Nicoll claims title in race from hell
Nelson mountainbiker Jamie Nicoll has set a new race record on his way to winning the notorious Mountain of Hell race in Europe.
It was a remarkable performance by the Kiwi rider who negotiated the legendary course in 30min 28sec - starting in the snow and ice of the glacier of Les Deux Alpes in France and descending from 3600 metres over nearly 25km in a "wild" 2500m descent.
The self-funded Nicoll beat GT-sponsored Marten Maes (31min 16sec) and Dan Atherton (31min 49sec) across the line in a field of 700 riders.
"It felt like a race of three people once off the glacier and into the rhythm of the trail, starting up top with just the three of us on the front row," said Nicoll.
At times hitting speeds of "around 120kmh", Nicoll said he dropped back to eighth place at one stage before "a short climb and the first descent on trail and some planned cut lines" saw him back into third behind leader Atherton.
"We hit Les d'Alps village, where it gets suburban for a mo through the streets, and up a skinny into a pub, a huck off a picnic table.
"Then [with] all three off us nose to tail, [we] powered into the techi walking track to Vinosc that you can't pre-ride, with big old scoured out stairs and plenty of cut lines to try and remember.
"Here the three of us were changing [position] and fighting to hold the lead till one made a mistake and it all changed again."
Nicoll and Atherton settled into a two-way duel, a wrong turn by Atherton eventually giving Nicoll the lead as they left the track and hit the road.
"[With] Dan right on my wheel, I could hear him so loud . . . it sounded like he was having some sort of breathing attack, then he suddenly faded away.
"I was pushing really hard but holding just under that next level, 200m of road then down the tight cobble walkway and a sprint into the finish area."
With an exhausted Atherton forced to stop at one stage and remove his helmet, Maes eventually blew past him.
Nicol's win comes on the back of a recent seventh place at the legendary Megavalanche and promising results in two rounds of the Enduro World Series.
It is the second year that Nicoll has competed in top events in Europe and North America.
But his performances are astonishing for an entirely different reason. Three years ago in Chile he suffered a horrific work accident, resulting in third degree burns to a third of his body.
He spent five weeks in intensive care and two months in a Santiago hospital and was given only a 10 per cent chance of living.
So it's been an eventful and ultimately successful recovery for the former subcontractor with New Zealand Trail Solutions.
Nicol said that despite competing against fully professional riders, they were always ready to offer him support.
"Even though I'm here unsupported, I get a lot of help from competitors' teams and mechanics like Atherton Racing. They have been great and so supportive, even putting me up in their apartment.
"It's all pretty Kiwi-style for me, to make it work, camping out and great meals made in the billy.
"Its great to take a win here in Europe out of your home ground. I am off to Colorado for the next round of the Enduro World series, which is my main focus and where you push hard against all the world's best."