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Yeti front man in New Zealand Kashi Leuchs has released his thoughts and comments from the Megavalance this weekend. Have a read and look at his pictures.

A year after he finished racing at the elite level in cross-country World Cups, 32-year-old Kashi Leuchs, of Dunedin, New Zealand, has discovered a new passion: long, demanding downhill endurance races of up to an hour and a half in duration.

Leuchs competed in a round of the Enduro Series Championship held at Val d'Allos, France, from June 25-27 and finished 29th in his class. At this weekend's Megavalanche held at Alpe d'Huez, also in France, Leuchs finished 91st with a time of 1:12:36. Frenchman Jerome Clementz won the event in 56:02 with Nico Vouilloz, also of France, second on 56:16 and Sam Blenkinsop, of New Zealand, third in 57:21.

"It was carnage up there on the glacier at the start," Leuchs explained as he recalled the mass 350 rider start for the Megavalanche.

"I started in the third row and fell right on the line and by the time I got going again the snow was so chopped up that you couldn't ride it anymore. I was about 150th off the glacier – everyone was so aggressive and there were elbows flying and people crashing everywhere," he said.

Leuchs ran about 90% of the glacier – about 15 minutes of running in total, he said.

"The section was much longer than normal because of the soft snow conditions. Once I had fallen over a few times I just started laughing and just decided to enjoy the race – I realised I was not going to finish up the front at that point," he conceded.

"I thought I would do better on the snow, but it was so hard to stay on the bike. You get a wheel in a rut and then next thing you're looking back up the slope with everyone coming at you. That scared me – I didn't have the aggressiveness I needed in that situation."

Leuchs made up time in the next sections of trail and passed 70-80 riders to finish in the top 100.

The Megavalanche was a demanding ride on the body and mind, he said afterward.

"I only did one run on the course and it was only half of the course – you have to be here the whole week to race this one seriously. The reality is that the first time doing an event like this is such an eye-opener. I learnt firsthand how crazy the starts were – it even made a cross-country World Cup feel lame – these guys are all so aggressive," Leuchs laughed.

With a starting point at 3300m above sea level, many of the competitors at the Megavalanche suffered with the affects of altitude.

"The race has about 2500m of descent and the affects of altitude at the top mean you can't walk up the stairs without stopping and recovering. It was especially apparent on the glacier run – a lot of people were really suffering. Acclimatising is a good idea for this race," Leuchs said.

The Enduro Series Championship is a similar event but instead of one, mass start race run, it consists of a series of runs over several days that add up to 10,000km of descent and Leuchs said he preferred this format to the Megavalanche.

"The Megavalanche is more about adrenaline and aggressive riding whereas the Enduro Series races are better for just having a weekend of pushing yourself. Physically, the Enduro Series races are harder and more of the outcome is up to the individual. With the Mega's mass start you can get taken out, or get held up in the chaos."

Leuchs rode the Yeti ASR 7 in both events and believed it was the perfect bike for this type of riding.

"The braking bumps were huge at the Mega Avalanche, but because the seven has so much travel you hardly noticed them and then it is still a capable climber for the hills."

Leuchs said these types of races were becoming very popular in Europe because they appealed to cross-country and downhill riders and to all levels of rider.

"After 10,000m of altitude drop you get a pretty accurate picture of who is the best overall rider and believe me you are smashed by the end. That's a lot of descending," Leuchs laughed.
He believes that we will see a lot more of these types of events in the next 10 years.

"Every year these events are growing as more and more people discover this side of the sport," Leuchs said.

He said the key ingredient was to have "a super-long chairlift, or preferably a gondola", to make it work.

"There is probably nowhere back home in New Zealand that could stage a Megavalanche with that much vertical drop, but the Enduro format could work as you only need 1000m of vertical."

He said the Brake Burner event that used to be held at Coronet Peak, New Zealand was a similar concept.

"The success of the Brake Burner shows the potential for this type of race. People like the idea of riding downhill more than riding up. It also suits these new, bigger bikes that are being developed – they are a lot of fun and this is the perfect way to ride them."

Leuchs said the lack of a barrier to entry and a course that everyone could ride gave this emerging discipline broad appeal.

"There were riders here at the Megavalanche with not much experience and they still had a great time. I saw one guy who had a tire glued onto the top of his full-face helmet and when I asked him why he said that it was because it was softer when he fell. He was quite prepared to crash all the way to the bottom, but he was smiling the whole way."

The French seeded the idea of mainly descending races many years ago and not-surprisingly French riders now dominate the fast-growing discipline, but its appeal is catching and Leuchs believes these events can be translated to mountains in his native New Zealand.

"This concept of downhilling for normal people is going to be a big thing I predict," he ventured.

"Both these races were real eye-openers to me and I know now that my descending skills are not up to scratch yet. I still need to learn a bit. It has already become quite a specialist sport in Europe and you need to be a strong pedaller and very, very skilled in downhill," he admitted.

Another New Zealander, Sam Blenkinsop, of Whanganui, finished third at the event and Leuchs said that result deserved high praise. "Sam Blenkinsop's ride is pretty amazing – he is third against the elite of this new discipline – guys who only race and train for this type of event."

Another Kiwi, Christchurch rider Cameron Cole, who is currently top five in the 2010 Downhill World Cup series and finished 27th at the Mega Avalanche.

Picture Credit: Adventure Media Group/Sèbastien Bouè - NZ rider Cam Cole, number 402

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