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.
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.
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.
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: