Trans Provence 2009
Before we go any further, let’s get the numbers out the road. The Trans Provence is a 7 day 25 timed-stage race, over 320 km with 9500 metres of climbing and 15200 metres of vertical descent. Basically – this is a big event! Being touted as the definitive all-mountain event, the Trans Provence requires its competitors to be fit and technically proficient – this was NOT going to be a quick blast round Glentress.
2009 is the first year the Trans Provence has been running so everyone competing was quite happy to be thought of as a bit of a guinea pig and expected there to be a couple of technical hitches to ensure that the event would run smoother next year. Being a relatively small field of 32 competitors, we all quickly gelled as a group which acted as a great way of getting us through some of the tougher days.
Each day was so big, that it would be impossible to include a blow-by-blow account of everyday and how we went about tackling them. And, to be honest, its all now a bit of a blur – being in the mountains for 8 days slogging your guts out will do that to a person!
In general, each day was broken up over 3 or 4 stages and started with a van uplift to as high as the road would allow us, then we had to rely on good old pedal power to get us anywhere up to 1500m up the side of a rather large hill. Each climb was a mix of road, firetrack, singletrack and (to some people) the dreaded hike-a-bike. We were accessing some truly remote parts of France and the effort was always, always worth it. Even though you were sweating and giving more than you thought was humanly possible, you were always rewarded with spectacular scenery and the most incredible singletrack I have ever ridden. Each timed stage was a combination of flat out descents, tight switchbacks, the occasional up and very, very steep drop!
There was a feature of the landscape everyday which would always blow your mind and it was definitely a privilege to be able to ride through it. Highlights that spring to mind are a stage that basically allowed riders to take pretty much any line they wanted down a mountain side of grey earth. Drifty, fast and pretty much guaranteed a massive smile at the end. Well, apart from two riders who took a slightly wrong turn and ended up in entirely the wrong part of France! There aren’t enough words to describe terrain changes, scenery, and the mental and physical abuse and reward that you were pushing yourself to go through.
Day 6 was a proper test of your endurance, both mentally and physically. The first climb took over three hours to complete but the descent at the end of it was absolutely incredible. When was the last time you did a 14km down hill which covered pretty much every kind of terrain imaginable? And to make it more interesting, there had been a storm the night before – it was a touch greasy. It definitely took its toll on more than a few riders, forcing 7 people to pull out with injury or just being plain done in. And that was just the first stage! The remaining two stages all added up to the hardest day I have ever experienced on my bike.
It did, however, make the final day all the more worth it. The day started with a rather large climb – we were used to it by now – and then another classic descent right down to the outskirts of Monte Carlo in Monaco. At the top of the climb we could see the Principality below us and it definitely acted as a carrot-on-a-stick to get us to the bottom. Unfortunately, going fast was quite a challenge as we were all pretty much caved in by then. Crossing the finish line was amazing – a true sense of achievement. Everyone was happy, tired, proud and largely relieved. After a wee trip down several hundred steps, we treated ourselves to a dip in the Med in front of some very bemused looking Monte Carlo locals! Some of us even managed a quick lap of the F1 circuit before heading home.
Oh, of course, this was a race! Each day we learned who won individual stages and overall days to crown the overall winner at the end. Edinburgh’s own – and stupendously fast – Dan Darwood took the win by over 23 minutes. He’d won enough beer and champagne that week to open up his own pub when he got home. Well done, Dan!
I’m not going to lie, this was the hardest thing I have ever done on a bike. The 20 stitches in my right shin are testament to that. Every rider, regardless of skill level, rode their hearts out and gave everything to be rewarded with easily the best riding we had ever experienced. At the time, I swore I’d never do it again. Now that I’m home, I’ve already started getting my bike sorted for 2010.
To make things a little easier for next year’s competitors I have some very useful tips (in no particular order):
1. DO NOT wear disco slippers! If you ride clipped in, make sure you’ve got trail shoes on your feet.
2. Make sure you know how to read a map. It will come in very handy!
3. Be patient. The climbs are hard, but good things come to those who wait. And also those who sweat profusely.
4. Learn a wee bit of French – it’s just polite.
5. Relax, have fun and just enjoy taking part in such a unique event.
A huge, massive thanks and congratulations to Ash and Melissa for the amount of work they put in to make this event run smoothly and effortlessly. It was a huge logistical task and, with the help of some very talented and patient people, it went incredibly well. The marshals, mechanic, medics, cooks, campsite helpers and bus drivers all came together to create a truly memorable event.
I will be back!
Word by Andrew Dodds
All Photos by Ash Smith (except where noted otherwise)