Saturday meant that things were finally getting underway, with a quick drive to Heathrow and the expectations building of the week that was to come.
Playing the game of ‘spot the mountain biker’ at Heathrow proved quite difficult, but I did manage to locate one of my fellow competitors waiting at the gate for our flight and we shared our thoughts and hopes for the race, and our riding backgrounds.
Arriving in Geneva was chaotic as the was a multi-day road race from Geneva to Nice also about to start the next day, so bike boxes were everywhere in the arrivals hall. We got to meet some of our fellow competitors for the first time as we waited for other riders on various flights to appear.
In spite of the efforts of the organising/welcoming team to ensure the coach driver missed out Annecy, they were overruled in typical Gallic fashion. It’s often problematic for traffic during ski season, but in the height of summer it’s considerably worse as people make the most of the leisure opportunities afforded by the stunning lake.
The drive into the mountains never fails to disappoint though, and in spite of the travel fatigue, it was great to see the Alps in their finest greenery as opposed to hoping for a great covering of snow.
Our base camp for the first night was just above Val d’Isere, in a magical location surrounded on three sides by mountains and with the Isere babbling past below us.
The late arrival meant a quick dash to rebuild bikes in the fading light before a hearty dinner by our catering team and the initial briefing from Ali, the organiser of the event. Standing there in the marquee was the first chance to meet the competition, and the group of 75 comprised a huge mix of riders with varying experience in riding big Alpine mountains, and of enduro racing. Expectations varied between those professional riders racing for the win, several keen sponsored amateurs looking to enhance their reputations and grab a share of the acclaim for doing well on individual stages, and the bulk hoping to do as well as they can against the testing course that stood before us and the finish near Chamonix in 6 days time.
My hope was to ride within myself for the duration, as I know from previous events that people often push too hard early on and either damage themselves or their bikes irreparably making further progress. While I was never going to threaten the leaders, I ideally wanted to achieve a mid-table result and just enjoy the chance to ride some amazing Alpine trails specially selected for this event.
With the briefing over, weary and nervous competitors headed back to the tented village ready for the Grand Depart on Sunday.