Jean-Charles and I teamed up for La Diabolique in Les Diablerets on 7th March, our first race as team mates. What a race it turned out to be. The howling, freezing cold north wind of the previous few days finally abated late on the Friday night, too late though for them to clear the avalanche danger high up, so the race course was changed to one at lower altitude. Still a fabulous course though, and the first climb I knew well from the short night race I’ve done a couple of times now.
The weather dawned clear and sunny, -7 at the start line, a cool breeze on the ridges. We made a good start, running all the way to the snow. We carried on up on foot for a while on the snow as it was so patchy low down, then on with the skis and off we set at a brisk pace, slotting in behind another team. After about 15 mins one of the guys started slipping a bit on the steeper sections, so at that point we made a move and passed them. Then on after the next team (the red and blacks as we came to know them). Nearing the top of the first climb we caught one of them, but they were quicker in the transition.
After the first short descent we were hot on the red and blacks’ heels, and pressured them on the next climb. At the first portage (skis off and stowed on your rucksack for a steep climb) I left them dangling for about 5 mins of the climb, took advantage to grab a mouthful of a bar, then overtook them. We were ahead going down the next descent, which was covered with wind-blown ridges all over the place – very tricky.
Then up to the feed station and time to down some much needed liquid. This was the only feed station, not half way round the course, and as it turned out I should have drunk more there. Good learning for next time!
On the next descent we took it fairly easily, and one of the red/black team caught and overtook us. But we didn’t react, just kept on, and at the transition (back on with skins for the next climb) we set off ahead of them. They seemed to be closing a bit for a while, then all of a sudden they stopped. I think one of them was blowing up, unable to follow his buddy, and we then took a big chunk of time out of them and never saw them again till after the finish 😉
The fourth climb was a toughie, going up to the highest point at 2450m and it was time to dig in. The scenery was amazing, with huge corniches having formed from the strong wind which had blown before the race. We then hammered off on the descent in what at first was nice unbreakable hardish snow. But that didn’t last long! We were quickly into wind-blown crust, crud, all sorts, and my thighs were screaming. Thankfully I was a fair bit ahead of JC by now, so I stopped for a breather. “Go go go” shouted JC as he started to catch up, and off I went again, thighs quickly screaming – again!
The next climb started out gently with a long traverse. “This is where we need to really hurt ourselves,” shouted JC, to which I replied, “I’m already hurting myself!” Afterwards he said it was good I’d argued back – and that that showed I could have given more 😉 He’s right, though at the time I was thinking I’d really have difficulty maintaining the output to the end of the race. On up the ridge, JC was ahead, shouting encouragement, and before clipping onto the fixed rope I took a gel and a swig of water. On the stunning ridge we overtook 2 ladies, who kindly let us pass (not easy on a fixed rope), and there was just one tricky section where you had to pull yourself up on the rope with body weight hanging back in order to gain purchase on the rock.
At the end of the ridge a guy gave me a cup of very hot tea, then offered me some fondu (I declined) as JC had already zoomed off down the slope (and the thought of melted cheese at this point in the race really didn’t appeal…) The snow was tricky again, but I managed to catch JC by the next transition. Only 2 more short climbs to go…
On with skins for climb No 6 and I immediately downed the rest of my water (a mouthful). Thankfully it was a fairly gentle climb and we ate it up in 10 mins. Then onto the long descent (one more small climb to go). We descended well, together all the way, and it was a fun descent in the main with some tricky sections through forest. Then over a little bridge to cross a stream, and on with skins again. There was a team just ahead of us, leaving the bridge as we arrived. I managed to get my skins on quicker than JC so headed off straight away and told him to catch me up. I gave it everything on that climb, and we steamed up it together, catching and passing the other team, who seemed quite surprised at the express train going past them ;-0 Then off with the skins and onto the last descent. There was lots of skating to do on the flat trail, and keeping up with JC and his explosive power was a challenge. I gave it everything, powering every skate as much as I could, just managing to keep up with him. We crossed the line in 3 hrs 51m 59secs for 6th place against all the youngsters (no vets category for this race). A great start to our ski alpinism partnership!