Raid in France returned to the international stage and the Adventure Racing World Series this year, with their 11th edition in the majestic Savoie Mont Blanc region of the Alps.
It was the first Raid in France since the organisation staged the AR World Championship on Reunion Island in 2018, so this race was a long awaited, and much anticipated, return.
It was hard won too, as Race Director Nancy Bahuaud explains, “Four years is a long time to keep the flame alive. Even with the course mostly ready, the administrative and operating procedures had to be re-done every year. So organising this race has been a real challenge for us.”
“This made the success of this 11th edition even more pleasing. Our RIF family, and all our volunteers (120+), have once again, with extreme kindness, willingness and dedication, answered the call and allowed the race to function.”
And what a race it was, with a highly technical, demanding and varied course, on which only 8 teams from the 38 starting managed to reach all of the checkpoints. The race had short spells of extreme weather, a glacier crossing, a tumultuous, white water packraft descent, a massive 16,800m of climbing, and it was a ‘tour de force’ for 400team Naturex, for so long France’s leading international team.
The race began in Bourg St. Maurice with an entertaining prologue combining orienteering and packrafting, and at the start the local population were amused to see teams running through the main street carrying rafts on their heads!
The rafts were soon put to their true purpose on the first stage, a descent of the rapids of the Isère River, which Race Director Pascal Bahuaud described as “memorable and tumultuous”.
The descent is a French rafting classic and it was definitely memorable for the Raid in France teams in their small packrafts. 400team Naturex were among the leaders and Sebastian Raichon described their arrival at the Aime rapids.
“Sandrine and Jino overturned from the start and we passed by without being able to help them. Jino was holding the boat, Sandrine was in front alone, and after long minutes of struggle arrived at the shore at the cost of a last effort to hang onto a rock on the edge.
“After 3 minutes of recovery our Sandrine got back into racing mode and we left with one less paddle. This descent was magnificent and challenging, what a pleasure to navigate in such conditions in class 4 rapids. Raid in France in all its splendour!”
The Seiklushunt Honeypower team, who had driven 36hrs to the race from Estonia, said they were slow as the rafting was new to them. “We had one session on a raft on flat water, and some theoretical lessons,” said Arvi Anton.
He added, “There was water everywhere, and big rocks. It was a fun and exciting way to start the race and my favourite stage.”
Into the night teams rode the first mountain bike stage, passing through the ski areas of La Plagne and Les Arcs, the later where Pascal Bahuaud is a ski instructor. The 68km stage had 3700m of ascent and teams were often pushing their bikes as they made navigation choices in the dark.
They quickly spread out and 400team Naturex were happy with their navigation, choosing a longer route with less climbing. They were first to leave their bikes and begin the crux stage of the race, the big Alpine and glacier trek.
This was 53km with 4500m of climbing, and teams were carrying heavy packs with all their equipment for the glacier crossing. The route crossed the Louie Blanche pass, then the Petit Saint Bernard Pass which links France to Italy, followed by the Forclaz pass with its picturesque mountain pastures, then the Ouillon pass, before reaching the glacier at Petit Dome des Glaciers, which is over 3000m high.
Again, 400team Naturex found being first had its perils as Raichon explains.
“We geared up high in the mountains near the Aiguille des Glaciers. We are roped up and sometimes also tied to fixed ropes. It is extraordinary to move between crevasses and seracs. Halfway, without warning, the ground gives way under my feet. I manage to hold myself back by my arms but the rest of my body is on its way into a nice crevasse. Sandrine planted the ice axe and wrapped the rope around it. Without panicking, I managed to climb back up with my ice axe! The adventure of this raid … what a great experience!”
For the Estonians the glacier crossing was a novel experience too. “It was not difficult,” said Anton, “but it was cold at night and we were not acclimatised to the altitude.” (The highest point in Estonia is 318m.)
The weather subsequently turned wet and stormy, and the second, big MTB was shortened for most teams, but at the front of the race 400team Naturex continued to race away, opening up a huge lead. After a second long trek in the Bauges Mountains and a short, technical descent of the Pont du Diable Canyon, they completed the final paddling stages half a day ahead of their nearest rivals.
These included the wild parts of river Rhone, the Canal de Savières and a final paddle on Bourget Lake to reach Aix Les Bains, a magical way to finish the race.
The team of Raichon, Sandrine Beranger, Matthieu Bajard, and Jean-Noel Pomeon crossed the finish line after 92 hours and 22 minutes. On the finish line an emotional Raichon said, “Our happiness is immense. 400team wins Raid in France for the 4th time (a record), and Matthieu and Jino win their 1st AR World Series race.”
Although two of the team were relatively inexperienced expedition racers, they finished over 11 hours ahead of second place team, Absolu Raidsaventure.fr, and the surprise 3rd placed, Bim Bim Team. (They surprised themselves, and were delighted with their position.)
In 4th place were the Estonian team (who said the canyon stage was also a new discipline for them). Anton summed up their race. “The race had a lot of technical stages and was a good experience. There were so many new things to try, and a lot of transitions, which we are still a bit slow at. I think if you can make it in Raid in France, you can make it in any race.”
He sounded a little disappointed not to get on the podium after they also finished 4th at Expedition Africa in Lesotho, but said, “We are happy, and next time we will be better.”
For Nancy and Pascal Bahuaud it was a return to the sport and community that is such a big part of their lives.
“What a relief to finally be able to launch this race that we initially designed in 2020 and that was postponed in 2021. The teams all looked delighted at the end, and that makes us more than happy, and we haven’t encountered any health or injury issues, so everyone reached the finish line safely!
“The weather has been challenging, just as needed, with some rain, fog and a few storms, but mostly sunny: and the course allowed us to show the world, all the diversity of our nature and our magical mountains.”
You can find out more about the Raid in France at https://www.raidinfrance.com/
The Adventure Racing World Series 2022 is made up of 10 of the world’s premier Expedition Adventure Races, held on 5 continents. The Adventure Racing World Championship will be staged in Paraguay in September.
The next race in the series is Huairasinchi in Ecuador, taking place from July 22nd to 28th.