Words by Seb Kemp
Photos courtesy of Trans Provence/Irmo Keizer and Sven Martin
[Editor’s note: looking for the overall results following Day 3’s stage? Click here.
With events and races like this there is always going to be that moment when your spirit isn't just crushed, but instead just flips the table, sticks up its middle finger, and walks out of the room.
I was surprised that mine decided to lose its shit this early and for relatively little purpose. Granted, a rogue bush decided that my front brake was better off on. than off while I raced along at singletrack max velocity, resulting into a swift swan dive into a pot of pain and lost time. Unfortunately, there was no other bush to catch me, but fortunately the rock wasn't as stout as my own flesh and bone.
This incident spoiled what was otherwise an incredible downhill and I was sent into a little bit of my own version of a black cloud. The following 10-kilometer liaison stage tried its beautiful best to lighten my spirits, but when my rear tire decided to just split open while JRA I was sent into a silent, yet mad, rage. Instead of flipping a table I just decided to get the epic climb to the next stage done as soon as I could, so I could get back to the camp as soon as possible. The problem with that plan was that there was still about 30 kilometers over several mountain passes and two Special Stages to go.
Nevertheless, getting home (how quickly does a tent and a sweaty sleeping bag become home?) quick was the plan and nothing could make me deviate. I barely stopped for refreshment, to rest or to pull my socks up for the next Special Stage. Instead I turned my slow-burning fury into pedal-bending, corner-hurting rage.
I had told myself to take it easy on the patched tire. My goal wasn't just to get down, but to get all the way home. Another flat could genuinely mean being stranded in the middle of nowhere – a life lived in a pretty Provence village with a beautiful French belle sounds good, but I'm not ready to dive bomb into that just yet. Somewhere during that descent, my rage intersected with the sublime beauty of the flat-out downhill, and all was forgotten.
The stage finished in a green field surrounded by some of the same peaks that had tormented me all morning and I swear, as soon as I pulled up, beams of light shot down from between the clouds to illuminate the assembled riders. Or perhaps the light was the reflection of a dozen huge grins, heartfelt smiles, and the radiated warmth from everyone's adrenalin-charged minds. Eyes were lit up like Christmas trees, teeth were stretched out like piano keys, and, of course, high fives were exchanged.
We rode up a hill, then another, and then up several more and around a few more hills before we had got to that descent. At times I wondered why, but then amongst the speed-blurred madness of the high speed, off-camber trail I realized why: we are all mountain bikers. We love singletrack. We love getting thrilled by man's lines amongst Mother Nature's curves. And the faster, flowier, and scarier the better.
All it took was three and a half minutes of such a trail to make it all right again.
Trans-Provence 2012 isn't even half way through. but already I feel like I have faced and conquered more mental challenges than I ever expected to encounter. By far.
These challenges of the spirit are not exactly what the event is billed as. Sure, previous entrants have told me to make sure to bring the right tires and the right spares, or to prepare for long days in the saddle, day after day, but the true beauty of this event is of the tests of the inner being.
Actually, the real beauty is the trails themselves. When you finish every Special Stage and say to yourself (or your comrades) 'That is the best trail ever!', you start to wonder, Why do I think that was so good? Was it because they all are so good or was it the fight to ascend them and endure the difficulties that made it so worthwhile?
At the sharp end of the racing Nico Lau and Jerome Clementz raced so close you could barely slide a cigarette paper between them. Nicolas Vouilloz is still in the chase, lurking like a shark in case misfortune besets the top two. Geoff Kabush showed his legs and took the third Special Stage win on the hyper-pedally (but fun) singletrack stage. That the day started with a 500-meter (that's vertical elevation) climb, took in 50 kilometers of prime French countryside (by way of an accumulated 1,800 meters of vertical ascending) and ended on perhaps the most anaerobic stage of the week so far, was just part of the pain and joy of this event.
Mark Weir took a step up to fourth, Adam Craig continues to impress with more than just fitness, but genuine speed on the technical, Chain Reaction downhill team riders Matti Lehikoinen and Matt Simmons have found their legs and had a few great days on the hunt for speed, and Joe Barnes slips up and down the upper ranks like a welcoming Thai hooker.
I've said it for the past two days and I'll say it again: Trans-Provence is the best event I've ever done and I truly think this is the most honest mountain bike event in the world.