.e. tandem and penny farthing) run separately around those events.
Natasha would race on Saturday so Kelan, Jackson and I made sure we headed up to the mid way climb to give Natasha a little encouragement. As an already accomplished 4X rider the 21 year old sender was taking on this event for the first time. It was also here first race longer than about a minute, an hour longer than a minute.
It’s the polar opposite to what she’s used to I would say and showed just how good a bike handler she is. Some start issues and a nasty crash slowed her down Natasha battled up the field to finish 15th in the Womens. An outstanding performance especially after she had to call for a medic, pick herself up from a big crash and power up a 4-5 minute climb after putting in a BMX style sprint after ditching her goggles with us. I can’t wait what she brings to the table in 2020.
With the racing on Saturday over it was time to prep the bikes for Sundays main event. I grabbed my camera and ran through my bike following my Qualifying run. You can check the video of my bike check here.
An evening of tinkering, watching the nail biting DH World Cup in Les Get and Talladega Nights we turned in early ahead of our 6am lift up to Pic Blanc summit.
Some three hours before the race start riders begin to funnel up the hill. It’s critical to wrap up for this, especially when the winds up and the temperatures plummet. It’s cold up at 3300m even in summer.
Kelan and I headed up with Rob from Nukeproof. Nerves always run riot and that final gondola is often filled with a silent chill. What are we doing? What have we let ourselves in for? Every year you question why you’re about to pit yourself against some of the fastest and fittest riders out there. It’s that feeling of finishing which never get’s old.
Riders quickly takeover the Pic Blanc summits lift amassing in the hundreds. The toilets quickly begin to smell and stress levels increase. Luckily for us the wind had calmed from Saturday and the hovering toilet roll above the toilets that was reported from Saturday was no more.
Row by row we were called to line our bikes up. Due to the fairly low levels of snow this year each row would be 2 deep and packed into a narrow area. Lined up all you see is the slope fall away from you. This year the first straight was littered with rock patches. Just what you want to see. I think it would be a lie if you said you weren’t a little scared of that first section. We knew it had already claimed a few victims during Saturday’s races.
I would slot in behind Liam Moynihan, next to Connor MacFarlane and surrounded by many other top EWS riders. As the boards to count down the race appear the helicopter appears overhead, the music begins to pump and the heart rate quickly rises. What a feeling this is.
Off the start I opted to aim for the rocks to the right, maybe not the fastest but after assessing the snow I figured this would pull everyone into a narrow spot. It wasn’t flat and the angle of it would be hard to fight. The rocks were however pretty loose and a lot slower than the snow but I’d already committed. I t did keep me out of some of the carnage. Unfortunately Kelan Grant went down hard, sliding on the snow and then hitting the rocks hard. Heal up my friend.
I got round the first bend and began to pick things up along the narrow traverse. This bit’s scary. Left and then you dart down another big slope. The tyre buzzing between my leg and the smell of rubber. This would leave a fairly obvious bruise in the end. A few wobbles, slides and close calls later I was approaching the end of the snow. Liam and I sat behind previous winner Remi Absalon. Our little chat on the snow set things up for a pass. Smoothly by him and then a few others before we got to the traverse.
For anyone who’s not raced the Megavalanche this bit then get’s narrow with few passing spots. I slotted behind a few riders. I sat patiently, biding my time, for a bit anyway. A few riders would ride up behind me and an attempt to pass the riders in front only resulted in getting past one. A few expletives were shouted in an attempt to get past. No way was I going for some crazy overtake and increase the risk of crashing at altitude and on a remote location on the hill. A friendly apology was offered at the finish line and high fives shared. No harm done.
Finally I got past and would continue the traverse around towards Alp D’Huez ensuring I didn’t blow up at this stage in the race. I wanted something for the bottom. This bit is one of the toughest sections especially if you include the long climb up to drop down towards Oz. I picked off a few more riders.
I enjoyed a good battle with a number of other riders as we got closer to the bottom. I pushed hard and tried to power past rider whenever I had a chance. Passing on the single track at this stage is near impossible. Certainly risky…
I could spot Moynihan in the distance again. I pushed on but wasn’t going to catch him.
This year the finish location had moved and ensured you were absolutely done by the end! I’d roll into 12th, my best Megavalanche result to date. Now being in my 30th year would also mean I’d win the Masters category. A huge bonus for an amazing week with the Nukeproof team. Sadly Kelan wouldn’t make the finish and opted to take the gondola down. Jackson would suffer from a mechanical and did his best to get down but wasn’t what the Aussie had hoped for. His consolation was winning the no chain race earlier in the week.
If you haven’t done the Megavalanche before I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a superb event, super friendly and pretty satisfying just to finish. It will continue to be a stand out event. I just hope the snow continues to provide a good coverage in the coming years. With global warming occurring there’s always the chance the event will need to adapt. We should be OK for a few years though.
I can’t thank the team at Nukeproof enough for their support during the Megavalanche week.