Photo: Les 2 Alpes/Pyrene Duffau

'Mountain of Hell' May Be the Most Extreme Bike Race in the World

France Cycling
by Suzie Dundas Nov 29, 2023

For most hobbyists, mountain biking as a sport isn’t nearly as extreme as it looks in videos. Sure, there’s always the potential to fall, but with the proper protective gear, the average mountain biker can usually stay pretty safe, especially if they’re sticking to established cross-country trails.

But the bikers participating in France’s Mountain of Hell bike race are not your average mountain bikers. Since it’s cut-and-dry race — the first person to the bottom wins — they go very, very fast. Last year’s winner, French professional mountain biker Kilian Braun, clocked speeds of up to 62 miles per hour.

Here’s what it looks like to be in the race.

@bikegm The biggest mountain bike – Part 2 #bike #mounntain ♬ original sound – bulmetxp672

Mountain of Hell is an extreme downhill mountain bike race held annually in the French Alps, on a glacier ski resort called Les Deux Alpes. The course is just over 15 miles long and looses about 7.600 feet of elevation from start to finish.

The Mountain of Hell course has a few other challenges, too: the top section is almost always covered in snow (but riders aren’t on fatbikes), there are huge downhill sections of loose rocks and boulders, and you’re competing against up to 999 other racers who are usually mere feet from your bike, moving at top speeds. And it can be almost impossible to see through fog and snow at the top.

The first half of the race looks wild and borderline dangerous as riders push to pass each other.

@bikegm The biggest mountain bike – Part 1 #bike #mountain ♬ original sound – bulmetxp672

As you may imagine, bike crashes are a given and can be brutal to watch (though no one was hurt in the instance below, supposedly).

The race has a bigger vertical drop than nearly all of the most famous expert trails in the entire United States, including the Whole Enchilada in Moab, Utah (7,000-foot loss) and Downieville, in the Sierra Nevada of northern California (5,000-foot loss). And the “Mountain of Hell” course is way steeper and full of risks, as riders will often pass each other on singletrack trails barely wide enough for one person.  The winning time in 2023 was a mere 22 minutes, moving at speeds faster than most cars on the highway.

You can watch the whole race from the point of view of a contestant in the video below, who finished with a still-very-impressive time at under 50 minutes.

Believe it or not, non-pro athletes interested in competing in the absolutely wild race are able to do so. Mountain of Hell will once again be held in France in 2024, from June 21-23. Registration is 95 Euro, or about $105, per rider. The exact date registration opens will be posted on the event’s official Facebook page; registration includes a breakfast hosted by the sponsor (Commencal, in 2023) and your lift ride to the start of the course. It’s open to any enduro or downhill adrenaline junkies, but unless you’re the kind of rider who can send it down A-line in Whistler or has shot a few mountain bike movie camos, you’ll probably find that spectating is the way to go.

Les 2 Alpes is a ski resort in the town of Vénosc, in southern France. The closest airport is Grenoble Isère airport, which isn’t very large. But fortunately, the town is only about 45 miles from the Grenoble train station, making it easy to reach from other destinations like Geneva, Switzerland (two hours) or Lyon, France (90 minutes). Paris is also only about threew hours by train.

From the Grenoble station, you can grab a ride share to Les 2 Alpes, or take the affordable area shuttle bus, which runs between the train station and several stops in the towns closest to the resort. 

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