Damn... If the video and photos for day 5 of the Trans Provence don't make you massively jealous, of Lester, Jonny, Anton, Pang and the House Martins then there is something very wrong with you! And what about those stage results. Christchurch's Anton Cooper beating all the Cannondale Overmountain team, well except Jerome, and nipping on the heels of Nelson's Jamie Nicoll. This is the business end of the comp with the ocean and the Trans Provence finish line fast approaching. Can Jerome hold onto the overall lead, he's currently 4 seconds ahead of Nico Lau and as far as Anka is concerned it's about about how many more fast dudes she can real in, Queenstown's Paul Angus is in her cross hairs only a minute in front and if Jamie and Anton play their cards right we could see them both make the podium!
Just in case riders haven't had enough of on sight big mountain riding, huge road cols and pushing and dragging their bikes along tiny hiking trails, Day 5 is guaranteed to make sure they're full to the brim of all of the above, sating them before the final day and the ride into Menton tomorrow.
There was 66km on today's menu, with a height gain of 2012m, but you do get 3348m of descent with the bus uplift at the end of the day. The traditional 3 hour haul at the start of the day, pedalling and pushing to reach the top of Special Stage 17 is as stunning as it is arduous. If you can have any doubt you're in the high Maritime Alps, the traverse from the col high above the previous night's camp, and the traverse across to the start of the stage leaves you in no doubt. Some of the best views of the week (except for seeing the coast on the last day of course) as valley after valley open up around you.
Special Stage 17 and 18 are really one and the same, or at least part of the same; a huge descent down to Lantosque, with a1200m drop! Split in the middle by a grassy knoll, the top half of the mountain being made up of pine forest covered rock strewn trails with steep switchbacks, before hitting stage two which feels more desert like than the top, before hitting a hard to navigate bottom section that's more reminiscent of the North of England than the sunny South of France.
From Lantosque another big road climb took riders to Special Stage 19. A trail that feels more Mediterranean; rockier and steeper, with gullies and loose rocks to attend to before hitting the final climb of the day - thankfully by bus.
Sadly we had another injury today with Oliver Munnik taking a high speed pedal strike that threw him over the bars, smashing his helmet and damaging his shoulder badly, which led to him being helicoptered off. A special mention must be made to competitors who made sure he was being looked after and Mavic® Trans-Provence mountain staff who made sure he got off the hill safely. Our best wishes go out to Oliver, we hope he'll be back to finish next year.
This year Special Stage 20 has moved across into a much faster ridgeline trail that sweeps back and forth across the hillside before punishing switchbacks pop you back out at the end of the stage and into a riverside trail that is equally challenging as much of the rest of the riding this week.
By the end of five days' racing we're down to 4 seconds between the top 2 and less than 6 minutes between the top 4. Really tomorrow is about Lau and Clementz for the top spot, but don't forget amongst the rest of the field there are battles between every place, and some people will be happy just to arrive at Menton tomorrow with friends.
Either way it's going to be exciting tomorrow .