Popping out at the bottom of the final trail onto the road ready for the transition back to the camp, I made the mistake of stopping off with fellow racers Tim and Hannah for the Wi-Fi from a pub and somehow ended up with a pint.
Words: Ben Price (TORQ / Whyte Bikes)
Photos: Cal Wooton, David Martin, Tom Grundy and Ewen Fainchie.
Read my previous instalments here and here.
Courchevel to Meribel, four special stages, 4350m of descent.
A short pedal up to a lift and then another climb overlooking Courchevel to the start of the first stage, billed as the most technical and exposed of the race, a full 6/6 on the technicality scale. Rocky and tight didn’t quite do the top section justice. It was very difficult to find flow and carry speed with a significant drop off to either side. Starting at nearly 2900 metres, the full effects of altitude were taking their toll. The lower section was brutal: as you dropped into the woods with some steep technical climbs leaving you in the red for a long, fast open rocky and rooty footpath all the way to the bottom.
Stage two featured part of the Meribel bike park, a venue due to hold a World Cup in 2014 and added a welcome break from the tech on stage one. Featuring a fast flowing section on a blue run, the race brought a whole variety of trails with no two trails ever the same.
Stage three was along a similar line: fairly smooth, flowing and natural singletrack through farmers’ fields, only fairly short but great fun, a prime example of some of the off-piste hidden gems available when you move away from the way-marked trails in Alpine bike parks.
A stunning singletrack climb then led us to Looney Tunes, the final stage of the day. At over 15 minutes long it featured a huge drop in altitude, one of the standout stages of the race, hitting full speed just a few pedal strokes into the stage and holding it open right to the bottom. There were plenty of corners with perfectly placed natural catch berms broken up with open sections of rocks and roots, which thanks to the hero levels of grip simply allowed you let off the brakes and hold on! These were all nicely broken up with a few pedally sections and fireroad climbs that pointed you back downhill just as the burn started to appear back in the legs and the arms felt fresh again.
Popping out at the bottom of the final trail onto the road ready for the transition back to the camp, I made the mistake of stopping off with fellow racers Tim and Hannah for the Wi-Fi from a pub and somehow ended up with a pint. A big day in the saddle combined my usual athletic (…non existent) level of alcohol tolerance sent it straight to my head and made for an interesting ride home on what turned out to be a longer, far more technical transition that I had anticipated!
Areches to Beaufort, five special stages 2950m descent.
Designed by the Ali as a bit of respite before the epic final day he had planned. A morning transfer by bus to Arches, or ‘Destination X’ as Trail Addiction refer to it, a hidden gem in a more agricultural region of the mountains. With only 20 riders making it down stage one before a rider took a significant tumble, which saw him knocked unconscious, the decision was taken to cancel the stage, much to the disappointment of Mr Neil Donoughue, who had just taken his first stage win of the race. Lucky for the unfortunate rider who crashed he had been set off from the start moments before a trained nurse, anaesthetist and an orthopaedic surgeon, who had him sorted in no time. Surprisingly this was the first real injury of the whole race and a real reflection of the competence of everyone racing.
Stage two, ‘Les Grosses Pedale’, was relatively short at around 10 minutes for the winner, coming back to racing in the UK with 3-7 minute long stages is going to take some getting used to! The stage was on an overgrown section of trail, awkward in places with lots going on under your front wheel, which you had no way of anticipating.
Racing on footpaths (with the approval of all the relevant local bodies may I add) in a popular tourist destination in the Alps, close to a big public holiday when the weather was incredible, there was always the chance of having issues with walkers. Stage three was the first time this really affected the race, arriving at a trail the marshal found littered with walkers and with livestock on course the organiser took the decision to cancel the stage, which although apparently a stunning piece of singletrack, was a pretty welcome decision for many riders already carrying a lot of fatigue.
The final two stages of the day I could liken to some of the riding the Gwydr forest in North Wales; loamy forest tracks with plenty of exposed roots. Treble and Bass, the final stage of the day, was the shortest of the entire race but featured high on the technicality scale, getting rockier and rockier towards the bottom.
Les Saisie to Mt Blanc (Or Matt LeBlanc as many racers abbreviated it to), the crescendo that the race had been building to, four special stages, 3500 metres of descent and the greatest amount of distance covered in a single day on pedals, totalling nearly 75km. If we were going to take the glory of finishing the race we were going to have to earn it first!
We took a bus to the start and a long transition on fireroad to stage one. With such as long day it was an early start and as we arrived on the stage there was still dew on the ground, with plenty of grassy turns at the start it made for some unpredictable riding as grip varied massively from corner to corner, the lower section featured a number of muddy gullies which really plastered the bikes, the first real mud we had seen all week! At around nine minutes, this was a great stage to get going on.
The ride to stage three, ‘Raffers Spaffers’, involved a transfer of nearly 20km on the road, a low point for many, but the stage itself was incredible, with lots of tight, tricky turns through a steep woodland. The line choices were so copious it was a challenge to simply find the fastest line through.
After another long transition, a lift and a stage it was onto the final stage of the day, ‘Jolly Good Show’, which from the highest lift still took nearly another hour to climb up to. Stunning views across the valley and a hint of what lay ahead as signs of a trail snaking through the meadow below pushed us onto the top. A pretty amazing trail welcomed us, series after series of open grassy turns, not quite the epic stage down into Chamonix we had hoped for but a fitting end to the race.
Reflecting on the Trans Savoie
Crossing the line on the final stage it was hard to believe it was all over, the last six days had been a bit of blur of some of the most incredible trails I had ever ridden. Coming to write this report, it was difficult to piece together exactly what we did each day as each day had been packed with so many highlights.
The whole six days was a truly incredible experience, all of us racers owed the 40+ support staff including the Marshalls, caterers, camp staff, timing people, and everyone behind the event a huge thank you for all of their mammoth efforts, particularly those like Nell Hall and Angela Dorran who had given up weeks of work simply to come and help. Coming back each day with everything setup made life for us racers very easy, as often all we wanted to do was eat, sleep and make sure the bike was ready for the following day.
Days five and six racing highlights
At the end of the event I was very pleased to have finished sixth overall, clearly the longer alpine stages suited me more than the shorter more downhill orientate stages of the UK series and being able to get through the week with very few crashes or mechanicals certainly helped, although I was frustratingly close to that top five. It was an incredible experience and great to meet so many new people. After finishing the race it was a hurried trip home to get back for one of the big team events for the TORQ Performance MTB Team, TORQ 12:12 where I was racing in a pair with Ajay. Racing a 12-hour endurance after a six day stage race possibly wasn’t the greatest idea but coming away with second place was pretty satisfying. I have huge respect for all the riders that went onto the Enduro World Series race back in Val d’Isere (such as Rene Wildhaber), finishing riding at 7p.m. and not getting to the start in Val d’Isere until 3a.m. on Saturday morning to race all weekend must have been tough! Particularly for Rene with his broken ribs and it was amazing to hear he still manage a sixth place finish in the EWS.
I owe a huge thank you to TORQ and Whyte Bikes for their support with the race. The new Whyte G150 650B enduro superbike I rode at the event was an incredible bike and performed flawlessly all week, it was great going into the race with confidence that I was on a bike that could be competitive, even if my standard of riding wasn’t. Despite all the lifts, it was still an incredibly physical event and I was thankful to finish.