L’Rue d’Champions in the South of France is home to MTB legend Nico Vouilloz and two-time DH World Champion Fabien Barel, and just a gnat’s hop from Monaco. Here the mountains are king and the roads swoop around them in a succession of tight hairpins and switchbacks. And the trails wriggle down the statuesque mountainsides – a mixture of rock gardens, chutes and a glut of singletrack.
This is the landscape that has shaped downhill’s greatest ever champion, Nico, and wrought the mettle of which Fabien is made. Enter MBUK’s unassuming Kona/Wiggle sponsored Dossing with Champions competition winner and downhill novice, 46-year-old clinical psychologist Chris Allen.
Flown in for a weekend of riding and coaching with world beaters Fabien Barel and Tracy Moseley, Chris was thrown straight into the deep end at Fabien’s Sospel downhill track. A proposition that clearly had Chris a little perturbed, but dressed from head to toe in Dainese body armour and astride a Kona Coiler Deluxe, he wasn’t about to back out.
“I wanted to know what it was like doing downhill mountain biking,” Chris explained. “I’d only ever plodded along on fairly pedestrian stuff so it was great to find out.” With that sentiment in mind, the only way was down.
With Fabien guiding up front and Tracy sweeping behind, Chris was given a crash course in downhilling. He took on the trail, picked his lines and progressed at an impressive rate in just one day.
“His biggest problem was his position on his bike,” said Tracy. “At the start he couldn’t ride with his pedals level or stand up out of the saddle, which made him unstable with very little control.”
With one-on-one coaching from the world’s number one female downhiller, Chris came on in leaps and bounds, tackling berms and rocky drops and impressing by riding an enormous chute despite stacking the first time around.
“Tracy was brilliant,” Chris said of his coach. “She took me through it bit by bit and was very patient. She took me down things I wouldn’t have done by myself because I trusted her.”
He picked his way down the mountain and survived without breaking himself, and then sat back to watch Fabien and Tracy take the track by the scruff of its neck and beat it with a blunt club! “It was awesome to see them ride at that sort of speed,” said Chris, after watching the pros hit the track at full tilt. “It’s fast when you see the photos and the videos but it’s different when you see it in the flesh and a completely different level. It felt like we were watching the elite. I realized that a middle aged fat man wasn’t going to get to that level.” That may be but Chris had the attitude to do himself proud and raise more than just a few eyebrows.
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