Jérôme, François & Pauline.
When they aren't racing, what do top MTB enduro riders do?
They rest ! No, they train even more! No wait...
That could be the logical answer if Pauline Dieffenthaler, Francois Bailly-Maître and Jérôme Clementz were nothing more than competitors. But they're not just some of the fastest and keenest stopwatch beaters on the planet, they're also driven by passion, an eye for a challenge, adventure and nature.
Target: Mont Elbert the highest peak in Colorado at 4401m.
The team from left to right Pauline, Jérôme & François
Not afraid of a challenge and with a penchant for conquering summits on their mountain bikes, our three companions set off to attack Mount Elbert, once they've carefully checked the route and obtained the necessary permission.
After a morning wandering round Aspen, they leave the Hollywood ambience of the place with its private jets, luxury hotels, gorgeous houses, lawns worthy of golf courses, vegetarian and gluten-free restaurants, and head first for Independence Pass. This road pass at 3,687m allows them to swing down to Twin Lakes, the base camp for the ascent of Mount Elbert. The pass also marks the divide between the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific. From up here, the view is already exceptional with lakes and forests in the valley which then give way to alpine landscapes above 3,000m.
The arrival at Twin Lakes marks a change in the American landscape. With the luxury of Aspen left far behind, they find themselves deep in the heart of America. A small gas station, a fake police car, a mini supermarket, car parts lying in front yards and three small hotels. Of course they are all full and our adventurers having booked nothing in advance find themselves out on the street with the next village 50km away. Not a very practical solution given that the start time for the ascent is scheduled for 4.30am.
But don't give up on our riders just yet, they're a resourceful bunch, and a few miles from the village they come across a cave-like B&B, which unfortunately is also full. That's right, because August is high season with the Colorado Trail attracting walkers aiming to cross Colorado from north to south. Blown it again? No, because with plenty of persuasiveness, they manage to convince the owner that they'd be happy with a simple roof to sleep under.
At this point, he admits there is a dormitory but the bathrooms aren't working. Never mind, they've already experienced worse and will have a rinse in the river instead of under a hot shower.
So, where do we sleep tonight?
King size bed epic battle.
Once inside, they discover their quarters are more like a museum than a hotel, with collector's items strewn everywhere. The sunset on the shores of the lake allows them to take an admiring break before playing a ping-pong tournament to determine who will sleep in the double bed! François wins it hands down, having hidden the fact from his opponents that he was a table tennis player in his youth! A hastily eaten meal in town as they plan their expedition, and then to bed as they'll be up in the early hours.
The alarm rings, breakfast is gulped down as they prepare sandwiches, check the gear before driving the vehicle to the start of the trail, and they're off.
It's as black as night in the forest, and having brought no lights, they make do with torches strapped to their handlebars and a headlamp to tackle the start of the ascent.
They set off from 3,000m, in an aspen forest where the path along the stream is impossible to see in the dark, but the noise of the water keeps them on the straight and narrow. After a relatively fast start, the gradient gets more severe and they have to push their bikes. In the dark, it's difficult to tell how far they've come, and with the altitude they're not moving fast but continue to make steady progress. They've set a goal of getting to the tree line for sunrise at around 6.30am.
After 90 minutes of walking, the trees start to thin out before disappearing altogether – an ideal place to enjoy the sunrise while having a bite to eat. They all get out their phones to take souvenir photos of a sunrise at 3,800m, and wolf down a snack to give them strength before continuing the ascent which will definitely not get any easier. With the altitude, there's less oxygen, the gradient continues to kick up and each step is an effort. It's not easy to climb at this altitude on foot, so imagine what it's like with a 13kg bike to transport. There are no complaints and everyone's keen to reach the top, to appreciate the view but most of all to ride down the trail that appears to be perfect for bikes.
Jérôme goofing around to warm up.
François "cold never bothered me anyways, let's go".
And here there are walking their bikes again! He seems to enjoy it!
They've done it! Our three adventurers are at the top. They enjoy a 360° view out onto the surrounding peaks. Looking down on them creates a fantastic perspective and the view onto the lakes they started from gives a taste of the long descent and fun to come. The whistling wind and the rapidly dropping temperature make it difficult to stay for too long or they might get ill and freeze to death (OK, maybe a slight exaggeration). This is the only excuse they need to mount their fabulous steeds and throw themselves down the sides of Mount Elbert, satisfied that they've pulled off a crazy stunt and brought their bikes to the roof of Colorado.
It will take them more than 30 minutes to get back to the car. Rocky terrain at the beginning gives way to a path snaking through the mountain pastures before they rejoin the pine trees. As they descend, the plant life gets increasingly dense until they reach the aspen forest at the edge of the lake. Our riders soon warm up again, they're clearly delighted and also amazed that a trail at this altitude could be so suitable for biking. In Europe, above 3,000m it's rare to find paths that are so pleasurable to ride on a bike above 3,000m.
A well-earned downhill.
A bunch of high-fives, a beer and a burger to chill, is followed by a dip in the nearby river to finish their trip in style. The true spirit of mountain biking you could say. The fuel of success, whether in competition or on an adventure like our Julbo riders had, will always be the pleasure of reaching our goals, with a dash of challenge and uncertainty to spice the whole thing up!
See you soon for new stories!