After my first race a couple of weeks ago in snow and fog, I was looking forward to a drier and brighter run in the southern Alps, and last Sunday’s Trail des Contreforts de Piolit didn’t disappoint. The race was 17km of pretty much straight up then straight down racing along the foothills (the contreforts) of Le Piolit in the Haute-Alpes of southern France.
The race has been going for five years, and based in La Bâtie-Neuve between Gap and Chorges, this was always going to attract a large and strong field of mountain runners and this year didn’t disappoint. 300 runners signed up for the main event with another 200 running a smaller 6km version.
Finding my way to the event was slightly problematic – I just rocked up to the town assuming there would be event signposts, but it wasn’t really clear where the race was. I saw a guy in running gear walking into a building full of people filling in bits of paper so followed him – and almost ended up voting in the French local elections. After sheepishly getting some new directions I soon found my way to the local college that was hosting the event and picked up my race pack and got ready.
The weather was perfect for racing – blue skies and temperatures in the low teens with little wind – a perfect Spring day in the Provençal Alps.
As with all of these events there’s usually a big bottleneck as soon as the race hits the trails so I positioned myself reasonably close to the front of the start line hoping not to get stuck too far back. As soon as the gun went off everybody sprinted and jostled – I nearly went face-first into the tarmac after 500m as somebody clipped my heels at full speed but I just about managed to stay on my feet.
After about 800m we started to hit the trails and the going got steeper. Although the the trail was mostly dry, this time of year there is still a lot of snowmelt in places and some patches were boggy and due to the crowded trails it was difficult to avoid much of this meaning feet got wet and muddy quite early on.
There were two ravito (food) stops serving water, Coke and other drinks, as well as bananas, chocolate and dried apricots. For such a short race this seemed more than necessary but it meant I could race carrying nothing but a couple of gels, that I could then wash down with water at the aid stations.
The going underfoot was dry and gritty in places, and mixed with the boggy conditions earlier on I was getting blisters on my feet – I was wearing my new Brooks Cascadia 10s which I’d only put about 30km into previously, so this made the descent painful as it was quite technical and steep.
The last couple of KMs were fairly undulating and I was able to make up about 4-5 places by passing a few people who were starting to blow up. The final 800m into the village and the finish line had some good crowds and still plenty of cheering going on despite the winner having crossed the line 15 minutes earlier, which helped motivate me to the finish. I eventually crossed the line in 1:33:57 – quite some time behind the winners but I’m quite happy with the result considering the strength of the field.
Overall it was a well organised and exceptionally scenic race – with plenty of food stops, plus a meal for all finishers it was also good value.
|1.||282||REYNAUD Gaël||Team Optisport-Uglow||M||SEH||01:14:30||13,85||1|
|2.||184||ROUILLON Benjamin||club des chats||M||SEH||01:16:33||13,48||2|
|4.||185||BARBE Geoffrey||club des chats||M||ESH||01:17:02||13,4||1|
|6.||258||BAILLY Quentin||Team Endurance Shop Gap||M||SEH||01:19:10||13,04||4|
|7.||7||BRUNEL Thomas||CA Pézenas||M||SEH||01:19:32||12,98||5|
|8.||190||RANCON Maxime||CS SERRE CHEVALIER||M||SEH||01:20:18||12,85||6|
|10.||251||MESTRE Bruno||AC Digne||M||V1H||01:20:39||12,8||2|
Full race results can be found on the GeniAlp website.
Challenge Trails 05
I was keen to enter this race since it’s part of the new Challenge Trails 05 ‘league’ system. 10 trail races in the Haute-Alpes (05) departement this year, between 16-32km are scheduled, with a points mechanism where the winner is awarded 600pts, and then each finisher afterwards is awarded a decreasing number of points. The best 5 finishes of the year are taking into account on the overall leaderboard. It seemed like a good way to add some motivation and to find some local races for me.