Well, I’m not sure how best to do the traditional wrap up posts from EuroEnduro AND Trans Provence, so its going to be a whole mini series of events to best summarise the biggest trip ever (and yes, there’s nothing going on in the cHub).
Please take into account I’m suffering from PTSD, Post Trans-provence Sadness Disorder, an actual condition which renders its victims unable to perform basic functions and confined to posting Instgram pic after pic about the week that was… Apparently it can only be really cured by an immediate return to the Mon Tons…
As I may have mentioned before, somehow you keep going day after day on Trans Provence because you HAVE to. There isn’t any option other than rad rolling on…. Besides, once you get on this express, its so awesome the thought of getting off is utterly horrifying. But when you stop at the end, oh holy fuck do you STOP. Yes, its a full shut down.
As soon as my body worked out that it didn’t have to suit up and head out to be assaulted by French epicness it collapsed in on itself, to the point that I didn’t want to/couldn’t get out of my tent. For someone who wasn’t pumped on camping, 8 days after I gingerly got into #55, I didn’t want to crawl out. Doing so would mean that it was really finally coming to and end…
The next morning in Camp Menton was littered with broken people, hung over mofo’s, people packing, high five’s being dished, details being swapped and of course, a couple of winners trophies kicking about here and there…
I’ll be honest, in that mint weather and cruising around camp with my now utterly thrashed chassis confirming that I didn’t need to ride for a while, I absolutely wasn’t ready to pack up and leave. Aside from the fact you’re saying goodbye to a whole platoon of GC’s, its the fact that the ENDURO Herd is migrating on and leaving you behind that I think is the tough part.
Yes, whether it be the PRO’s, the Media Mafia or just some of the other amateurs who have their priorities straight, most of the crowd were heading on to the next stop of radness on the global tour. It was either off to the World Cup in Switzerland, the next EWS round in France, Crankworx in Les Deux Alps or even that golden looking ENDURO race in La Thuile, an all time DN favourite.
Inject me with an intense dose of FOMO now why don’t cha, yes, I was forgetting I had just had three weeks of insane radness and like a politician with penchant for hookers and no qualms about how the publicly funded expense account is used, I just wanted MORE.
But before I could bludge a lift to Crankworx, the call was ringing out to load up and head back to Camp Zero. More than a few “I thought you were going for a handshake” awkward hugs later and it was time to get on the road and take the beautiful, but slightly dreaded road trip back to Camp Zero. I can’t elaborate on the rumour I had to be zip tied and forcibly put in the Cool Bus to leave Menton camp. Still, could have been worse, its not every day you get to drive over the Tour de France route is it?
I guess if you’re going to be dragged away whimpering, because you’re too sore to kick and scream, back to camp zero, lunch with Nico Lau on the way back isn’t a bad way to go… After all, gives you a chance to try and keep the unrequited bromance rolling, my lack of success providing the motivation to make sure I learn French next time. Important to note, its actually the weirdest thing ever to end up back where it all began on Day Zero:
As I floated in the camp ground swimming pool where I had sifted about in 8 days prior, it was somewhat surreal to think that I was back where I started, yet now loaded up with the most amazing experience on board.
It was a bizarre experience to be back there, floating around, and if I hadn’t felt like I’d just been eaten and shit out by a blue whale, or covered in scars thanks to Day 6, it was almost like I had fallen asleep pool side and dreamed the whole thing up. I dreaded getting out of that pool, continually looking around trying to force myself to take in the scenery as much as I could, knowing the first step out of the sweet refreshing water signalled the real departure.
Dirty Tip – The day after the hardest race you’ve ever done, don’t drive from Menton to Embrun, then faff around before driving on to Zurich… Its about a 12 hour roadie, which if you are whack enough to do it in one day like I did, will see you starting to fall asleep right about the time you reach the outskirts of Zurich, where you can’t really exit the hi-way… Awesome. Then roll the dice on whether or not you stay pinning it at 150kph with the windows down to race passing out, or slow down and potentially lose that race…
To be honest, I found the TP posts incredibly hard to write… Was it the weight of expectation? The constant need to get everything in yet not make it boring as fuck? Or perhaps the ever present feeling of responsibility to try and convey its vastness without reusing the same old rad/awesome/epic/banger cliches? Well, trying to sum it all up is equally as challenging!
So here are some of the questions that no one has asked, but I suspect they would if stuck in a conversational cul du sac with me and wanted to be polite by talking about TP. Please bear in mind that after one go at it, I am clearly now a fucken expert, so this is essentially Gnar gospel.
The Tour or the Race?
This is an interesting conundrum, but ultimately I don’t think you can really compare the two and probably shouldn’t. Aside from being run over the same terrain, and you’re on your bike, there wasn’t as much similarity as I thought there may have been.
As you may have potentially picked up from some of the hints I’ve vaguely made, the race is an amazing experience that I think is extremely hard to match, but its obviously not going to be for everyone.
The tour on the other hand allows you the luxury of the same terrain, the same epic views, but with a little more comfort thrown in. Its main upside though is being able to do it with your crew, so its worth getting the whole gang together for the tour, which is obviously next to impossible for the race. The tour is rad, but sells out pretty fast each year, so organise the gang NOW and get prepped for the 2016 slots (pre-book that shit): http://trans-provence.com
Would I do it again?
Hmmmm… Fuck, this is a tough one! I keep going around in circles on this question. The initial answer is fuck YES. But then you do start to consider that it was so awesome once, perhaps its best to leave it enshrined in your memory as that golden week and move on to try other stuff? After all, the build up and aftermath are pretty epic and consume not only a lot of time, but part of your soul (not that I had a lot left to provide), so surely its best to frame it and focus on something else?
I thought that until I started to write these posts and sift through all the video footage (oh fuck yes, 2 Terabytes of Dirty footage to cum) and I started to get that fever again… That feeling of how could I NOT be part of it next year? Why would I not want to be back in those amazing Mon Ton’s with all those GC’s?
Ultimately I think that the burn of seeing everyone getting amongst it in 11 months time would fuel enough FOMO that I suspect I will be crafting another entry form in October…
Come on, was it really that hard?
Yes. Well, for me it was any way. Harder than I expected? I think so ultimately. In reality its the cumulative nature of the event that makes it hard, especially when you compare it to normal riding back at home HQ. If you hit the whatsapp group and said to the crew “Who’s up for an 11 hour shred session today with a couple of 3 hour carries thrown in?“, chances are you may get tumbleweeds. Even if you managed to get someone to agree to such a mission, could you get them to do it twice on a weekend? Or how about 6 days in a row?
You can also go through some serious ups and downs, mentally and emotionally. You may have an awesome day (days 3 and 5 spring to mind), but the next day you may be the gimp again, being force fed that French gnar like the filthy goose you are. The best way to look at it is that you’ll be tested holistically, across all fronts, day after day… So that’s quite a different proposition from what most of us are used to.
As context, I have been flogged out post race and it took me about 10 days to even want to ride a bike again, with some fairly decent fatigue still in the body when I finally did start riding again. Definitely try and do some multi days races before TP if you’re lucky enough to get an entry, and prepare WELL. Which of course brings me to…
How would you prepare?
This is pretty simple. I would find/create the hardest, steepest and loosest switchbacks in your country and then smash them day after day like you just married them. Do this until you get so good that people start calling you ‘Nico’, preferably in a chanting fashion.
Whilst I’m definitely not a coach, the main pieces of “thanks but I didn’t ask” advice I would give are:
- Big Days – 2 hour rides aren’t going to cut it obviously, so lock in some BIG days. I mean, get prepared to be out there ALL day… you don’t have to be smashing it the whole time, its about getting comfortable with the fact that the day may go on… and on… and fuck me, on again. Ride for 3 hours, have lunch and then smash in another 4 and you’ll start to get somewhere towards what a day on TP is like
- Action man – After seeing all the PRO’s on TP (Mofucks were ripped), this is very simple: GO TO THE GYM. Or make like Kevin Spacey and get the home work-out bench rocking, quit your job and get pumping. Either way, just make your upper body bigger than it is now. Again, you’re not looking to go beefcake, but you do want to be coiled steel for being able to actually hold on to the bike, something I struggled to do with my stick figure arms on Day 6
- Skill saw – You need to be fit obviously, with an average stage length of 9 super fast minutes, its not short race runs. However I would maintain that having the skills to pay all the French gnar bills is probably a little more important. Don’t turn up with Bandit fitness, but no kung fu to take on the radness, you’ll get rough love made to your face. Get some coaching, remove fundamental weaknesses in your riding style and perfect your shredding
- Be afraid – Find the scariest terrain you have available locally and ride it every week… On your ENDURO bike. Yes, that trail where you semi regularly pussy out on because you’re a bit tired, or a bit late, or a bit low on mojo – Well, you need to be able to hit it when you’re fucked, so get familiar
- Be a blind mouse – Yes, simple this one, try and ride as many new trails as you can manage, preferably racing if you can. Getting your skills honed in your backyard is key, but you need to be able to go fast with strange, one ride stand terrain… Its a dark art reading what comes next, so don’t get complacent in your own sandpit. I can highly recommend preparing in France obviously, takes care of the blind element and provides the necessary elevation…
TP vs. EWS round?
Taking my vast experience and samples of 1 & 1 respectively, I can confirm they’re massively different beasts. About the only comparison is that you’re both being timed on stages, and that both events are run by visionary legend dudes in the form of Ash and Chris respectively, but from that point onwards there is a massive divergence.
EWS has a more distinct feeling of pressure about it, its not a relaxing day per se… Transition times to beat, bigger fields, plus oddly a greater feeling of “this is a RACE cunt” about it. Not that you’re not racing on TP, but lets face it, when you’ve spent 4 hours getting to the first stage of the day, you can’t really be bothered with getting nervous or uptight.
Add to this, if you fuck up something on EWS, you can just go back to the car and head home. Sweet. Not so when you’re in the Martian valley of death and there is still 2.5 days to go. Both are awesome in their own right and will challenge you in different ways, so with that in mind, ultimately the answer is simple: Do both!
And now, some rapid fire Dirty tips
- Always top up with water – Don’t assume you have enough, as running out would be a cunt the likes you’ve probably never seen before, unless you’ve had dinner with Sepp Blatter
- Take something for your feet – Oh yeah, the feet take some epic beating, unless you’re in a tramping club, this may be the most work your feet have had to do since you finally cured yourself of that foot porn fetish. Make sure you have something to either stop them cracking or patch up when they fuck out with blisters, especially important for owners of the 510 ENDURO shoes it seemed
- Don’t get injured – Yes, avoid at ALL costs… To have to actually nurse an injury through any days would not only rob you of serious FUN, but fuck it would be a nightmare generally speaking. This requires one to stay upright of course, which you may not always get a say in
- Take a pillow – Feel free to ignore this, I’m a total cock when it comes to camping and I like my pillows more than Coco likes his/her Rapha cat bed. What i’m trying to say is do whatever you can to enhance the sleeping scenario, as that may be a mission in its own right once loaded up on 8 gels from an 11 hour day. Spot the crazy person at brekkie
- Spares – Chances are the one thing you don’t bring a spare of will fuck out on day 1… REVERB… but enhance your odds by the bare minimum I recommend: Rear Mech, spare chain, spare disc rotors, spare brake pads and a spare tire that can be used front or rear. The Mavic dudes had a lot of stuff, but try and take what may be unique for your bike, as Ali found out, 26 inch with 10 speed meant that the love was in short supply
- Transitions – Long… Longer… Longest. Just get used to them being 50 to 75% longer than you anticipate and you’ll be fine. Never, ever convince yourself its “just up this bit here“, it can lead to craziness. Instead, just chill and enjoy the insane vista’s and realise its all part of the <cliche alert> journey
- Gear beat down – Your stuff is going to take a pounding, bikes, shoes, pack… You name it, TP wants to munt it into early retirement. If you have anything suspect ahead of the week, replace it – Except shoes, unless you like blisters and crying
- Packing – Take EVERYTHING, but then somehow pack as light as possible. This is mainly due to the fact your arms/every fibre of your being will eventually not give any fucks about the fact you need to drag it all to your tent. Also quickly work out what you do and don’t need on a daily basis and pack that into a sub bag or compartment to stop you from looking like the crazy person rummaging like a Marmot with a yeast infection. Like me
- Riding or racing – At some stage your brain will get the message: “We’re not really racing here, we’re just kind of riding“. Don’t freak out as that not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, at times the terrain is so insane that there is essentially no difference between riding down something and racing it, so keep it smooth and always remember the week and Mon Tons are longer and bigger than you are… and remember the golden motto at all times: “Its better to lose 5 seconds than 30 minutes” when it comes to navigation on a stage!
- Timing chip is your baby – Don’t be the guy that climbed 45 minutes out of camp up a fire road and realised he hadn’t picked up his timing chip for that day – Yes, true story… Yes, he got some extra downhill in. Your timing chip literally IS your baby, so respect it.
The EPIC thank ewes
This should almost be a post in its own right really… SO many insanely cool people to thank and acknowledge on an event like Trans Provence.
First of all, Ash and Melissa need to be praised for having the balls (so to speak) to put on this event. I know that I have said that a number of times, but once you’ve been through it, you’ll get what I mean. I still marvel a little bit at how they manage to run an event quite like this, its a massive undertaking and not without its fair share of risks for everyone involved. There would be a million reasons why to NOT do this event, so thank you Ash and Melissa for ignoring all of them and just focusing on the one thing that matters: Delivering the greatest Mountain Biking experience and adventure around! Respect it.
And then on to the TP Mountain Staff, First to go and last to know, also last back to camp, this crew is out there along with the doc’s on course making sure the whole thing actually ends up being a race! What a legend bunch as well, all of them rad to hang out with and as you can imagine, a welcome site at the end of (on average) 9 minutes of flogging/scaring yourself through a stage:
Respect also to the course marking dudes that you never see… A team a day or so ahead of the race marking it out, a cool job yes, but no doubt pressure to nail it.
Camp staff, massage team and shuttle crew – So, there’s like 110 tents that need to be taken down and put up again each day… two main meals and lunches to prepare… 80 bikes to be uplifted sometimes twice a day… Timing chips to be checked and tagged out and back in each day… Maps to prepare and pass out each day… 80 riders to be tracked on GPS… A whole lot of broken bodies to be massaged each day… Riders to be loaded up and driven up to camp on single lane mountain roads 12 hours after the drivers started the day… Early starts and extremely late nights. For the camp staff, massage team and shuttle drivers they have their own epic week as we’re out marvelling at the sweet French Vista. Its cliche to call them unsung hero’s, but fuck, this race wouldn’t be happening without their awesome efforts. Nothing was ever a problem either, I’m not sure how they stay so positive, or how the food was so good all the time or how they managed to keep up the demand for toilet paper, but they nailed it. Thanks team.
Media mafia – This appeals to my vanity no end this part, the media dudes were always on point throughout the race, literally popping out of a baguette at the moment you would least expect to snap a crazy pic, shoot some video or yell out words of encouragement on a race that oddly has basically zero spectators for the whole week. Add to that, they can actually ride the trails faster than I could, so full respect to Sam, Sven, Duncan, Gary, the legend that is MATT and the video crew for the golden work put in throughout the week.
Mavic dudes – Aside from the fact they had the coolest dog with them all race, which could fetch anything assuming your arms could still throw at the end of the day, these guys kept untold number of us running throughout the week. I would hate to think of the DNF rate if they weren’t there. And yes, they did work late into the night when needed… If this doesn’t make you want to fuck your Enve’s off and buy Mavic’s, nothing will:
Whilst on the topic… Massive thanks to Santa Cruz, Mavic and all the sponsors who spend their money on this event. You deserve a huge high 5 as this is exactly where those marketing/promo budgets should be going, there isn’t a better use of the cash, so long may you continue to not only produce awesome kit, but support real world racing.
And finally, its the “oh god, he’s going to start wanking on about the people again…” moment, and fuck yes I am. Whilst my montage skills don’t really do this justice and I end up leaving a whole lot of rad cunts out here, this week really derives a huge chunk of its awesomeness from the people you get to roll with. I can’t remember a time when I got to meet so many great people and while my skills in that department are average, its impossible to come away from the week without forging some cool new friendships, or reminding you how cool the existing ones are. Thanks to everyone for making it all time:
Which brings us to the end… Sure, I am probably missing out a few hundred tips, wrap up items, ideas and things to mention, but I think the point of that is its impossible to convey an adventure like this by putting it on the internet. What you need to do is close down the phone/laptop/iPad/work PC and head out to start to prepare to take on this adventure yourself. There are a number of races like this of course, but I hope if anything I’ve been able to convey that this is the pinnacle, you won’t be left wanting for more I can promise you that.
As for what’s next? Well, in the current PTSD state there’s no easy answer, but something may be in the Dirty oven, so stay tuned and I shall see if the filthy dough will ride to glory or collapse into a hideous mess. Stay tuned for the TP Gear Rant (you know its cumming) and the EuroEnduro hook up post, which shall be a slightly random and semi ill informed run down of some cool (i.e. expensive) places to stay.