At last, Day 1 dawned for the 80 of us… A hand-picked 80… Those 80 fortunate enough to be getting out of their sleeping bags for Day 1 and what lay ahead of us: the 270km’s of some of the greatest experiences you can have on a bike.
An all-encompassing 6 days and even for those that had done it before it was going to be a new test of limits. Ash Smith the Maniacal/Genius Race Director outlined to us in the daily briefing that half the 24 stages we would race over the 6 days were new to Trans Provence, how’s that for an evenish playing field?
Add to that, this was the first time the race was being held in June instead of September (hello epic summer heat) and it dawned on me that this was an awesome year to be popping the TP cherry. Ash was all grins when outlining his pleasure at the longer days, meaning of course we could be out on the route for a lot longer before it got dark… Murgahahahahaha etc etc.
A look at the route for Day 1 showed that while in theory it wasn’t that long, it was still BIG… How big? Check out the portage up to around 2,600m in altitude, allegedly the highest point that TP had ever been up to:
- Route: Embrun – Barcelonnette
- The numbers: 35.98km with 1,574m of UP and 2,292m of radness
- Eventual elapsed time (camp to camp): 6 hours 35 minutes
A quick Dirty scene setting reminder, that as per the ENDURO format, we’re only timed/racing on the Stage segments, highlighted in yellow on the above chart… Yup, down motherfucker, DOWN.
The day starting the right way with some shuttle action up to where we would start the pilgrimage towards Menton and that highly anticipated dive into the Med. The raddest and longest journey starting with a single pedal stroke. Shit was making me mega deep & meaningful… Not to mention excited, in that ‘tingling about to scream out loud/bite someone’ kind of way.
I was fortunate enough to be allocated to Wave 2 for the whole race. A bonus as it meant being in with the PRO’s, plus allowed for more faffing time in the morning. There was no way I would have been able to make the Wave 1 start time (usually an hour before us), and whilst they got more time back at camp in the afternoon, it was more important for me to have additional time to dominate the porcelain in the mornings to tame the race turd and then get some quality PRO stalking done during the day with a relatively captive herd of prey at my disposal.
My shuttle crew for the week was pretty rad, riding shotgun with our Driver Sean and Mad Max, Ze German PRO that had taken out the Day Zero prologue. Max had two settings, chilled out & cruising and then once that full face helmet came down he transformed into a maaaaad shredder.
DJ Max cranked on ‘Do I wanna know’ by the Arctic Monkeys and with anticipation one seldom gets to experience, the first uplift of #MavicTP2015 was on! We rolled out from Embrun to start our date with radness and as it turned out, insane scenery porn:
The highly colourful herd set off after the excellent “Its gonna be great” minimalist briefing from Ash, with a palatable freshness and eagerness to begin the adventure. It took about 15 minutes of high alps double track climbing to lay a turd on the MET parachute marketing material, yes its an extremely light and ventilated full face helmet, but it wasn’t able to keep pace with the golden French sun.
It also acted as an excellent excuse to detach from the pack to make my own way up the hill. If additional faff time was the bonus of being in Wave 2, climbing pace may have been its only challenge:
The whole way up this climb the scenery was mind blowing… I can go on and on about it and post pic after pic, but it’s not until you’re in the middle of it all that its presence really makes sense to you. Even seasoned campaigners were in awe of what was unfolding before us as we ground our way up, the urge to stop and take photos was hard to resist, not that I have a lot of fortitude in that department to start with:
The further up we rolled the more awesome it got… Again, like I’ve said before, so fucken good it actually begins to look fake. Here the Dingo takes it all in as the boys grind it out.
This is my contender for photo of the day… I managed to time it perfectly to catch The Nomads (to avoid confusion, these ones are PRO and actually sponsored by Santa Cruz, Enve, Chris King and pretty much all the dream sponsors you could hope to line up) starting their final push to the summit up this stunning piece of terrain. Come on man, is this a race or a fucken Nat Geo shoot?!
First up we had the oddly titled ‘stage 0’… Just when everyone was fevering to get into it and cut loose after day Zero, another step before the real action started. I understood it was supposed to be a race stage, but the locals changed their mind at the last minute, so instead we had to ride down it untimed to the feed station.
Well, no complaints here as it was actually a nasty motherfucker of a trail. REALLY steep, wild, loose and littered with rocks that were well beyond the diameter that my front Enve felt comfortable with, it was another harsh initiation into the big alpine riding as it fluctuated between slippery steep grass open sections, rocky punches and narrow tree lined single track. I’m all for a downhill warm up to get the skills rolling, but this was giving my comfort zone a golden shower.
How rad was ‘Stage 0’? So freaky that my Reverb dropper seat post decided to absolutely shit itself at some stage and blow to pieces before I had even raced the first stage. As they say, there are two kinds of Reverbs: Those that have blown to bits and those that are going to…
I have a difficult relationship with SRAM products as it is, but this Reverb had handled itself pretty well so far. That should have been a sign it would fail me at the most crucial moment that I will ever need it to perform. Sigh, amazingly, in the middle of nowhere the boys in yellow were on duty, how fucking awesome is this event?!
The Mavic boys tried tirelessly to get it sorted, the understanding in their eyes mirrored my own horror at the prospect of riding here without a functioning dropper post. In spite of their best efforts, it was in vain and once it was explained to me that it was ‘Le Fucked bro’ I was one of the sole remaining riders in the feed station.
Ahhh… The beauty of ENDURO, zero fucks given about that as I set off to tackle the biggest climb/push/hike of the day. It was full low rider mode until pedaling become an impossibility. Its some sort of magic that I wasn’t having a tanty about that situation as well, but fuck, look at it…
In fact, the weirdest thing about this mega liaison was the motherfucking flies… At first I thought maybe I had shit myself, but whilst that was an on-going battle of wits between me and my internals, it turned out that no, there just happened to be an army of the fuckers taking over the Mon-Ton. Swarms I’m talking, best seen in the below video, but they were even getting in the way of my mid climb photo breaks FFS:
This mega climb went up… And up… And then sharply up some more for good measure. Turns out there was a simple equation with most of the climbing transfers on TP, some were all rideable, but for the big ones this was the process:
- Ride until you have to push
- Push until you have to carry
- Carry until you can barely walk
With this monster though, up to around 2,600m, it was a case of carry until you can barely walk and then get to this rock staircase near the top and close to 2.5 hours after you started the climb…
So, around 4 hours into the day, a length of time that has already seen most of us pack up the bikes for the day and head home, and we were just arriving to race Stage 1… YUP, that’s some epic shit right there to start with. Probably won’t find that at your local ENDURO race and if you did, imagine the melt downs hitting Fuckbook at an extreme rate. Would be fair to take a moment to reflect on where we had come from then:
However, here, up in these mountains not once did the thought cross my mind that this was an issue. Its something that I will expand on in future posts, but no matter how hard it was or how long it got, like a porn star, I loved every single fucking second of it.
For the length of the TP posts I shall summarize Race Stage results with our usual highly unfavorable PRO comparisons with these #GCs #Legends #Hammers:
- Eventual race winner and all round cool dude, Nico Lau
- Fastest & Raddest Kiwi PRO, Chris Johnson from the Nomads
- Fastest PRO girl, with an ability to ride up and down pretty much everything it seems, Tracey Mosley
This should provide everyone with plenty of humour as we see how close midfield cannon fodder can get to PRO radness, cue awkward laughter:
Without dwelling on the fact that I need to learn to smile without looking like I’m about to bite someone, lets move on to Stage 1 and the first timing beep of Trans Provence!
It took 4 hours to get here and probably about the same for you to read your way to this point, so well done to everyone involved. In reality, the road to the first real stage of TP had felt like a massive journey and I reflected on that as I stood up on that magnificent ridgeline. I thought about everything that had come before this first drop in: Rehab with the gimp arm, first road ride back, laser eyes, first MTB ride, Perth mini mission, Dirty Mega March & EWS, all those intervals, a lot of hard work and a shit load of travel. A summary yes, but every moment leading to this first tag in. What a way to relax for your first racing stage huh?
Stage 1 was as expected – No slow initiation, steep, off-camber as fuck, fast in places and you guessed it, loose as bro, like, holy sweet hesus, the whole trail is moving under my wheels loose:
Ask my shuttle buddy Max, he had a massive over the bars stack, with the story growing like a myth throughout the day to end with it sounding like Max went 50m over the bars and his bike ending up half way down the Mon-Ton. As Max said to me the next day with a thousand yard stare “yeah, it was pretty big“. Understated translation that it was a monster crash.
Honestly, it was hard to relax… Freshness brings its own anticipation and its easy to tighten up I find and not ride as naturally as you would a few days in. I never really got on top of the upper section switchbacks of stage 1 and whilst it was without any major near misses, before I knew it I was hurtling towards Big Tex for the first tag out of the race, much sooner than I had expected as well, it caught me by surprise.
Here’s a first look at the occupational hazard of being a TP Mountain Staff member, as people hurl themselves full gas at your face in a mix of desperation and down track, exhaustion:
Its worth noting that you don’t actually know your daily results until you get back to camp and hand over your chip to Jono, the timing guru… So, you’re not only blind racing, but also blind as to how you’ve fared in each stage, but history tells us this is how it rolled on my first ever TP stage:
- Nosewheelie Nico – 2.57 for 1st
- Nomadic Chris – 3.11 for 9th
- T Mo – 3.14 for 12th
- Dirty Nomad – 4.14 for 51st
Bit of a creaky start there… Only thing is for MORE!
Throughout the whole week at no point did I really dislike a stage, ok, well Stage 2 on Day 6 was probably close to being disliked, but all in all the froth factor was so high that everything made me a gusher. Except stage 2 on Day 1 really. After not really feeling the flow on 1, I was hoping 2 would play more to my strengths, but it turned out to be more difficult than a Marmot with syphilis and sharp teeth. To start with, you had to pedal and it was just plain fiddly. I did run into Gary Perkin though, legendary snapper and Santa Cruz ambassador, golden status:
It did however reinforce one principle that was worth adhering to most of the week: Always take the high line BRO! Stage 2 had a few little low line ambushes waiting for those that got sucked into their smooth looking entries, ultimately leading you into cuntville if you let them…
An awkward little stage, short, sharp and it felt hard to get a rhythm on given there wasn’t a lot of elevation to play with, not to mention the perfect stage for needing a dropper post… Oh well…
- Nosewheelie Nico – 2.20 for 3rd
- Nomadic Chris – 2.22 for 5th
- T Mo – 2.30 for 12th
- Dirty Nomad – 3.02 for 51st
51st again? Need to step that shit UP, not that I knew it at the time though, but I did know that I could go a lot faster than I was going.
The stages had all been stacked on top of each other so far and by the looks of the map, that was set to continue… But it did point out that there was a liaison section to come that had, and I quote, “some moderate exposure“. Can’t be that bad then… Can it? Fart noise:
So, by moderate exposure, they actually mean the Sarlac pit of death, or as Gary described it, the vortex… He had some solid advice of not looking down. Solid advice if you didn’t have ADD like me and just wanted to look down the whole time while obsessing about what it would be like to fall in… I think this was the point where I was doing the maths on whether or not I would throw the bike away to save myself if I did slip… And if I did, how would I ever get it back?
No BS, I actually had to stop and look at this to work out how to navigate it, there were a couple of sections where the track was pretty much non existent and apparently when the Wave 1 dudes rolled up they definitely thought they were as lost as fuck, can’t blame them really. If this was moderate exposure, I didn’t want to run into any ‘severe exposure’ later on in the week. Respect to the Trans Provence team for having the fucking balls to put this stuff in, as once you shakily made your way through, it only just served to enhance the adventure aspect when you looked back on what you’d navigated:
High five to Photography legend Gary Perkin for snapping this shot as I made my way on to the easy part of the traverse… Yup, it was one of those Liaisons where you didn’t mind wearing a full face helmet. Thank fuck for ENDURO shoes is pretty much the summary.
Liaison of death over and it was time for racing to resume! And like every day on TP, there was some excellent variety to be had in the final two stages of the day.
3rd time lucky? Fuuuuuuuck yes, The inclusion of sweet forest was the first give away that three was perhaps shaping up as a banger, narrow yes, but that didn’t last too long… It was time to charge a bit:
A few minutes in and it was clear we had a ripper of a trail on our TLD gloved hands, to start with, this thing was fuuuuucking fast, like I’m talking the need to brake check occasionally fast, as shit was quickly getting out of hand. Remember Sam’s reference for the need to du du du, regulate, Warren G styles, well, this was a classic example of that scenario. Especially when you popped out of a bowl of Pate onto some ridgeline with mad exposure:
Stage 3 was either asking you to ride at ‘please update your will’ speeds, or begging you to rail its numerous switchbacks, most of which I butchered in a severe setback to my French Passport application process.
Getting to the end of three and I felt immensely stoked… The poor mountain staff timing dude probably thought I was going to sexually assault him based on my feralness. It was the first time all day that I felt actually fast or like I was racing, not to mention the fact it was one golden trail and the clear winner of the day in that department. To the results then!
- Nosewheelie Nico – 6.38 for 3rd
- Nomadic Chris – 6.36 for 2nd
- T Mo – 7.11 for 16th
- Dirty Nomad – 7.50 for 40th
That’s more like it! 40th had me smack bang in my usual mid pack position, right on the half way line.
MORE MORE MORE! Yes, stage 3 had set the froth meter to high and I was shamelessly fist pumping strangers and mountain staff in an overly familiar manner. Let’s keep that stokage going then by dropping straight into stage 4. Would we continue to get served this goodness? Oh yeeeesssss…
Stage 4 had the same rad scent as 3, but it was clear it was going to be a little tighter and slightly more challenging as it made it way down the Mon-Ton. You get quite used to spending a lot of time by yourself racing down the hill, so it was therefore a surprise to have my first experience with the motherfucking media ambush. Rail and turn and then BANG, there was someone lurking, Gaaaaaaaaa!
Blind racing on natural trails is a unique experience. With no one to follow and no idea what’s coming next, the concentration required was more intense than when you have to listen to your in laws and pretend you’re interested. Your natural instinct is to try and rip it as fast as possible, but you quickly work out that it can be a bit of a trap given you have no clue what’s around the corner.
Allow me to elaborate with this example here. So, this section is licking its lips and begging you to drop the hammer on it, go as hard as you want and don’t hold back, so you willingly oblige it in a moment of pure passion and single track fever…
But then BANG, quicker than you can say “I’d like my Saint brake pads cooked medium rare please“, it suddenly becomes tighter than a frogs pussy, dropping in a full 180 switchback on you. Excuse me sir, do you have your nosewheelie skills handy? Matted grass on the outside of these turns a common theme:
My skills are heavily weighted towards going quite fast in a straight line or sections with moderate turns, so this was quite an experience and with my switchback kung fu weak, there was a lot of back wheel skidding going down, please let no one see me doing this shit, it looks fucking spack. Luckily I was in the middle of nowhere… Just like two of the most prodigious photographers in the business, Sam Needham and Sven Martin… Trigger instant photo fever…
I felt clean, confident and pumped on stage 4, a couple of missteps, but this kind of terrain and trail was so far up my alley it needed google maps to navigate. This is the kind of action you could hit for days on end and never get sick off. I caught someone near the end, so full respect to our Northern Affiliate Rich who was fucken PRO as with the timing tag out:
- Nosewheelie Nico – 4.41 for 5th
- Nomadic Chris – 4.37 for 3rd
- T Mo – 5.03 for 16th
- Dirty Nomad – 5.22 for 40th
Another 40th to round out my day and make it an odd pattern then – 51/51/40/40. I shall therefore make the claim that I was starting out slowly and building up my charge. Translation: Rode like a gimp to start the day before engaging the brain to finish things off.
Day one in the bag! Back to camp for some emergency laundry action (which as it turns out didn’t dry for the rest of the week basically) before proceeding to walk around for the rest of the evening like a parrot repeating “My seatpost blew up”. Massively stoked with how the first day rolled and how it felt, even though it was supposed to be a ‘short day’ it was still 6 hours plus, with some rather big terrain conquered. The anticipation of more to come was salivating for everyone. And so, to the results for the day then!
- Nosewheelie Nico – 16.36 for 2nd
- Nomadic Chris – 16.46 for 4th
- T Mo – 17.58 for 14th
- Dirty Nomad – 20.28 for 48th
And now, to put into perspective what I’ve described with a million words, here’s a short video done by the PRO’s for those that had their eyes glaze over halfway down the page:
And to round out the day, a few regular column points:
1. Dirty Nomad Vs Camping
Dirty Tip – When buying a sleeping bag in Asia, check the actual sizing first, as ‘regular’ may not mean exactly what you expect it to be. Fair to say it was ‘snug’ and I was glad that I didn’t have to deploy the fucker over my head at any stage. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.
2. Stage of the day
Definitely stage 3 – The first time I really felt like it was let off the leash properly, in parts it reminded me of riding in Wellington a bit. Some ultra high speed sections linked together with awesome switchbacks that even I could get around for a change. A great trail and hard to believe it was all natural.
3. Dude of the day
Gary Perkin, his calm voice and mountain Goat sure footedness was exactly the person to follow along the traverse of doom, probably the reason why I’m not writing this from the ICU ward of a French hospital.
No cunt of the day award I hear to cry! Nope, in a place this awesome with people this rad the concept of something being cunty doesn’t really come up, well, the fly swarms aside. I couldn’t wait for more on day 2, hungry for more rad French single track and big stages. It was onnnnnnnnnnn!