If you can make day two, then you know that you can manage the rest of this adventure across France. A combination of distance and hard technical riding, plus two large carries and over 2000m of climbing over a distance compressed into 50km, tests the endurance and riding skills of the pro and expert racers alike.
Special Stage Four is reached through high Alpine meadow and a steep climb onto a col. The stage itself sums up the Trans-Provence attitude.
Every kind of terrain you can expect to meet over the seven days of riding is compressed into a 400m drop – a steep rock and mud chute drops you into open meadow, with numerous options of line choice after traversing round a ridge lower in the valley. The trail then drops into the grey pumice stone of the lower valley before singletrack through woods and into a streambed completes the stage.
A relatively short pedal or hike, depending on your ability or fitness, a bleep of your timing chip, and Special Stage Five begins. The hard effort of the climb is rewarded by loam and pine needles – woodland never rode so good. After Special Stage Four’s ‘pick and mix’ style of riding, competitors enthused about the continuity and the chance to enjoy a little more flow.
Special Stage Six’s riding had been described as “cannonballing”, “so fast I thought I might die”, or for the less confident, a river full of babyhead rocks requiring a steady eye when it comes to line choice. Less technical than most stages of the Trans-Provence, the ability to hold on and not hesitate favoured the strongest riders here.
Ash, the creator of Trans-Provence, is always a little nervous about Special Stage Seven – and the rider’s responses to it. His concerns aren’t for the quality of the trail, which is beyond superb, but for the potential anger of riders after enduring the 700m climb to reach the start of the trail.
As in previous years, the shouts of anger and threats of violence were quickly forgotten after the riders tackled what is one of the hardest, fastest and most technical trails in the whole week of Trans-Provence. So good is this trail, named ‘Donkey Darko’, that it left Fabien Barel literally screaming with happiness at the final time check and a well-known journalist suggesting that we make people sign a waiver to keep its location secret. We say, though, that if you’re prepared to suffer the hideous climb to get there and you’re good enough to ride it, then we think you should know more.
An 800m vertical drop takes you from an open grass summit to the dry and barren riverbed in the valley’s bottom, via 7km of singletrack which is right up there with the best trails in the world.
To enjoy it, your on-sight riding needs to be top-notch to cope with the rock drops you’ll encounter, ride switchbacks ambidextrously and nail tight singletrack without being intimidated by a large drop to your right or left.
The bottom of the trail sees you hitting a section of riverside singletrack that could turn an atheist into a believer; a pine forest rollercoaster with multiple crossings of the streambed and a feeling of intuitive flow which leads even the most tired riders to fly for the first few moments of day two.
1 (1) VOUILLOZ Nicolas 00:58:24
2 (2) CLEMENTZ Jerome 00:59:11
3 (3) WEIR Mark 00:59:40
4 (4) BAREL Fabien 01:00:35
5 (5) RYAN Matt 01:01:09
6 (6) CRUZ Ben 01:01:58
7 (7) BEAUMONT Marc 01:04:00
8 (8) SORRELL Rowan 01:04:15
9 (1) JONES Steve 01:06:33
10 (2) RICHARDS James 01:08:37
All images copyright of Irmo Keiser and Michiel Rotgans