Now, according to my Dad (so it must be true), the nearby town of Merthyr Tydfil once boasted 365 pubs in its mining heyday (note: never go there for a pub crawl). Not so today, but it does now contain about the biggest bike park on our island. As a last minute stand in with a group of Chris G’s Farnham associates I had a coveted uplift pass for a Saturday in September.
An early start, but a very uneventful drive had me pulling into the car park just after 9am, the blue skies that accompanied me all the way up the M4 abruptly stopped at the Severn Bridge like some kind of force field running up the river, still, it was dry and warm enough, and a whole lot better than had been forecast the previous few days.
Chris (nursing sore ribs from an impressive OTB at Afan the day before), Bob, Leigh, Buzz and the others all arrived shortly after and we were quickly ensconced in the rather unpleasant smelling uplift van, think damp, mouldering underwear that you forgot in your school kit bag for a term and you’d be getting close.
There really is a plethora of runs here and the first runs down the Blues such as Sixtapod and Melted Welly to find your feet instantly got you in the flow. Poppity Ping, Willy Waver and Terry’s Belly also deserve special mention for fun and flow. In fact they are so well designed, riding them blind at nearly full chat didn’t cause any unnecessary grabbing of brakes or offline moments. This continues all the way down back to the uplift point. These runs aren’t over quickly either, you get a good uninterrupted 5 to 10 minute descents (if you don’t pull over for a rest). Even the red routes are fine to ride hard from the go, but do need to be given some respect, as drops, jumps, rocks, roots and tight steep turns all feature on this grade.
Another positive is the vibe, inevitably you get separated from some of your mates if you’re in a big group, but this just means you get into conversation with other bikers, share some stories, find out the best spots and any warnings of what to expect. I ended up tagging along with a couple of small different groups during the day and perhaps pushed myself more than I would of on my own.
Despite a heavy shower for an hour or so, the trails remained firm and offered good grip (rocks and roots excluded) and boy are these trails lovingly created, almost a form of art in certain places, this is despite what the best typical Welsh weather can throw at it. Don’t get me wrong I’d love to ride this place on a fully dry day, I suspect your rotors would get a bit warmer in those conditions. Don’t bother bringing any food either, the well stocked visitor centre clearly hasn’t heard of the term ‘calorie controlled diet’ and the adjoining bike shop, sells just about everything you might need.
To be honest I think I only ran down two or three of the same downhills all day, you can link several different options at intersecting points and build your confidence up and up to tackle what, at first, may of seemed daunting, into a run that would give the foresighted trail diggers a slightly fuzzy feeling inside of a job well done.
I’ve put up a number of videos on YouTube from the day (see below), please excuse any excited swearing at the end of trails, and I vow to go back soon and do the A470 line better. If you want an alpine fix on British soil, visit here!
There are few facts in life I’m 100% sure on. I mean, beetroot is the devil’s food – clearly that’s one. Wet roots are the enemy, undoubtedly that’s another.
However, one thing I am definitely sure of is I do not and never will, sit in the “downhill-death-defying-ah-a-wet-root-hahahaha-i don’t-care” camp. That is for lunatics, and pro riders. And lunatic pro riders.
Like the awesome Tahnée Seagrave – all round top women’s elite rider, general bike-demon and very importantly – a Transition Bike Rider! So when Miss Seagrave smashed a win in Leogang this year on her new TR11 from the chaps in Bellingham I sat up and noticed just a bit.
Normally when I look at a bike with more than 160mm of front travel my interest tends to wain because downhill rigs are just beyond my bravery level. However those clever people at Transition have released the TR11 to the rest of us mere mortals.
It’s a beast, a carbon framed (9lbs – eek) rock and drop smashing monster with a drip list of bike kit to make the most ardent non-downhill rider have a bit of a “nom nom nom” moment.
And in true Transition fashion, aside from the gorgeous photos of the rig, a launch video is available to grace your eyeballs with. Thanks for the link James.
So Saturday morning, nice and bright and early the “Foam Tour” rolled out of the chalet and headed down road to gather at Landry train station. It was our “Big Day Out”. It was Mont Jovet Day…
The weather was legendary. At 9:00 it was already 20+ degrees and the day was only gonna get warmer. In short order our lovely guides Emily and Ivan from The Inside Line MTB arrived, shortly followed by a double delivery of Coolbus transport, ready to take us on the first part of the adventure.
With such a large group, Emily split us into two smaller pods, one who would ride with her and one with Ivan. With a bit of last minute fettling and a safety briefing / rules of the ride digested (following on from the briefing the night before) and out of the way, we mounted our bikes on the Coolbus trailer and off we went.
How many bikes you got?
So the first stop was at the top of the resort in La Plagne, where we extracted our bikes, kitted up and bid farewell to the Coolbus guys. I’ve never been to La Plagne before (skiing or otherwise) and I have to say it was just a bit weird to be so high in a ski resort that was so totally and utterly shut. Ghost town does not do it justice.
However, we were more focused on the destination than the start, so splitting into our groups, the cranks were turning and we started to climb. Not withstanding an almost immediate mechanical from Malc, we spaced out and immediately dropped down a fairly steep and rooty trail. It was at this moment I totally regretted not bringing my full face with me (advice from Emily) but I have to say, that was the one and only time.
We made it (mostly, except James G) intact to the bottom and took a moment to gather some breath as Emily pointed up, up, up the side of the mountain, where a sliver of a track could be seen snaking into the distance to a pin prick of building stapled to the rock.
“That’s where we’re heading”, Emily quipped, “That’s where the real climb starts”.
This is where the realisation that there is no transport back and if you want to go down, you’ve got to go up hit me. With the phrase “20 to 30 minute hike-a-bike” echoing in my head, it was time to MTFU, go to my “happy place” and start spinning.
At this point temperatures had comfortably nudged over 32 degrees and let me tell you, Oh My God that was a climb I will never forget. Alpine access roads are kind of “straight to the point”, and riding in the baking sun up something that steep for that long made the climb a bit on the “moist” side. Think the climb from Afan Trail center to the top – twice, and you get the picture.
After a couple of brief sweety (thanks Emily) and water stops to gather energy and oxygen we collectively made it to the chalet – start of the climb proper.
Temperatures had now reached a “friendly” 36 degrees and collectively we were sucking water like Spongebob after a vindaloo and I stared up at the flipping near vertical (seemed that way to me) goat track. The 20-30 minute hike a bike bit. Ah. Arse.
This was, well, I’m not sure how to describe it. But with bikes being pushed / carried / dragged taking baby steps in the mounting heat, it has to be up there as one of the most grueling things I’ve done with my bike.
Emily and Ivan were great – geeing us up where they could and leading the way to those of us who needed it.
Stumble. Trip. Stop. Breathe. Push. Work legs dammit. Pick up the bike. Stagger. One step. Another. Stop. Breathe. Swear. Clear the swenge. Do it again. Dear God. I’ve made it. Collapse. Then open your eyes. Oh… My… God. What a view.
Ivan just in frame!
Yeah – knackered
Yep – up there
Grunt, heave.. uhhrgh
Dear God help
Lunch at 2284m
Steve – you’re not smiling
Where’s that flipping chalet?
Snipers on the mountain…
Shade… lovely shade
Pile of Swenge
Knackered from above
We’ve struggled up and over Alpine passes before but heading up to the top of Mont Jovet… this… this was simply stunning. Crumpled in a heap and on top of the world, packs were opened, baguettes demolished and our rapidly diminishing water supply was drained even lower (I had noshed nearly 2 litres by this point). We sat and took it all in and ate lunch at 2284 metres.
“Shall we head down then?” came the cry. Emily and Ivan carefully explained the start of the traverse down to the Mont Jovet refuge where we could refill water (cold and fresh like I’ve never drunk!). They told us what we had to look out for and that it was just a shortish run until we could coffee up before the proper descent began.
We set off in our riding pods again, on oh so sweet and narrow Alpine single track which just clung to the side of the mountain. I was breathing hard at this point, either altitude or adrenaline, or both having its effect. I confess that I only glanced up a couple of times from fixating on the trail but when I did – just holy MOG – so, utterly beautiful.
Following the trail, riding through hairdyer warm wind the refuge loomed like a big coffee shaped block of loveliness. I guess the refuge is run by the locals and it was packed with walkers (there’s a car park.. ahem… but moving on…) and was another welcome spot to get our minds back in order.
Then the descent. More wise words from the Inside Line guys and we pointed our rides down a perfect ribbon of singletrack that disappeared down and down and down. Matt launched the Bebop (we will one day get an edit of this together) as we were so far above the treeline this WAS the perfect place to film and we were off on a two hour descent.
Just keeps giving
Been there. Sweated there
Ride Ride Ride
More trail goodness
Emily and a some South African guy…
Ivan just in frame!
Mountains mountains everywhere
This section for me is mostly a blur if I’m honest. The trail was a cut through a Heidi-esque and perfect mountain side. Drops to the left were steeper than I care to mention in places but I can’t honestly be sure. I’m also not sure I’ve ever concentrated so much on a trail section in my life. Not that it was particularly technical or difficult, mostly because it was just so goddam perfect all I wanted to do was not stuff up what I knew was shaping up to be one of the best riding days I’ve ever had.
Unexpected rocks, narrow sections, deep ruts, loose marbles, marmots and drainage channels. Everything was attention grabbing. Everything was awesome.
As we dropped lower, trees and OH MY GOD switchbacks appeared. How Ivan (who can pull a monster manual by the way…) and Emily got round those I will never know. We, to a man, did not. But the less said about that the better. I think one of the best things, for me, about riding with a guide, and particularly ones as talented on two wheels as Emily and Ivan is watching them (when you can keep up). Their line choice and technique was bloody awesome and although there was definitely no coaching going on, “school was definitely in” on that descent.
The trees got thicker and the brakes got “squealier”. It was at some point as we followed the never ending trail down towards the high villages that I managed to a) melt my front brakes and b) break a couple of spokes.
Down and down and down we dropped, wearying legs offset with a never ending supply of fresh adrenaline as the rounding of the next corner always revealed a view or an obstacle or something to absolutely focus the mind.
We hit another village and another welcome water stop. Some of us thought we were done, but oh no, another set of descents to the valley floor were calling. Then we were down, dear God – how long did that take? But not quite done. Emily and Ivan nudged us along a jaw droppingly beautiful river valley along to Moutiers.
Then after Matt shouted the wonderful cry of “Intermediate Beer” we stopped to survey the damage. Glorious, golden and oh so cold beer. Never have I earned one that much. Not sure I’ve ever enjoyed one that much either. Definitely an “Ice Cold in Alex” moment for me.
After that it was back to the train station and a comedy journey back to Landry for us. We bid farewell to our fantastic guides and somehow managed to drive back up to the chalet.
And then you try to process it all. Still not sure I have. Not sure I actually can. When you ride a bike, there are great days and there are great trails. And then there are THOSE days. The absolutely, could not be better, perfect, perfect days and let me tell you, Mont Jovet was one of those.
So thank you to Inside Line MTB and Emily and Ivan for an amazing day. I have to say, if you are heading to Les Arcs with your bike – and trust me on this – do yourself a massive favour and contact Emily at Inside Line MTB. Go on a big day out (there are other routes) with Emily.
We’ve been back from Les Arcs now for a couple of weeks. I think it’s fair to say I’m into the “post-ride-holiday-with-your-mates-blues” period without a shadow of a doubt.
This is not helped of course by the fact I cannot TFIT tonight due to urgent need to deposit my kids with Grandparents for the start of their summer holidays which involves enjoying the M1 for longer than anyone should have to.
It was however while thinking about that impending pleasure my hastily put together “Woodstock: Top to Bottom” video finished exporting and has been hastily uploaded to YouTube.
This was my last run at Les Arcs when my front brake had pretty much given up the ghost and my front wheel had two questionable and one fully detached spoke but I still managed to have a bucket full of fun on my Scout – which is what its all about for sure.
Woodstock starts at the top of the Vallandry lift and just draws you in from the start. It’s only a blue but by God it’s good fun – from the very top to the very bottom.
So if anyone is asking the question, “Les Arcs, is it any good for MTB” or indeed “should I even go to the Alps”, my one comment is a pure and simple – “oh yes”.
So the TFITers are down from the final run, ending very appropriately at the bottom of Woodstock, possibly our favourite run of the trip. Yes, the Foam Tour 2017 has drawn to a close.
I’m glad to report everyone is in one piece – our bikes somewhat less so, but that’s to be expected after a weekend of big mountains and equally big descents.
I’m still trying to process the weekend (and the reality of another epic delay getting back from Geneva airport), however, I guess the big question is, “is MTB in Les Arcs worth it?”
Well, to put it simply, I can confirm that is an emphatic, unequivocal, massive YES.
Les Arcs is awesome. Different to Morzine / Les Gets in many ways and better in others. Personally I think the trails lean towards a bit more ‘real world’. They are rougher than we are used to (Marbles… they are everywhere) but I think all the better for it.
We’ve rode a checklist of the trails, Woodstock, Marsupalami, Le Tranks, Yellow Stone and of course the simply-epic-best-big-day-out-I’ve-ever-had on the Mont Jovet descent with Emily and Evan from The Inside Line MTB (more on that to come at a later date) and have all left with some stupidly wide grins.
The trails did not disappoint. They were technical in places and challenging in others but also felt very “familiar” to a UK trail rider. The major benefit to my mind though was there were no MTB super highways (like Morzine!) and 90% less braking bumps (yayyyy).
The most surprising thing of all though was just how quiet it was. Les Arcs is definitely not as popular a resort to head to and is all the better for it. Even on the Saturday (official opening day) we were blessed with VERY empty trails and VERY quiet lifts. Which was simply fantastic!
I’d recommend you get up to the higher trails if you can and weather permitting. The trails are very worth it and the views are simply stunning.
We stayed at an awesome chalet in Peisey (note: a great place to use as a base) and our a brilliant host (John – who has some new chalets through Icebreaker Chalets for riding and skiing as of next year) who fed us to within an inch of our lives.
Are there any downsides of MTB in Les Arcs? Not many, but I would recommend anyone heading out to take plenty of spares for your traditional MTB consumables (brake pads, mech hangers, spokes, bleed kits) as bike shops offering repairs were surprisingly a bit thin on the ground. I’d also very much recommend that you have some form of transport there as well – it does come in handy. If you’ve broken something I advise you head to Bourg St Maurice or to Moutiers.
Now that we’re back the TFITers are collectively and feverishly editing some footage together and I hope to get some videos up here soon so we can do some “show and tell”.
I think on balance Les Arcs has not fully woken up to the potential of MTB in the summer and unlike Morzine / Les Gets is high enough to still routinely get awesome winters so it’s not as important.
However, don’t let that put you off, it is 100% worth a visit and we WILL be heading back!
So nine days in and seven rides on the new YT Industries Jeffsy 29er.
Two over the bars bars and one over the side incident. The first two were a direct result of the speed that the Jeffsy carries, the last a direct result of five pints and showing off.
140mm of travel front and back coupled with the large wheels (2.4” tyres add even more) give the bike plenty of bounce for my riding style around Surrey but there seems to be a hidden turbo-charger in the back where once the bike hits a certain speed it just takes off.
There’s been a few hairy moments when I’ve over-cooked it going in to corners by going to fast, the big wheels give you a false sense of speed. This morning’s ride to Ceasars Camp to try out some familiar more technical descents resulted in one over the bars moment as the bike decided to throw a turn of speed at me that wasn’t expected off a drop in which rolls in to and out of a river bed. Jumping out of the other side at full tilt the bike was just going too fast and landed beyond the corner in to a trunk… a handful of brake didn’t help especially when I then realised that they’d been set up Continental style and I hadn’t noticed on the previous rides (but probably explains the first OTB)! That’s the next job on the list to change.
Speaking of which, from getting the bike out of the box there’s not been too much fettling needed; the seat position took some getting right due to the slack seat post angle and a bit of playing getting the suspension sag right and the obligatory rebound adjustments (ongoing) buts that’s about it so far.
Not only is the Jeffsy quick on the descents it’s fast uphill as well. Having looked carefully at the gearing ratios I was concerned as it was going to mean losing the bottom two rings in comparison to my Canyon 1×11. The last few weeks on the Canyon were spent desperately trying to avoid using the granny ring and no. 2 to acclimatise to the impending lack of gears.
The reviews I read before hand, and the test ride on a borrowed bike, all spoke of it climbing well but the proof is in the Strava. Of the seven rides I had in the last week or so there’s been a lot of PBs, many of them uphill so something’s certainly going right with the bike! I normally hate riding uphill but I have to say the Jeffsy has taken some of that pain away.
Now all I need to do is figure out how to tame the bloody thing on descents!
Nearly there… just one teeny, tiny (but biblically long I suspect) day to go before “The Foam Tour” kicks of in earnest!
So tonight is “packing the LAVOJ night”, so we all need to get to Matt W’s as soon as you can after 18:15pm so we can get everything stored with some kind of order! Bike padding is optional (but recommended), unless you are James G who enjoys padding up his YT just a bit too much…
Remember to check your rucksack for any metal items if you’re taking it as hand luggage and get them out (ok Bob?) and maybe once we’re packed, we can have a cheeky pint to send Craig and Tig on their way.
So, if like me you are counting the seconds before you can get the hell out of Dodge, I invite you to tackle the annual “TFIT going on tour Crossword”. First correct set of answers wins… wins… erm… my undying respect and admiration – yeah, that’ll do!
3. They’ve had a customer service failure this year – just ask Bob
5. It drips in your eyes, it burns, IT BURNS…
8. What Mark will say if we take him down La Varda
9. Four again on the trails this year?
10. It’s a pseudonym for La Panoramique
11. French girls like Mark covered in this
13. Where I knackered my shoulder
14. First run of the day?
16. Emily, our Guide from InsideLine
17. Might not get Mark down this one
18. Like Optimus Prime, but with Wheels
19. Not a Boardman…
20. Best downhill in Surrey?
1. How I describe parental child control
2. Can’t get Bob to run this
4. What will Chris and Matt crash?
6. Red and Green are often seen in the Alps
7. Will there be one or two?
9. Sadly defunct Les Arcs tour company
12. 20-30 minute hike-a-bike here
15. Not the MVOJ
18. Matt is now a Whatsapp master of these
21. Matt has 10 working this year
22. Longest serving Alpine trail tamers
23. Triple failure for Bob and single failure for James
24. Was an Alpine call, what will this years be?