By Andreas Hestler
St-Dalmas-Valdeblore to Sospel 47.8 kilometers
1430 meters UP
3358 meters DOWN
As I sit here in the courtyard of an old villa in Provence, France, and attempt to sum up the days events, it all seems so surreal. I know that this lack of mental clarity is one of the mystifying effects of multi-day events, but it's happening again and I love it.
The last two days have really been the icing on the cake, everything I thought Provence would be and the Trans aspect of it has come to pass. I awoke before light this morning and a little before the kitchen staff kicked into full gear, the sun crept slowly over the hills and finally dropped it's first light onto our humble camp. Camp located on the side of a hill maybe 4000 feet up from the river bottom below. Between the hedges and the beautifully laid out small vineyard were two long tables, our breakfast tables. Eating outside with a 1000 mile view over the brim of my coffee mug – not bad, and what did I have to look forward to for the rest of the day; a steady diet of alpine trail, singletrack and amazing views.
Day Six would be laid out a little bit differently than the other days. Our shuttle would commence at the mid point of the day and because we had been lifted to our high altitude camp the previous night we would head straight out onto course.
It was a chilly climb along the paved road, through the unknown sleepy village and up towards the Col, but we eventually gained some warmth. The last group to leave the camp, the group I was ascending with, was not in a hurry and this suited me fine. Eventually we reached the end of the road and we began an awesome singletrack climb, challenging but not too technical a true joy. Another 30 minutes brought us up to the alpine, where we caught Weir and Sven shooting some pictures with Anka and Tracey. The scenery was 360-degrees of beauty, with trails branching off in all directions; we were awestruck and spellbound for more than a few magical moments.
Following the big climb a large group formed up for the alpine traverse, and though we all rode our own pace it seems that there is a unifying sense of time to a group in the mountains. It would be nearly another hour before we hit SP 1 and SP 2, (Ed. Note: SP stands for special stage, a timed portion midway through the day's stage) which, in truth, were one big downhill broken into two sections. Sven managed to snag his rear derailleur on a rock and so we hunkered down to fix it amid the alpine thistles and long, late summer grass.
Once onto SP1 it was pure bliss, trail-ripping goodness and a bit of Mach Schnell. My hands and feet were numb, my mind was already aching with the intensity of focus and that was only part one. SP2 would take us the rest of the way down into the valley to our lunch and to our shuttle.
Over lunch every one discussed the nature of the trail; the blocky square rocks and huge potential for tire problems. It was agreed that as we neared Nice the final two days would increase dramatically in rocky roughness, not to mention the ever-present 'exposure' as we ripped big pedaling singletrack around the side of the mountain. There were a few bumps and bruises at lunch, some bikes were a little worse for wear but, in general, halfway through Day Six peoples' spirits were high.
Riding like a tourist then ripping trail like a madman in pursuit of his lost marbles was beginning to take it's toll. Everyone was fatigued and we discussed the particular aspect of getting ones energy up for a potentially gnarly Special Section and then relaxing back to ooh's and ahh's. The tachometer was all over the map nobody had done any type of event like this before—and definitely not this long.
Waking up after a nice lunch in a sun-drenched shuttle it was hard to get going again, but the trails called and we had two more Special Sections to complete for the day. SP3 dropped into a forest and was described as 'your favorite flow trail at home, but moved to the maritime Alps'. That description wasn't wrong at all, as this was everyone's favorite, just a smooth burn through the woods, with plenty of dirt, leaves and loam under the tires, exhilarating to say the least.
Somewhere near the end of each day something changed, there was a sense of hurry, but no impetus behind it. Like we were supposed to conclude something. In fact all the necessities were taken care of, or would be, but we weren't ready for this day to end. We had been on our bikes for nearly 6.5 hours and the sun was shining, what else could possibly be more important?
The final special stage of the day, the 'Rock Garden' was gospelled to be heinous, un-rythmic and would favor only a lucky few—all the rest would feel the bite of the sharp, jagged rocks that littered the course. It was a love-hate section for sure, technical and gnarly, this challenged me and I enjoyed it, but Matt Ryan, usually a positive guy, was full of venom and hate for the last SP of Day Six.
The ride out along the river was, itself, challenging and beautiful. A short jaunt up the road took us to our campsite where we found warm showers, a nice swimming pool and few cold beers. One more day and the Trans Provence would be coming to an end, my head is already fuzzy with the mega-infusion of awesome memories and images. Good times on the bike, once again, and great people to share it with. I'm glad I have a camera and some pictures to help document and remember all this for the future.