Wow, 6 years have passed since I started the Trans-Provence! It seems like a perfect time to repost this blog, originally posted to my old website, that recounts the tale of my doomed attempt to complete this world famous event, that sadly may never be run again…
At exactly 2300 on 1 December 2011 I was sat in front of the laptop sending a hopeful email application to ride the 2012 Trans-Provence. I later found out that the 56 places available to amateur athletes were filled in 4 secs and I was one of the lucky riders who had an entry to the event. Cue building excitement for the following 10 months….
The race finally arrived and it was clear from the offset that it wouldn’t disappoint. Slickly organized but with a really relaxed atmosphere, the first camp was everything I had hoped for and it was clear that a lot of like minded individuals had been drawn to this event. Self-styled as the ‘Definitive All-Mountain MTB Race’, Trans-Provence absolutely lives up to that title. Taking in some of the best trails I have ever had the joy to ride, it slowly makes its way from the Southern Haute Alps, through the Maritime Alps down to the coast at Monaco: 7 Days, 330km Along, 10,000m Up, 15,000m Down.
The format of the race is superb; each day includes an uplift at some point to put some gravity points in the bag but is otherwise a point to point route where you ride linking stages, which are largely up or along, and special timed stages, which are largely down with the odd short rise in them. So basically you go for a long, spectacular ride with occasional time trial style race sections, which is just wonderful and breeds a great camaraderie between all riders, pro and mortal. It also attracts a range of different skill sets with XC, Enduro and DH riders all coming together and competing on the same terrain – fascinating to watch and to be part of.
Overall it was the sort of riding you imagine doing when you buy a mountain bike; it is what they were invented for!!!
Coming from a ‘wheels belong on the ground’, largely XC background with absolutely no experience of DH, I had very low aspirations for the event and was aiming to enjoy and ‘complete’ rather than ‘compete’. With this in mind, I treated Stage 1 like it was just a long ride on new trails and thoroughly enjoyed it, beginning to end. Yeah, there was some stuff I couldn’t ride, mostly on the downs, but overall it was the sort of riding you imagine doing when you buy a mountain bike; it is what they were invented for!!! Bizarrely, my approach to the race resulted in me achieving a unique combination of being the first to arrive back at the campsite but 69/71 overall in the actual race! Totally stoked, I was looking forward to Stage 2.
It is important at this point to briefly mention the level of support offered during the race. You arrive at camp and your tent and bag awaits. There is a Mavic support van for all your general mechanical issues and a Mojo support van for all your Fox shock issues. On the first night the two teams spent a total of about 2hrs working on my bike, with a tubeless tyre change including rim tape repair, brake pad change and realignment and a Fox TALAS service to give me back some small bump sensitivity on my fork. Incredible level of support for a mere amateur. The body is cared for too. There is a massage team available and, of course, a fully seated, usually three-course dinner is provided where you can exchange stories of the day with fellow racers over a glass of red wine (or two). Well, you are in France so it is rude not to…
The next morning I felt good, which is lucky as the uplift led straight into a big climb, and then hike up the side of a mountain. As always, the sweat was totally worth the rush, and the descent was wild and technical. A second short climb then another superb descent all the way to the valley and notably the first I managed to ride without a dab of the feet. Things were looking up… Then the heavens opened in what could only be described as a ‘biblical’ manner. I was one of the lucky ones who had already reached the shelter of the feed station before the rain started; others were drenched to the skin in the vicious deluge. Within an hour it had passed and the ride went on.
Unfortunately, this is where my personal race ended. Not long after the feed station I was traversing a technical section on a linking stage when it all went wrong. I managed to get my front wheel tucked underneath me and as described by the rider behind me ‘was going over the handlebars as my front wheel went off the edge of the trail down the mountain’. All I remember is a blur of tumbling then coming to rest with a sharp pain in my ribs. A couple of friendly riders helped me the 15-20ft back up to the trail but the sharp pain didn’t go away and I expected the worse – I had broken a rib. I tentatively descended to the nearest road and having spoken to the race Doctor decided to withdraw from the stage and later, when properly diagnosed, the race. Gutted; 9 months of anticipation, Day 2 of 7, one fall, one injury, race over. But hey, that is bike racing, without the risk it wouldn’t be exciting, and it could have been worse; I wasn’t the only injury in the race, and many others ended up in French A&E…
The remainder of the week was spent following the race to the coast, camping with the racers (the most painful part of every day – the transitions from vertical outside my tent to horizontal on my airbed inside my tent and vice versa!) but travelling with the support team. It was fascinating to see how much effort went into making the event happen and how hard the base camp team worked but I longed to be on the trail. However, I couldn’t even lift my bike onto the trailer without eye watering pain, let alone ride it on technical trails.
The highlights of each day were travelling through the mountains between camps, soaking up the fabulous scenery and spending the evenings with the racers, hearing the stories of the day’s ride. It is hard to say whether this was better or worse than leaving as soon as I withdrew, but it is a credit to the spirit and atmosphere of the race that I still managed to feel part of the event despite not riding after Stage 2.
Would I recommend the Trans-Provence to other riders? Wholeheartedly! But I fear that it has now run its course. It was one of the best events out there but where it led the way others have followed and now the ‘Enduro’ scene, which is what this race format is now called, is huge. Equally, the trails are still there and this area of the maritime alps has lots to offer the recreational rider.