Right now, as I sit with my own expectations laden on my shoulders like my overloaded EVOC pack with a baguette sticking out of it, there is only one thing more daunting than the endless supply of French switchbacks that I had to contend with on Trans Provence 2019.
As I piece together data points, photos, notes, memories, video footage, messages and general sledging abuse from various quarters, the tingle of dread I feel in my literary sac is the pressure of being able to do such a week justice through the next 6 posts.
But it’s not just justice that I’m worried about this time around. No, given we’ve been here before, how do I make sure it’s not just a photocopy re-run of last time? Fuck, I’m going to need new puns… Fuck, I’m going to need to make sure each day doesn’t sound harder than the previous… Fuck, I’m going to have to find new ways of massaging the word ‘cunt’ into sentences which initially appear completely benign… Fuck, I can’t use any of the old jokes from 2015… Fuck, 98% of what Seb and Smaildog said to me is pretty much redacted… Fuck, will any of my current affairs puns get traction?! Fuck, how many different ways can I describe French hell gnar?
Yes, I paid to ride my sublime bike through the Maritime Alps and all I got was blogging anxiety and a T Shirt with a Donkey on it:
However, the T Shirt in question gives us an excellent starting point to help with the theme of the first race report, but which also runs through the entire week of racing from Barcelonnette to that sweet dive into the Med in Menton. The premise on the back was simple enough:
“The clock stops, but the Donkey carries on”
The significance of the Donkey? I was too gnar fucked to ever pin Ash down and get a worthwhile explanation, but my lazy assumption was that it not only linked to Donkey Darko, a beast of a stage I only got to ride during the tour in 13, but also given that the trails we were riding on likely came into existence thanks to Donkey’s doing their thing and carrying shit around insane mountains.
Indeed, after a week in Aosta with The Creator (Full run down to come in due course) where we had talked extensively about how the donkey’s had formed rad high speed flow trails thanks to their lazy turning circle, I had expected more of the same when we hit France. I had even said to The Creator “Bro, this is such great prep for Trans Provence man“, so didn’t I look like a donkey butt plug when we eventually learned first hand on Day 1 that there’s a big difference between an Italy mule and a French Ass.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, after all, this is a 6 part gnar mini-series that needs to build up it’s characters before reaching that ultimately Enduro/Rally climax of diving into the Med and trying not to drown thanks to a potent cocktail of artisanal beer and exhaustion. These reports won’t be short, so I recommend some variant of creme-filled croissant to assist you with digesting my frothing rants.
I’m not sure if these posts will ultimately be race reports, an attempt at a TP wikipedia, a diary or even a love letter to Trans Provence itself, but ultimately if you participated in the 2019 edition, read this and get a little tingle in your rad-sac, or whisper out loud “Fuck, that’s right, how good was that?!“, then I shall consider them a success. Either way, they’re here for prosperities sake, assuming we don’t get hacked by the Russians again like a cheap American voting machine.
The splendid return to Zero
Regardless, first we need to start at Zero naturally… The frothing was bubbling on our lips as we rolled into Camp Zero for TP19 in the Merc rental pimp wagon and we could straight away discern the Mountain Crew had already been refining their party protocols. 4 years may have passed, but my home for the week was exactly the same. As was why I remembered it was a fucking stupid idea to bring my giant Fox bag again:
While the tents and rad camp vibes may have been the same as 4 years prior, one thing that was completely different was the machinery that I was zip tying the number plate to for the week. This was the first time a race plate was going on Megatron, but it wasn’t lost on me how much shit had changed from 2015:
Different wheel size, shorter fork offset, more travel, 51T first gear vs 42T, wider rims and armoured tires, longer dropper post, significantly better brakes, lower/longer/slacker Geo, wider bars & shorter stem… Plus wheels that actually matched. Possibly the only similarity was the sticker on the down tube and the sweet scent of VPP. Oh, and a good chance that scent was emanating from the 24 Megatowers present for Trans Provence… Yes, 24… No, not a typo or a Kiefer Sutherland drama… 27% of the field decided this was the right weapon for the job, clearly a group of people with impeccable taste and generally sound decision making processes.
As GC after GC filtered into Camp Z as the afternoon rolled on, a couple of things became exceedingly obvious. Firstly, I’d never been to an event where I knew so many excellent cunts (EC’s?), it was a constant stream of “Dude!” or “Bro!” to the point I was almost getting arm pump from the high 5’s and free flowing fistings. It was fucking excellent to see so many people and even though it had been 4 years in some cases, thanks to the narcissistic power of the Gram, it was like no time had passed at all.
Much like the bikes though, clearly a lot had changed for the 2015 reunion crew, and as stories were swapped about racing antics, child arrivals and intermittent debauchery, it occurred to me just how different things were from my own perspective in terms of massive life events since the last time we congregated in June: Broken neck, married, baby arrival, moved home to NZ, migrated into the M40 category, beat The Creator in a single 2w stage… It felt like the only thing that was the same this time around was my faded Evoc pack and my variable control over erections.
Secondly, it was clearly going to take a fucking long time to carry out simple tasks. I went to fill up a water bottle at one stage and it took about 2 hours as I disappeared down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of excellent shit talking with rad units as the camp started to pump. To be fair at least an hour of that was coating Gary Perkin in a fine film of froth as we stood around losing our shit over his yet to be released Hightower 2, which then had a custom Sam Needham hand painted/sharpied finish on it that needed to be seen to be believed. Fuck it was good to be back in camp.
Speaking of rabbits, The Creator wasted no time in getting his Yoga influencer vibe on, stretching a week of Aosta radness out of his Champione chassis while I fucked about asking everyone if I should have been running an insert in my rear wheel.
But it wasn’t all tire anxiety, bike wanking, Yoga and shit talking… There was a race to be had and the one thing that became apparent from my endless camp shit talking rendezvous was that this was going to be quite the odyssey, just as the Donkey was promising.
It was during the night zero briefing that Ash dropped what felt like a bombshell based on the reaction around the room when he announced that we had approximately 22.5 brand new trails for Trans Provence ahead of us, a piece of information which set off a frothing chain reaction whilst at the same time the realisation was sinking in that this would be indeed Blind As Fuck racing.
The French Gnar factory had been working 24/7 shifts in preparation for us, and I think we all knew that with Ash taking a year off to perfect this masterpiece we had some serious raw and wild action waiting for us out there in them Mon-Tons. 308km’s and effectively descending to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench twice wasn’t going to shred itself, so it was time to kneepad the fuck up and get to the beach.
Day 1 – Les Thuiles to Villars-Colmars: 51.48km’s, 1794m up, 3,313m janking down
I’ll try not to constantly refer back to 2015 as I craft these reports, but the head fuckery started early given the start of Day 1 in 19 was a carbon copy of the start of Day 2 in 15… So it was all completely new, but felt totally the same. It wasn’t going to stay that way for long, especially with some additional shuttle action thrown in as the week went on.
To be noted, there was no gentle introduction to the final TP ever, Day 1 wanted to get firmly out of the blocks and set the tone for the week to come. And that tone was BIG:
And, not unlike 4 years prior I found myself not only in Wave 2 again, but rolling out of camp in a herd of rad cunts which was essentially made up of every single person you’d ever want to go for a bike ride with. Add in that Maritime Alps bluebird day action and you knew it was going to be fucking good times on the menu, with or without Google translate.
As we rolled to the first shuttle pick up, it was also a good time to reflect on the fact that The Creator was attempting to be one of the few people in the history of Enduro/Rally to successfully attempt a TP with just a bum bag:
The main thing that was going to make camping bearable for the week ahead was my new next-door neighbour, Seb. Seb is what happens when a cunt graduates from the middle management layer of ‘GC’ and moves up into the Excellent ranks of cunthood, an EC if you’d like. I’d already added considerable stress to my OCD preparation time by talking more shit with him than a Piers Morgan interview, which is really what this week is all about.
Given he was ex-TP Mountain crew, it was somewhat unnatural for him to be at the top of the mountain in daylight, but he wasted no time in taking the piss to make the most of the occasion.
I was buzzing so much to be back rolling up the final part of the Allos, reminiscing about doing this 4 years prior that of course I stopped to take photos in exactly the same places as last time, nothing quite like duplicating your photo library.
I then of course started the process of annoying the fuck out of the hardest person to annoy on the planet (#thecreator), by spending most of the morning faffing about with detachable helmet face guards, back pack clips and that 20 minute search to find the perfect rock to scratch the fuck out of my XTR pedals on, all to get the essential Mega shot:
So here we fucking were… Approximately 300,000 minutes since I found out I had won a TP19 magic ticket entry, finally strapped up and ready to get that first tag in happening. The first of the last… Poignant.
Stage 1 – 6.67kms, 48m up, 650m down
If I thought my sense of déjà vu was bad, then spare a thought for my shuttle mate who had so much fever from previously racing the start of this stage, that he missed the key junction where Ash had sent it off in a totally different direction/valley and shredded on down the old trail for around 2 mins before detecting his error. As a rule of thumb, 2 mins down around here equates to a 20 minute hike out. Ouch bro, ouch.
You’d also be correct in thinking that at 6.7km’s, this was a fucking long stage to open the account of 24 race stages, and you’d be right. As the second longest stage off the week, it was akin to rolling up to the bar to meet your mates and promptly ordering a yard glass of Supercharger APA as the first round. But it wasn’t it’s length that was occupying my mind…
I totally knew it was going to be ‘hard’, I was expecting it… And even though I was expecting it and in theory prepared for it, I still got ‘Ashed’, in which I mean I was both fried to a crisp and had once again been out manoeuvred by the singletrack sorcerer of Sospel. Suddenly what had come easy the week before in Aosta now felt like I was being trampled by a herd of donkeys… Who were laughing… And urinating.
Holy fuck, I felt more awkward than being an unqualified dildo at the G20 conference, and anyone watching would have cringed about the same amount. I’m going to confess, there was some mid-stage portage happening, which felt like a galling prospect on stage 1 of the week, but then again:
The exposure totally rotted my brain like a child on processed sugar armed with an iPhone and I started to flail. I could feel not only the donkey shaking it’s head in disapproval, but also the ego killing death rattle of the person who started behind me catching me, the ultimate Enduro mind fuck.
There’s nothing quite like being overtaken by someone in what appeared to be a Hawaiian shirt to make you feel A) like a total racer dickhead and B) that perhaps you needed to chill the fuck out a bit. Chilling out a necessity for me given the exposure was still very much on the specials board:
Given it felt too early in the week for some casual involuntary anal discharge, I elected to stick it in safe mode and gingerly pick my way through the first test of the week. The stage actually wasn’t that bad the further we got through it, opening up into some mega-trucking sections where it really started to kick on:
Wake-up box well and firmly ticked/violated, I hadn’t considered my rustiness given it had been a few months since EWS Vegas, and that as per usual there’s a big difference between surfing behind The Creators stylish rear wheel and having to think for yourself on blind trail while the clock carries on.
- Stage winning time – 12.43 from Randy Osborne
- The Creator – 15.15 for 38th
- Dirty Nomad – 15.52 for 47th
- Fist-o-meter – I’m going to give it a solid 7/10, a bit of a classic mind fuck to start the TP week. It wasn’t the hardest thing we would ride all week, but the initial racing froth coupled with some awkward exposure, it’s length and a few dismounts meant it slapped you vigorously around the full face and reminded you that no one can hear you scream in the Maritime Alps, but Ash still wanted you to nonetheless.
As we started to make our way through the next liaison, here was the other mind fuck – I had been here before, I had ridden these exact trails in 15, yet we were making our way to completely new stages that none of us had ever seen before. I therefore spent the day annoying the fuck out of The Creator with my “Dude, I’ve totally been here before” commentary.
While I bemoaned being Hawaiian Shirted, The Creator jumped into my self loathing pool, albeit at the shallow end, to reflect on an overly conservative start by his standards. He firmly committed to show the rest of the days stages less respect as a result.
Clearly it was time for some early mind games and even the usually placid rabbit features were mildly perturbed at the realisation that we were at the start of a week where I was going to be taking photos at the most inopportune moments:
Stage 2 – 3.07kms, 5m up and 380m down
It was time to get the vibe back where it needed to be… Less racing, more inhaling the Alps goodness and chilling. Goodbye chin guard, let’s smell the flowers and flow on it.
Stage 2 initially presented itself as the perfect antidote to a muddled start to the day, with some super straight then flowing classic TP singletrack. More pedalling than perhaps most had predicted heading into the stage, but quite a different affair. I was relishing this wooded delight.
However, this was just to both lull us into a false sense of security, plus also remind us of one key theme: Nothing is ever that simple. Suddenly those fast & fun straightaways revealed their true intentions, which was to suck you in before the most violent of left handers magically appeared. Left handers is fake news to be fair, these were some of the flattest and tightest hairpins in all of France… Somewhere a Donkey was laughing while saying in heavily french accented English: “Suck it muthafuckas”
I think in the end I got caught out by all of these ambush left hand turns (while exclaiming ‘Holy Shit’ in the process), which actually served as a good warm up for butchering the lower jank. The more time we spent on this trail, the tighter and more perplexing it became as it’s bipolar nature was fully revealed. Lucky then it was half the distance of the opener and before I knew it The Creator and I were fist pumping, frowning and saying ‘Jank’ quite a lot. At least we’d stepped our pace up a notch.
- Stage winning time – 5.50 for Randy Osborne
- The Creator – 6.49 for 36th=
- Dirty Nomad – 6.49 for 36th=
- Fist-o-meter – A 3/10 on reflection, the top half was basically fluffing us up before the bottom section milked us of more mojo by making us feel like muppets having seizures. To be honest, to tie a stage with The Creator is as rare as a well performed rusty trombone (Epic kudos if you google that on the work PC), so I’ll fucking bank that outcome.
Haha fuck… if Ash had overheard our bemoaning what we thought was jank prior to stage 3, he would have likely pissed himself with the kind of glee he usually reserves for discovering trails where he knows lemmings will get pumped… Snap, what a fucking excellent segway to Stage 3.
Stage 3 – 2.66kms, 5m up and 474m down
Before I gush forth with borderline analogies to describe SP3, here’s a data point worth considering: It had more vertical drop than stage 2 (by almost 100m) and was shorter in length, but it took everyone longer…. Hmmmmm.
Huh? Welcome to the land of ‘Nothing is as it seems’, another edition of never trusting a Donkey or it’s stage descriptions. Some stages I forget when trying to reverse engineer my notes, but not this one. Into a marathon XC style start which was flatter than anticipated, we soon learned why this was going to take longer and also what idiots to think we had already experienced some jank so far today. Turned out we hadn’t.
This was the first real chess game of the week as it turned out, a relentless and challenging little trail that never really gave you a rest and kept constantly asking to rip either one or both of your pedals out of your cranks. Due to the flattish start, I was able to get within radar lock distance of The Creator and we both got stuck into our work with some proper froth, which naturally gave way to some sketchy moments on this relentless test.
In essence it was the MTB equivalent of masterbating while trying to iron a shirt, pleasurable, but required significant concentration and you felt that you were always half a second away from disaster.
On the general theme of donkeys, it became apparent on Stage 3 that while Italian mule’s liked their casual sweeping lazy turning circle, their French brethren clearly preferred Parkour when stamping out their ancient trails, either that or they were on some early form of Donkey meth, as this shit was wild. The Creator seen here getting ready to throw some shapes as he prepares to turn left while facing right:
With some long grass sniper rock sections thrown in at the end while you were blown to absolute pieces, this was a seriously little minx of a stage, it made you work for it constantly like you’d begged for additional punishment. I’d ridden my luck as hard as I possibly could and was happy to get to the tag out with wheels and collarbones intact, but what a stage! Another intriguing stage result to go with this arm wrestle of a test.
- Stage winning time – 6.16 for Randy Osborne
- The Creator – 7.59 for 44th=
- Dirty Nomad – 7.59 for 44th=
- Fist-o-meter – Bang, another tied stage with JC Superstar, with both of us right smack bang mid-pack on the entire field of 88 for this 7/10 on the FOM scale. That score entirely due to it’s techy relentlessness the whole way down. You think I could have eeked a single fucking second out of it for a famous victory over The Creator, but alas as the Keyser Söze of Enduro, he wriggles out to keep his empire intact.
The main challenge now was that it was legit roasting, a solid 30 degs as we made our way up to the final test of the opening day. The suffer was well and truly on and I even had to pass a cramping Steve Peat some salt pills at one point, likely violating the Pons Group restraining order, but these were times of extreme duress clearly.
While the elapsed time was around the 6 hour mark since the drop off at Col d’Allos, it had been even longer since we actually rolled from camp. It was essential therefore to keep those muthafuckas chilled out, by any means necessary… If you’re keeping score at home, behold the only photo I got all week where The Creator has his helmet off… It did feel slightly early in the chess tournament for heads to be in hands however:
A solid 600m haul up to Stage 4, where the time passed easier than one might think given it was late in the day now, all thanks to the GC Crew that we had rolling. While I don’t have to worry about giving advice for next years event, if you are doing any multi day races in the future let it be noted that the general suffering you may experience on liaisons trends directly in line with the radness of the cunts you have around you.
Here we can see one of the raddest, and 2015 Alumni, Ryan rolling his way through some more French magnificence:
And from the other side of the hill looking back? That would be a hard pass on losing it off the side then…
Stage 4 – 3.50km’s, 5m up and 606m down
Even if you were a bit of a dumb cunt, you’d still probably look at the elevation drop and distance, compare it to stage 1 and then rightly summarise that the final SP of the day was going to be one bad muthafucka… Forget pliers and a blow torch, this thing turned up with a flamethrower wearing a black singlet. About the same elevation drop in half the distance? Fucken light it up!
Just to jam a cherry in your frothing, gaping mouth, it was also aptly named ‘Megatanker’, which for the 24 of us proudly atop of Megatowers created an instant endurogasim at the sheer excellence of the alignment between trail, bike and how marketing promised we would be able to live our lives post purchase. Not to mention the prospect of megatanking the Megatower down a trail with such feral data points.
I don’t want to say it redeemed day 1, but as is a theme of TP, the first three stages had torn down our riding ego’s, force feeding us jank like a couple of prime French geese before delivering us into the glory of stage 4 to rebuild our faith in our shredability. Yes, by glory I mean it had lots of straight bits in it… As an M40 rider with highly questionable cornering technique, this was pounding my honey hole:
How good was Stage 4? Aside from the sweet relief of feeling like you could ride your bike with some command and poise for possibly the first time all day, Chris Ball, the Oligarch of Enduro, even went as far as exclaiming in the video below that this was one of the best trails he’s ever ridden, which given he’s just chalked up unleashing the 50th EWS round says it all really.
It’s unclear how many faces he fuced* during stage 4 (records indicate he was 24th, so sharp), but I will fully admit to the odd bout of safety braking down this mentally fast muthafucka:
*This is how we roll on the intercunt in 2019, misspelling abuse is critical when you scream into the echo-chamber on things you know nothing about. Yes, 69% chance this is an inside joke.
FUUUUUCK, what a way to finish the day! I was so pumped I awkwardly hugged people, unleashed more fisting than a Kapiti Coast tupperware party and even did that awkward thing where you respond to a fist pump with a high five (AKA – the Paper wrap), but gave zero fucks at it’s weirdness.
I even spat on myself while trying to convey to Ash my appreciation and endorsement at the end of the day. Riding your bike at warp speed down crazy blind French trail, almost enough to make you want to use that fucking cat emoji with the love eyes.
- Stage winning time – 5.45 for Romain Paulhan
- The Creator – 6.55 for 30th
- Dirty Nomad – 7.08 for 44th
- Fist-o-meter – A pretty rad and straightforward stage, so probably only a 3/10 fisting wise… But fuck, only 13 seconds off The Creator and punished by 14 spots! Goes solidly to the point there were no fucking slouches hanging around this final edition of TP
So call it a 10 hour day for the camp-2-camp completion to kick off proceedings, give or take 15 minutes, but a day with significant more girth than I think a lot of us expected. It must have been eye watering, as The Creator didn’t even bother trying to ask for a “Le Kombucha” and instead just piled straight into the Coke like a fucking Euro legend:
Final Day 1 results:
- Day winning time – 30.39 for Randy
- The Creator – 36.58 for 36th
- Dirty Nomad – 37.48 for 45th
- Fist-o-meter – I think at the time I would have given the day a higher rating after around 10 hours on course, but on reflection it wasn’t really that bad in terms of the liaison action, aside from the roasting we got in the afternoon as the temp crept into the early 30’s. It probably took a greater toll than I thought, but a 4/10 in terms of fistability. Snuck into my usual spot as totally midfield results wise, while The Creator signalled his intentions that he was going to raid the early 30’s bracket all week
- Favourite moment – Definitely the formation flying that The Creator and I did on stage 3 when I was able to close in on him a bit. Not wanting to invite a donkey hoof to the face for this cliche, but it’s possible that we… er… Fed off each other? Original. Every single time I put my head in a cold river also ranked as a favourite moment of course.
Time to see how it looked with a solid cameo from #epicryan for the Day 1 TP official video:
Post ride burgers, dry camp, awesome river, hot showers and hanging out with a huge Santa Cruz contingent, what a time to be alive and wearing the correct T Shirt when a legend drops by your tent to see what settings you’re running.
Stay tuned for Day 2 and the great portage ambush…