Trans-Provence round-up: days 3, 4 & 5

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Today’s the last one on the trail for the riders and racers at Trans-Provence. While we wait for them to get to the Med (tedious, we know – come on, hurry up), here’s the round-up of what went down on days three, four and five – complete with Sam Needham’s ‘holiday snaps’ (harrumph)…

Missed the round-up of days zero, one and two? It’s here!


Distance: 50.5km
D+: 1921m­
D-: 3209m


What a day! What. A. Day.

Even amongst very good days, Day 3 Mavic Trans­Provence 2015 stands out for a couple of reasons. First and foremost it was an incredibly long day ­ some competitors didn’t get back until 7pm. The other memorable reason (for the race organisers) were the almost embarrassingly gushing complements about the trails ridden today (even though we did have to tear their legs off first to get to them!)


Day 3 saw the Mavic Trans­Provence hit the stunning Val d’Entraunes. Or, as it’s otherwise known the TP Crew, the Valley of Endless Trails. Since the very first Mavic Trans­Provence the race has always passed through this valley. Whilst it can hardly be said that the alps lacks trails to ride, Val d’Entraunes seems not to just offer a seemingly endless seam of trails, it also seems to produce ones that magically suit the modern mountain bike. It’s as if paths worn by hundreds of year of use from valley to valley and up to the high pasture in summer for grazing were actually waiting for two wheels to be rode very fast down them.


In the early days of Enduro ­ back when it was a unique discipline to France­ those races also recognised the Val d’Entraunes as a ripe area ripe for bikers that don’t mind digging deep for the ups for the reward of something fast and just­ so technical on the way down.

Today was a day of two quite distinct halves. Actually it would probably be better to describe it as a really, really, really big bit followed by two manageable chunks. Total height gain for the riders today was 1921 metres and a lot of it was made up of one big chunk of around 1.5km of vertical gain. False summits aplenty and some ‘challenging’ navigation as the wind decided to remove some of our course marking to make things even more interesting.


A lot of competitors took over four hours to get from the bottom of Val d’Entraunes up to the start of special stage 10. It’s fair to say that some of the Mavic Trans­Provence crew were waiting a little nervously at the bottom of the stage for the rider to reappear into the valley. A big traverse without a pay day can make people a little tetchy. We call this trail Narrow Wide. The verdict? “The best trail ever!” (interspersed with expletives) was the general summary shouted out by hyper pinprick eyed racers. A huge downhill section split into three distinct sections. Starting with lush tall grass in a forest hiding a perfect ribbon of singletrack (a very distinct thing to this valley) where trusting that there was no hidden rocks in the grass meant warp speed traversing. We like to call this ‘faith-­based riding’. Then into a rock­fest before spewing into oak leaf and dust­filled natural berms. Riders with spit flecked mouths shouting at each other about just how good it really was, in range of expletives both colourful and sometimes distinct to nations.


But hold up. Let’s wind it back little.

Before all of this giddy jabbering these very same riders had been dropped at the stunning Col Du Champs and had already ridden trails the like of which most folk will rarely get to experience. Col Du Champs tracks seemed to get wiped from people’s memories due to Narrow Wide. Narrow Wide seems to be one of those trails that re-calibrates your expectations.


In case that wasn’t enough, following Narrow Wide was the classic Grey Earth that the valley is known for and is arguably the cover­star of the Trans­Provence. Grey Earth terrain looks like tiny, tiny marbles, grips like almost nothing else on the planet and is incredibly abrasive if you decide to crash ­ so don’t. This year we gave it a reboot with the inspired name of ‘New Grey’.


By the bottom of New Grey, people seemed to be at a loss as to which trail so far was The Best One. Whatever. Plenty more whooping and happy swearing (which made to post­race video interviews hard to do but hey­ho).

Racing eh? Some people can clearly really ramp it up when they want to. There’s still 3 more days and 12 more stages to go. Anything can happen. It usually does. For a lot of competitors they’re just happy to see ‘what’s next’. What else are they going to add to their ‘Best Trail Ever’ list.


Join us tomorrow for more new trails. There are rumours about a ‘Red Earth and Mars’… Either way there’s going to be more whooping, more trails, more racing from some of the best all­round riders in the world and a whole a lot of folk who are just ­ like the rest of us ­ riding as fast they can against the clock. In between, of course, traversing one of the most beautiful parts of the world.



Distance: 33.2km
D+: 867m
D-: 2902m

First let’s update you on the Shuttle Rally™ (always trademark your inventions). It has become as much a war of attrition on drivers and vehicles as the actual race itself.


There’s been a lot of hot engine smells today and some of the tightest, steepest mountain passes that we’ve ever driven in the event. You only normally hear “the race organiser is mental” either at the end of 10 hike-a-bike false summits that you’ve traversed to get to a Special Stage, not at the top of col access road as drivers stretch out their tense shoulders.


The drive up to Col de la Sinne is definitely a new ‘next level’ drive. Especially if you have a trailer on the back! The guys that drive for Coolbus really are the van uplift equivalent of the SAS (well, the Foreign Legion seeing as we’re in France). In a van with a trailer loaded with about £50,000 worth of bikes, no roads are deemed ‘un-passable’.


Back to the actual bike riding then.

The screw has definitely been let off today in terms of distance and climbing. A mere 867 metres of climbing and a tiny 33km of riding but the riders still get 2,902 metres of descending. (This is all just to soften them up for tomorrow’s monster day – but more on that later…)


The first three stages today were completely new to the Mavic Trans-Provence 2015 this year. They started high up at the resort town of Valberg (thanks for having us Valberg!) and the route took riders through some of the most remote and wild parts of the southern Alps.


Red Earth is the next big thing in trails, okay? Variously called “plates”, “flakes” and “gravel” by riders just to make this writer’s task harder, it definitely makes for unexpected, hard to see, hard to judge drop-offs. Red Earth is crazy looking, other-worldly terrain. Wild, isolated country with valleys dropping the riders down onto a road running through the incredible ‘gorges superieures du cians’.


After the aforementioned next level shuttle to the Col De La Sinne, racers rode the Abeliera which is a permutation of last year’s final Special Stage 16. Long, hard, sustained tech with confusing sections to on-sight. The corners always seem to fall the wrong way as you crest over and into them. How did the riders find it? Check the videos for more over-excited whooping, post-ride beers and some very fine riding.


Tomorrow is a whopper! More climbs and more descent than other day of the week. Finally riders get to see the sea for the first time this year. À bientôt.



Distance: 62.9km
D+: 1381m
D-: 4031m

Sam_Needham_TP15_Day5_02 Sam_Needham_TP15_Day5_00Right then. This report is going to be short-ish. The day has been LONG. The more we type into the night the less it will make sense. What can we tell you?

Sam_Needham_TP15_Day5_01 Sam_Needham_TP15_Day5_06

Well, as bang-for-buck goes Day 5 was like winning the pools, bingo and the lottery. For a “mere” 1,381 metres of climbing you get to shred down 4,031 metres of descent, taking in 62.94 km of trails. With two shuttles thrown in for good measure. Today brought riders tantalisingly close to the coast. Tonight is spent in Sospel – home of Mavic Trans-Provence – and we are but a short hop over to sun and sand and the end of our six days of adventure.

Sam_Needham_TP15_Day5_11 Sam_Needham_TP15_Day5_08

This year seems to have been particularly hard on the bikes and kit. Tyres worn out in a couple of days, rubber soles of shoes delaminating away from their cleats in an act of rebellion against the amount of hiking, brake blocks, wheels, spokes, rims (showing no favour to whether they’re £3,000 carbon wonder wheels or a pair of basic OEM wheels that came complete with bike).

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There’s lot of people wearing not un-serious pieces of bandage. Tape on various appendages. There’s a certain kind of refugee chic starting to appear. Dusty, shell-shocked people with helmets balanced at a jaunty angle. Typically descending upon eating and drinking establishments en route to eat and drink them dry (literally).

Sam_Needham_TP15_Day5_10 Sam_Needham_TP15_Day5_07 Tomorrow sees the finale of a long week in the mountains. We’re going to get some sand in our bearings (yeah, kill that bike some more, what the heck!), we’ll get some salt in our chamois and we’ll have a few drinks to celebrate and commiserate.

Just a few, mind. We’re athletes.

Sam_Needham_TP15_Day5_13 Sam_Needham_TP15_Day5_12 Keep up with all the Trans-Provence coverage here.

Jenn Hill was the deputy editor here at Singletrack up until her untimely death from Lung Cancer in October 2015. She was and remains an inspiration to us all here at Singletrack. Jenn Hill - 1977-2015

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