A team of wounded, injured and sick Servicemen and veterans, supported by Help for Heroes, set three records when they took part in the most infamous mountain bike race on the Alpine Enduro Calendar.
The Mountain of Hell is considered to be the most challenging and fastest race on the circuit. Seven hundred riders reach speeds of up to 65mph as they travel down a double black ski slope in the Alps.
Among them this year were eight mountain bikers who trained for six months under the expert guidance of Colour Sergeant Roger Coates. Based at Help for Heroes northern Recovery Centre, Phoenix House in Catterick, he is an instructor for Battleback – the Ministry of Defence initiative that, in partnership with Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion, uses adaptive sport and adventure training to speed an individual’s recovery.
“The most difficult challenge for me is to find events and activities in which the guys and girls will be able to take part without becoming any more broken than they already are, but which will be super-hard to achieve so that they feel challenged,” said CSgt Coates.
“This year we really pushed the boundaries of what is possible!”
It was the first time that disabled cyclists had been allowed to take part in the race, so they had already set a record just by crossing the start line, but two members of the team set ‘first’ on their own – Chris Jones by being the first to ever participate on an electric bike and Rachel Kipling the first female to compete in the men’s race.
Chris, 45, served in Army Air Corps until 1998 when injuries plus failed surgery meant he could no longer fulfil his role. With reduced mobility in his right ankle, misaligned knees, right hip and lower back, Chris was told he would never ride a mountain bike again, but an electronic version has enabled him to prove the doctors wrong!
While still in the Army, Rachel was a member of the Help for Heroes mountain bike team that competed in another endurance race – Megavalanche – in 2016. She has since been discharged due to mental illness and had been called in as a last-minute reserve less than a week before the latest group set off for France. She – and the other reserve, Dave Evans, both found themselves at the start line after two of the original team injured themselves in the practice run the previous day.
Said CSgt Coates: “The guys on the team were physically and mentally fit enough to attempt the impossible and I had no doubt that they would succeed.
“They were tested to the very limit abut, by clever teamwork, close communication, and sheer determination, they battled their way through deep snow, ice, crevasses, rocky outcrops and high-speed mountainous trails full of natural and manmade obstacles over a 25km Downhill Enduro trail!”
More than half the team members had never raced before. Those who had had not done so at such a level as the Mountain of Hell. Their achievement – applauded by the Mayor of Les Deux Alpes who made them guests of honour at the after race party – has given them all a fresh sense of confidence in their own abilities that they can use to further their recovery.
Said CSgt Coates: “The knowledge that they have achieved what only the 700 best mountain bike riders in the world would do, will be a natural balm for the many aches, pains, and bruises that they acquired on the way down!”
The fastest speed achieved by one of the Help for Heroes team was 56mph, compared to the highest on the day of almost 79mph!