The Trans-Provence. “The Definitive All-Mountain MTB Race” claims the sub-title on all the blurb. Well, I didn’t ride it this year, but I have to say I think I’d agree with that. Working on the event’s mid-point feed stations and dealing with the timing and collation of results at the end of the day (and sometimes right at the end of the trail), I got a good chance to see how each day was taking it’s toll on the riders, both day by day and as a cumulative result of several days of epic effort. Epic effort expending their last ounce of energy on some of the most challenging singletrack France has to offer. Ok I made that last bit up, but if you’ve been following the event no doubt you will have seen the daily video edits and you’ll have seen my justification for such a bold claim. Every stage was different, with the terrain changing several times a day as I drove through the Provençal countryside and the competitors raced through it. Some were full on descents, described as being a bit like bike-skiing, whilst others had flat pedally sections or even a climb of 110m vertical part way through. You truly need to be a very capable all-mountain all-rounder to excel in this kind of race.
Feed station and Mavic technical support in the middle of nowhere
This is a tale of the Trans-Provence from the other side of the tape. As I mentioned, I was working on the feed stations and doing the timing/results at the end of the day. There is so much that goes into making this race happen, and I wonder how much people really think about that. The camp staff who set up and break down camp every day – that’s about 95 pop-up tents, self-inflating mattresses, 3 or 4 big dome tents and all the paraphernalia that goes with it, the kitchen staff who have a “portable” kitchen, up at 5 or 6am every morning to start breakfast for the racers, and who don’t finish til late into the evening after preparing a three course meal, and of course the drivers who run shuttles first thing in the morning to get the riders from camp to the start of each day’s ride. I shouldn’t neglect to mention the massage team who not only provide sports massages for those who need or want it at the end of each day, but who also get up at the crack of dawn to make about 100 sandwiches for all the staff and racers on the event. I don’t envy any one of those people their jobs, physical, tiring and very much behind the scenes.
A sea of blue tents
The view from my timing "office" on day 1
As part of the timing team, my job might have been less physical but it was pretty demanding at times. Especially when I made mistakes and had to work out a way of sorting them out. Luckily I only really made one monumental error, and although I got it sorted it was a bit of a pain as it took about an hour out of my morning, time that I needed to do other tasks. Phew! Suffice to say I didn’t make the same mistake again. The rest of the timing team, also known as the mountain staff, comprised of 4 riders who set off about an hour before the competitors to make sure the trails were all ok, signs were pretty much in the right places, and that sort of thing. Then one person would wait at the end of each stage to swipe each rider’s timing chip as they came in.
Another day I turned up to a the feed station location only to find I’d been beaten by the riders. Yikers! I jumped out of the van and pulled out the Mavic table (complete with a little EZ-up framework which were the legs!) and got some goodies out in about 5 minutes flat. Then the heavens opened and we had one of the craziest storms of the week right above us. Paul from Mojo was with us so we got him to set the awning up on his van and put our table under there, but the riders were sheltering in two sheds at opposite ends of the carpark. I took them coffee and flapjack but my supplies didn’t last long! Doctor Jo was there too just in case anyone needed medical help, so she and I were flat out making more coffee on a little stove with some espresso pots.. gas running low, shady seals on the espresso pots…. would we manage to get enough for everyone?! I think we did just about, although Jérôme was very sad that I had no hot water for him to have tea. He says he’s too young for coffee… and all this time I thought all Frenchmen enjoyed a good cup of the black stuff!
After the storm
Results the moment you crossed the line meant much post-race banter
I gradually got into the swing of things throughout the week. Sometimes I had only enough time to grab a main course at dinner and then get back to adminny things, like making up new numbers. But as the riders settled into the week and we all go to know each other it got better and better. It was cool to hear various people discussing bits of trail and commending each other on lines – people who had never met before this week, but who were joined by a common goal and a shared passion. One notable little group was made up of Joe and Hannah Barnes, Sven and Anka Martin, Seb Kemp, Toby and Sam Pantling, Paul Smail, Chris Ball, Jon Cancellier and a few others. Sven had a massive smash on the first stage of day 7, and the whole group rallied to sort him out. Hannah’s an A&E nurse so she got the situation under control, whilst various other guys in the group were first aiders so everyone had a little something in their pack to help out. They waited until Sven was airlifted off, and then carried on the rest of the day together. Later on Jon had a crash just before the end of the last stage and this time he was carried off by Paul Smail who it turns out is a fireman. I know some of them knew each other before this race, but it is so cool to hear about people getting involved and looking out for one another. And I think it’s important. When you’re out there on the hill, you have no one but each other. You’re in a remote mountain environment, and its not somewhere you want to be on your own.
Course sweeper Jean-Seb and racer Liz Simmons
The daily convoy: Coolbus (me), Mavic, Mojo, Dr Jo
The final day took us to Monaco. Well, it would’ve done except that the police rang Ash (the organiser) and said they’d arrest anyone that rode into the city, so instead everyone went down into Menton for beer on the beach. Sadly I didn’t make it to the beach as we had a long wait for our final group of riders on the last day, and we didn’t get back to camp until around 6pm. The weather wasn’t stunning either, another big storm and not quite what I’d hoped for when I finally got to the mediterranean coast. Oh well.
The next day I did get to go to the beach! Course sweeper Jean-Seb and I wandered down into the town to find pastries for breakfast, bumped into camp manager Lesley whilst we were there so pastries turned into coffee and we managed a quick visit to the beach. Hooray! The weather was better too. Later that day I drove back to Bourg St Maurice to pick up my own van and begin the journey back to the UK.
One day I managed to get an opportunity to watch the riders at the very end of a stage. The trail looked super fun and I grabbed a bit of wobbly footage of some of the top riders. Jérôme Clementz was flat out, Nico Vouilloz’s riding was a treat to watch – soo smooth, and at last I got to see Anne-Caro riding in person. All pretty cool. 50 odd seconds of Trans-Provence action: