The Trans Provence is always the highlight of my season. It is a week filled with amazing, unknown, wild & crazy trails, where we trek up and over many big, vast mountain ranges, starting near Sisteron, making our way all the way to the beach in Menton. I love this point to point style adventure, where you are actually moving, pedaling & pushing yourself across mountain ranges and valley's and that sense of satisfaction that you feel when you get your first glimpse of the sea shimmering in the distance. It's pretty exciting stuff & that is what keeps me coming back every year for more adventures. Last year we had some bad luck with Sven getting heli vacced off on the last day and then Jon Cancellier getting carried out 200 meters from the finish line with torn ankle ligaments - not ideal. Mix in there some crazy rain, thunder, flash floods & hail storms on exposed mountain tops with not a tree in sight, then you start understanding how a small group of riders started calling ourselves Team Dark Cloud. Not satisfied with unfinished business, Team Dark Cloud had to come back this year to make sure that everyone finishes up, get's to plonk into the med, look at Smail's speedo du jour & to give a puff on the old cigar.
Base camp Day 0: Clamensane
So here we are, Trans Provence 2013 Day 1: Clamensane - Digne
The day started off sunny & cheery, only to turn to shit as soon as we got to the top of the mountain of stage 1. This was dejavu - exactly like last year and how we came up with Team Dark Cloud to begin with. We had to laugh & just get on with it - was this to set the precedent of the week to follow? I set of on my first special stage on day 1 in a hail storm - this was going to be a long, tough week, and Team Dark Cloud already lived up to it's name. This day was the biggest day yet - we fought, slogged & dragged our bikes through clay & mud the entire day. I was knackered.
Day 2: Digne - Colmars
The sun was shining as we set off under blue skies on day 2. We had a big old hike a bike to tackle first thing in the morning - just what we needed to loosen up our sore, aching bodies & awaken blisters from the day before. It was going to be a good day as the sunny skies lifted everyone's spirits and filled it with banter, laughter and lots of war stories.
Day 3: Col de Champs - Guillaumes
This is a morning of big views & big mountains, as we get dropped off on top of the Col De Champs - it is a sight that will take your breath away and the gateway to the Maritime Alps - a sign that we're heading in the right direction. The first special stage of the morning was a write off for myself and many others too - starting off with getting lost, falling into a hole & then slipping & getting stuck in my bike on the wooden bridge right at the finish while the clock ticks away. To end it off I gave the bridge a good punch with my knuckles as I slammed into it - ouch. All of this before a proper coffee.
Day 4: Guillaumes - St Sauveur sur Tinee
Once day 3 rolls around, your body has sort of got used to the shock of everything and you actually start to feel good and get into the swing of things. We had surprise today, we got to ride a chair lift for two of the stages in the Roubion bike park. It was fun to change it up, but these were my worst two stages of the day - way too groomed and perfect I reckon, I didn't know how to ride normal stuff! It was a good way to mix it up with all the other riders and hang out a bit. At this stage, we had no idea what Ash had in mind for us for the last stage of the day. I have no words to describe this last stage. It was wild, very sparsely marked, super exposed, almost 30minutes long and at the end of the day when you're mentally & physically already a write off. Most of us got lost somewhere along the way, crashed a few times, almost died a few times, but we all lived to share the stories at a local pub on the side of the road. It was awesome. Thanks Ash for keeping it real.
Day 5: Valdeblore - Sospel
So day 4 was supposed to be our easy day, to rest up for the biggest day of the week, but it sure didn't feel easy to any of us and day 5 was looming ahead of us. It was a long slog heading out in the moon glow from the camp site and silently pedaling on through the morning fog. The fog never lifted and just got thicker as we made our way up into the mountains, creating quite a sullen atmosphere, as you didn't hear much laughter or chatter this morning. It took us about 3 hours before we reached the start of the first special stage that morning and we still had a long way to go. My goal was to hold back and get through these next 2 days without doing anything silly - I was in the lead and I wanted to keep it that way. All I had to do, was not crash, flat or have a mechanical - easy huh? Holding back is not easy when you're loving the tracks and you just want to pinn it, but this is what had to be done. After the first 2 special stages, we had a bitch of a road climb to get to the 3rd stage - 20km on the road with super tacky tires & 6" trail bikes are not that enjoyable. We got on with it, as that's what you do in this race, but we all cheered up when we were welcomed by local hero Nico Vouilloz at the start of the 3rd stage. How sick is that. I think we all tried to pinn it even harder after seeing Nico, but unfortunately Olly our South African friend was a bit too inspired and pinned it into some rocks, smashing his face and dislocating his shoulder pretty badly. Our day was about to get a whole lot longer & Olly just inducted himself into the Team Dark Cloud crew. He got heli vacced out of there, but Team Dark Cloud had another stage to finish up for the day. Not the nicest thing to have to do after seeing your friend off in a heli, but we grabbed a headlamp from one of the shuttle vehicles, turned up the volume to some Irie reggae tunes, mellowed out and smashed out the final run of the day - which happened to be my fastest run of the day after we all decided to go steady - oops. Having too much fun.
Day 6: Sospel - Menton - The final countdown!
Yes, the last day has arrived and we're all jonesing to get our tired assess into the Med, but we have to get there first. It was an amazing day exploring a whole new Sospel valley, even making a quick jaunt into Italy for a quick cappuccino after one special stage. The stages were very physical today, with uphill running, boulder clambering, challenging navigation and some long ass sprints, or maybe we're all just tired from the whole week, but it was no rest day today, we had to work hard to dive into that sea in Menton. On my last stage, I kept messing up, doubting myself that I was lost and that I was throwing the whole week away - even turning back at one point to double check a sign - amazing how my mind was playing tricks on me. Anyhow, I got down, I made it, I kept my lead and I took the win. I was very, very happy, as this event is a very special event to me. This is what riding mountain bikes is all about. It is the adventure, the camaraderie and all the experiences that makes this event so special. It is wild, raw, dangerous & everything that I love about racing little bikes as fast as you can down crazy technical blind tracks. Ash, thank you - you nailed it man. This is and will always be what everyone keeps harping on about these days - "the spirit of enduro", or as I prefer to refer to it, riding our bikes in sick places.
Cheers to Team Dark Cloud and every single person that completed the week - you guys & girls are awesome (especially the girls, as this is not an easy week). Heal up to all the injured riders too.
Our crew grew stronger this year, we were planning on being a bit more cautious this year, to make sure we all got to the damn beach, but when you clock into that balise, it is not in any of our gene's to hold back. We all freaking pinned it and we all lived to tell the tales. We took care of Ollie, we encouraged Todd, we rode for Michael Bonney. This week was way more than a bloody bike race, it was filled with many emotions, reasons, passions, decisions and friendships and that is what makes this week a standout week. Times are forgotten (well maybe not the 1sec that separated Nico & Jerome after a week of racing!), but these memories we create on our bikes will be shared & remembered for many more years to come.
One more TDC shout out - we didn't do too shabby either taking the win in a few classes & the fastest TDC awards goes to Jerome Clementz, who had to go and loose by 1 sec, but killed all of us!
Anka Martin 1st Pro Women's (32nd overall)
Sven Martin 1st Masters (also 2nd Am & 15th overall)
Chris Ball 1st Amateur (9th overall)
Cheers Team Dark Cloud - until we meet again in February to explore Chile!