I’ve had my sights set on riding in the French Alps for a long time, maybe 15 years. I’ve had friends go and then torture me with their pictures and stories of their adventures. I smile and pretend not to be hurting deeply inside with jealousy.
This year, I got the opportunity of a lifetime to go and ride in the French Alps, in La Tania in the Courchevel Valley. It falls part of the the Famous 3 Valleys, Courchevel-Meribel-Val Thorens. To describe to you what the place is like is difficult, but imagine you have 360 degree sights of mountains that are all almost 3000m in height. Not all are but the lowest in the region is 2300m. Mont Blanc is not very far away from our chalet, it’s a megalith climb and we get to stare at this fabled mountain from our balcony. We don’t have places like this in South Africa. Our Chalet was at a height of 1400m above sea level. All around us was either mountains high or valleys low. Literally a steep climb up or a deathly drop down. This may scare you, however the chairlifts dotted over the valleys make getting up there accessible to everyone, no matter fitness or skill. This truly is a magical place to be. The French town ambiance is tangible, the people are very outdoors orientated. The amount of hikers, bikers on the trail this time of year is surprising low, I mean it’s busy, but there is so much mountain to ride that you hardly bump into people. You see them at the chairlifts and that’s about it. This particularly makes for a fantastic experience, no traffic!
So Why would someone come and do this every year instead of something like the Absa Cape Epic? The cost is similar. Right? Not at all, actually this is cheaper. Currently the entry fee to the Absa Cape Epic is R30 000 per person. Just the ticket. You will need to pay for a mechanic during the race (I mechanic at the race so I can tell you with confidence that things go very wrong daily at Epic), a mechanic will charge you around R4800 (average) per bike for the week. You will need to have message for the duration of the race, or your legs will seize on you and that’s not good, a massage package is R2700 per person for the week. That’s R7500 on top of the R30 000 ticket price. None of this going to cover the cost of training, wear and tear on tyres and equipment. Oh and let me just say, the Epic requires teams to have matching kit! So throw some extra into the pot for matching team kit, nothing less than R10 000 here for the two of you. The company I went with is called Msaro. What they offer in 950 Pounds(R17100) for the week, includes a chef and massage! Inclusive! You get 2 solid meals (breakfast and supper) which are massive spreads and are occasions for sharing stories. Lunch is not included as you are actually on the mountain. Taking some cash to buy something up there is advisable, but I took fruit and made a sandwich at breakfast for the trail and this worked out perfectly. The Chalet we stayed in has a hot tub. Yes a friggin hot tub to soak the body in and is a great place to exchange stories of the day. There is a TV downstairs and plays so many channels and is linked to the web, so we caught up on some of the Olympic events while we were there. The place is magic, but the Msaro staff didn’t let us lift a finger while we were there. We got yummy protein shakes post ride without fail. We were given water ,juice, coffee and tea all day. You want for nothing while you are there, which is a huge contrast to Epic. Epic you rush through breakfast and get home midday and start scrounging for food. You recovery zone is hot and full of other bodies who are grumpy. Nobody helps you with your bike until you hand it over to the mechanics, every service you need at Epic such as clothing washing is an extra cost. You have to bloody well do everything for yourself. And you pay more for this. This Msaro trip is also very forgiving if your fitness is not up to climbing to much, you can just take a chairlift. Simple. The ticket to fly to France from Cape Town was R14 000 on Emirates, which was very comfortable. If you do the numbers, the trip to the Alps next year is looking so much cheaper than just paying for Epic. Msaro arrange a shuttle from Geneva Airport so that’s included. Financially it takes more than the entry to do Epic, you are going to spend another R20 000 to get to the start line of Epic, and you can’t avoid those costs. The volume of training and riding is going to suck your bank balance dry.
This trip into the Alps opened my eyes, riding my bike is about adventure and trying new things. Experiencing new places. Meeting new people. The Epic crowd race the same guys, and that is quite cool, to catch up with guys but really it’s also getting boring now. This trip was many things for me, exciting, scary, adrenalin, sense of achievment, altitude, friendships and dreams. This trip has left me planning to do this next year, with new routes and new adventures. In my time there, I climbed up a peak of 2500M, swam in a glacier fed dam, descended singletrack for more than 20km in one go, rode so many berms that I could still feel them in my sleep and sat in a hot tub looking at Mont Blanc. This is a special place. I left a piece of my soul in those mountains.
If you are interested in more detail, go to http://www.msaro.co.uk you won’t be disappointed.