Sunday, September 28, 2014

You know when something's really trendy? Sometimes it's because it's actually good.

So, Trans-Provence eh? More on that later.

Before I got over to La Belle France, I caught up with friends and family, ending the week in Sheffield.  Sheffiled Ski Village was a place I enjoyed during my 10 years in Sheffield, and I even ended up working there for a year, which was a nice antidote to thesis-writing. Sadly, it seems the place has become a wasteland, despite efforts to save it. Duncan and I went up to Parkwood Springs to ride the new mountain bike trail, and whilst the trail was really fun, I couldn't help but be slightly distressed by the sorry state of the Ski Village. I hope the group attempting to re-build it are successful. Other Sheffield fun included a damp night-ride culminating in the New Barrack Tavern and then a beer-influenced ride back home through Morrisons, a curry, and a day riding in Wharncliffe and Grenoside Woods. Thank you to all who came out and made me feel welcome in a place I have not seen in far too long.

After all that fun, it was time to head south again and get on a 'plane to Nice. Like BA (Baracus, not Airways) I don't enjoy flying. Well, it's more complicated than that... I do rather like the actual flying-in-the-air part. What I don't like is the massive preamble and post-flight fiasco that always seems to be involved, coupled with the guilt of destroying our only home with my high altitude emissions (from the engines, not me personally). I should probably just ignore all of that, or get someone to drug my milk.

I digressed.

Trans-Provence. It's really hard to get in and is mostly populated by pro racers, nearly-pro racers, bike industry movers, shakers, and hangers-on... and a few lucky others who make the cut. I'm in the "industry hangers-on" category in case you were wondering. The results and all the official video updates are nicely here, which leave it only for me to provide a summary of my hazy recollections and a rather narcissistic video edit I made of all my appearances in the daily updates.

Day 1 - I got bored of waiting and volunteered myself as the sacrificial lamb to be the first rider on the first stage. The trail was a wet ditch full of rocks, which I failed to ride with any style at all... but you have to start somewhere. The second stage was really quite fun, and I managed to catch and pass the rider ahead of me (who is called John and later ended up spending a lot of time riding with). Sadly my triumph was short-lived when I ENDUROed some rocks too fast and pinch-flatted my front tire. Fortunately my lack in racing prowess is accompanied by sub two-minute flat-changing skills, even with a hand-pump... so I didn't lose too much time fixing it. After the two remaining stages I rolled home in 51st place overall, which left room for improvement.

This Yurt is 100% ENDURO

Day 2 - This was the day with the massive hike up a mountain, which was quite fun. The ride down the other side wasn't quite as thrilling as I had hoped for, but the stages that followed were good and I finished in 39th place for the day... rather closer to where I was hoping to be in a field full of pro racers and the like.

Mountain refuge
Day 3 - This was my favorite day. It started off with a fast and sketchy ride down some wet grass and mud trails, where I got my first sub-30th position stage finish. The riding was made even better as the not-racing parts of the day were just as fun as the actual racing parts. I rode the "Grey Earth" section with Patrik and Olav, which was a great contrast to all the riding alone with just the tick of the clock in my head.

Day 4 - This was the "easy day" with a chairlift run in the middle and more flowing trails. I got my best overall finish in 32nd place for the day and another sub-30th (just) stage finish. The final stage had a monstrous descent of nearly 900m vertical, which Patrik demonstrated the effects of well at the finish line.

Day 5 - was a strange one. It was my birthday, which felt a bit weird. The riding was not the best of the week and featured an almost universally-hated stage that I managed to get 21st place in - my best result of the event. Apparently I have skills on wet, mossy rocks and crashing into creeks. I promptly reversed my good fortune by getting another flat in the final stage and finished 45th overall for the day. Ho hum.

Day 5 lunch stop - not a bad spot.
Day 6 - Having spent the previous evening patching up my inner tubes, and being given a new one by the excellent Jamie Nicoll, I was ready to tackle the final day. My usual gang of Simon, Patrik, Olav, Kevin and John assembled and we set off to tackle the last big climb of the week. The first stage of the day was my favorite trail of the whole event... another 800m-plus monster with forest singletrack, rocky puzzles, and steep, loose chutes to navigate. I did my best to stay on top of my bike to the finish, and despite the efforts of the final hair-raising stage to unseat me, made it to the end fairly-well intact. For the record, I finished 42nd overall (but what is the question?) and my hypothetical calculations show that my punctures only cost me a few places in the end. Given the strength of the field I am very happy to have crept close to the mid-pack. Even more so, I am happy to have ridden my bike somewhere new, met some excellent people, and visited places like this:

I extracted myself from the high-five fest at the finish line to go in search of a patisserie. French baking had been sadly missing from my diet all week, so I seized the opportunity to add my own special stage which consisted of tackling a croissant, a tarte au myrtille, and a crepe au citron. Now that is 100% ENDURO.