September 9, 2011,Florac, France~ The European Endurance Championship is set to start Saturday September 10 at 4:30 am near Florac in the heart of the National Park of the Cézannes. The trail traverses the rugged terrain, the heights and gorges of the Tarn river, and is the endurance ride that is most compared to the US Tevis trail, although most riders that have ridden both agree that Tevis is harder for reasons of accessibility, change of elevation and cliffside trail hanging, to name a few things.
The land is impressive from any perspective. On first view there are the ancient villages tucked along the rivers, snuggeled into the hilltops and dug into cliffs. From this base at the village of Ispagnac at 550m, the ride will begin in the dark. This course is run from stage to stage like a point to point, but unlike the Tevis, it starts where it finishes, so it is a boucle, or circle ride. From the river to the tops of the gorges and through an area known as the French Grand Canyon, the riders will follow one and two track trails up the sides of hills and through medieval villages.
Loop one’s trail will run from Isagnac for 33.8 km through the village of Florac mounting to the ancient one car narrow cliffside village at Barre des Cévennes at 1,000m to the first Vet Gate. This assent is estimated to take two hours for the first horses and they’ll reach it just as the dawn lightens the sky. Vet Gate two, another 22.8 km, starts back through the village. With the windows open, one can literally touch the walls of the towering stone homes on either side while traveling in a car through this small town. Loop two will have only small climbs and descents to the la Bécède Vet Gate. The trail to Vet Gate three, another 26.6 km will be the impressive climb to Mont Aigoual at 1,565m, before descending to 1,100m. This is wild country where the sky meets the mountain, the gorges funneling a fierce whipping wind or blowing in the wet fog that will cool the horses and riders for the ride across the top. The respite might be welcome as it promises to be in the high 80’s F/35C at the lower elevations. Loop four to La Citerne the trail drops to 700m and climbs back to 1,000m throughout the 25.8 kms. Loop five runs for 31.4km along the plateau of the Cévennes where farmers take advantage of the rainfall and plentiful grass to raise cattle, sheep and goats. The final loop of 19.2 km returns the riders to the 500m of Ispagnac.
The speed for this ride is expected to be at least 17.5 kph with Maria Alvarez Ponton here to defend her European Championship title, and the start list is a study on current excellent riders and horses.
Florac has been the home of the 160km ride since 1981 and has been won by French riders with the exception of Katie Smith in 2005. French Champion rider, Denis Pesce, now the Chef D’Equipe for Italy, has won this ride 8 times on five different horses.
The start list will be edited after today’s Vet In but remains now at close to 90 horse/riders from 20 different countries. I was happy to see Germany’s Gabriela Forster here with the horse she purchased from Valerie Kanavy, Priceless Gold. The German Team has the fortune of having Jean-Louis LeClerc as their trainer for this event.
The start list should be edited after today’s Vet In but remains now at close to 90 horse/riders from 20 different countries. I was happy to see Germany’s Gabriela Forster here with the horse she purchased from Valerie Kanavy, Pricelss Gold. The German Team has the fortune of having Jean-Louis LeClerc as their trainer for this event.
France will be the team to beat and they’ll show off their skills under new French National Team Selector, Bénédicte Emond-Bon. Bahrain is a sponsor and is here in force with Sheikh Nasser and brother Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa leading the Royal Team. Great Britain brought their team, as did Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Russia, Qatar and Spain. The UAE is represented by Saif Sultan Abdulla Al Buamim and the very successful Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri, who has finished the Tevis twice. Comparing the two ride trails he said, “Tevis is harder. You go up the mountain, then down to the river and up again many times.”
Loops and Holds
Loop 1 33.8k, Hold, 40 min
Loop 2 22.8 km, Hold, 40 min
Loop 3 26.6 km, Hold, 40 min
Loop 4 25.8 km, Hold 50 min
Loop 5 31.4 km, Hold 50 min
Loope 6 19.2 km, Arrivee
Tomorrow starts early and as hard as the trail is for the riders…the many cars of the Vets, Crew, Officials and Press will all be following the same winding small mountain roads, all trying to stay ahead of their riders or the pack.
1. The Grand Canyon in France
2. Jean Louis LeClerc and Sabrina Arnold
3. Priceless Gold and Dr. Gabriela Forster
4. Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri and Kalifa
More to come from the trail. A bientot, Pamela