Trans-Provence: From the Alps to the Riviera

Feeling gloomy about your local trails being under two foot of water and hardly seeing any daylight recently? Well you’ll feel even worse once you’ve read guest blogger Andy K’s report on the Trans Provence guided holiday and seen his glorious holiday snaps. Take it away Andy…

It’s got a bit of a reputation the Trans Provence. A reputation for being hard. Hard on riders, hard on bikes, hardness of terrain, and perhaps most frustratingly, hardness to enter.

There are only 80-odd spaces in the multi-day enduro race each year, and a similarly small number of places on guided “holiday” weeks covering the same ground.

So it was with some trepidation that we took up our friend Ian’s suggestion that we might accompany him on one of the guided weeks, ahead of a possible future race entry

Andy K
Author Andy proving that 26 ain’t dead in Provence.

It certainly starts with a contrast, coming into Nice airport, past the squillionaires super yachts and lines of private jets parked on the tarmac, to be greeted by the shuttle and then taken a twisting four hours inland up into the wilds of southern France.

The landscape is much more rural, and was somewhat of a surprise to me, consisting of canyons, gorges, and forest covering the hillsides, with none of the usual bare pistes and lift paraphernalia you get in the northern alpine resorts.

A muted beginning

Sadly we didn’t even see any of the landscape for the first few hours. A large thunderstorm and torrential rain set in overnight, and breakfast on Sunday – day one – was a muted affair as we watched the waterfall cascade off the overhanging hotel roof.

Eventually Ash, the originator and organiser of the Trans-Provence itself and our wee holiday, decreed that the planned day was going to be impossible due to the conditions, so an alternative route was to be arranged, a shuttle to the next valley, followed by a big climb up to ride the last two special stages that comprised the bulk of the days final descent.

Ian
Ian enjoying a bit of exposure

It sounded ok, but to be honest the lost chance to warm our hike-a-bike muscles was both a relief and a disappointment.

By the time we had taken the shuttle the long-way round the day’s route, the weather was already clearing, and continued to do so as we climbed the long fire road ascent past the rejuvenated waterfalls and humid meadows to a small refuge.

We ate baguettes in the sun, and things started to look up as we contoured a little further towards the top of the descent.

Soon, we were blasting down sweet forest singletrack and switchbacks, and despite a few punctures from over-optimistic pressures and over-enthusiastic bikers we were all wide eyed and grinning like idiots within minutes.

Grey earth
Behold the grey earth

It would be hard, and probably quite boring, to give a blow-by-blow account of the week’s riding. The range of terrain is perhaps one of the widest you could experience on any biking holiday, the strangely slippery biking-on-Mars red earth, the ultra grippy grey earth, plus a geologist’s dream of ancient sediments, fault lines, and folded bedrock of all types.

The geology really is the headline character of the TP, and, when the cloud is down, or you are grinding up some viewless forest road between the pines, you really do miss it.

Speaking of forest, some of the week’s most special moments occurred in the frequent periods of Sylvan wonderland that covers large parts of the weeks riding. Perfect lightspeed runs down wooded glades split with a single curving brown path, then perhaps gradually giving way to tight, twisting, sunken ancient ways, with a loose loamy surface ideal for drifts and flicks of dirt in the corners.

Epic view
Did Andy mention that the views weren’t too shabby?

A special mention must be made to our guides Julia Hobson and bike industry stalwart/journo/ex Trans-Provence PR Matt Letch – although technically Matt was only partly a guide, and partly “very much on holiday”.

Their relentless optimism and enjoyment were infectious, and added that little extra dusting of shits and giggles that turn a merely good ride, into an epic one.

Andy riding
It wasn’t all gnarly rocks.

We rode all day, every day, and the downside of that was the steady, but sadly inexorable progress made towards towards the end and the Mediterranean sea at Sospel.

TPhikeabike
Everybody loves a good hike-a-bike, don’t they?

The weather had incrementally improved all week, and as the miles counted down to the sea, the temperature climbed along with the increasingly blue skies and by the end, our beers and much needed swim were greatly appreciated by our battered bodies.

Six days of back-to-back riding had certainly been noticed by bodies and bikes, several, including myself had tales of potentially career or life-ending”moments” where the drive not to stop the descent had overcome the ability to grip the bars or even think what was around the next blind corner.

In the event, everyone made it to the end in one piece. The only variable was how expensive the bill from the bike shop was going to be upon their return, just brake pads Sir? Or a whole new machine?

Speaking to, and overhearing other riders’ conversations with Ash over the ample dinners during the week, it seem as though the Trans-Provence’s days in its present form may be numbered.

Rural DH in Rubion
Rural DH in Rubion

There were a couple of half-whispered rumours that things may be changing in 2017, and with the number of guided weeks being apparently heavily cut for 2016 so Ash can focus on “other things”, it seems like a change of location or a new format might not be a long stretch of the imagination.

Beach at Sospel
The beach at Sospel

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