Ben Price Tackles the Trans Savoie: Introduction

The Trans Savoie is looking to be one of the most demanding and tough enduro races on the market today. The total distance pedalled is 250km, 120km of which is timed with 21,000 metres of descents, over a 6 day period. In total there are 24 timed stages, each day riders will cover 35-50km and descend 4000-5000 metres.

One of the brave men to take on this challenging event is Ben Price, of TORQ Fitness. Here’s a little bit of background on the race and why Ben wants to partake in such a gruelling event.

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Trans Savoie – ‘The evolution of all mountain multi day Enduro’

In just over a week’s time, 70 lucky riders from 18 different nations will be taking to the start line of the Trans Savoie; an event in its inaugural year, billed to be ‘the evolution of all mountain multi day Enduro’. The stats for the race say it all; 6 days of point to point, totally blind, enduro racing over 20 timed special stages, taking in 21,000 metres of timed decent with 6000 metres of ascent, over 100% technical alpine single-track; numbers not matched by any other enduro event currently in existence. The organisers of the Trans Savoie have really aimed to push the bar higher…

Val D’Isere – Bourg St Maurice – Les Arcs – Meribel – Albertville – Areches/Beaufort – Chamonix

To put that into perspective, for a UK enduro racer per day, the Trans Savoie is close to the equivalent racing time and descent of nearly 2-3 consecutive rounds of a UK Gravity Enduro, and it takes place over 6 back to back days of racing. Using the same slopes that are normally piste, and covered in skiers over the winter, has allowed the organisers to make maximum use of the mechanical lift network on offer, so time on the bike is predominantly spent descending some of the best natural trails on offer in the region, rather than riding to the top of them.

Here’s a video from the first stage.

The race is the creation and long term vision of Ali Jameson, the 10 year director of Les Arcs based MTB Holiday company Trail Addiction. It calls upon the company’s extensive, expert guiding knowledge of the trails to create an event utilising only the very best riding on offer within it; a showcase of what each resort has to offer. The course gives racers a true variety of natural terrain; consisting of everything from open exposure high alpine meadows to low level forested singletrack, mixing tight and technical with fast and flowy, over a mixture of un-manicured dirt, rocks and roots.

Entry for the race opened over 6 months ago with the full allocation of spaces accounted for in a mere 3 seconds. As one of the few remaining truly blind enduro MTB events and with the epic course on offer, it’s not hard to see why. Attracting everyone from pro athletes, like 6 time winner of the Mega Avalanche, Rene Wildhaber, and UK Gravity Enduro champion, Neil Donoghue, to riders just there for the ride. I was one of those incredibly lucky people to gain entry, after being inspired by the coverage from the Trans Provence the previous year. Grabbing the opportunity to ride a race like this, in its inaugural year, was something I didn’t want to pass up, and I was massively relieved and excited when the email confirmation of my place in the race came through!

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For the past 5 years, I have solidly raced cross country. I have risen through the ranks from a very mediocre, frequently hung over and less than physically fit, weekend warrior MTBer in my university days, to part time racer in sport, to now elite racer and rider/manager of the TORQ Performance MTB Team. My shift in focus from XC to enduro racing came largely as a result of the 2012 Olympics; British Cycling fitted all the rounds of the British series into 5 short months so the series was out of the way by the games in August, with many regional organisers following suit.

This left few events to focus on towards the later part of the season and so, when the opportunity arose to join a friend on a trip to the Mega Avalanche, a race I had always aspired to do, the focus was regained. What resulted was possibly the most fun I had ever had on two wheels; the race itself went pretty well, qualifying 8th in my heat and finishing 83rd in the main race, it’s always a lot easier going into a race with no expectations! The trip taught me that riding long, challenging, physical and predominantly downhill trails really suited my strengths as a rider; requiring every element of skill and fitness a good mountain biker should have; I loved every minute of it.

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On returning to the UK, being very fortunate to live and ride in Shropshire, I had a number of enduro races right on my doorstep. Quite literally at times, living only a few minutes ride away from Eastridge Woods, (Venue for UK Gravity Enduro R4 2012) and still on a high from the Mega, I was keen to see how I faired and to experience racing on the UK scene by racing the last two rounds of the 2012 UK Gravity Enduro series and a couple of standalone events. Although not quite the same as riding in the Alps, the UK series still proved to be a great deal of fun, with each different round providing new and interesting trails and with different strengths required for each round, no results sheet was ever the same.

Over the winter of 2012 when I started to look ahead and plan out the following season, the first two rounds of the UK Gravity Enduro series clashed with the first two rounds of the British XC Series, creating a bit of a dilemma as it would be impossible to focus on both, but in the end it was a fairly easy decision to make. I love XC; it is very purest racing, requiring the highest level of physical preparation, a certain level of skill and a great deal of suffering but, after a few pretty full on years of it being my main focus, with lot of time spent racing and training, I was ready for something a bit different. I had been chasing an elite XC racing licence; a goal I have now achieved and it was time for something new and interesting. Enduro has not only reinstalled the fun element to racing for me but gave me some new and challenging areas of my riding to work on.

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Enduro for me and, as defined by the newly created Enduro World Series, is the definitive test of the all round mountain biker. To be a competitive enduro rider requires a high level of both technical skills and physical prowess, in terms of both power and endurance. Many of the top level riders have the physiological numbers to match elite level XC riders and the skill to hold their own against world cup downhillers but above all have the consistency to bring it all together on race day and perform on every stage that they race on. Without the consistency and rounded skill set it’s not a discipline that you can excel in. In the words of current Enduro World Series leader Jerome Clemetz, ‘you must have no weaknesses’.

This for me is what I love about enduro; the discipline demands everything, which makes training a great deal of fun as no two sessions are ever the same. With so many different strengths required, you can take the Team Sky principle of ‘marginal gains’ to a whole new level. The racing itself takes you to some stunning locations, and as with XC and marathon, I still get the physicality of being on my bike all day and riding on the red line, but you aren’t chewing the stem or tasting the bottom of your lungs the whole time, there is the chance to chat with fellow racers and enjoy the scenery. The precise line choice and focus required for the technical sections brings a whole part to the racing, trying to ride sections as fast as possible is very different to XC where typically downhill’s provide a welcome rest to the legs and a chance to compose yourself.

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As somebody still relatively new to the discipline, I am hugely excited to be taking on the Trans Savoie and seeing how I fair against the field and the challenging terrain on the course. I look forward to bringing you some coverage from the race…

Ben is riding the new Whyte G150 bike (and is the first to do so) out at the race so stay tuned to find out how the bike is working for him!

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