Words: Andreas Hestler
Photos: Irmo Keizer

Day 3—Digne-les-Bains to Villars-Colmars—48.5 kilometers

1428 meters UP
1339 meters DOWN

 Holy smokes! These guys are fast and these hills are big! It's a bit wild to be sitting around talking DH strategy with a bunch of world champions and enduro super-dudes. While I have a strong passion for vertically inclined slopes and gnarly roots, I am seeing that I chose wisely when I headed into XC, these guys are just a little crazy and more than a little calculating.
What was most evident in today's post event discussion, besides the obvious- Wow, this area is beautiful and amazing was the recognized style difference between the riders; Weir and Nico have been doing split timing on each other and recognize the corner vrs high speed difference, Fabien and Matt Ryan are discussing the meters up per SP section and Jerome Clementz smiles in the corner as we all believe he is likely to smash everyone everywhere and come out on top. The rest of us quaff beers and share war stories, talk about Mark Beaumont’s birthday hangover on Day Two and generally love the entire tourism aspect of this adventure.

Today began with the usual shuttle up through some amazing geography—I am pretty sure I'm not in Kansas anymore. We pedaled, we hiked and we peaked out at a very high point on a very big ridge, which meant SP1 (Ed. Note: SP stands for special stage, a mid-stage timed portion) was a wicked-long singletrack descent. Again, so sustained that the arms are reaching 'pump', the calves and legs are on the verge of 'cramp', but somehow it all stays together and me and my trusty Rocky Slayer reach the bottom.

 Tires for most people here are, Lust, double-ply or Tubeless 2.35 (beefed up side walls). Last night I changed my rear tire from a single-ply Minion Front 2.35 to an EXO Minion 2.5. The terrain here is generally rocky, fast, and line of sight is covered by bushes and tight corners, so flatting is a distinct possibility, but, so to is careening off the trail into a deep crevasse. This sort of exposure is talked about in each nightly briefing and the organizers are not exaggerating. If not for absolute fear and concentration, the view over the bars could be very, very troublesome—keep your eyes on the trail.
Our liaisons (Ed. Note: mid-stage portions that are aren’t timed) are amazing as we pass over gentle rolling hills, past vineyards and lonely old churches. This is the Europe I came to see and Trans-Provence is in fact exceeding my expectations.
SP2 is a mid-week hurdle with 120+ meters of climbing located in the very middle of the section, that roughly equates to a 6 minute threshold effort on a 30-pound bike, ouch! But this is where I make my time back, it's a raw scramble for every second and I am generally loosing ground. Let me once again reiterate the quality of the riders here—impressive!

Fatigue is definitely rearing it's ugly head and there are many tired bodies littered about the course today, mine included. It's just a general malaise, nothing specific, but the reactions are slow, the motivation to 'charge' is absent and the climbing prowess is non-existent, but if that is what I am feeling, my only hope is that it is much, much worse for my competitors.
We wind down the valley through a number of small villages, looking to the left and right we see tight alleys and brick buildings, some windows are closed with shutters that seem to have been around since the turn of the century. There are no stores, no gas stations and nowhere to stop but the town squares and their amazingly unique fountains, this is not North America or one of the more modern parts of Europe, we are deep in the old school and it is awesome.
Creaking up towards the final special stage of the day, we are all baked; from the sun, from the distance and from the elevation and this is only Day Three. I drop into the smooth singletrack trail that carves around the side of the valley, gingerly skirting some exposure, the line plummets into the forest, shimmies around a few trees and along a barbed wire fence—fun, but scary. Life is wonderful and suddenly there is a hill—did I see this on the profile? Oh damn! It looks short, but I dig deep to find the summit and hammer on. The blood pumps and the legs do what they are trained to do – 'Go Hard' and take me home to the end of the section. Two more climbs, one demands 20 feet of running, but I push on to the end and gasping for breath, swipe my card for the last SP of the day, whew!
It's 2 kilometers down the road to base camp and we’re finished the third leg of the Trans Provence, I think, but I'm not sure – this will be one hell of an adventure.

Day Three Results

1. Mark Weir 0:26:50
2. Ben Cruz 0:26:55
3. Jerome Clementz 0:27:05
4. Matt Ryan 0:27:40
5. Nicolas Vouilloz 0:27:47
6. Fabien Barel 0:28:08
7. Andreas Hestler 0:30:02
8. Rowan Sorrell 0:30:46
9. James Richard 0:30:58
10. Iain Matthews 0:31:01