Taming Mountains: My Trans-Provence

Jun 28, 2016
by Matthew DeLorme  




Embrun, France. Camp Zero, tent number 67, June 19. It’s 1:30 am and a steady rain is falling on my tent. I’m suddenly wide awake and my mind decided to be busy. I’m at the eighth edition of the Trans-Provence MTB Alpine Rally, and I have a race plate. Just over a month ago, I received a message from Sven Martin that went like this, “Yo. How does shooting Trans Provence fit in your schedule? Can you check? Would you be keen? We can squeeze you in the early morning media shuttles and mid-day media shuttles. It will be the best week of your life.” Sounded like the adventure of a lifetime. After Fort William, I went home and did as much training as I could in eight days to shoot the event, as I knew we would be putting in the miles. But now I have a race plate and that’s a different ball of wax. I haven’t raced in many years, and I have serious reservations about my fitness level. I know I can ride the terrain as I’ve ridden similar in Verbier, but I’m doubting whether or not I can hack six days, twenty-four stages, 271 kilometers, 9177 meters of climbing, and 18,003 meters of descending. All blind. Ash Smith tells me to give racing it a try and report on my experience. I don’t want to be that guy who can’t get to the end. It’s a long, sleepless night.

Red poppies and snow covered mountain tops. We were about to travel over 200 kilometers and will visit all four seasons. It s time to get pedaling.
Red poppies and snow covered mountain tops. We were about to travel over 200 kilometers and visit all four seasons. It's time to get pedaling.

The TP staff have have hot breakfast and dinner waiting every morning and evening. The amount of food they churn out for the riders and staff is mind boggling. They keep us going strong.
The TP staff have hot breakfast and dinner waiting every morning and evening. The amount of food they churn out for the riders and staff is mind boggling. They keep us going strong.

Longs days are what TP is all about. It s an amazing lesson in what your body is capable of on little sleep.
Long days are what TP is all about. It's an amazing lesson in what your body is capable of on little sleep.

Trans Provence is fueled by Baguette. Lots of Baguettes.
Trans Provence is fueled by the Baguette. Lots of Baguettes.

While the frosted mountain tops looked pretty on the way up they proved to be a draining slog as we climbed two cols on day one.
While the frosted mountain tops looked pretty on the way up, they proved to be a draining slog as we climbed two cols on day one.

Two high mountain passes greeted us on day one. While it wasn t the biggest day if may have been the toughest.
Two high mountain passes greeted us on day one. While it wasn't the biggest day, it may have been the toughest.

Some of the snow we traveled through was knee deep. It left some wondering just what they had signed on for.
Some of the snow we traveled through was knee deep. It left some wondering just what they had signed on for.

Still turning those cranks before we are forced to push.
Still turning those cranks before we are forced to push.

Stage one. Not my best riding. Terrified of breaking camera gear and not yet fully committed to the task at had. Full squid mode.
Stage one. Not my best riding. Terrified of breaking camera gear and not yet fully committed to the task at hand. Full squid mode.


At 6.30 am I’m up and dressed, staggering to breakfast. I’ve slept three and a half hours and my stomach is in knots. I cram as much food in me as I can and drink down four cups of coffee. I grab my camera gear, load my pack, and put my bike on the shuttle. There’s no turning back. It’s time to be the mule. What was rain in camp last night is snow high up in the Midi Alps, and all of us racers are happily taking pictures of the beautiful scenery. We get to the bottom of the transfer, and Ash tells us, “There will be snow on stages zero and one. Take care, you have a long week ahead of you.” And with that we start the long climb into the higher peaks.

When we reach stage zero, we have pedaled and pushed our way through six or so inches of snow by the time we get to the top of the col. As we dip down the other side, most of us are just hanging on. It’s a slick open scree slope for the first half of the run. Luckily, we aren’t being timed. The next part of the transfer starts off easy enough: gradual dirt road's a few hike a bikes, and utterly breathtaking scenery. Then we turn a corner and start climbing back into the snow. We see some the other riders more than a mile away, post holing up to the next col. Many are suddenly asking aloud, just what the hell they had gotten themselves into. Stage one was much like stage zero. Open Alpine scree, covered in snow. I’m feeling ok as I reach the top, but I’m not so sure about this first stage. I chip in, and head down, but I’m not entirely committed. I’m more concerned with all the camera gear on my back. I slide about like a total hack, and when I reach the finish, I’m just relieved it’s over. The transfer to stage two is pretty gentle, and I recover quicker than I thought I would have from the efforts of the first half of the day. I let a few riders head out on stage two in front of me, still not convinced of this racing thing. When I feel recovered, I drop in. I find a fun, beautiful, rooty single track. Just my kind of trail. I pick up speed and I’m having a hell of a lot of fun. I blow a corner and shout “f#!% big mistake, big mistake!” and sprint off. I suddenly realize that I am racing.

There is real exposure at TP. Both on transfers and and on race runs. It s about eight hundred feet to the canyon floor.
There is real exposure at TP. Both on transfers and on race runs. It's about eight hundred feet to the canyon floor.

Taming Mountains My Trans-Provence

Day two pushing up to stage four everyone feeling spry. The long days had yet to take their toll.
Day two, pushing up to stage four, everyone feeling spry. The long days had yet to take their toll.

Go time. We all take turns chipping each other in on our race runs.
Go time. We all take turns chipping each other in on our race runs.

Pay attention to your maps they keep you from getting lost they let you know what to expect on a stage. Your maps are your best friend when racing blind.
Pay attention to your maps, they keep you from getting lost and let you know what to expect on a stage. Your maps are your best friend when racing blind.

Many of us got lost despite the maps and the trail markings. It s easy to do when you are flying on an 11 minute run.
Many of us got lost despite the maps and the trail markings. It's easy to do when you are flying on an 11-minute run.

Taming Mountains My Trans-Provence
Trying to get back up to speed after a blown corner. It's all part of racing blind. There is a balance to be found.

Taming Mountains My Trans-Provence

Taming Mountains My Trans-Provence
Don't look down.

Part of the beauty of Trans Provence is how quickly the group becomes so tight knit. Nightly family style dining where the pro and amateur riders eat together.
Part of the beauty of Trans Provence is how quickly the group becomes so tight knit. Nightly family style dining where the pro and amateur riders eat together.

Some of the best memories of TP come from blue tent town. Like the night after day three when there was a symphony of cows mooing and flatulence until 11.30pm.
Some of the best memories of TP come from blue tent town. Like the night after day three when there was a symphony of cows mooing and flatulence until 11.30pm.

With each day, I embrace the racing more and more. I find myself slipping into a routine and with each stage finished, the thought occurs that I could pull this off. Now I need to have some goals. First, Finish. That’s everyones main goal at TP. Next, don’t break my camera gear, as I need it to shoot XC Worlds next week. Finally, it would be nice not to be DFL. I’d have to mind my bike as I don’t have any spare... anything... with me except two sets of brake pads. Each morning we are greeted with a new and amazing landscape. Each day I find myself riding with new people and making new friends. We eat together, we camp together. By day three, we are a family of MTB gypsies so to speak - all sharing stories, sharing bike parts, and sharing life. That’s the beauty of Trans Provence. Pros, Women, Amateurs, and Masters are all riding, racing, and living together. It’s less about racing than about mountain biking in it’s simplest, purest form. Sure, we are all checking our results at the end of each day, but we are all more pumped on the adventure. That’s part of what keeps me going, wanting to see what little town we go though next, what amazing view is around the next corner. I'm wanting to see just how hard I can push myself.

As we push into the Maritime Alps, the terrain gets more varied and tracks tend to have a chunky, loose feel to them. They tire you out quickly. By day five, all of us are feeling the fatigue. Bodies are sore and instead of winter we are faced with a blazing hot sun. Mistakes are easier to make and many of us make wrong turns. Ash said at the start of day one that going 100 percent on these trails will result in a crash. Sometimes crashes happen at 80 percent. Day five is a long one. Sixty six kilometers, 1,800 meters of climbing. I keep my pace steady throughout the day. As I round a corner en route to stage three, the air changes - it’s salty and humid and as I look over the next two ridges, I notice that the mountains have disappeared. I see the Mediterranean and realize that I’ve all but made it.

 Keep your head up. This is the most remote you will be and the hardest to be rescued from. Ash Smith doesn t mince words when it comes to the risk involved on some of the days.
"Keep your head up. This is the most remote you will be and the hardest to be rescued from." Ash Smith doesn't mince words when it comes to the risk involved on some of the days.

The locals watch on as we climb to the next stage.
The locals watch on as we climb to the next stage.

I originally wasn t concerned with my race times thinking if I saw a pretty photo I d stop and take it. Once the switch had flipped that thought was far from my mind. Photo - Duncan Philpott
I originally wasn't concerned with my race times, thinking that if I saw a pretty photo I'd stop and take it. Once the switch had flipped that thought was far from my mind. Photo - Duncan Philpott

Sleepy mountain towns each one more beautiful than the last.
Sleepy mountain towns, each one more beautiful than the last.

In the end we are all tourists. We are all adventures. We are taking in the world from the best way to see it from our bikes.
In the end, we are all tourists. We are all adventurers. We are taking in the world from the best way to see it: from our bikes.

I got in plenty of shooting on the transfers. I did more messing about with my camera than I probably should have.
I got in plenty of shooting on the transfers. I did more messing about with my camera than I probably should have.

When the going gets rough you carry. Simple as that.
When the going gets rough, you carry. Simple as that.

Parc Mercantour has splendor in spades. Everyone stops and looks around.
Parc Mercantour has splendor in spades. Everyone stops and looks around.

Spencer Wright riding the spine in Parc Mercantour.
Spencer Wright riding the spine in Parc Mercantour.

Having two doctors on hand is key. Spencer Wright gets stitched up after taking a spill.
Having two doctors on hand is key. Spencer Wright gets stitched up after getting too loose.

Even the views from camp are amazing.
Even the views from camp are amazing.

By day four my rear tire was all but smoked. Little traction and one Dynaplug Luckily I found a spare that evening thanks to Davis English.
By day four, my rear tire was all but smoked. Little traction and only one Dynaplug left. Luckily, I found a spare that evening thanks to Davis English.

Just enjoying these trails makes for a better race run. Photo - Duncan Philpott
Just enjoying these trails makes for a better race run. Photo - Duncan Philpott

Sniper Barelli awaits his next victim.
Sniper Barelli awaits his next victim.

Views for days. Around every corner they just get better and better.
Views for days. Around every corner they just get better and better.

Just a few bikes in a quaint little mountain town as we wind our way to the sea.
Just a few bikes in a quaint little mountain town as we wind our way to the sea.

Worn out and happy. Post race beers at the end of a long day before the shuttle to camp.
Worn out and happy. Post race beers at the end of a long day before the shuttle to camp.

Transferring with different people every day means you leave TP with so many new friends.
Transferring with different people every day means you leave TP with so many new friends.

I wake up groggy as hell on day six. My legs feel full of lead. I’m generally zapped. So are many of my fellow racers, but we are all anxious to head out from Sospel and get this day going. We all want to swim. By the time we are into the second transfer, I’m finally waking up and things are coming around. Stage two is brilliant, it’s the last stage of the day where I feel like I’m in decent form on my bike. The last two stages I’m just a passenger. My hands and arms are shot. Now all I need to do is hang on and avoid making any big mistakes in the loose Mediterranean terrain through two more stages. Then I see stage four, which looks utterly terrifying. Old Roman roads with switch backs and cliffs. When I reach the finish, I’m so pumped I don’t even know what to say. I’m surprised it’s actually over. It takes a few minutes to process and I get to take that well-earned swim. Now that it’s all over, I already miss the adventure. I started out unsure that I was up to the task and finished wishing it wasn’t the end. Sven Martin was right - it was the best week of my life. I learned more about myself than I ever thought possible in those six days. I tamed mountains. Both on my bike and in my mind. Thank you, Trans Provence, I can’t wait to come back.

The Mavic mechanics put in long hours to keep our bikes in top working condition. Without them many of us wouldn t have been able to finish this race.
The Mavic mechanics put in long hours to keep our bikes in top working condition. Without them, many of us wouldn't have been able to finish this race.

Because no matter how tired I was I couldn t not shoot light bro .
Because no matter how tired I was, I couldn't miss the "light bro".

The sun rises upon Sospel on the last day. We were worn out and anxious to get to the sea.
The sun rises upon Sospel on the last day. We were worn out and anxious to get to the sea.

Day six stage twenty-two sliding through switch backs. It was the best I felt during the last day. After that the heat and rough tracks zapped my energy pretty quickly.
Day six, stage twenty-two, sliding through the switchbacks. It was the best I felt during the last day. After that, the heat and rough tracks zapped my energy pretty quickly.

Just like the Le Tour in days of old. No cigarettes were actually smoked here.
Just like Le Tour in days of old. (No cigarettes were actually smoked here.)

Stage 24. We had come a long way and the end was in sight. Now we just had to hold it together down the switchback Roman roads and bring it home.
Stage 24. We had come a long way and the end was in sight. Now we just had to hold it together down the switchback Roman roads and bring it home.

While I missed riding with these boys I don t think I would have done it differently. I m more than pumped to have raced TP and not shot it. I learned allot that week things that will stay with me for life.
While I missed riding with these boys, I don't think I would have done it differently. I'm more than pumped to have raced TP than covered it as media. I learned a lot that week, things that will stay with me for life.

Taming Mountains My Trans-Provence

And like that we are in the sea. It s a sweet victory no matter if you were pro woman amateur or master.
And just like that, we are in the sea. It's a sweet victory, no matter if you were pro, woman, amateur, or master.

Thank you Ash it was one hell of an adventure. Can t wait to come back.
Thank you, Ash, it was one hell of an adventure. Can't wait to come back.


MENTIONS: @mdelorme / @ikeizer




38 Comments

  • 26 0
 Wonderful read Matt, great work and congratulations on finishing. A semester in Provence and years of drooling over TP coverage had TP high on my bucket list, but you just helped solidify its place at the top.
  • 15 0
 Congratulations for finishing this Matt!

@Pinkbike Transprovence has been producing banger edits from every day for a week long, how come none has been shown here but has on pretty much all the other mtb-sites?
  • 8 0
 We wonder the same Wink
  • 7 0
 Wow!! What a great story!

Well told and great pics!

Makes me want to go and ride this one! Will take a $hit load of training for me though.

Cheers
  • 2 0
 Would love to do this with a bunch of buddies. Maybe not in race format, but just a week of fun and hard work!
  • 5 0
 Terrific work @mdelorme !!! Your stories and images help me relive the experience I was fortunate enough to enjoy, when I raced TP in 2013 (Thanks again Mavic, Ash, PinkBike and of course @jasperwesselman for the winning video!!)

Next week I'll be doing the first ever Trans BC and this has gotten me even more stoked to see what Megan has in store.

To anyone with the means of doing one of these multi-day stage races, I wholeheartedly recommend it. The money spent will far exceed the satisfaction of many new "things". Life changing.
  • 3 0
 Amazing. Couldn't drag my eyes away and wished for more by the end. I know you can ride TP on a guided tour (I'm no racer). Id love to do it but my once a week ride is never gonna get me in enough shape and thats all the time I have. I can but dream....maybe one day. Great pics and good effort mate.
  • 1 0
 Do you have any links to info to ride TP on a guided tour?
  • 1 0
 @twood92: www.trans-provence.com

Click on Tours - top right corner. Not much detail so you may have to drop them a mail. If you do it, don't tell me, i will be green with envy. Good luck.
  • 2 0
 Good article Matt. It was great to meet you and ride with you for part of the week. Good riding skills and great photos. Have a good month in Europe and stay safe. Might see you back there next year (if I can get a place).
  • 4 0
 I'm still sore and tired from the ride I took 5 days ago, and that was to the liquor store...
  • 1 0
 What a refreshing angle on a challenging and rewarding experience. Matt -- your humility, gusto, perserverance, and camraderie with the other riders is apparent throughout this article.

Also, I'm wondering what bike setups you saw -- most look like typical "enduros" but maybe some shorter travel too? You were on a Slash?
  • 3 0
 Yeah man! Your attitude changed in the days as you progressed, cool to see! From slightly scared to pinned in six days Smile
  • 2 0
 The picture of the Baguettes reminds me of a Transalp that I completely fueled on those. The lack nutritional value impacted my skins health for months
  • 2 0
 Amazing pictures, lots of respect to all the riders, especially the 'tourists' and 'photographers'!

Would like to participate one day to, but think i'm too unfit yet! Frown
  • 4 0
 Absolutely. Stunning.
  • 3 0
 Great images, thanks for the coverage!
  • 2 0
 Wow. Just wow. Talk about a dream of a fucking lifetime. I have to do this one day. There is just now way around it!
  • 2 0
 Superb photos and every one wakes the desire to be part of such an adventure. but that's NOT a worn tire!!!
  • 1 0
 I just went through the 17 comments above here, and NO NEGATIVE posts , just good vibes...(rare on PB), this probably shows how good the TP was.
  • 1 0
 I am doing the Trans Savoie in a disturbingly short 7 weeks - hoping legs, skills, dodgy thumb and decrepit back hold up to that!
  • 2 0
 Nice work finishing it man! Was nice to hang out few times.
  • 1 0
 UNreal! Fantastic pics, great, heartfelt words - thanks for bringing us all along on your journey!!!
  • 2 0
 Erm, theres still loads on that tyre.
  • 1 0
 Awesome read @mdelorme ! Thanks for helping me put proper thoughts to my own TP experience. Great meeting you!
  • 1 0
 Excellent write up and pictures (good to see at least two Oranges deployed too)
  • 2 0
 Wow some day !!!
  • 2 0
 Great story.
  • 1 0
 great and cool guy, thanks for the pics
  • 1 0
 That story, these pictures, that scenery, .... (drooling)
And baguettes !
  • 1 0
 Wonderful read, wonderful picture - my longing to ride this only rises.
  • 1 0
 Looks like a new Niner Carbon WFO?
  • 1 0
 Not quite, but 2 Niners were just announced for pre-order at Competitive Cyclist:

New Niner RIP9 RDO, 140mm CVA rear, 160 Lyrik front

New JET 9 RDO, 120mm CVA rear, 130 34 front

Both 27.5+ capable.

www.competitivecyclist.com/sc/new-niner-jet-9-rip-9
  • 1 0
 That full moon photo awesome!
  • 1 0
 This looks like a really positive scene!
  • 1 0
 Amazing ride! Great job!
  • 1 0
 Hell yeah Matt!
  • 1 0
 One word: dream...

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