Day 2: Over before it starts

Monday dawned a slightly grey day, for more than one reason. My leg felt awful. I could barely bend it. I knew my race was over and I felt like such a fool. I’d spent a considerable amount of money entering the event and getting out to France, and to retire from racing after one day was utterly frustrating. Still, I knew the rules and what I was getting myself into, but it didn’t make it any easier. Even more annoyingly, in spite of the lack of mobility and considerable pain, the bruising was all internal and the only outward sign was a tiny scratch.

To get me out of my state of grumpiness, I chose to help the organisers pack up camp (as best as a bloke with a sore leg and a limp can), and tried to support them in the move to camp three and build out of the new site. What I got to experience was how incredibly hard the support crew work each day in the background away from the race. While the riders punish themselves on their bikes, the support crew are taking down  and loading up 100 tents, sleeping mats and rider bags, moving on to the next site and then rebuilding the camp ready for weary competitors to turn up later in the afternoon. A heartfelt thank you to all of the Trans-Savoie camp crew for the incredible work they do to make it such a great event. 

Day 1: Val d’Isere to Bourg St Maurice

  • Total distance: 64.3km
  • On-bike ascent: 1300m
  • On-bike descent: 5000m

Sunday dawned clear and stunning, although at altitude it had been a cold night. Heading out for an early morning spin to check the bike was all functioning correctly, I headed up the valley slightly to see a family of marmottes relaxing and feeding on the edge of the river. I’ve caught sight of one or two when skiing in the late season, usually from a chair lift, but I was so close to these ones and managed to fire off a couple of camera snaps without disturbing them too much.

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Eventually the time came to clear our timing chips for the first time and head to the ski lift for the first assisted ascent of the week, and then on to the opening stage of the event. The Solaise chair lift was well known to me from skiing here in winters past, and from the top we headed briefly down a marked red trail to help get a feel for the mountains before a short climbing traverse to stage one, and hundreds of sheep making the most of the grassy slope.

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I forget how hard riding gets at altitude, and combined with a full face helmet (to avoid further facial and dental re-arrangements), the short climb had me breathing hard, and had certainly warmed me up for the next section.

The stage itself was a narrow ribbon of singletrack winding around the hillside crossing some evil and large water-bars (up to 12″ high vertical slabs of rock), a few gentle hairpins and open sections before heading into our first piece of woodland singletrack and the end of the stage. I felt rusty and while I got down okay, it didn’t feel like it had flowed at all, but at least it was one down and four to go.

The liaison section took us back into Val and up the Olympique cable car ready for a timed descent down towards the Tommeuse lift and an undulating traverse over to Tignes and the centre of Tignes le Lac. The first half of the descent went well and I enjoyed the chance to ride a nicely smooth man-made trail, but either I missed a marker arrow or someone (walker, not rider) had chosen to move the signpost, so it was several more minutes of descending towards La Daille before realising that I was no longer in the correct location. My hope was that by heading that way I could get back to the Olympique and re-start the stage after explaining the situation to the race marshals. On returning to the top of the mountain and the start of stage 2, I found I was one of about 15 riders who had all managed to miss the correct route and head back down the wrong side of the mountain, so while having expended some extra energy and done another 1000m of unplanned descending, I also found out that we could re-start the route and not face any penalty.

Attempt two went okay, although once again the altitude made the traverse a real physical challenge, and I still didn’t feel entirely happy with my riding before dropping into Tignes and the lunch stop for the day.

Stage three started badly, when in usual French style the lift was shut due to lunch. A large contingent took the opportunity to have a coffee at a nearby café and wait for the lift attendant to return.

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From the top of the lift we rode and walked a fantastic ridgeline before tagging our timing chip and continuing along the ridge and then back along a blue trail into the valley below. The original plan was for us to ride down a footpath which would have been more challenging riding, but in spite of the organisers best attempts to (legally) close the trail at the top and bottom, too many walkers were finding their way on to the trail and it was decided that the safest thing would be to re-route that section for everyone to avoid any accidents.  Overall the section went okay and I was beginning to find my flow.

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Dropping back into Tignes le Lac, we then headed up another chair lift to a run that would eventually take us out to Tignes le Brevieres several hundred metres below our current position. The ride began with a traverse across a steep scree slope before dropping into a meadow with a wealth of lines to choose from. Unfortunately while sliding the rear wheel around one corner, I popped the rear tyre off the rim costing me valuable time. Making matters worse, on trying to fix it, I found out my pump was no longer working. A passing competitor eventually offered me their pump and I was able to continue riding but I had already lost a vast amount of time, and was considering playing my ‘wild card*’ on this stage.

The liaison between stage 4 and 5 was going to be a long one, with an 8km descent along the road to Ste Foy, and then a 900m vertical climb on tarmac and fire road. In the afternoon sunshine and with limited breeze, this was a particularly hard task, and I’d missed out on the opportunity to fill my water container up after the stage 4 debacle. I ran out of fluid just before the top of the ascent and failed to spot my dehydration and need for some form of energy boost, but as it was getting late and I was towards the back of the group of riders I opted to get going straight away. Ultimately, this was to prove a stupid decision as shortly after leaving the start of section 5 I got out of shape coming into a stream and hit a rock throwing me off course where I smashed my right thigh into a large boulder. The pain was pretty excruciating and while I lay there I considered walking up and quitting the stage at that point. After a few minutes I talked myself out of the negative thoughts and decided to press on, hoping the pain would ease, after all it was probably just a dead leg caused by the impact. My descending became very cautious and stuttery, and I was struggling to cope with a trail I should be able to ride easily. Mid-way down the timed section was a road crossing which then led to some more singletrack. Unfortunately in my tiredness and pain I mistook the arrow to point further along the road, so I continued to climb for 15-20 mins before realising I’d gone wrong. My leg was still incredibly painful, and I knew I wouldn’t finish the section (as I hadn’t been able to find it) so I would have to play my wild card on this stage. I eased to the road at the bottom of the section and checked out with the timing marshal, finally wending my way back to the night’s campsite in Seez several kilometres further on.

I was spent, the naivety in not taking on enough fluid or food had ruined me, and a silly riding mistake meant I couldn’t really walk properly. Arriving in camp I did my best to drink plenty of fluid, and take some painkillers and apply some Arnica to help with the leg. Getting to the dinner venue hurt like crazy, and I knew I was going to be struggling to be fit for day two. I was so annoyed with myself and went to bed angry and frustrated at being stupid. 

 

* – One ‘wild card’ is issued to each rider for the event, allowing them to use it in the event of a bad run or a mechanical which would allow for a timing correction on one stage, placing them in the average position for the rest of the days stages. Once used it cannot be used again. It must be handed to the timing team at the finish of the days stages. 

And here we go….

Saturday meant that things were finally getting underway, with a quick drive to Heathrow and the expectations building of the week that was to come. 

Playing the game of ‘spot the mountain biker’ at Heathrow proved quite difficult, but I did manage to locate one of my fellow competitors waiting at the gate for our flight and we shared our thoughts and hopes for the race, and our riding backgrounds.

Arriving in Geneva was chaotic as the was a multi-day road race from Geneva to Nice also about to start the next day, so bike boxes were everywhere in the arrivals hall. We got to meet some of our fellow competitors for the first time as we waited for other riders on various flights to appear. 

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In spite of the efforts of the organising/welcoming team to ensure the coach driver missed out Annecy, they were overruled in typical Gallic fashion. It’s often problematic for traffic during ski season, but in the height of summer it’s considerably worse as people make the most of the leisure opportunities afforded by the stunning lake. 

The drive into the mountains never fails to disappoint though, and in spite of the travel fatigue, it was great to see the Alps in their finest greenery as opposed to hoping for a great covering of snow.

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Our base camp for the first night was just above Val d’Isere, in a magical location surrounded on three sides by mountains and with the Isere babbling past below us.

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The late arrival meant a quick dash to rebuild bikes in the fading light before a hearty dinner by our catering team and the initial briefing from Ali, the organiser of the event. Standing there in the marquee was the first chance to meet the competition, and the group of 75 comprised a huge mix of riders with varying experience in riding big Alpine mountains, and of enduro racing. Expectations varied between those professional riders racing for the win, several keen sponsored amateurs looking to enhance their reputations and grab a share of the acclaim for doing well on individual stages, and the bulk hoping to do as well as they can against the testing course that stood before us and the finish near Chamonix in 6 days time.

My hope was to ride within myself for the duration, as I know from previous events that people often push too hard early on and either damage themselves or their bikes irreparably making further progress. While I was never going to threaten the leaders, I ideally wanted to achieve a mid-table result and just enjoy the chance to ride some amazing Alpine trails specially selected for this event.

With the briefing over, weary and nervous competitors headed back to the tented village ready for the Grand Depart on Sunday.

Trans-Savoie – summary

Sorry to all of those expecting regular updates over the past week, but unfortunately there was very little wifi on the campsites we stayed at during the week. I’ll attempt to add some more detail over the next day or two, but for those who haven’t picked up any of the results in the past week, I managed to crash and hurt my leg on the final stage of day 1, and was unable to ride for the rest of the week.

So yes, the week was somewhat frustrating for me in that having gained an entry to an amazing event, I wasn’t able to ride and compete for the majority of it. However, during the rest of the week I managed to help the organisers with various activities, including providing race support from the 4×4, so I did get a great perspective on how the race operates, and seeing the riders after most stages was enough to convince me this is a very special event. 

Thanks to all of you for your support in the build up to the event, and to all the riders and the team at Trans-Savoie/Trail Addiction for a fabulous week.

 

One more sleep

So after months of waiting, it’s very nearly here and there is just one more sleep to go. I am incredibly excited, and while I’ve been trying to keep it out of mind for a while, the chance to compete in the first running of an event, in an area that I love, means it’s never been far from my thoughts.

The bike, pads and general riding stuff are boxed, up, the kit is almost ready to go into the bag, I’m checked in for my flight to Geneva and Catherine has agreed to an early start in order to drop me off at Heathrow in the morning. I’m finally feeling ready.

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And now I think I may have a fluffy stowaway for the trip:

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The Trans-Savoie

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The Trans-Savoie (www.trans-savoie.com) is a new event for 2013, taking on the multi-day all-mountain enduro concept and advancing it to even more challenging terrain.

It takes place from August 18th and encompasses 6 days of racing, starting in Val D’Isere and finishing in Chamonix in the French Alps, taking in a number of famous ski resorts along the way.

Having completed the Trans-Provence in 2009, I’m familiar with the concept and very excited by what lies in store but this time there appears to be less hike a bike and even more descending.

The stats for the individual days are quite exceptional – the 6 days covering 20 timed stages and a little under 270km of on bike distance, but with 20,000m of descending and 5,000m of ascending. Everything about it sounds big! What brings even more challenge to the event is that we’ll be racing the trails blind, so each section has to be ridden quickly but with caution, knowing that each day could mean the equivalent of riding the full Megavalanche course twice without the ability to pre-ride it.

As it’s the inaugural Trans-Savoie I am incredibly privileged to have got one of the 70 or so entries, with 20+ pros and the rest made up of eager amateurs. If it’s even a fraction as good as the Trans-Provence then it’s going to be an amazing week, and given the organisers will have learned from that event, I think I can safely say it’s going to be an amazing week’s riding.

And yes, I’m nervous. A silly mistake on an easy section of the T-P left me with a scar on my chin and a couple of broken teeth, and this year my main aim will be to finish in one piece and enjoy riding many fantastic trails in a beautiful part of the world.

Thoughts turn to the mountains

So the Ride London and the Brighton Big Dog are complete for the year, and now the focus has firmly turned to the Trans-Savoie and the adventure that will provide.
 
I’m both excited and terrified in equal measure at this point, the Trans Provence was an incredible experience and this looks set to be very similar, if not better. Having skied in a number of the resorts that we pass through during the 6 days, I’m probably more thrilled by this event but that is tempered with the fact that each day has an incredible amount of big mountain descending and plenty of on bike ascending, meaning long and painful days in the saddle. There are still plenty of things to do to get ready for the flight on Saturday, and to ensure I’ve got everything I will need for the event. My spreadsheet list (Catherine will be so proud) is getting longer, but it’s helping to ensure I capture everything I think of, and then I can whittle that down a little as I see how well/badly it’s going to fit into my luggage.
 
The bike had a faulty Stealth Reverb so I’ve swapped it for the (non-Stealth) one I bought a while ago, and I’ve set the tyres up tubeless which will hopefully help in the rocky environment of the Alps. In the Trans-Provence in 2009 I punctured on one special stage and couldn’t get it to seal but I still think it’s a more robust solution than tubes alone, and I’m hoping it works well for the T-S.
 
Printing out the final details and all the flight information has made it incredibly real, and I can’t wait to be there now – just two more sleeps to go! Saturday will be a long day with plenty of time waiting at Geneva airport before the long bus transfer to Val D’Isere for base-camp 1 ahead of the first day of racing, and that will be my first chance to meet fellow riders/competitors in the event. Fingers crossed that all the bikes turn up on time and in one piece, which is always a major worry when heading off to a cycling event.