Return of the Rockies
The iconic peaks of the Rocky Mountains embody a particular wildness, a disdain for the manicured and curated experiences of the modern world. Rocky Mountain Bicycles’ namesake mountain range holds a special place in our heart. We knew this year that we were overdue for a return to our roots - our bedrock.
"Growing up in Edmonton, the Rockies represented the epitome of rugged, large scale terrain,'' says Thomas Vanderham. ''My trips to the Rockies have been few and far between since I left the prairies, so the opportunity to spend time in Fernie on the new Slayer was one I looked forward to all year. It did not disappoint - panoramic views, huge descents, impeccable trail building, and a tight-knit mountain bike community.''
This was my first time riding with Florian Nicolai, and it's easy to see what makes him one of the top EWS racers in the world. He's got natural speed and an eye for ultra creative lines on the trail. We had an incredible time, and I hope that my next trip back to the Rockies isn't too far away.
Elk Valley locals tell a story about William Fernie, who asked a Ktunaxa chief about the black coal rocks hanging on the necklace of the chief’s daughter. The chief showed him the source of the coal on the condition that Mr. Fernie married his daughter, but the prospector backed out of the agreement. The chief then cursed the entire valley, and it would suffer a series of fires, floods, and mining disasters at the turn of the century.
The supposed curse was lifted by Chief Ambrose Gravelle of the Ktunaxa Nation on August 15th, 1964. However, if you look at Mount Hosmer on summer evenings, you can sometimes make out a shadow of the chief’s daughter standing beside the ''ghost rider'' on his horse.
"I was in a window seat, jetting west across the mountains of British Columbia. I stared out at the grandeur of sun tinted snowy crags and knew that what separated my adopted home in Edmonton from the native soil of Vancouver was a massive rock formation called the Rocky Mountains. I thought about naming our new company after these peaks." - Grayson Bain, one of the original founders of Rocky Mountain Bicycles, 1981.
The jagged summits of the Three Sisters peaks that overlook the Elk Valley are massive beds of sloping marine limestone, called the Palliser Formation. Most mountains are younger than what they’re built on, but Fernie’s craggy peaks are literally upside down. 360 million years ago the area that would become the Elk Valley was much further south, close to the equator, and the Pacific Ocean was only 80km to the west.
Dinosaurs roamed the land and earthquakes shook as the tectonic plates smashed into each other, fracturing massive pieces of stone along huge thrust faults. 180 million years ago, the old limestone sea floor was pushed upwards along those thrust faults and over the younger stone - turning the mountains upside down.
''I was excited to have the opportunity to work on this project. The first day I couldn’t believe I was riding with Thomas Vanderham - he’s a legend to me, and I love watching his signature style and whips,'' EWS racer Florian Nicolaï said of his time with the Canadian freeride icon. ''This was also the first time I rode the finished product of the Slayer, but it only took me one run to get used to it. It surprised me how good it is for different trails and terrain.''
The trails in the Rockies are so different from France, or anywhere else I've ridden on the Enduro World Series. The day we rode in the alpine was special. Riding raw freeride trails with Thomas right behind gave me a little pressure, but the views were beautiful and it was so much fun. It was an amazing experience, and I hope to return one day soon!
The scale of the Rockies is sobering. From geological upheavals to megatons of rock carving the landscape as glaciers advanced and retreated, the forces that have shaped these mountains are almost unimaginable. This place has a unique way of making humans feel insignificant and reminding us that today’s landscape is just an impermanent snapshot in the earth’s geological history. It’s an honour to explore this terrain, its stone and loam, on two wheels.
Mountains as Far as the Eye Can See
Mountains, mountains, mountains. As far as the eye can see. We are definitely in the Alps…
Words by Remi Gauvin, photos by Matt Wragg
La Thuile 2016 will go down as the most descending in 4 days I have done to date. In those days we descended 15,000m, wore through brake pads, and made a short career of tires. We also had a lot of fun.
La Thuile is on the French-Italian border near the famous mountaineering towns of Chamonix and Courmayeur. Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, loomed over most of the stages throughout the weekend, but the weather played nice.
Stages were almost all accessed by lift with the exception of stage one. This meant that while our legs were fresh at the start of each stage, the long steep runs were punishing on the rest of our bodies. Riders were complaining that their arms were dead by the end of each run. All stages were physical in their own way and each one had a solid dose of climbing. The energy we saved on the transfers was more than spent on the stages.
Stage 1 started across the valley from the ski resort, and was the one stage without chairlift access. We climbed Col San Carlo and then up into the alpine, 900 meters above La Thuile. The stage started with some typical tight European switchbacks before passing through grass fields and dropping into the woods below. Alex Cure and Andreane both finished 4th on this stage.
For Stage 2 we headed back to the lift and made our ascent to the start. This stage started in the alpine, flagged though rough rocks and gorse bushes, only burned in by the countless riders who were sent to ride through it. Next we cut through a farmers cattle field—in practice we'd encountered a herd of stubborn cattle here, and they could not give a damn if there was a bike race happening where they wanted to graze. Then, finally ending on an old access road that zig-zagged across the bottom of the hill. Andreane finished a career best 2nd place on this stage and Florian took 3rd in the men’s field.
Stage 3 was one of the fastest stages of the weekend, but also one of the longest, with a brutal climb at the bottom. Fast rock faces and high speed corners in the alpine, twisty woods in the middle, followed by some of the best steeps of the race. Just when you thought it might be all over the course turned a sharp right and sent us onto a gravel road pointing right back up the hill. During the race the crowds screamed at you to pedal, while your legs screamed at you to stop. Stage 3 one of the best of the weekend, but it was also one of the worst of the weekend.
A night off to reflect on the days racing went by quickly. Soon we were back on the top of the mountain about to drop into Stage 4—one of the longest and most physical stages of the race. It seemed that it was always just slightly flatter than you wanted. A gravel road climb in the middle of the stage had me seeing red into the next section, and hanging on by a thread by the end of the stage. Andreane showed her fitness once again and backed up her first day with another 2nd place.
Stage 5, although not extremely physical, was very technical. Steep off camber sections meant that you had to be precise and patient in during the stage in order to shine.
The final stage of the weekend stage had a mixture of the highlights of every stage of the race. Tight switch backs, technical off cambers, steep chutes and a solid climb in the middle of the stage. The bottom was lined with spectators as you entered the finish area. It was a great stage to finish the weekend on.
Florian Nicolaï said that although he was happy with his 5th place result, he didn’t perform his best in a few of the stages and it cost him. Nevertheless, his consistant performance bumped him up into 3rd place in the Overall category.
Jesse also felt that his 13th didn’t reflect his pace this weekend and a few mistakes on Stage 5 knocked him back in the overall. After injury troubles the last few rounds, it's great to see him smashing stages again.
Andreane was of course over the moon with her result. 3rd place in her first real race of the season!
Once again the team as a whole performed spectacularly. We were the number one team on the weekend and added 100 points to extend our lead in the Team Overall. Andreane finished a career-best 3rd, while Florian finished 5th in the men’s. Alex finished 11th, Jesse 13th and I finished 23rd. Seb also took 2nd place in U21, keeping pace in his season-long battle with Adrien Dailly.
Next stop, Aspen!
— Remi Gauvin
Flo Like Water
Florian Nicolaï is one of the most creative riders on the EWS circuit. His unique style threatens the podium at every race he enters. The Maritime Alps are home to some of the most technical tracks in the world, and working on this project over the winter showed us just how good Flo really is.
"This part of the world is the birthplace of Enduro. The Maitime Alps have produced some of the best riders on the planet, like Nico Vouilloz, Fabien Barel, Loic Bruni, and many others. The terrain and the culture make the difference—the trails have been here for centuries and were not made to ride, but to walk. So when you can find the flow here you’re a damn good rider." — Fred Glo, Godfather of Enduro & Owner of Urge bp
"Flo is insane. I don't understand half the stuff he does, but it's fun to watch!" — Jesse Melamed, Rally Team teammate
"Flo is a weirdly fast alien on a bike. He's got creative trail vision, and is one of the first riders coming up to have started out as a pure Enduro racer. Even after two strong EWS seasons taking 5th and 4th place overall, you get the feeling he's hungry for more results. Can't wait to see how this season unfolds." — Brian Park, Rocky Mountain Bicycles
Watch for Flo and the rest of our Rally Team throughout the entire Enduro World Series season. See you on track!
Rider: Florian Nicolaï
Bike: Altitude Rally Edition
Filmed by: Variable Visual, Sébastien Biget, & TS-Drone
Edited & Produced by: Brian Park
Photos by: Matt Wragg
Presented by: Rocky Mountain Bicycles & Urge bp
Supported by: Shimano, Maxxis Tires, Fox Racing Shox, Stan’s NoTubes, Race Face Performance Products, Royal Racing, 7 idp, FTI Consulting, Smith Optics, WTB, OneUp Components, Clif Bar, Evoc, Val d’allos
Music: Azad Right — Son of Sam
Thanks to: Fred Glo, Gaetan Riou, Matt Wragg
Altitude Sickness — Highs & Lows at EWS #5: Winter Park, Colorado
Photography by Matt Wragg. Words by Isabeau Courdurier.
After a season opener in Chile and several races in Europe, the Enduro World Series traveled to the North American continent. At over 10 000 feet of elevation in Winter Park, Colorado, this race promised to be one of the most physically challenging races of the season. Having endured nearly 36 hours of travel hell, the Rocky Mountain Urge bp Rally Team got back together in Denver, but without bikes. Three days before a race, that’s cutting it a little too close for comfort, and the Denver airport had several very pissed off Frenchies in it.
Once in Winter Park, we met the rest of the team: Peter from Alaska, Jordan from Whistler, and Francesco from Chile. Eventually our bikes arrived.
Warming up normally gives you an idea of how painful a race is going to be, and I was already worried for Stage 1. This flat stage was a massacre for me! The rest of the guys struggled as well, with only Flo and Jesse ranking in the top 30.
On the more technical Stage 2 we made up some time, but at the end of the day our results were still disappointing: Flo in 16th, Jesse in 21st, and Alex and Peter both needing to push harder to break into the top 50.
Stage 3 began with a steeper, rocky section that suited me quite well, but it was followed by a long, flat, pedal section where I struggled to maintain the gains I had made. Stage 4 was very short, with no climbs, and I earned my first stage podium of the season - 3rd!
It’s hard to breathe at this altitude, and the terrain is very different from what we are used to racing. While Jesse had a solid day—9th, 14th, and 6th—, both Flo and Alex struggled to maintain their form.
By Stage 5, we were all exhausted. Alex crashed because he “saw two trees when there was only one,” and I slipped back to 7th place on the stage. Despite this, we improved our results as a team today, the toughest day of the race.
Stage 6 was a controversial one for racers. Lots of us felt that the flat, smooth, XC course at 10 000 feet was not up to the standard that has been set by the many excellent EWS stages this year. Already out of my element, I missed some tape and ended up going off-course, costing me even more time on this stage. Everyone else was able to push through and maintain their positions.
Finally, the 7th and final stage of the weekend was on Trestle Downhill—by far the most technical and aggressive stage of the weekend! Definitely the best way to end the race. We all have solid runs, with Flo taking 6th, Jesse 10th, Alex 18th, and Jordan 30th. I was really happy with my 7th place on the stage.
After a brutal weekend, our Canadian Jesse was the fastest on the team here with a well-deserved 15th place overall. Going forward it’s clear that our young team needs to strengthen itself to threaten the podium when the races are physical, especially at altitude. We are also gaining experience of how to manage energy and maximize time gains.
Next, we visit Jesse’s hometown of Whistler to enjoy some of the best riding in the world. These two weeks there are going to be full of adventures and fun times, and we’re all looking forward to the Crankworx stop of the Enduro World Series!
The team rides the Rocky Mountain Altitude MSL Rally Edition, with Shimano components and footwear, Maxxis tires, Stan's NoTubes wheels, Fox premium suspension, and Raceface cockpits. The team wears Urge bp Archi Enduro and Endur-O-Matic helmets, and is also supported by the following key sponsors: Royal Racing Clothing, 7 IDP Protection, WTB Saddles, Smith Optics, Cane Creek headsets, e13 chainguides, Honey Stinger energy gels, Kicking Horse coffee, FTI Consulting, and Val d'Allos ski resort.
Rally Team Heats Up in Chile
First Enduro World Series race, first podium for our new Rocky Mountain Urge bp Rally Team!
The team traveled to Chile for the first EWS of the season with optimism. Our French riders Florian Nicolai, Isabeau Courdurier, and Alex Cure were joined by Canadian Jesse Melamed to battle it out with the world's best on Chilean soil. After two days of racing on some of the most unique and beautiful trails we've ever seen, Florian put down a blistering last stage to pass Martin Maes for 3rd place in the Overall category behind Jerome Clementz and Jared Graves!
The final results for the team were:
- Florian Nicolai — 3rd Overall
- Isabeau Courdurier — 5th Overall
- Alex Cure — 7th Overall
- Jesse Melamed — 30th Overall (coming back strong after several crashes!)
The team was aboard the Rocky Mountain Altitude 770 MSL Rally Edition, with Shimano components and footwear, Maxxis tires, Stan's NoTubes wheels, Fox premium suspension, and Raceface cockpits. The team wore the Urge bp Archi Enduro and Endur-O-Matic helmets. The team is also supported by the following key sponsors: Royal Racing Clothing, 7 IDP Protection, WTB Saddles, Smith Optics, Cane Creek headsets, e13 chainguides, Honey Stinger energy gels, Kicking Horse coffee, FTI Consulting, and Val d'Allos ski resort.
Congrats to all involved and we'll see you in Scotland for Round 2 of the Enduro World Series.
Photos by Matt Wragg.