Over the last few years mountain bikes have taken over my life to the point where, if I’m not actually on the bike I’m thinking about the ride. Back in November my brother, Tobias, and I decided that we would enter the esteemed Trans Provence stage race. Sadly it sold out in a matter of seconds and I missed out. Even more gutting was the fact that Toby’s Hotmail account lit up with the good news that he’s secured a place. We had planned to race together, but who was I to get in the way of my brother having the opportunity to take part in this amazing event. He’s spent the last three years living in Whistler, guiding mountain biking in the summer and making coffee in the winter, but once the entry was confirmed, he decided to come back to the UK to prepare. And so the perfect excuse for a Euro adventure was born.
For the trip I am riding a Nukeproof Mega Pro; its build and geometry seems to be very well suited to this type of riding as its low overall weight and its steep seat angle mean it can be winched up pretty much anything. Once you’re at the top it turns into a mini downhill bike, the 66 degree head angle and stability from the longer back end is properly confidence inspiring.
After severe delays at Dover due to high winds and rough seas our first destination was Provence to ride some of the tracks used in the event and get a feel for the type of terrain Toby would be encountering. We hooked up with Ash, the founder and creator of the Trans Provence, for one of his guided weeks. It was an amazing few days in which we rode nearly 320km with over 15,000m of vertical descent in some the most spectacular scenery I have ever encountered. The singletrack was equally amazing; some of the best we’ve ever ridden.
The potential riding opportunities in this area are absolutely mind-blowing and you could dedicate the rest of your life to the task of riding every trail yet still barely scratch the surface. The north of the region seems to get more rain and the tracks and trails seem to hold more dirt and are faster with more flow. As you travel further south you get more rocks, it’s tighter and looser. The majority or the tracks that we rode were walking trails. It seems that the French maps are not always the best, but the signposting is brilliant. Unlike the footpaths you find in the UK, all these walking trails seem to be really well suited to bikes, with naturally bermed corners that really flow. Cycling is a mainstream sport over here and everyone seems to be happy to see you riding past. Some small villages even having bike wash areas and compressors for your tyres.
The beauty of this area is that you can pedal up most of the climbs and then end up with some truly epic descents. Having said that, we did sneak in a few uplifts throughout the week. We seemed to gain our height early in the day and once the high point is reached the quality, variety and beauty of the descents are amazing. A couple of the stages took us through beautiful mountain villages where we rode down the narrow cobbled streets. Towards the end of the week we rode past the village where World Champions Fabien Barel and Nicolas Vouilloz call home, so for them to choose to live here the riding must be good!
Next stop the Northern Alps…