Trans-Provence 2013 – what a week!

Posted by Emily in Adventure, Races, Riding, Travel | Leave a comment

In August 2011 I started hearing tales of a mythical 7 day mountain bike race which ran from mountain to sea. Friends who were off to work on it told tales of amazing trails and beautiful scenery. I decided I needed to get involved. Fast forward to September 2012, and I found myself in the the thick of it, predominantly in charge of creating the results at the end of each day, and hearing stories from everyone about the trails. I hadn’t ridden any of them, and I was getting major trail envy as I heard rider after rider waxing lyrical over what they’d just ridden. I made a plan to race this race in 2013, and so at the fifth edition of the Mavic Trans-Provence (now a 6-day event) I was one of those riders swapping tales about scary moments on amazing trails.

In the week leading up to the race, we enjoyed stunning days of hot sun and warm breezes, but rain was forecast for Sunday – the first day of the race. Sure enough, it was looking pretty grey when I exited my tent that morning, and I made sure my bag was fully loaded for bad weather. We made our way up to the first stage of the race in great spirits, but just as we got up there, a great big cloud rolled in and the heavens opened… it was clear we were in for a fun day of mud sliding if nothing else! So day 1 was very much about staying warm even if not dry. At the start of Stage 2 we were at around 1700m and I couldn’t feel my little fingers nor see the trail in front of me! It was nuts! Later on that day the weather finally cleared and we all started drying out, just in time to smash out a run down the legendary Donkey Darko.. what a trail! By the end of the day I was sitting in third place a good 6 or 7 minutes ahead of fourth place. I’d hoped to be in the top 3 by the end of the week, not straight off the bat so I was mega pleased after a pretty mental day of battling in the elements.

Beautiful weather makes for beautiful sunsets /// Heading up to SS1, Day 1. The heavens opened shortly after! /// Day 2: Jérôme Clementz and SUNSHINE!

Day 2 couldn’t have been any different: topping out on the first ascent, the view was absolutely stunning. Beautiful beautiful mountains, and a ribbon singletrack stretching out in front of us. It was time to shred! I had a great day that day, it was so good to be warm and dry for starters. Pottering up one of the road liaisons I got to know a little more about ex-downhill world cup photographer Gary Perkin, which was cool. That’s another great thing about this race – all the new people you meet all throughout the week.

Day 3 began with a corker of a trail. Loam-fest? YES! I was absolutely loving it, so so much fun. I was gutted to crash and have drivetrain problems lower down on the trail but who cares when you’re having so much fun. The next special stage was similarly awesome, and the mountain staff had found an awesome grey dog who just wanted to hang out and play at the bottom of the trail. He was cool. I wanted to take him home. The final trail of the day was superb as well, but so so many switchbacks at the bottom. I was so tired they suddenly became twice as hard as I usually find them, but I’d had a good run and unlike many of the special stages up til now, my chain stayed on, didn’t jam, and I didn’t crash.

Shredding the prologue on Saturday afternoon. Photo: Sam Needham

Day 4 was awesome. It kinda caught me out because it was a short day and I don’t think I drank enough – I was super tired by the end, but stoked. I was definitely thinking I wanted to race again next year already by the end. We had a bit of everything this day – pedalling, gnar-rocks, bikepark… yes BIKEPARK, with a CHAIRLIFT! and then the craziest wildest trail of absolutely everything a hillside could through at you – vague trail, steep switchbacks, uphill, downhill, exposure, running, rocks.. oh maybe it didn’t have any roots! Soo hard at the end of a day when you’re already so so tired. At the end of the day I finished second, but was only a few seconds ahead of Pauline Dieffenthaler who was lying in fourth place overall. I still had a very strong lead over her, but became acutely aware that I needed not to have any major issues or crashes in the next two days to hold onto my third place. At the same time I was now only 40 seconds or so behind Giant’s Kelli Emmett, so a fine line between trying to close that gap and maintain the third-fourth gap needed to be found.

A cloudy yet atmospheric start to Day 5 /// JC on Brollercoaster, Day 6 /// Stunning mountain scenery on Day 3

Day 5 was to be the big one. 66kms to be precise. Race director Ash was encouraging everyone to leave as soon as it got light at around 7.30am. I eventually got away around 8am and took my time making my way up the fireroad well ahead of the Dark Cloud Crew who I’d been riding with most days – I was on a major energy conservation thing, and I knew they’d catch me up eventually. We made it to the first special stage after two or three hours of liaison, and I had an absolute stormer down it, such an awesome trail. The second stage was a bit crash-tastic, but I got through it. With a 20km road ride after lunch, I was down to riding pretty conservatively, and just did my best to get through the next two stages without any issues. Amazingly I actually won the day, and overtook Kelli by around 2 minutes, putting me into second overall!

Day 6 suddenly had a different feel to it and I was feeling the pressure when I started the first stage of the day – I was almost two minutes ahead of Kelli and I didn’t want to throw it away. I got a good run in on Brollercoaster, albeit with some scary moments, but all along I felt like I should be pedalling more but I couldn’t cos I’d run out of gears. As soon as it was done I felt way more relaxed and enjoyed watching the Dark Cloud Crew all rolling in, got some rad photos and we enjoyed some good banter. Polyvetta was our next trail, and I nearly lost it all in the first straight, and then for the first time all week I got a puncture. I rode it out just hoping that the tyre didn’t come off the rim, but it cost me a good minute-and-a-half. I felt sure that that was the end of my second-place hopes, but then I remembered how much fun we were having. We were now in Italy and setting off for a coffee just up the road in Olivetta before heading back to Sospel for lunch. Second would be good, but so would third, and it wouldn’t mean that the week would be over, or the trails any less rad, or the people I was riding with any less fun… now I just wanted to get to the end of the final stage safely.

After another road ride, we made it to the start of the penultimate stage. I was so tired I didn’t even feel like I could pump obviously pump-able bits of trail, even though I did try. Then there was some uphilling. Suddenly pedal-legs engaged, where did they come from?! The same again happened on the final stage.. not so much power this time, but I got on with it and then in the steps of the final section I just let ‘er run. My bike felt amazing, so did my two-seasons old Lyriks and even though I yelled out when I nearly fell 5 metres off the side of the trail, it was rad. When I finally got to the bottom I was so stoked. The last rider came through and we all cheered, congratulating each other on making it through.. we’d done it! Now it was time to hit the beach.. I’d held on to second just 1 minute ahead of Kelli Emmett and Anka Martin took her first Trans-Provence win, yeowww!

Thanks to everyone who made it the week it was, both riders and staff. Ollie, so good to see you make it down to the beach after trying to use your face and shoulder as a brake, and still so positive about it all! Anka, thanks for reminding me to breathe after my scary moment on Thursday, glad you were there! And to everyone else, what a rad week. You guys were awesome. Thanks so much! I can’t wait until next year :-) . Such a rad week!

Thanks also to Sam Needham for the photos. Here’s another corker:

Enduro racing, same as downhill right?

Posted by Emily in Races, Riding | Leave a comment

Luckily I didn’t think that, but I didn’t think it would be as different as it is..

A few weeks ago I had my first taste of european enduro. I’ve done UK trail-centre based enduros before, but they’re nothing like what I’ve just done over here in France.

The Enduro World Series round at Val d’Allos forms part of the French Enduro series and as such is run more or less to their standard format, with the exception that instead of your first run down each special stage being timed and counting towards the result, at the EWS the first run was a non-stop practice/recce run so that you at least had half an idea of where the trail went if you had never ever been before. Cue lesson number one: riding the trail slowly to see everything is a bad idea because then when you hit it at race speed all the corners feel different. In all honesty, I just got stuck behind some slow people and with the full-runs only thing in mind I didn’t want to stop and get into trouble. Lesson number two was also learnt on the same stage: just because the trail is 3 times as long as a downhill track doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attack all the way. I wasn’t really sure how to approach the fact that although the trail was mainly descending, it was really long. Would I run out of steam? Would I start making fatigue-related mistakes? I decided I’d better not go too hard off the start and pace myself just in case. I came in 22nd in that first stage, and I was not impressed! I did crash, but even so… 22nd?! WHAT! Ok, so you need to practice as close to race pace as possible and it is like downhill in so far as you need to push from start to finish. The next few stages produced better results, 12th then an 11th – that felt a bit more like it. The following day we had a stage with an uphill in it. I knew that the cross-country specialists were going to make up time on those of us who come from a downhill background, and it was frustrating that we’d be doing that particular stage twice. Even more so when on the first go, the rider behind caught me on the climb, then several minutes later I re-caught her on the final descent but wasn’t sure of the etiquette given that she’d passed me already… held me up a bit that did. Ach well – that’s racing I guess. The solution: get better at climbing.

By the end of the weekend I finished up 15th overall. I was a little annoyed at the lost time on stage 1 and about my lack of climbing ability, but really stoked to have got 9th in the final stage of the weekend. It’d been a really intense couple of days of racing, head up first thing in the morning, smash out practice run number 1, come down, just enough time to grab a drink and a snack from the feed station, then back up again for your competition run.. and repeat. By the end of Saturday I was really struggling to hold on – not arm pump, but claw hand! Practicing for stage number 3 I really didn’t know how I was going to do it. Then as soon as I was on the start and the beeps were going the adrenalin kicked in.. amazing what your body can do when it really has to. Sunday’s opening stage was rough up top, then the climb, but the bottom was awesome. Freshly cut loamy single track, stuff of my dreams.. ha, the second half of that trail was just brilliant, even the bits on pre-existing trail. The final stage was a brilliant finale. It felt like it was about 3 minutes long compared to what we had been doing (12-20 mins depending on stage), and it was so much fun. In fact it was around 6 minutes and I somehow found a load of energy from somewhere to pedal out of every corner like it was the last. The highs and lows, both physically and mentally, are not something I’ve ever experienced in downhill. I think you probably need to be pretty mentally strong to succesfully race enduro because there is more pain and endurance (funnily enough) required than there is from a 3 minute downhill race which relies only on that one competition run after several days of practice in which you can stop at will.

Something else I noticed about my own riding is that I seemed to push harder even when the clock was ticking than I do when I race downhill. I’m not sure why, I don’t know if it’s a subconscious belief that crashing in such long stages isn’t quite so make-or-break as in a short downhill race – you have the time to make it up if it wasn’t too serious a mistake. Or it may be that i just find riding a smaller bike easier – easier to throw around, put it where I want, execute lines I’ve seen, or hit ones I see in that instant.. and not really care – I definitely don’t do last minute lines in downhill races because the consequences could be the difference between top 5 and last. Anyway, whatever the reason, that’s good.

Photo: Nathan Hughes

The following weekend was the third round of the series at Les Deux Alpes, and was the opening event of Crankworx Europe. As a standalone event, the format was different in that we had practice all day Saturday then one run of each of the four stages on Sunday. I thought that this would suit me better, but with hindsight, I think I prefer the modified french version as at Val d’Allos. I practiced with Jérôme Clementz, Pauline Diffenthaler and Ben Cruz during the morning which was cool, interesting to see what kind of lines they go for and how they do practice as a team – getting each other to do lines and compare which is best. During the afternoon I went up again and did a full run of each stage on my own to consolidate what we’d seen and done in the morning. The tracks weren’t half so good as at Val d’Allos and I wasn’t all that stoked about the next day.

Once the day got under way, the toll a full day of practice the previous day had had on me (and many others) became clear. I remember especially at the end of stage 1 and throughout stage 3 that I felt slow compared to the day before. I just couldn’t let go of the brakes because I thought if I did I wouldn’t be able to regain control, no matter how much I willed myself to do it. In the end I finished 14th overall, one place better than the weekend before, but disappointed with the time lost on stage 1…. again.

The next race I’ll be doing is the round at Val d’Isère, so between now and then I could do with getting quite a bit better at climbing so I don’t lose so much time to the cross country girls! Plus I need to stop crashing in stage 1 every time.. But at least now I know what to expect, push hard from start to finish, and practice fast too. Definitely pretty stoked on Enduro, it’s a really nice new challenge compared to downhill where I got tired of the same tracks all the time. Here I feel like I can find ways of bettering myself, things to go away and try to improve on. Having had a few top ten finishes in stage results, it feels like I could do pretty well too. Of course it does help that I now live in Sospel so I have access to brilliant trails and excellent weather which means daily riding is by no means a chore. It would be amazing to sneak into the top ten overall before the end of the season.. not messing up stage ones will help for sure!

What’s next? Enduro, that’s what.

Posted by Emily in Races, Travel | Leave a comment

Many people have already written much on the subject of enduro, the “new” discipline that’s been knocking around for what seems like only a couple of years now. In fact, it’s been around for ages in other countries, it’s just that some of us failed to notice.

Last summer I used my downhill bike a mere 6 times in 3 months of daily riding. Every one of those six times it felt sluggish and awkward, especially in the corners. I missed the agile, manoeuvrable nature of my 150mm Transition Covert. It was on that bike that I was having the best fun. Combined with reading reports of enduro races around Europe, working on the Trans-Provence in September and then adding in the creation of the Enduro World Series (EWS), my 2013 plan was formed. Race enduro.

Photo: Chris Deverson

The EWS dates were released back in December, and the proximity of many of the venues to Les Arcs made it seem like a very real prospect. With the support of Transition Bikes who will be providing me with Covert and Bandit frames, here’s the plan:

EWS – Val d’Allos, France
Crankworx Europe – Les Deux Alpes, France
Megavalanche – Alpe d’Huez
Enduro des Belleville – Les Menuires, France
Enduro Des Nations – Val d’Isère, France
Trans-Provence 2013
SuperEnduro PRO – Finale Ligure

In the last week or so, the EWS rules have been released. Last night I purchased my Enduro Mountain Bike Association membership which will enable me to score series points. Over the next few days I’ll be signing up to race as the entries open. Feel’s like summer’s coming together already and it’s only February! Yippeee!

Winter Adventuring!

Posted by Emily in Adventure, Travel | 4 Comments

The first Friday of February was rubbish. A rainy miserable day it was, and all we managed was one run across to the Mont Blanc bar in Vallandry for a hot chocolate, then straight back home. The second Friday in February couldn’t have been any different. After a week of much colder weather and consistent significant dumps of snow, conditions were ripe for some adventuring. The night before, I got in touch with a friend to see how she was planning on spending the forecasted bluebird day and the response included instructions to bring my avalanche kit and be on the 9am funicular. Right then!

Unnecessarily scary descent to the top of the couloir itself

9am the next morning came around, bluebird it certainly was, and psyche was high. First stop was a jaunt into the Bois de l’Ours trees. Traversing down and around the snow was already magnificent, giving us a taster of what was to come. It was no less than amazing. And this was just the start! We swiftly got ourselves back up on the lift and round to start the hike up to the Pointe du Four, a 2,469m peak high above Arc 2000. We got a little distracted on the way up the Clocheret lift and decided to drop in below it for another quick powder run before getting back on the lift to begin the execution of plan A: skiing the couloir de la Pointe du Four.

First was a 45 minute hike to the drop in point. This involved some quite steep ladder-like climbing and in places I was glad to have some previous rock experience as I’m quite sure I would’ve been quite scared otherwise. Plus I got to put in some nice moves where there were rocks to hold onto on the very last ascent up to the actual Pointe du Four. Teetering on the top we were all pretty apprehensive about getting down to the top of the couloir itself. A blind crest masked the first 30m of descent, and it looked pretty frikkin nails, especially considering what we’d just climbed up to get there, and the fact we now seemed to be stood on quite an exposed ridge. With hearts pounding, we made our way down to the top of the couloir itself and breathed a momentary sigh of relief. Safely down off the ridge above, we were now at the top of the main attraction for the day.

Our destination marked by the black arrow.

Standing on top of the significant wind-lip at the mouth of the couloir, we peered in and took stock of what we were about to do. Far below us we could see a piste.. a long long way below us in fact – we had a lot of sweet fresh snow to ski down yet! Two or three people had already been down before us, which in a way was reassuring – the snow hadn’t slipped and the wind-lip was a lot less intimidating with tracks already through it. Sheryl dropped in and it wasn’t long before we heard a lot of excited wooping and hollering as she made her way down to the next safe point to wait for me and Neil. Neil was next and looked like he was having similar amounts of fun. Then it was me.

Looking back up the couloir

Now generally, I’d say I’m not very good at skiing narrow stuff. In fact, I’d normally totally avoid anything with the word “couloir” in its description. So what was I doing at the top of this one?! Narrow and unknown.. I got it stuck in my head that I’d have to side slip it, and even after dropping in and almost immediately putting a turn in, I still thought I had to do that. I can’t deny that I was pretty scared at this point.. though not as scared as I was getting off the top of the actual Pointe du Four above us. But even so, you get a plan of attack stuck in your head and you go with it. After a little while I started putting turns in and found I am actually capable of tighter shorter turns than I realised. But even so, there was a lot more faff and side-slipping than I’d've liked, and from that point of view I’m a little disappointed in myself for not skiing it properly. I eventually reached the others and we were faced with this wonderful gully of beautiful snow, and I couldn’t wait to ski it! Sheryl went first, then me, then Neil. It was amazing! So smooth, such a glorious feeling of gliding easily through light icing-sugar snow. Words don’t really do it justice.

By the time we reached the bottom we were buzzing like little kids who’d eaten way too many sweets. So so stoked! It was incredible to think we’d just done what we’d just done. I’m not sure any of us could quite get over it! And all before lunchtime too. Taking a chairlift back up to Arc 2000 we kept looking across at the couloir and chattering excitedly away about how awesome it was. Incredulous wasn’t really the word! I was especially incredulous because it had been my first proper hike, and we’d done something I didn’t think I was capable of. Sheryl commented that I’d find everything else disappointing after that, and sure enough she was right, as I discovered when later that afternoon we did Col de la Chal. I’d been wanting to do it for a while, but after the buzz of the morning, it was just a gentle jaunt at best. Nice snow, and pretty rad to ski down a valley I ride down in the summer, but just nothing on the Couloir de la Pointe du Four!

Check out Neil’s edit from the day here. Thanks are also due cos all but one of these photos are stills I took from his gopro footage.


Trials and Tribulations

Posted by Emily in Travel | Leave a comment

It’s been two weeks since I arrived in Bourg-St-Maurice and now I feel like I’m getting into the swing of things.

Nonetheless, there’ve been some down days for me. That first week was a little slow since the lifts weren’t open and I hadn’t started work yet. Added to that, turning up in a new place where you don’t really know anyone is hard. It’s even harder when a lot of those people know each other from seasons past and you feel as though you’re trying to break into an already-established group. It can make for a pretty lonely existence at times. Unsure of yourself and whether you’re going to be accepted, wondering if it’s ok just to turn up at someone’s house that you barely know. And on top of that, bereft of friends back home, there’s not really anyone to talk to about it all. It’s not surprising some people quit after a month or so.

All this is not something I ever thought I would experience. Although this is my first winter season, I thought having done four summers would stand me in pretty good stead. The difference is that I’ve always lived “in” – in the chalet I worked in with a ready-made group of friends in the form of my work colleagues. Last summer was probably the best yet, with a super-awesome team of about 10 people to hang out with whenever we weren’t working. People you could ride with, drink with, laugh and cry with.. life was pretty sweet. Living “out” you have to make a much greater effort to get involved, get people’s numbers, go to (nearly) everything you’re invited to, and don’t give up. I saw something on facebook today, it said “good things come to those who wait good things come to those who work their arses off and never give up”. True in so many areas, and this one is no exception. So if you’re reading this and thinking of doing a winter season, you need to be prepared to work hard in all areas of life!

But all is not doom and gloom! This past few days has been good. I like my job. I especially like it when I have an empty van and don’t have to do what I call “guest driving”. I can explore alternative routes without being worried about getting lost (though I’ve not got lost yet, hooray!), put some big tunes on and enjoy the drive. The other day I took the alternative route down the other side of Lake Annecy, the sun was in and out of the clouds and it couldn’t have been more beautiful. The day before I’d been feeling particularly lonely and down in the dumps and to see that couldn’t have been a better antidote. Making new friends and missing family and friends from home is hard, but I currently live in a beautiful part of the world, I get to drive nice vehicles and I get to see other nice parts of the world on the way. And when I’m out on the hill, and recognise where a bike trail goes or exactly where I am and what it looks like in summer, it’s pretty geeky but I really do enjoy the moment of recognition. The other day I skied down something that I realised after is a little drop off a rock that I’ve done on my bike in summer. I thought that was pretty rad.

On the subject of skiing, last Wednesday was ridiculous. Bluebird and fresh powder all over the place. I tagged along with some experienced skiers and boarders and basically followed them nearly everywhere they went. Steepish faces of nearly-untouched powder which really is a bit beyond me, but there’s only one way to learn. I fell over a lot, got tired legs, lost my skis, had to dig myself out, got left behind, got waited for, but amazingly I didn’t get scared. I was scared on holiday last year when we went into the unknown, but now I think I just see learning to ski off-piste as a task to be accomplished, that’s basically what I came here to do. It’s not quite fun yet, it’s too hard still, but it’ll come. But I am very pleased with my new skis, happy days! Yesterday I lost everyone so just spent some time practicing stuff which was pretty fun. I am a bit reluctant to venture off the piste on my own, scared even. Or maybe just apprehensive. But there’s no harm in that, after all you’re not very likely to be found in the event of an accident if no one knows where you are.

So there we are.. the trials and tribulations of new places, friends and sport! The moral of the story? GET INVOLVED!

Winter in a French ski-town

Posted by Emily in Travel | Leave a comment

Since the first time I tried skiing three years ago, I’ve wanted to do a ski season. The main motivation was not wanting to spend the next 10+ years skiing one week a year and never really making any progress, but of course it’s not exactly a bad life-style either! So this winter I’ll be driving for Cool Bus, skiing in Les Arcs and living in the French town of Bourg-St-Maurice.

Right now we’re all just waiting for the lifts to open on Saturday, work to start, and the season to get properly underway. With all this time on my hands I decided to at least begin some tales of a slightly aged first-year winter seasonaire. I say slightly aged, that’s 5-10 years older than almost everyone else.

I left the UK on Monday morning at the fairly leisurely hour of 10.15am aboard an Easyjet flight to Geneva. After being met on arrival by Cool Bus driver Alex, the trip couldn’t really have gone any more smoothly. It was definitely a lot easier this year than the major faff with Ben’s Bus when a friend and I visited for a week’s holiday last year. Cheap, but definitely not recommended! I was dropped off at my digs for the winter, and immediately met with a whole sea of new faces. Two of the guys live here, and everyone else were their friends. Still, that’s par for the course on a winter season. Summer seasons are so much quieter by comparison. So few people around, and more like a pond of new faces to put names to, not a whole sea!

But what really struck me as I wandered off to the supermarket is that I will be living in a genuine French town for the next 5 months. The last two summers I’ve spent high up on the mountainside in the more modern end of a village which is a mixture of traditional french architecture and modern chalets. Living in the centre of Bourg I feel more like the entire town is more traditionally french. Not only that, but there are people here, shops, bakers, cafés, traffic and a fair bit more going on. Snow, and people dealing with the snow. Driving just as normal, clearing roads with great big diggers fully equipped with snow-chains, shopkeepers scraping the ice from their section of pavement. People walk around without slipping over and don’t look crippled whilst they try not to fall. And very few of them are in ski jackets and pants. They’re just the locals dealing with winter like they always do. Of course this is borne out of necessity, but after the harder winters we’ve been having back home the past few years, the difference is noticeable. I really think the UK could do with learning some lessons from its european neighbours, both on a (local) governmental and individual scale. It clearly can be managed without the carnage we seem to see every time it snows in the UK, so why can’t we do it?

To anyone who’s been to a french town in winter, this is undoubtedly nothing new. As a newcomer, it’s just interesting drawing comparisons – this will be my first experience of living in a genuine year-round town outside of the UK. When I find some more comparisons to draw, take some sweet photos or have an awesome day out on the snow I’ll be back with another chapter in the tale.

Trans-Provence 2013

Posted by Emily in Races | Leave a comment

Start list is out.. and it’s official, I’m doing the Trans Provence next year! I’m wintering in Les Arcs, France, so I better start ski touring. Too much snow around to get any training in aboard a bike!

Mountain Adventuring

Posted by Emily in Riding, Travel | Leave a comment

Back in the summer… in July in fact, a long long time ago, a whole bunch of us went on a bit of an adventure. A group of 7 comprising guides, mechanics, chalet hosts and a wandering adventurer of all kinds (that’ll be THE Ben Jones, as seen in MBR!) set off one Tuesday evening from Aime-La Plagne up to the summit of Mont Jovet. That’s about a ten minute descent (after a 40 minute van drive up to the drop-off point) followed by 1h30 climbing and hike-a-bike. Mont Jovet is a moderately high 2,563m, and the view from the top is amazing. Coming from Les Arcs it was awesome to look back and orientate myself and recognise various features of that area. The same can be said of looking forwards towards Courchevel, even more so when I went back later in the year and could identify parts of that hillside, what was where, and which bits I’d ridden. So good to be able to really get a feel for our whereabouts within the broader area, outside the Paradiski (Les Arcs and La Plagne).

Everyone finally summited around 8.30pm, which was precisely when dinner was due to be served in the mountain refuge a few minutes’ descent from the top. We took in the view before smashing down the hill as quickly as we could, rolling in just in time for a starter of soup and loads of grated cheese. At this point Tim magically produced two bottles of wine from his bag – he’d been carrying them all along and hadn’t breathed a word of it to anyone. What a legend! Our host, a very friendly frenchman who runs the refuge every summer, brought out two huge dishes of tartiflette and it’s no overstatement to say we completely gorged ourselves on it. Then we discovered there was dessert! After some confusion between “noix” (nuts) and “noir” (black) (the pronounciation difference is so subtle) – our host not being able to remember what “noix” is in english and us failing to recognise the word – we eventually chose dessert to finish completely stuffing ourselves in readiness for the following day’s epic. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was so full I couldn’t sleep!

The following morning we fell out of bed around 6.30am, breakfasted and were ready to go by 7am. The previous evening the view had been superb as we saw the sun setting across the mountains. Now in the morning there was the most amazing cloud inversion sitting in the valley below us. The view was intoxicating. So much so that it was almost a distraction as we traversed around the hill to the tree-line high above Bozel.

After 1500m of descending we pedalled from Bozel to St Bon to catch the first bus up to Courchevel 1800 at around 8.20am. Despite a couple of punctures on the way down, we got there with plenty of time to spare and had a few moments to appreciate what we’d just done before most people had even got out of bed. A short bus journey later and we were in a pretty deserted Courchevel. We found our way into a little shopping complex and some of the boys decided to ride down the escalator.. it was pretty funny except when a frenchman came out and told ME off when I didn’t even ride down it! Ah well… More important things were on my mind, like a breakfast croissant and coffee so I quickly appeased the man and assured him they wouldn’t do it again!

Not long later we were waiting at the bottom of Les Verdons gondola, ready for the first lift of the day. We made our way up to the Saulire and then some real adventuring began. Chris had planned out a route for us to try, and it started with a very steep climb/push/hike-a-bike up a piste. Luckily it wasn’t too long! From then on it was unchartered singletrack territory of a most technical nature. The views were some of the best of the summer, especially as I could recognise places I’d skied on my first ever ski trip a few years ago. The riding was super cool as well. It was windy which made you think a bit, windy enough for the possibility of being thrown a wobbler to be a pretty real likelihood. The terrain was super rocky in places and had you wondering if you could actually ride some of it. It needed treating with respect. Falling off surrounded by rocks and nothing but rocks would hurt. And it was a long way from a hospital! Gradually the rocks became smaller and the trail became flanked by grass as we approached the col. There was one section which was just so much fun, so flowy and super awesome. You’ll see it in the vimeo edit posted below – it’s the bit with a caption referring to a long and uninterrupted descent.

From the col we wove our way down the hillside via a succession of quite tight switchbacks. There was a lot of yelling and verbal high-fiving as people took crazy lines and pulled off various rad moves to negotiate them feet-up. They eased off after a while and we found ourselves pinning it down a really really loose straight. You’d touch the back brake and the wheel locked immediately, the back of the bike snaking around behind you.. I compared notes on this with Drew and it wasn’t just me who had that problem! At first I thought it was just my bad riding, but no. The corners soon returned, but this time more open and it started to feel a bit like bike skiing in places. Finally we reached the valley floor. Looking back up to where we’d come from was quite something. So much height lost in so little time! The trail was named Fruitcake. Partly to do with the fact that Chris produced a fruitcake at the top to fortify us for the descent.

From there we traversed up, across and then down into Méribel-Mottaret. What a trail! It was wicked fun, although hopping off a bridge into what looked like a hole was quite scary. Luckily the hole was not a hole and I did not die! The top half of the descent was quite loamy and flowy, and then it opened out to a wider grassy descent with loads of opportunity for playing around, hopping stuff (like bridges.. I’ll watch out for that next time!) and getting rad.

By this time, it was still only around 12.30pm and there was still plenty of day left to ride. After a great big pizza for lunch, we checked out a descent from the Col de la Loze, which quite frankly was technical gnar/nails. It dropped into the resort marked Black No 5, which was pretty fun and later in the day we rode the whole of that marked trail all the way down into Brides-Les-Bains to complete a none-too-shabby day of adventuring, one that will undoubtedly go down in everyone’s memory as one of the best days off ever.

Check out my gopro edit of the 7am Mont Jovet descent and the new Courchevel trail.

Mavic Trans-Provence 2012

Posted by Emily in Races, Travel | Leave a comment

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.

Menton beach

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:

Trail Addiction

Posted by Emily in Riding, Travel | 2 Comments

So once again this summer I returned to Les Arcs to work as a guide for Trail Addiction. It was even better this year than the month I spent getting my bearings last year. We had an influx of new members to the team and everyone was super sound. Consequently we had some really cool guides’ days out on our day off, including doing a trip to Mont Jovet mountain refuge which involved eating a huuuuge amount of tartiflette on our arrival at 8.30pm one night, and descending about 1500m from the door at 7am the next morning. Then we went to Courchevel to try out a new trail our head guide Chris had been eyeing up on the map. It turned out to be awesome and we named it Fruitcake. I’ll throw together an edit of the gopro footage I got soon…

At one point in the season we had a pretty interesting situation in the chalet where some guests were telling others about a trail called La Varda. It’s a pretty epic trail at the top – you have to do a 10-15 minute hike-a-bike in, and then you’re in mountain wilderness well away from any lifts. Its on the border with the national park too so there’s good opportunity to see things like Marmottes and maybe even Ibex if you’re lucky. Up top, its a pretty straightforward piece of trail, but lower down it’s about as technical as it gets. Trouble is, no one ever sees what the harder sections look like and they all want to go and do it for the epicness of the top. When one group tells another how awesome it is and then they want to go, it can be a bit tricky if you know that either your group wouldn’t be capable of riding it or you know they wouldn’t enjoy it. The joys of being a guide! Anyway, I decided to make a rough edit of the more techy parts just in case this situation arises next year. The quickest time down the trail from start to finish is 23 minutes apparently. I’ve never timed myself but this version is heavily abridged at 6.38! Hope it proves to be interesting watching…