Once again winter has come and gone, skis and Gore-Tex have been put away and the bikes and shorts have come out.
As the years go by my love of mountain biking grows and grows, and lately I get the feeling that if I had to choose only to ski or bike I’d be tempted to pick biking, with a far higher hit-rate for amazingly fun days on the mountain without anywhere near as much stress, crowds and risk as most ski days, as well as being far less dependent on the weather. Luckily we don’t have to pick and I’m happy to take 6 months of each in rotation.
I didn’t start biking this year until I’d completely finished skiing in early May, and kicked things off with an excellent four days in the seaside town of Finale Ligure in the north of Italy after my old pal Andy invited a few of us along to crash at the massive Airbnb apartment he’d rented for his group, for my first real holiday in about 7 years.
Graham and Spence had both ridden the area a few times for EWS race weekends so had a few spots in mind for us to hit but the new trails proved to be the most fun (the Isallo Extasy trail at Din especially). Being a bank holiday weekend the shuttle buses were almost fully booked so we only managed to take one single uplift to Din near the NATO base but most of the rides were only a 30-45 minute pedal up on good roads which helped with the early season fitness too.
Maybe the best thing about Finale was the general atmosphere; I’ve never been to such a mountain bike-friendly town, with roadies and old locals always giving a wave and a “Ciao” as we passed and the entire main square taken up by bikers from late afternoon onwards for aperitivo outside the bars on all sides. I’ll definitely be back.
My shock (rear suspension) was in need of some work but I had left this until after Finale. Unfortunately it took almost three weeks to get it sorted in a new workshop down the valley but with very wet weather in May I didn’t miss much good riding. I got the shock back just in time for the local lifts opening and the weather improving in early June, and with some new wider & taller handlebars fitted to my bike it had never felt better.
Late June saw me take a trip to Ibiza. Yes, Ibiza. Not my scene at all, but I was there for my old pal Scotty’s wedding. I met Scotty when he moved into my house in Whistler in winter 2005/2006, and even after only knowing each other for a few months he’s one of the friends who made the most effort to visit me on my initial 8-week hospital stay in 2006 which will always mean a lot to me.
We were staying at an all-inclusive beach resort on the south-east coast and although the cost was hideously expensive for a ski bum like me it was nice to have a lot of the wedding party staying together and to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen in easily 7-8 years. Of course we took full advantage of the all-you-can-eat/all-you-can-drink facilities too! I would have liked to make it out for a night out or two even though dance music really isn’t my thing, but at €50 entry, €16 drinks, €8 waters plus taxi rides across the island I just couldn’t do it.
There’s meant to be some decent mountain biking on the island, and the terrain did remind me of Finale a little, but I wasn’t sure how good it would really be compared to my local trails or if I’d find the best ones, so I rented a road bike to take a circuit of the island instead for my first ever road ride. A little online research suggested that the full loop would be about 135km so I fancied doing that plus a few detours to some beaches to hit 100 miles. Ibiza couldn’t be too hilly or tough for a Chamonix resident, right? Wrong!
Even after taking a few wrong turns which gave a shorter distance than planned (116km), I ended up doing 3754m of climbing according to my tracking app; the equivalent climbing from Chamonix to the summit of Mont Blanc! The heat didn’t seem to bother me much but I did drink 5 litres of water and two cokes in the space of 7.5 hours including breaks, without peeing once.
I won’t be trading in my mountain bike any time soon but I can see the appeal of road biking a little more now, although I reckon the unknown location and navigation was half the fun of the ride. It was a great way to see the whole island which was much nicer than I had imagined …except for San Antonio which is pretty much the hellhole I had pictured. Any real road bikers would love it I’m sure.
The wedding ceremony and reception was great too, on a small beach on the west coast, plus a really nice sunset midway through which I never see at the coast these days.
Back in Chamonix I got some new tyres set up on my bike and settled into my summer routine with all of the lifts open. Riding my favourite trails for the first time of the year is always a treat and there’s plenty of new terrain included on our lift passes this year including Saint Gervais, Les Contamines, Megeve, Combloux and Giettaz.
It’s going to be a good summer, and there’s a trip to Whistler on the cards in the autumn too…
As always stay tuned to Graham’s bike blog for writeups of our bigger days around here, and I’m now on the Instagram so give me a “Follow” if you want to see daily photos and mini reports.