Words by Seb Kemp
Photos by Sven Martin
(Editor’s Note: Author, Seb Kemp, is in 16th place at the end of the sixth day of racing. Click here for the overall standings as of Day Six.)
It's a big landscape out here. There are more tracks and trails here than you may ever ride in a lifetime. However, it seems the course that is laid out for Trans-Provence is trying to take it all in, in just seven days. Each day feels longer than the last. We might get to lunch and feel like we have struck the halfway point, but then it's another five hours of riding before you roll into camp. It goes on and on, and if one moment you feel exhausted and ready to give up, then just around the corner a piece of exhilarating, life-affirming singletrack will chirp you up or mind-meltingly beautiful view will appear.
Trans-Provence feels truly endless in its scope and breath. Which is why we have been given detailed course maps and notes so we can navigate. Also, the whole course, races courses and liaisons, are well marked with simple signage. All week I've been impressed with the amount of quality signage. That we cover 50 kilometers of unfamiliar terrain each day and don't get lost is remarkable.
However, today I got lost.
While trying to ride flat out on a special stage I followed what I thought was an arrow pointing up a farm track. I got behind the bars and started sprinting because my race notes and maps told me to expect a big pedal at the end of the stage. However, after a minute or so I started to question myself and looked around for other tire tracks. I couldn't see any so I decided to turn around. After getting back to the trail where I left it I assumed that going the other way up the farm road would be the correct way. However, after a little while it become obvious that I had come to a dead end.
Around me a cloud of blue curse words accumulated until I managed to retrace my steps. Compose myself (relatively speaking) and then drop into the hidden singletrack entrance that wasn't marked.
Whether it was a tiny oversight on behalf of the course markers, my stupidity or an irate farmer tearing down signs, doesn't matter. I stumbled around and any hopes of a week-long result where chased away in that one mistake. Four to six minutes is a hard gap to make if it had happened at the start of the week, but going into the last day means recouping that lost time is almost impossible.
I wasn't the only one that went wrong today. Hannah and Joe Barnes, Matti Lehikoinen, and Paul Smail all went wrong in the same place. Chris Ball, the amateur mens leader, took the biggest wrong turn and finished the 10-minute stage in 27 minutes after going on a huge wander in the wilderness. A tremendous shame for the big Scotsman.
But it wasn't just the less sharp racers. Jerome Clementz second guessed himself and turned back on a piece of trail only to find that he was on the trail when a rider came the other way. This puts him 1 minute 51 back on Nico Lau and 17 seconds back on Nicolas Vouilloz. Not a fortunate position coming into the last day.
Jerome still remains upbeat and had this to say, "I can't catch Nico Lau. I can't beat Nico on his own course. I have a holiday soon and I have had good season. I want to be healthy."
Anne-Caro still has a commanding lead, but the big news in the ladies' race is that Anka Martin had overtaken Rosara Shepherd. The much more technical and less pedal-centric courses of day six saw Anka have a great result with a 24th place on the day. That strong finish, combined with Rosara receiving a three-minute penalty for course cutting, means Anka leap frogged her and now goes into day seven in a solid second place overall with Anne-Caro somewhat in her sights.
However, we will see what unfolds tomorrow. It is an early start for all the racers, four stages of hyper rocky trails, and the finish in Monte Carlo. It might only turn into an accumulated time of 30 minutes racing left amongst some of the most consistent, clever, skilled riders. Tomorrow can't come soon enough.