To our simple minds, enduro racing always seemed like a sport for layabouts… The kind of job where you show up in the morning like at the office, then you head off for a peaceful trip through the countryside on your motorbike with flowers in your hair, one eye on the scenery and the other on the little birds flying by… the easy life, right? Well it looks like we’ve got it all wrong! Firstly, the name of the race should have given us a clue: ALESTREM… ALES because it is held in Alès, in the foothills of the Cévennes. ESTREM because… it’s extreme!! Alestrem is a relentless 2-day race, strewn with challenges and increasingly difficult obstacles, getting tougher and tougher lap after lap. And if the course is not tricky enough as it is, there is another difficulty to add in to the mix: huge tree trunks, narrow bridges, tyres, jumps, and more. The only thing missing are the crocodiles in the river to pick off the stragglers… The qualifying race takes place around an urban track worthy of a trial biking event as a taster for the real thing: Alestrem, it’s like hell on Earth! Or rather, hell in the mines, because the first event takes place in the old quarries surrounding Alès. Here, the steep drops are enough to give a mountain goat vertigo, and even the hardiest of creatures wouldn’t venture onto these slopes. The boulders you’ve got to ovecome would be more suited to a rock climbing club. Except that you have to get over them… on a motorbike! You might think that only 2 or 3 nutters would sign up for a race like this, in the middle of winter, with night drawing in and temperatures plummeting to below zero… Well you’d be wrong. A grand total of 450 riders entered this 3rd edition of Alestrem! There are guys – and a few girls – from all over. Of course, some are from France, while others come from the UK, Spain, Switzerland… and there’s even one from South Africa So what’s the best motorbike for climbing trees? Some riders prefer the natural option: What can you tell us about your bike ? It’s a 4×4, friend’s bike, a very good bike ! How do you set it for this race ? No gearbox, just 2 green stripe But if you’re aiming to win, we would recommend a proper enduro bike. Preferably, a 2-stroke 250cc, because it’s lighter and more efficient. And as for how to prepare, it’s best to ask the pros: To make light work of the obstacles, the tyres need to be a bit special, with an extra-flexible framework and extremely soft anti-puncture foam which makes you feel like you’re riding with a puncture. Well, that’s for the pros, but there are plenty of amateurs too, or should that be gladiators…? Ok ! what’s your speciality, fights with chains ? Yes, and eventually bike Can you explain your set up for your bike? Nothing, just a strong belly pan and also a protection for the exhaust And after, the light, that’s it! Anyway, I will not win We shouldn’t forget the unsung heroes, like Fabien Poirot, the youngest rider in the race. With his little 50cc and his trial biking talents, he caused the big boys plenty of problems. The advantage ? the lightness. And the disadvantage ? the power, the clutch It’s really different, the suspensions are smaller too We certainly haven’t heard the last of him… The race proper, on Sunday, starts with groups of 20 riders setting off at full-throttle, with the fastest first, like in motocross and the Le Mans 24-hour race. But very soon, the riders realise the importance of a cool head. You need to pace yourself, avoid mistakes and keep making solid progress. Alestrem, it’s a bit like a Special Forces training camp. A lap is only around 60km, but it takes the quickest riders over 2 hours to get around it. The back markers take three times as long, and you need to go round the course three times in all… It’s okay little bit hard at the beginning, We take the rhythm Progress is slow and dangerous. The riders don’t take any prisoners. No little pushes and no bailing out some interesting manoeuvres are inevitable. You move forward in any way you can, occasionally grabbing hold of trees… Outside help is not allowed, but sometimes, it’s impossible not to use your hands. Even for the chick, the obstacles are not easy to overcome, or… by the air! normal for a bird… However, for the leaders, the specialists of extreme enduro races, it all looks so simple. Rather than speed or strength, it’s technique which allows them to skip past the obstacles unscathed. Also, many of the tough guys had to hand it to Spaniard Sandra Gomez, the sister of the specialist Alfredo Gomez, who skipped around the course with ease on her Husqvarna. She ended up in 34th, leaving over 300 men in her wake! Now that is certainly worthy of respect! If your technique is lacking, you end up struggling, pushing, sweating, and your helmet ends up steaming like a boiling kettle. Thankfully, to give the muscles a bit of a break on the way round, the organisers have introduced a few variations. The riders can choose less technical but longer routes, or more technical shorter ones for anyone with some warrior spirit left in them. Obviously, some moves need to be mulled over… Alestrem also requires a smart strategy! The race gets tougher lap after lap and the biggest challenges are still to come… When the leaders start off their third and final lap, the less honed riders are still on their first, often completely sapped of energy, drained by the extreme efforts required. With their spirits broken, they start dropping like flies. Even world champions find it a hell of a struggle, like our neighbour Adrien Chareyre Oh yes, it’s a bit different from a supermoto track! With night drawing in, it gets even worse. It’s not easy to pick your way through the spotlights, even with the moving lamps attached to their helmets. It’s like Cévennes has turned into Verdun! The crowd goes wild: it’s not enduro biking anymore, it’s rock climbing! The leader, the Spaniard Romain Mario, gets all tied up on the last rocky section, just 500 metres from the finish line. Graham Jarvis chose a different route, and it proves a winning move which hands him victory in this hellish race through the Cévennes. At Alestrem, nothing can be taken for granted: it’s the unpredictability which makes this race so great, right to the end. We come to be entertained, and are rarely disappointed! Hard, really hard… but great run! Is it your first race ? I did it last year, it was strong, but this year, it’s very hard Less rolling, it’s more technical race Great pleasure all over the run, cohesion and team spirit You did it together ? yes, the landscape and the organisation was fantastic Is it possible to make it harder? No, we just have made one lap! Someone told us it is too easy, are you agree? If I had the physical condition, it was ok. I rode quietly but you need to pace yourself if you want to finish… I have twisted my handlebar… I will finish my second lap and we will see. Do you come back next year? Yes sure, but I will try to not break my chain Only 4 riders make it to the end of the 3-lap race. 339 are classified out of the 450 at the start. But whether they are riders lost to the night or victors on the podium, they are all the heroes of Alestrem!