Words by Seb Kemp
Photos by Sven Martin
(Editor’s Note: Author, Seb Kemp, is holding steady in 14th place at the end of the fourth day of racing. Click here for the overall standings as of Day Four.)
"So, if your pain threshold goes to positive infinity and your risk threshold goes to negative infinity, then there must be a point at which the two lines intersect and that would be your average velocity over the week"
Tim Kelton is an adventurous climber, kayaker, and mountain biker from the United States who designs rather complex computer programs. When I asked him to try and place his Trans-Provence performance into a mathematical equation his eyes lit up, he asked for a pen, and began scribbling onto his napkin.
This is the Day Four dinner talk. With so many different people from so many different backgrounds coming together and living with a Dunkirk spirit, some interesting ideas are shared.
Adam Craig, long time World Cup cross-country racer is sitting opposite Tim and counters with his insight. "No, I think it is risk over thrill because skill supports risk, I think."
"I think it is the inverse of risk over thrill as your skill goes up." Tim replies.
"But isn't your velocity related to skill which puts risk up in relative terms though?"
"Hmmm…I think your relationship with risk over skill, as they approach positive infinity, equals your average velocity over the week."
Hannah Thorne, a New Zealander who works as a pathologist, but, like me, seems a little bemused by the high-brow discussion would rather stick to the facts. "I'm a scientist, but I can't be arsed to think right now."
Adam Craig, however, levels the thinking before we can get onto the beef and beer main course. "As your skill goes up, the risks go up hugely. Hence when you crash like Jerome Clementz did the other day, you end up with your pants torn off and your dick hanging out."
This is the Trans-Provence, hearty food and full-course banter.
One of the most extraordinary things about the Trans-Provence - besides the riding, the views, and the camaraderie is the food each day. Now, European cuisine divides North Americans. For some it is a vacation of culinary delights, for some it is a horror of unfamiliar peculiarities. The food at Trans-Provence has been without complaint. Delicious, nutritious, and spirit-fueling goodness without fail.
But the fact that we have any food put in front of us each day is remarkable. While we 72 riders/racers disappear into the French backcountry for a day of trials and tribulations astride our rapidly-deteriorating bicycles, a crew of just six kitchen staff clean up our breakfast mess, pack up, drive to the next campsite and begin preparations for the evening's dinner.
They split themselves into two teams of three, one team who wake up at 4:45am to start breakfast preparations, then the second team wakes up around 8am and joins in for clean-up duties. Then both teams do the move, set-up, and dinner preparation and serving, but team one knocks off and leaves the later risers to clean up at night.
These guys are heroes. They are exhausted, but always high spirited and truly go to all lengths to prepare the very best meal they can. Two nights ago we had shrimp couscous with a lot of mussels heaped on top. Tonight we had beer and beef stew. It isn't just bulk cooking, the food we have enjoyed is good enough to serve up to your mother-in-law.
And the riders need it. Today we hit and passed the halfway point. Today was supposed to be the shortest day (only 30 kilometers), but it included very physical stages including one Special Stage that contained a 110-meter climb (that's about six or seven minutes in above-average speak or four to five if you are Geoff Kabush). By the end of the day, most riders felt a little more fatigued than they had on any other day so far.
We were dropped at the top of a very cold and wind-blown valley and freely made our way down to the first stage - yes, down instead of crawled up to the stage. From there it was a brand new stage that surprised everyone with shin-deep mulch (often referred to as loam in some places, but this was way deeper. Not brown pow but rather blower- brown powder. A vital piece of tape was lost due to an earlier crash which sent a lot of riders into a bit of a magic wonder walk and then the trail hid nasty surprises under the deep organic veil.
Stage two started with some sphincter-tightening turns that overhung a 300 meter cliff and a lot of riders said they were so intimidated by the upcoming climb that they made plenty of mistakes on some awkward little singletrack. The climb, no matter how much you mentally prepare for it, was way worse…except for Geoff Kabush who said that it wasn't as bad as he expected. Then the last third of that trail was a mess. With legs shaking like a new born giraffe's and arms as strong as a Hubba-Bubba bubble, the remaining singletrack felt like hack central; for me at least. Lovely switchbacks turned into squares, pedaling turned into sit down affairs, and brakeless swooping turns turned into jacked upright, inside pedal down stop-starts. Stage Three was the infamous Grey Earth stage, which is a BMX-style ride down a wide open, vaguely-marked ridgeline. This is perhaps the most unique stage and would be at opposite ends of the riding spectrum from stage one of the day.
In just two and half hours we had played on such different trails, saw so much landscape, and challenged ourselves in so many different ways. Provence is being the best host imaginable, even if it is raining as I type this.
In the day's racing, Jerome Clementz is getting into his stride and put an amazing one minute and seven seconds into Nico Lau, putting him back in the lead. Geoff Kabush had a smiley day with a big effort on the climb stage (for the record Jerome Clementz still won on this stage). Nico V won Stage Four today, which keeps him still circling and ready for a push as we get closer and closer to his home territory. Joe Barnes had some good runs and keeps his overall position, even if he didn't claw back any of the gap today.
Tomorrow looks like rain. Hurrah!