When the Trans-Provence wrapped up last weekend, four New Zealanders stood on their respective podiums; Chris Johnston and Jamie Nicoll finished 2nd and 3rd in Men Pro, Anka Martin took 2nd spot in Women Pro and Ali Quinn claimed the top step in Men 40, making it the most successful TP for Kiwis yet.
But Trans-Provence isn't just about results, it's the mix of people, the amazing trails, the scenery, the toughness of racing for six days. Chris, Jamie, Anka and Ali tell us their stories from their big week out...
Trans Provence is an event I really look forward to during the season. The blind adventure race format is different from EWS events and it encompasses the true essence of mountain biking. Riding with friends old and new, exploring new places, getting off the beaten path and just enjoying the great outdoors.
Having done it once before I thought I'd be a bit more prepared this year for the steep switchbacks and loose terrain but it felt just as foreign as last year. It was nice to have a prologue/fun stage to warm up and adjust to the French style trails and terrain before racing got underway. The trails are quite a bit different to the purpose built bike trails we ride in B.C.
The first few days of racing it took a bit to find the flow and master the switchback routine. Times were tight and only a matter of seconds separated the top 5. As the week went on the pressure mounted to keep up the pace, there was no margin for errors. My biggest fear was missing a trail marking and taking a wrong turn which although well marked can happen in the blink of an eye, literally. That's another part of this race that is unique, navigation is crucial it's well worth looking at the map to help interpret what's lies ahead.
At the end of each day we would all be waiting in anticipation to compare results and breakdown the stage times to see who and where time had been made, share stories of the day's riding and prepare our bikes to do it all again the next day.
As the route gets closer to the coast the terrain gets drier, looser and rockier so you have to stay sharp and keep it smooth, It's a game of attrition right until the very end.
Overall I had a great week of racing, held it together, rode smooth, won a few stages, rode some incredible places and had an absolute blast riding with a great crew.
Look forward to doing it all again next year!
I don’t think one can really grasp what this adventure rally is really all about until you can experience it. It is so much more than a race; it is an adventure (yes, very overused word – we need to come up with a new one), but it is a journey on your bike with many personal battles fought along the way. Everyone embarks on this journey for his or her own personal reasons and that is what gets you through the week. The focus is not solely on results, there is so much more to this. It’s a very personal challenge. I love this week, as you get to ride and get to know people from all walks of life. Usually at a race, you just mingle and ride with racers, but at the TP, you share the week with “real” people. People who have other lives, crazy cool jobs, mothers, fathers, posties, rocket scientists, doctors, rally car engineers, and such, the list goes on and on and that is what I love. You actually get to know people a bit better and learn about their reasons for embarking on their week- long journey. It’s a week filled with ups and down’s, with amazing stages and mess up’s, crashes and clean runs, flat tires and major mechanicals, high’s and lows, tired legs & sore bums, consoling and cheering, encouragement and anger – so many emotions at the end of each day, so many stories told over dinner and way too many high five’s to keep track of.
We rode for 6 days starting in Embrun and finished on the beach, or in the Med in Menton, France. We covered almost 300 km’s, raced 24 stages, climbed 8946m & descended 17407m. We hiked, carried and crossed sketchy traverses and spent about 30hours in the saddle. This year was a bit different to the years past, as it was very early on in the season, and I felt that this one was the toughest one yet, due to the heat this time of the year and also just not being as strong and fit from riding and racing all summer just yet. Different, but I think I preferred it. It gave us more light for those long days in the saddle, we didn’t have to wake up in the dark, our laundry had some time to dry at the end of the day, there was no heavy dew, which meant dry tents, it made the mountain staff’s jobs a bit easier and we could access so many new trails and routes that would usually not be ride able in September and we didn’t have one rainy day. Lucky us. Another major bonus was riding through all the spring flowers – at least for those of us who didn’t suffer from crazy allergies. The only negative things were the flies. They were relentless and annoying and no matter how hard you tried to ignore them, they were constantly trying to fly up your nose, into your ears and just being pesky flies.
Everyone needs to embark on a journey like this one or some similar adventure wherever it may be. It makes you feel alive and it connects you to everything that is good in this life.
Trans Provence kicked off earlier in the season than I've ever known giving us longer days and more sun!
Being my third TP this was one of my most important races for me this season. I love the long days of blind racing and just discovering this stunning area of France with a bunch of great people sharing that time and those evenings dinners dining outside and generally relaxing and recovering. The fact it's all repeated day after day seas everyone crawling into there tents as soon as dinner is done with drink bottles, compression socks and maybe even some freshly ice bathed bodies - anything you can think of to recover and feel fresh (as possible ) for the next day.
This is a week served full with all the best French singletrack you can eat! Which are a mix of very old shepherd herding and pack tracks tightly switch backing there way to access alpine pasture as well as the mass of walking paths between what was back in the day terraced gardens, orchards and self sufficient living from the hardy old mountain folk.
The days rolled by and things looked pretty good with myself holding an overall lead for the first two days before Nico Lau pulled ahead with some blistering performances on some of the longest stages.
I sat in a comfortable 2nd through till the 5th day where on a long flat physical stage, I puntured trying to clear a mass of gagged rocks through the next unknown section of gnar.
Deciding to carry on to the finish on the rim cost a lot of energy and close to 3 minutes, that was a sad moment but one can only move on and at the next stage just put in your best again. The boys from Mavic did an awesome job of getting me back on track that day - one of them even building up a new wheel while the other drove to meet me at the next high isolated pass!
That evening back at camp and assessing the damage to my overall saw me tie for the day with another close competitor ex DH'er Matti Lehikoinen who had had the same mishap and riding his rim out on a different stage on a different mountain and that all added up to the same second - life's crazy.
But things still were looking pretty good considering , yes I had lost second but still held a comfortable 3rd.
Day six was a ride hard, don't screw up and take it home to the finish line on the coast of the Mediterranean, dive in to that smooth blue water and be happy with the huge effort and result of a week at Trans Provence 2015.
Type 1 fun vs type 2 fun. It's a conversation had, dripping sweat in 30 degrees , halfway up a 2 hour bike carry, 5 hours into day one of my first trans Provence. Type 1 is just fun, type 2 isn't necessary pleasant at the time but it leaves that lovely warm glow which lasts for days.
For me the 2015 trans Provence was the perfect mix of both.
Ash runs an epic race, inheriting the healthy French disregard for Molly coddling it was big, hard and downright sketchy at times. There was the traverse of a 45 degree scree slope above cliffs on the first day. It didn't even warrant a mention in the course notes. That evening Matt from the UK related "it was hands down the most dangerous thing I've ever done" but he said it with the biggest smile on his face.
For me most days were 8hrs plus on the bike, I'd start with the early group and slowly work my way back to a comfortable mid pack spot. Over the week the long days and big miles added up. Some days I'd have a couple of power naps beside the track. Other days it'd be 3 espressos in each col top restaurant we passed.
I was lucky the TP organisation is so slick, on the hard days all I could manage post ride was to eat the 3 course dinner, get my massage, thrust my bike at the mechanics and collapse into my already set up tent.
The timed stages were simply amazing fun riding. I had a whole day where I'd finish a stage and proclaim it the best track I've ever ridden, only to correct myself on the very next stage.
Each day had a couple of "proper hard" stages, if you had them in your backyard they would be ones you rode "only in the dry", when you were feeling good and with a bunch of pre inspection. For me racing them blind was a battle of self preservation against enthusiasm and adrenaline. Over the week I found my Zen of "slow is fast", or at least slower is less broken.
It's a well worn cliche but the people and the atmosphere were what made the event so much more than just a week of great riding. Put 85 people that love bikes together for a week and it creates a special vibe. End of day beers at a tiny bar in some little French village with great people are amongst my best memories.
For me it was way more than just a bike race, and that plunge into the Med at the end of it all was the best swim of my life.