Words by Seb Kemp
Photos by Sven Martin
(Editor’s Note: Author, Seb Kemp, is in 17th place at the end of the fifth day of racing the Mavic Trans-Provence – Click here for the overall standings as of Day Five.)
You sprint your guts out, body exhausted of oxygen and burning lactic acid seething through your muscles. You skid to a halt, hoping that the course timer will bleep you in cleanly. You try and take deep breaths, then look around for your companions to share stories of each others runs. Then you roll out in a posse to the next stage (which could be 25 kilometers away).
Even though you might think we racers are here for the racing (a reasonable guess considering that for four stages each day we do all switch into time-chasing bandits), it is the amazing sights and experiences along the way that really makes the Trans-Provence special.
Take, for instance, the liaison on stage two and three on day five. We rolled around a high balcony trail and were slapped in the eyeballs with the village of Roubion, which clings to the side of the mountain and consists of the ruins of a 12th century castle and the cobblestoned village that grew up between the remains. Utterly isolated and totally remote. Why on earth did people decide to build anything up here? Sheer cliffs above and cavernous ravines below. Getting there is a mission.
Our mountain bikes brought us there, but only because there are ancient pathways, trade routes, routes and trails upon which to navigate. The Trans-Provence route has blown my tiny mind. True, we have negotiated so much countryside and seen so much of a landscape I had no idea existed. But more to the point, everywhere the view allows, you can see that there are many, many more trails. The riding here is endless.
These trails are the lifeblood of mountain biking and we, as a global community of bikers, are fortunate to be allowed to ride upon them. However, racing changes the game somewhat and racers search around the trail for advantage.
Our crew – which consists of Sven Martin, Anka Martin, Chris Ball, Jon Cancellier, Paul Smail, Hannah Barnes, Fanny Paquette, Doctor Boris, the course sweep, Shaggy, Phil, and Jerome Clementz (when he feels like joining in the circus) – like to start late and finish later, which means we get to ride the trail once 60 riders have already gone down them. We get to see where all the heavy braking is taking place, ride the brown line, and see where all the cheeky cuts have taken place. Riders seeking to minimize their time have been diving into corners, not early but in radically different places. Trust me, we see the filthy evidence, even if we can’t name and shame the criminals.
Trans-Provence race director Ash Smith laid out the rules for course cutting cheats at the race briefing last Saturday before racing commenced. The rule was that any tracks more than 3 meters from the apex of the turn would be considered cheating and those racers caught doing so would be granted a three-minute time penalty. The trouble is that marshaling the Trans-Provence course would be nearly impossible considering how remote all the riding is. However, this is where riders need to take the responsibility to play fair, not just for the sake of racing, but for the sake of the trails.
This was brought to a head on day five when at the start of stage three, there was intense debate about whether it was fair to use an obvious inside line if many riders who had gone previous had done so. The option was to ride the legitimate, severe switchback or cut off the trail 8 meters early and freeride through the shale slope.
Earlier riders had all got to the same spot and decided that the line was the early freeride line, partly because it is what they have always ridden when they had raced the trail previously, and if you or I came upon this vague shaley area, we may be tempted to avoid the awkward corner. However, there was an official TP sign on the inside of the switchback, which in the eyes of many meant the corner was most certainly part of the trail and was where the race organizers wanted the trail to go.
When the later group came upon the area a discussion about how the rules should be applied broke out. In this group was current race leader Nicolas Lau, Nicolas Vouilloz, Ben Cruz, Mark Weir, Florian Golay, Fabian Barel, Sven Martin, Chris Ball and a lot of amateur racers. The consensus appeared that the rules should be followed just like the course should be.
A few riders, however, chose to just blow through, one shouting, “Captain switchback can suck my dick.” But Chris Ball took the moral high ground nailing the switchback while shouting, “Think of the children”.
And that’s the point, if anyone turns up to race anywhere and braids a trail, then one day the trail is going to be either destroyed through erosion damage from rerouted drainage and the locals that give the go ahead for these races might reconsider that decision if their trails get beaten up every time a relatively small group of racers come rallying through town. What is the future of Enduro if courses become vague freeride festivals and events get shut down because trails become ragged messes? That would definitely be a shame for the kids, because Enduro is a damn good race format and events like the Trans-Provence need to stick around.
That night Ash Smith made the official decision to penalize 15 riders who admitted to cutting the course at the spot in question (renamed Cornergate), however because of complications they would not be punished to the full extent of the law.
On the Mavic Trans-Provence Day 5 (Thursday 27/09/2012) approximately 15 riders were accused of, and subsequently admitted to, “cutting the course” at the start of Special Stage 17.
However, the complex set of circumstances of which the stage start situation was comprised, and the lack of information from Mavic Trans-Provence staff sources regarding rider discussions, decisions and actions, leads Mavic Trans-Provence race director to believe that the standard 3-minute course cut penalty cannot not be applied. Nevertheless, due to the fact that most riders did ride the corner in question correctly, a penalty reflecting the time gained by the offending riders was applied. The penalty given was 30 seconds.
This made things interesting in the overall. Jerome Clementz was in the early crew who had agreed to take the inside line. He admitted his misdemeanor and took the 30-second penalty on the chin. Unfortunately, this put him into second place behind Nico Lau who was in the later group. Nicolas V kept his nose clean and stays in third with much more racing to come.