STONE KING RALLY
By: Joe Schwartz
The Stone King Rally is a enduro mountain bike race that has quickly gained legendary status amongst the core mountain bike community. This year was the 2nd edition of the race, a 6-day affair starting in the high alpine of the Southern French Alps, and ending on the Mediterranean in Italy.
For those that are not familiar with the Enduro style of mountain bike racing; an enduro race consists of multiple timed stages (mostly downhill in nature) over the course of an event. These stages are linked by untimed liaisons (or transfers). The Stone King featured 23 blind (meaning, no-one knew what the stages would be prior to the race) timed stages over the 6 days. The race stages were only a small part of the experience though, with the whole event covering over 300km of riding, over 20,000 meters of descending, and over 8,000m of ascending. Each day we jumped on 2-3 shuttles which helped alleviate some of the climbing vs descending ratio, but every vertical meter earned was a tough one, with many grueling hike-a-bikes into the alpine. We were rewarded with epic descents, timed or otherwise. The event was all very carefully curated, ensuring that the participants got to fully experience this part of the world, from handcrafted loamy trails to unique liaisons through centuries-old castles.
I’ve had the good fortune of being able to travel the world with my mountain bike, and this event is up there on the list of best-evers. There were definitely some Type 2 fun moments during the 6 days (which I love), but the simple reality of being able to just ride bikes for 8-12 hours a day through incredible landscapes with a group of like minded folks was an experience I won’t soon forget. Every day we’d hit a feed station when it mattered most, serving up delicious healthy salads, organic trail mixes, yummy candy and lots of water to rehydrate with. That critical feed station, coupled with a mid-morning cafe stop for a croissant and cappuccino was what kept us racers fueled for the day. That, and the occasional mid-afternoon gelato, and the end of day obligatory cold beer.
At the end of each day we’d roll into a tent city that the race team would move and set up each afternoon. Our bags would be piled up, and once gear was located, it was time to get the bike dialed for the next day, shower, and gorge on food, rolling into bed at a very early hour in order to do it all the next day. The simple life of eat, sleep, ride really was a treat to experience for 6 days.
Each day was unique in terms of landscapes and trails. The event started in Arvieux, in France, in the south end of the Haute-Alpes. We reached the route’s high point on this first day, topping out at 2,744m (9,000 ft). As the days unfolded we rode south towards the Mediterranean, the landscape changing from the dramatic peaks of the Alps, into the equally as dramatic but drier and lower Maritime Alps, and then rolling right down to the sea on rocky arid ridgelines. The trails were an amazing mix too. Only a small fraction of the week was timed stages, so most of each day was spent moving through majestic terrain with friends at our own pace, linking up hiking trails, hike a bikes, old Roman roads, and purpose built mountain bike trails. These rides were punctuated with the full gas blind race stages, 4 per day, which made for moments of pure adrenaline (and sometimes fear).
Each day rolled into the next, and before we knew it, we were floating in the refreshing waters of the Med, and gorging on pizza in the small Italian town the race concluded in, and scheming on how to get back to do the whole route again.
Former professional mountain biker and new father, Joe Schwartz is currently a resident of Vancouver Island and an ACMG Ski Guide. Look out for more of his writing and follow along his adventures at @joeschwartzy.