Volbiv 2018 – A Grand Tour of the Ecrins

•September 4, 2018 • 1 Comment

I’d been talking the talk but not walking the walk for quite a long time before this summer’s volbiv trip to France, and if “shopping the shops” was also a phrase, then I’d being doing that too, buying all sorts of stuff over the internet – from Amazon and eBay of course, but also from Chinese sites like AliExpress, BangGood and Wish, which had some useful kit at really good prices, including my 750g pyramid tent for £60, which worked out really well. But more about kit later…

I’d been hatching a scheme whereby I’d try to be away for the whole of July, doing the volbiv in the first week, then driving from Annecy / Chamonix through Switzerland and Italy for the next two weeks, before ending up in Feltre for the new format “British All-Comers’ Comp” in the last week of July. Only thing was I had to a) try and find a way of making it work with my work, and b) try and find a way of making it work with Lisa!

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The former was relatively simple, just don’t tell my clients I’m going to be away for a whole month! I’m fortunate with my work in that it’s all computer based so as long as I have a decent mobile data signal I can work from anywhere. So I let them know I’d be away on hols for the first and last weeks, but not the middle two, where I’d be mixing work, sight-seeing and flying as best I could.

Convincing Lisa that she’d like to be part of this plan was harder, after all, she’d be the one driving the campervan the 800 odd miles all the way from home in Bath to wherever we’d end up rendezvousing after my volbiv on her own, something I don’t think many other-halves would be that keen on doing! Then of course she had to clear things with her clients too (she’s a self-employed graphic designer), and sort things out at home (ie. cats and dog – fortunately my son and his girlfriend were back from uni and living at home for the summer, so they were able to help there), but anyway, I must have done something right because she agreed, on the proviso that she could fly home from Treviso if she got too bored during the comp in Feltre! So, the trip was on, no more talking the talk, it was time to walk the walk!

I spent the last Saturday working out how to pack everything into my Lightness 2 harness and Lightpack 2 rucksack – amazingly it all went in, including the espresso pot!

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All packed up (with somewhere to go!)

 

Sunday 1st July – Bath to Nice to Col de Bleyne to Orcières

After leaving home in Bath at 4am I was on takeoff at Col de Bleyne near Nice at 1230, then airborne 40 minutes later. I landed almost 6 hours and 125kms later above Orcières, having met my volbiv partner-in-crime, Nigel, en-route (he’d taken off from St-André-les-Alpes). What a fantastic start to our adventure!

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/1.7.2018/11:09
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2389427

 

Monday 2nd July – Orcières to Massif du Taillefer

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast of Pro Nutro banana flavoured gruel we walked for about 15 minutes to find a good take off spot. After a bit of parawaiting we were off, the plan being to fly the northern leg of the big 300km triangle that the French aces fly around the Ecrins. Of course like all plans, they change, and we ended up flying north towards Grenoble rather than east, but boy was it ever spectacular! We chose to land after 60kms at a place called Massif du Taillefer – a beautiful high plateau dotted with lakes and tarns… a perfect spot for a bivvy 🙂

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/2.7.2018/10:53
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2394763

 

Tuesday 3rd July – Massif du Taillefer to Briançon

We awoke to a beautiful morning after the rain of the evening before, and after a swim and breakfast we packed up and hiked about an hour to find a suitable takeoff near the Refuge du Taillefer. The plan was to fly to Col d’Izoard, or maybe further, but conditions became a little worrying as we approached Briançon, so we opted to land there and hitch the rest of the way.

I make no apologies for the number of “wahoos” in the film, but I will apologise in advance for a couple of profanities 🙂 In my defence I will say that this flight moved me close to tears at one point, so intense were the emotions I experienced. I hope this film captures the raw beauty of the mountains and clouds, and that you get to experience, in some small way, what I felt during the flight.

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/3.07.2018/10:42
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2403879

 

Wednesday 4th July – Col d’Izoard to St André-les-Alpes

We awoke to a beautiful morning at the Col d’Izoard, and after breakfast we went in search of water. The nearest option was the Refuge de Napoleon, a few hundred metres down the road to the north, where in addition to water, we topped up on calories too :-). Well, it would have been rude not to!

Our plan for the day was to fly back to St André-les-Alpes as Nigel (who lives there) had to be home by the evening. After a sketchy take off on a steep slope, during which I failed to notice that the footplate of my pod was inside-out, I eventually climbed out and my six hour adventure began…

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/4.07.2018/09:41
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2410505

 

Thursday 5th July – St André-les-Alpes to Puy Aillaud

After a good night’s sleep in a proper bed I said my goodbyes to Nigel and Karol, and made my up to the St André takeoff, la Chalvet, by navette. Arriving at the top I discovered my water bladder had leaked all its water out, so I sent it back down in the navette with instructions for it to be filled and returned on the next navette, which duly happened, ninety minutes later… aghhhh, such a schoolboy error – always keep your water with you, not with your glider! This obviously cost me ninety minutes, which meant that by the time I took off it was already overdeveloping to the north, meaning my plan of flying to Puy Aillaud, 100kms to the north, wasn’t going to happen. However, in retrospect, it’s funny how the day worked out…

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/5.07.2018/10:34
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2431934

 

Friday 6th July – Puy Aillaud to Serre Chevalier

After positioning myself perfectly for a leisurely morning and easy walk to take off (50 metres), the strong northerly wind put paid to any ideas of aviation, and so, with a free day ahead of me, I opted for a 23km hike from Puy Aillaud to Serre Chevalier. Google Maps suggested it would take just a bit under six hours – in the event it took nearer eight. It’s probably just as well Google “lied” as I don’t think I’d have attempted it had I known the truth 🙂

Doarama – https://ayvri.com/scene/pmkev43g5x/xko6x21nk4

 

Saturday 7th July -Col du Lautaret to Lac d’Aiguebelette

FINAL DAY! I was unsure about taking off from the nearby Col du Galibier, so I decided to hitch from Col du Lautaret to Alpe d’Huez, where I knew there was a high takeoff. Two hitches later I was there, and one chairlift and one short hike later I was up at 2,800m and ready for the final stage of my volbiv adventure, hoping flying to Annecy where Lisa and I had planned to meet. Unfortunately low cloudbase further north, and a strong valley wind put paid to that plan, but I still had a lovely 2hr / 43km flight, landing in the big valley south of Albertville. Three hitches later (did I say I love hitching in France – I never had to wait for more than five minutes for a ride!) I made it to Lac d’Aiguebelette (near Chambery) where Lisa had found a great spot by the lake… And so ended a fabulous week’s adventure – 458kms flying, 23kms of serious hiking on day 6, 11 hitchhikes, and too many amazing memories to count!

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/7.7.2018/09:45
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2439576

 

Kit List

Electronics:

Flying:

Camping:

Food:

  • Pro Nutra maize protein cereal
  • Sainsbury’s Mexican rice
  • Lidl’s pasta & mushroom meals
  • Glengoyne Cask Strength Whisky (essential!)

Basically I was a cheapskate and should have bought some nicer expedition meals!

Google Sheets kit listhttps://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1UFX_2WcF-veRY6AHSlbYLCw3tmg1b71bPrRibLDHLaQ/edit?usp=sharing

Things I forgot:

  • mozzie repellant
  • cigarette lighter
  • more treats (sweets etc)
  • cup-a-soup – good to mix with dried pasta

Things I brought but needn’t have:

  • nothing

Total volbiv kit weight – approx 8-9kg
Total pack weight incl water – approx 22-23kg

 

Resources

Facebook “UK Volbiv pilots” group
https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKVolBiv/

Greg Hamerton / Flybubble guide: https://flybubble.com/blog/how-to-volbiv-beginners-guide

Weather on the go

meteoblue
Météo-France
MeteoSwiss
meteo-parapente.com

Parting thoughts

The trip was a fantastic success, however I think that was partly because we were flexible in our goal. We set out to fly north to Annecy or Chamonix, or further, however the weather in the northern Alps wasn’t as good as further south, so we decided to turn it into a more local tour, ending up back in St André-les-Alpes at the end of day 4. That then gave me three more days to hitch, hike, and fly north on my own to meet Lisa, and that worked well too. It’s definitely fun having company, and for sure joint decision-making is reassuring, but I did enjoy the three days on my own too.

We chose July for the trip, because after I’d done some research using flight data on xcontest.org, I’d realised that June was too unstable (ie. some excellent days, but lots of unflyable days), and July was when it became more reliable. August would have been good too, but it didn’t fit in with other things quite as well.

This was my first multi-day volbiv, and I’ll certainly be doing another trip again next year – I don’t know where yet, or when, or who (if anyone) I’ll be doing it with, but I know I’ll have a lot of fun planning it over the winter.

Just do it!

PS. The rest of the trip was a great success too – I had some memorable flights in Switzerland, and did well in the comp at Feltre – but that’s for another blog post.

Wales all the way!

•April 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

So, I’ve been out on three or four good days this year, and it’s been Wales that has delivered every time… Maybe I’m just being drawn to the bigger hills which offer an opportunity for a good hike up, or maybe it’s just where RASP is indicating the best conditions, but whatever, I’ve had a lot of fun!

First was a short but fun XC from Merthyr on 17th February, then a month later on 13th March I was back at Merthyr again and had a cracking 85km flight to near Tewkesbury:

Roll on another two weeks to Sunday 25th March, and Hundred House was the starting point for a great adventure across the Brecon Beacons to the coast at Porthcawl. The highlights were soaring Pen-y-Fan before climbing out and getting to 7,850′ farther on!

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Climbing out from Pen-y-Fan

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7,850! Wahoo!!

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You don’t see this view of Porthcawl every day 🙂

Check out the video here:

Finally (for now), Thursday 5th April (and no, I haven’t seen the sun since then, it’s been such a crap week or more) involved a decent hike up Magic Mountain (now an official SEW site), a spot of parawaiting, then a 40km flight in first blue then later hazy conditions, landing at Fforest Fields campsite (aka Hundred House).

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A beautiful morning for a hike!

This was my first flight on my new(ish) Omega X-Alps 2, and if this was anything to go on, I’m going to have some great adventures on it!

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Cranking it up with Paul Jiggins to the north of Talgarth

Despite landing at just after 3pm I didn’t get home until about 11.30pm – my buddy Mike Humphries went “missing” for four hours so we had a bit of fun and games trying to track him down. Long story short, unbeknown to me we’d been flying together (he’d changed his helmet recently meaning that I didn’t recognise him in the air) and after I’d landed he went on to fly another 10kms, landing just past Llandrindod Wells. All well and good, but his phone had completely died (yes, not just battery problems), and so he was out of contact until he borrowed a stranger’s phone and eventually got hold of me at 8pm, by which time I was well over half way home (in his car)! He had no prospect of getting back home that evening by train, so I turned around, crossed the Severn for the second time that day, and eventually met him in Crickhowell… Ah well, all’s well that ends well, and in actual fact we all learned something that day, which I’ve summarised here.

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Friends Reunited 🙂

So… where will the next adventure be? Can Wales deliver for a fifth time? We shall see!

How to not go missing!

•April 13, 2018 • 1 Comment

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On Thursday 5th April we had a pilot “missing” for four hours in mid Wales after an XC flight from Magic Mountain. Fortunately it all ended well (no injuries, no drama, just no comms and a late retrieve), but it has raised some good learning points which we can all benefit from:

1) As soon as is sensibly possible let people know that you’ve landed safely, preferably by using a Telegram retrieve group and xcrt.aero, but if that’s not possible then let someone in your car share or close flying buddies group know where you are and what your intentions are. It is YOUR responsibility to do this at the earliest opportunity.

2) Make sure you have the numbers of half a dozen flying buddies printed out and in your wallet so that in the event of complete phone failure (as happened yesterday) you can get the message out that you’re ok. Don’t be shy in asking to borrow a stranger’s phone to check-in ASAP. Alternatively carry a spare phone with you.

3) Ensure that people know what kit you’re flying with and how to recognise you in the air. Part of yesterday’s problem was that the pilot in question had recently changed helmet from an orange one to a blue one, meaning that even though I was flying with him for much of the flight, I didn’t recognise him! Telegram has a “Bio” feature, so use that to put a brief (70 chars max) description of your wing, helmet and harness. DO THAT NOW! (Thanks to Viv Fouracre for that suggestion). At the very least, make sure that the pilots in your car share group can all recognise each other in the air.

4) Consider using a livetracking service – Livetrack24, AirWhere, Flymaster Live, SPOT, inReach etc

5) And last but not least, whilst driving to the hill, have a chat about possible retrieve plans – who picks up the car, will they drive to collect people, what happens if we get to goal etc. Obviously things will change, but it’s good to have discussed the options beforehand.

These are super-simple action points which will put your mates’ minds at rest, and prevent unnecessary emergency service call-outs. PLEASE TAKE ACTION NOW!

Things are looking up :-)

•February 20, 2018 • 1 Comment

After 4.5 hours’ flying last Friday and Saturday I can officially say that things are looking up after what’s been a very long wet and windy winter here in the UK. Cumulus clouds are gracing our skies once again, and I’ve been up at cloudbase for the first time in five months, wahoo! I’ve even done my first, albeit very short, XC. It was only about 12kms straight line, but it was A LOT more than a one thermal wonder… take a look at the vid below…

Happy thermalling folks 🙂

In the bleak mid-winter

•January 17, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This time of year, unless you’re lucky enough have a holiday booked to South America,  Africa or Australia, can be a pretty bleak time for UK pilots. And this winter is no exception – we’ve had a succession of windy and stormy spells, interspersed with periods of claggy grey “meh” weather, with only the very occasional clear sunny (or even grey) flyable day, so it’s doubly important to try to make the most of any opportunity you get because you can bet that the next opportunity will be weeks, rather than days away.

But fortunately the stars aligned for me this weekend just gone – whilst Lisa was away on a girls’ weekend in the New Forest, and with my son home from uni and around to look after the dog, I was able to combine visiting my elderly parents with kitesurfing and paragliding, and a night in the campervan! Result 🙂

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About to do battle with the elements… (fortunately my safety team weren’t required!)

On Saturday, once I’d changed from a 9m to a 13m kite, I had great time playing amongst the  waves in Weymouth Bay. However it was pretty cold, and it was also my first time out for a few months, so I was quite happy to call it a day after an hour or so. I went back to my parents’ flat in Poundbury for a shower and supper, and afterwards I drove back towards Portland and parked up for the night in the Ferrybridge car park, where, after a quick whisky, the wind rocked me gently to sleep.

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G’night all

Sunday morning dawned grey and cold (I was hoping for a bit more in the way of blue sky but it wasn’t to be) and I headed straight up to the north-most of the two Portland East takeoffs where I’d planned to have coffee and some breakfast. In the event I ended up making do with just a banana because some fellow pilots turned up, and with the wind forecast to drop, it made sense to get airborne as soon as possible.

From my previous experience of the small takeoff area I knew that due to the rotor, getting your wing up above you was non-trivial – last time I think it took me three forward launch attempts – so this time I thought I’d try a cobra launch instead as it seemed the ideal technique. Only one snag, I’d never done one before…! Fortunately I knew roughly what to do from watching numerous YouTube videos, and with an “oh well, what’s the worst that can happen?” attitude I asked my helpers (thanks Alan and Gary) to lift my wingtip into the wind, and I gently teased the wing up using the outer A and C lines. It all worked exactly as advertised and with that I was off! As to whether it was a fluke or inherent natural skill we won’t know until I try it again sometime :-). Judge for yourself in the video below…!

Gentle sea thermals got me up to a max of 1,300′ asl, and I spent a pleasant 30-40 minutes or so flying on my own before I was joined by the others – they clearly hadn’t fancied trying the cobra 🙂

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Never forget how lucky we are being able to do this fantastic sport

After 80 minutes or so I landed as the wind was definitely dropping – the rotor makes getting a good approach imperative: too far back and you’re in rotor, too high and you’ll overshoot – this is definitely not a site for low airtimers! I packed up, headed back to my parents’ for lunch, and was back at home ten minutes before Lisa – all in all a great weekend!

A final parting thought – flying above the Youth Offenders Institution to the south and the Immigration Detention Centre to the north gives you a stark reminder of the freedom we enjoy so much when flying, even if it is a snatched hour or two on a grey and cold mid-winter’s day – we should never forget how lucky we are being able to do this fantastic sport…

2018 – Bring it on!

•January 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment

So, six days into 2018 and I have flown! Ok, so the flight only lasted eight minutes, but it was a fun mission! Fellow desperate optimist, Tim Bishop, picked me up in Bath at 0615 and by 0700 we were walking up Ubley in darkness only punctuated by the light of the moon (having forgotten my head torch)! By 0725 we’d reached takeoff having somehow not got lost on the way up, and strangely enough it was only slightly less dark with sunrise not for another 40 minutes! And there was no wind… Hmm, the whole point of this madcap idea was to get a flight in before it got too windy, and here we were, standing in the semi-darkness and there wasn’t any… What’s more, as the sky lightened, so the cloud rolled in, and we’re weren’t talking high cloud either!

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Yep, we’re officially mad 🙂

I’d made a schoolboy error and left my stove and coffee pot in Tim’s car, so the obligatory parawaiting consisted of the usual banter interspaced by moments of running on the spot to keep warm! By 0815 the wind was picking up nicely and it was now definitely light enough to fly, but unfortunately the cloud was now only fifty feet above us, so it was now or never. I quickly called Bristol ATC to open the 2,500′ Ubley Glider Block (2,500′ – if only!), then Tim was off, rapidly disappearing into the murk!

Oh well, I figured if stayed out from the hill I could skirt the fine line between hilltop cloud flying and going down, so off I went. Eight and a half minutes later I was on the ground having headed down the ridge to the west to see where Tim had got to (he’d landed), and with the wind evidently off the hill a bit, I hadn’t been able to maintain height heading back east, despite it having been pretty lifty in front of takeoff a few minutes earlier. But the point was we’d made the effort, we’d flown, and had enjoyed our madcap mission, AND we were home in time for a decent breakfast!

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Back home and tucking into a hearty breakfast by 10am

Here’s to many more madcap adventures in 2018!

What a week…!

•September 22, 2017 • 2 Comments

I finished off my last post by praying to whichever god it is that’s in charge of the weather to give us some great flying in St André. Well, my prayers were answered! We had five great tasks, plus a day in St Vincent-les-Forts before the comp, and a great day’s mountain biking from St André to Castellane, and just to finish it off, a sweet little hike and fly before the rain came in on the cancelled last day 🙂

Task 1 (3rd Sept) – 77km race to goal at Laragne

Well, so much for the forecast strongish southerly winds – we ended up flying most of the way in a headwind! Add to that high cloud coming in from the south later in the day and it added up to only nine people in goal! I got most of the way round and I think got to within 7kms of goal after 5.5 hours in the air and absolutely loved it! It was a flight of contrasts – small hills and weak climbs at turnpoint 1, strong climbs and big mountains at turn point 2, buttock-clenching into-wind sink followed by a booming climb on the final leg, then some of the minciest flying I’ve done all year trying to get up from low down near the Sisteron Gliding Club. Oh yes, and power lines too 😄 I ended up gliding towards Sisteron for a beer and easy retrieve, but despite that I didn’t get back to St André until 2130. Great day!!

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Climbing out after the tricky TP 1

Summary: 9 in goal, I came 33rd. Mark Watts won the task, and Frazer Wilson took the prize for today’s reserve ride

 

Task 2 (4th Sept) – 68km cat’s cradle

Fast and furious with some rowdy climbs over the “Cheese”… St André built its reputation on days like this 😂. I think Kirsty was the only reserve toss today, minutes before the start, but I’m pretty sure Frazer had a big cascade, not to mention Yuki’s incident above the “Cheese”, followed shortly afterwards by Tom Cole’s very impressive frontal on full speed bar 😂😂.

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Pre-start crowds

Summary: 70 in goal, I came 33rd again, 33 mins behind the winner, Idris Birch

 

Task 3 (6th Sept) – 47km race to goal at Col de Bleyne

Despite an unpromising forecast François from Aerogliss insisted we should be bussed up the hill, and luckily for us we did – we were rewarded with a cracking task down to Col de Bleyne. Unfortunately it was all over too quickly – three minutes and thirty places separated Grant Oseland and me on our Omega X-Alpses (first three-liners in) from the winners who did it in 1hr 9mins. Unfortunately it was also a cracking flight (literally) for Rupert Hone who crashed near the third turnpoint and had to be helicoptered to Digne then Marseille Hospital with a fractured pelvis 😦 Get well soon Rupert!!

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Goal, Wahoo!

Summary: 100 people in goal today, I was 30th, 3 minutes behind the winner, Mark Watts

 

Task 4 (7th Sept) – a 100km epic!

The task of the comp! Lots of big names went down trying to get onto the Coupe on the way to TP1, but past that crux, and once past TP 1, the field split as there were three distinct routes to TP 2, some 20kms north of Digne. I took the west route along with seven or eight others in our gaggle, and once past the small hills just north of Digne it was into some spectacular scenery as we finally made it up to 2000m+ for the first time since the start! Having bagged TP 2 I headed to the Cheval Blanc and the Cheese and Shark’s Fin before crossing the valley and heading to TP 3. The house thermal there worked as advertised and from there it was an easy and fast run past Castellane and over the southern end of the lake to TP 4. I couldn’t resist topping up here, which cost me a place – the lifty line back to goal meaning I could have gone on glide at least 300m lower. Still, I wasn’t too disappointed with 13th place and first three-liner 😄 I think it was this task the Frazer had his third incident, resulting in a stay in Digne hospital whilst his shoulder, broken ribs and punctured lung were taken care of… a very tough comp for him for sure. I wish you all the best for a speedy recovery Frazer…

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Cranking it up near the Cheval Blanc

Summary: 39 in goal today, I was 13th, 18 minutes behind the winner, Russel Ogden

 

Task 5 (8th Sept) – 67km cat’s cradle

With light winds and a high base forecast, this was a doddle for many, and would have been for me too had I not had a brain malfunction on the way to TP 2. I was following gliders ahead and above me (not much above me) and they were pitching back in evidently strong lift, but I never found it… and the three of us (I’ll let you remain nameless) pushed on too low to our inevitable doom! Crazy! The retrieve was super-efficient and it didn’t take long to get back to HQ, where we we greeted with the sight of every man and his dog arriving over goal with tons of height… oh well, thank goodness for discards 😂😂

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Turnpoint 1 action

 

Summary: 88 in goal today with Mark Watts winning it again. The less said about my position the better! No reserve rides, just Mal Davies falling through his lines!!!

 

So there we have it – five tasks (the first time in 13 years I think Calvo said) and lots of great flying (for some). For others it was quite an eye-opener in the rough, strong very dry conditions. I was super-happy with my Omega X-Alps, barely a collapse all week, and most of the time well able to keep up with the hoards of Zenos! Decision making and good lines are so much more important than an extra couple of kms speed in my opinion, and I was more than happy with 27th place overall and first three-liner.

Results – Overall

Marks Watts
Seb Ospina
Russell Ogden

Women

Kirsty Cameron
Jess Cox
Nanda Walliser

Reynolds

Jack Pimblett
Lauren Martins
Alex Colbeck

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Reynolds Class winners (sponsored by XC Tracer UK)

Sports

Mike Miller
Dave Smart
Fons de Leeuw