Two fearless Horsham teenagers flew down the Alps on their mountain bikes earlier this month, and were among the youngest competitors in the world-famous Megavalanche challenge.
Adrenaline junkies Sam Dixon-French, 17, and Tom Hoult, 16, made the trip to France for their race on July 14, which saw them battle hundreds of other riders on a 30km course on Alpe D’Huez.
Experiencing tricky terrain, amazing views and a bruising physical challenge, Sam called the thrill of riding down the Alps ‘an unreal feeling’.
The Collyer’s student said: “The hardest thing was staying concentrated for an hour and a half, it was so tough mentally and your hands are throbbing.
“You’re nearly having a heart attack on the climb and then you drop into a really technical part. You know that if you make a mistake you can really hurt yourself.”
The duo took part in a qualification race, with Sam securing a position in the intense mass start and Tom narrowly missing out by a couple of places.
Each race’s mass start consists of loud music and a circling helicopter accompanying 350 riders as they begin their descent.
Tom, who has recently finished studying at Tanbridge House, said: “I knew it took a lot of training and you have to be marathon fit. In the end I decided I was quite up for a challenge and something to work towards so we decided to do it.
“I spoke to people from Tanzania and New Zealand - it is a pilgrimage really and one of the most famous mountain biking courses in the world. I think we were the youngest there - in my race of 350, six were under 21.
“The first ten minutes was total carnage - there is chaos everywhere and you have to react really quickly.”
On a course that begins with about 5km of riding on a black skiing run, incidents are inevitable - Sam casually mentioning that he crashed ‘15 or 20’ times on the mountain, though ‘only two or three really hurt’.
Both riders have only been biking seriously for a short time, making their determination to qualify for and finish the race all the more impressive.
Sam added: “I was terrified at the start because it is so intimidating. But the moment I was on the bike I was so focused and knew what I had to do.
“There was a guy walking along who had dislocated his shoulder. He wasn’t looking forward to trying to explain it to the French marshals.”
Both boys admitted that their anxious parents were relieved to see they had made it down the mountain in one piece.
The duo may return for Megavalanche next year, but are also thinking about the intimidatingly-named Mountain of Hell, which also takes place on the Alps.