Valdeblore -> Sospel
Just in case riders haven’t had enough of on sight big mountain riding, not enough huge road cols and haven’t pushed and dragged their bikes enough along tiny hiking trails; Day 5 is guaranteed to make sure they’re full to the brim of all of the above, sating them before the final day and the ride into Menton tomorrow.
There was 66Km on today’s menu, with a height gain of 2012m, but you do get 3348m of descent with the bus uplift at the end of the day. The traditional 3 hour haul at the start of the day, Pedaling and pushing to reach the top of Special Stage 17 is as stunning as it is arduous. If you can have any doubt your in the high Maritime Alps, the traverse from the Col high above the previous night’s camp, and the traverse across to the start of the Stage leaves you in no doubt. Some of the best views of the week (except for seeing the coast on the last day of course) as valley after valley open up around you.
Special Stage 17 and 18 are really one and the same, or at least part of the same; a huge descent down to Lantosque, with a 1200m drop! Split in the middle by a grassy knoll, the top half of the mountain being made up of pine forest covered rock strewn trails with steep switch backs, before hitting stage two which feels more desert like than the top, before hitting a hard to navigate bottom section that is more reminiscent of the North of England than the sunny South of France.
From Lantosque another big road climb took riders to Special Stage 19. A trail that feels more Mediterranean; rockier and steeper, with gullies and loose rocks to attend to before hitting the final climb of the day – thankfully by bus.
Sadly we had another injury today with Oliver Munnik taking a high speed pedal strike that threw him over the bars, smashing his helmet and damaging his shoulder badly, which led to him being helicoptered off. A special mention must be made to competitors who made sure he was being looked after and Mavic® Trans-Provence
mountain staff who made sure he got off the hill safely. Our best wishes go out to Oliver, we hope he’ll be back to finish next year.
Traditionally we’d now tell you about the old Special Stage, as described by Mark Weir as “above his pay grade”, hard to ride, hard to navigate and cleaned by only a few.
This year Special Stage 20 has moved across into a much faster ridge line trail that sweeps back and forth across the hillside before punishing switchbacks pop you back out at the end of the stage and into a river side trail that is equally as challenging as much of the rest of the riding this week.
By the end of five days racing we’re down to 4 seconds between the top 2 and less than 6 minutes between the top 4. But really tomorrow is about Lau and Clementz for the top spot, but don’t forget amongst the rest of the field there are battles between every place, and some people will be happy just to arrive at Menton tomorrow with friends.
Either way it’s going to be exciting tomorrow.