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
Be in Your Element
Intended Use: XC
Front Travel: 120mm
Rear Travel: 100mm
Wheel Size: 29”
This is the result of over two decades at the front of the pack. The new Element features more efficient suspension performance, refined marathon geometry, Ride-9™ adjustability, and room for two bottles inside the front triangle. The smallest details were examined in search of point-n-shoot rigidity and unrivalled speed.
“This new Element is a full-on XC marathon weapon, but with the confidence of a trail bike” says product director Alex Cogger. “People used to show up to BC Bike Race expecting to grind fire roads all day, only to walk the descents and snap their made-for-the-scale bikes in half. XC racing has evolved, and bikes that can’t handle the real world have no business on the course.”
- Full Smoothwall™ carbon frame weighs 2250g (size Medium, including shock and hardware. Two-tone paint on T.O. frame adds 30g)
- Ride-9™ adjustability chip moved into the link, saving weight and bulk
- All sizes fit two water bottles inside the front triangle
- Future-proofed to run Di2, Fox Live, and a dropper post concurrently
- Frame available with special edition Team Only paint job
- Cartridge bearing pivots with simplified hardware
- Single-sided chainstay pivots for a narrower rear triangle—eliminates heel rub, even with Boost spacing
- Fits standard, widely available 6.5x1.5 shocks
- 2x compatible
- Clearance for 29x2.35 tires
- Full-length internal shift, dropper post, and lockout routing, plus internal brake routing in the front triangle
- Oversized headtube and downtube ports for ease of cable routing
- New derailleur hanger design reduces hardware complexity
- Lightweight bolt-on axle saves 35g compared to a traditional Boost axle
- PressFit BB92 bottom bracket, ZS44 | ZS56 headset
- Post-mount 160mm rear brake
- Max 1x chainring size is 38t with SRAM, 36t with Race Face
- Max 2x chainring size is a full size 28t/40t
- Sizing: S/M/L/XL/XXL
We tuned our four-bar Smoothlink™ suspension to increase the anti-squat values and maximize pedaling performance without sacrificing the traditional Rocky Mountain ride feel. It’s supple off the top and features good progression to avoid bottoming. We focused on mid-stroke support to keep more travel available, and lowered the shock leverage ratio for better suspension performance and adjustments.
Party up front, business in the back. The new Element was designed around a longer 120mm fork because it’s nice to have a bit more forgiveness four hours into a hammerfest. The result is a bike that pedals like a rocketship, but doesn’t get hung up or turn skittish when things get technical.
The new Element received a substantial geometry update, while retaining the confidence and handling that people loved about the previous generation. It’s slacker to keep things stable when you’re seeing stars four hours in, but uses a longer fork offset to keep steering dynamics precise.
We’ve shortened the rear centre, lengthened the reach slightly, and steepened the seat-tube angle—allowing for shorter stems and wider bars without sacrificing a powerful pedaling position. The bike hasn’t been stretched into downhill sled territory, but we’re offering an XXL size for those that need longer reach.
With the increased demands of modern XC courses and stage races, our Ride-9™ adjustment system allows riders to fine-tune the Element’s geometry and suspension. In adapting the system from our trail bikes, we moved it from the forward shock mount into the link—reducing weight and bulk. The headtube angle can be adjusted from 69° to 70° and the suspension rate can be tuned for an XC race feel or a more aggressive trail feel. For multi-day stage racing, marathon racing, and real world XC, this makes it easy to dial in the perfect balance of snappy, confident, and responsive.
- The Ride-9™ system allows riders to adjust geometry and suspension to specific riding styles and terrain. Nine configurations are possible thanks to two interlocking chip inserts.
- Smoothwall™ carbon uses one of the world’s most sophisticated carbon processes to build frames with industry leading stiffness-to-weight, ride quality, and durability. By using rigid internal molds, we are able to perfect the shape of the internal features and eliminate excess materials. We use different types of carbon in specific frame areas to maximize stiffness and impact resistance while minimizing overall weight.
- Smoothlink™ suspension stays supple yet supportive through a wider range of gears than conventional single pivot or other four-bar suspension configurations. This patented system reduces both pedal-bob and bottom-outs, while allowing us to fine tune variables like braking and climbing traction across a wide range of intended uses.
- Size Specific Tune™ ensures that riders of all sizes get the right balance of small-bump compliance, mid-stroke support, and end-stroke progressiveness. Our design team does custom shock tunes based on real world field testing, and adjusts each tune for every specific frame size, from S to XXL.
Element 999 RSL // Element T.O. Frame
Element 990 RSL BC Edition (Colour 1 & Colour 2)
Element 970 RSL (Colour 1 & Colour 2) **2x versions available in some markets**
Available late 2016. Pricing to be announced.
Welcome to the Family Vaea Verbeeck
Vaea has been part of the Rocky Mountain family for a while now. We filmed this little shredit with her last year, but ran into some computer issues before we could share it. She's currently on the mend from a collarbone injury in Lourdes, but she's chomping at the bit to get racing in Lenzerheide next month.
Who are you and what are you all about?
My name is Vaea Verbeeck. I was born in Tahiti, French Polynesia, and raised in Granby, Quebec. Growing up with my mom and older sister didn't stop me from being a total tomboy. I’ve always wanted to be the best at every sport: gymnastics, dancing, swimming, skiing, snowboarding, climbing, volleyball, soccer, you name it. But after progressing and learning, I’d stall in my motivation. They just weren’t for me.
At 16 I borrowed a downhill bike at Bromont, and I was hooked. The following year I got myself a bike and it didn't take me long to register for a downhill race. A few years later I was entering World Cups and knew that I’d found my sport. After finishing school in 2012, I rushed straight to North Vancouver and have been living the mountain life dream ever since.
I’m currently working at the Lululemon Athletica head office during the off-season and pulling the plug every summer to race the World Cup circuit.
Not scared, strong, calm, bike park tracks (lame I know), rocks, jumps.
PEDALLINNNNNNG uphill. That shit is hard on the body and mind. I'm also pretty good at breaking bones, not gonna lie. I got my fair share over the years, it's a fine line.
What's your favourite race?
I think my favourite race was World Champs at Hafjell, Norway in 2014. I’d gone a couple of days early and just enjoyed the park there. I loved the track; good jumps, good high-speed technical woods, and good corners. Seemed to suit me well too, I got 6th—my best result so far.
Tell us about what you do off the bike. What are your off-the-bike goals?
Life without bikes exists?
I spend a lot of time working out, indoors in the winter. Plus I take full advantage of the West Coast outdoor lifestyle: hiking, snowboarding, camping, bouldering, and food. Love food. #activities
I'm happiest at races. Over the years I’ve developed a sort of second family at the races, and rolling through the pits with your mates on the way to practice is perfect. It maybe doesn't feel that exciting when you're out there, but when I’m out with an injury I have major FOMO.
What bikes are you riding right now?
- Rocky Mountain Maiden
- Rocky Mountain Altitude Rally Edition
- Rocky Mountain Flow
How do you set your bikes up? Anything unique?
Slack and low to plough through the rough stuff. Otherwise pretty standard.
Who's your favourite rider?
I'm scared to watch sometimes, but Brook MacDonald. Wild lad. Open throttle!
What is on your playlist right now?
Right now: ODESZA, Jupe, some Rihanna, Kilter, Tim Legend, Møme. It's all over the place.
- Vital MTB
- Youtube (gotta watch them Supercross replays somehow)
If you were the boss of mountain biking, how would you change things?
Easy. I started racing because I loved discovering new tracks and challenges. If logistics and finances could allow it, I would love to see new race tracks every year! New places and new experiences.
Goals for 2016-2017?
I've been on the mend getting back from different serious injuries over the last few years. The goal is to stay on the bike more. Being off the bike is the last place I want to be. Setting my limits and be in the game for the next few years would be the best.
I am eyeing up another National Champion title. I always want to better myself and my results. So technically, improving on a 6th place would be a World Cup podium. However, I am going for my best performance, not a result. I'll be happy to get back to races and give it my best. It's worked for me in the past.
A bunch of rad people! Rocky Mountain and Hope Tech make it happen for me. Also, Troy Lee Designs, FiveTen, Oakley, Atlas Brace, Rockwell Watches, Crankbrothers, and JFG Nutrition for making me sweat a ton.
Go out and play!
Video by Brian Park, Music by Sonny Parmar. Photos by Sam Needham courtesy Hope Tech. Additional photos by Brian Park and Margus Riga.
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