Photo Epic: Trans Vesubienne 2020 - The Downcountry World Champs?

Sep 21, 2020
by Matt Wragg  


The organisers of the Trans-Vesubienne would never use the word "downcountry." For a start when they began running this race in 1988, Mike Levy was somewhere around primary school age. For a second thing, in the glorious French tradition, they don't really care what anyone else is doing or what the wider world thinks of their race - in fact outside France there's a good chance you've never even heard of this race. That is a shame. Surely the idea of racing bikes up and down truly wild mountains on ungroomed hiking trails is pretty much exactly the kind of riding Mike had in mind when he first proposed what has now mutated into a new cliche for uninspired marketing people to abuse.

There is a very good case that it is the toughest one day mountain bike race anywhere in the world, with the course taking in over 80km (50 miles) and 2,400m (7847ft) of climbing through the unforgiving trails of the Alpes Maritimes, from La Colmiane to Nice. The trails are deliberately chosen to be unridable in places, forcing riders to carry their bikes. You may say, 'What about the MB Race around Mont Blanc or the Downieville Classic?', but the former can't match the Trans V for technicality and the latter is on groomed trails that aren't constantly threatening to peel your skin and trash your bike. As winner Emeric Turcat put it, "In a normal marathon race you can recover on the descents, where here they beat you up." Through the years it has built a well-deserved reputation as a star killer, Julien Absalon and Christophe Sauser both found themselves standing lower in the results sheet than they are used to, although Nino Schurter won it in 2009 and Cecile Ravanel has taken the victory twice on 2001 and 2006 under her maiden name of Rode. As with all racing in 2020, things were very different this year - normally the race is held in May, but Covid forced it to be pushed back to September and a finish on the beachfront in Nice was simply not possible, so the race finished in the suburb of L'Ariane.

Full results.


Some other cyclists have been here recently...
Some other cyclists have been here recently...

There are no factory pits here - riders from the Levens club gather around Antoine s van a car mechanic doubling up as techincal support for his friends this weekend.
There are no factory pits here - riders from the Levens club gather around Antoine's van, a car mechanic doubling up as technical support for his friends this weekend.

Riders headed off in waves for the prologue.
Riders headed off in waves for the prologue.

Mary Moncorge took the win in the women s field.
Mary Moncorge took the win in the women's field.

Didier Langasque hanging it all out in the Masters 40 category.
Didier Langasque hanging it all out in the Masters 40 category.

Full commitment from Chenevier on his way to winning the prologue.
Full commitment from Alexis Chenevier on his way to winning the prologue.

The finish line for the proglogue - St Martin.
The finish line for the prologue - St Martin.

Riders gather at the finish in St Martin.
Riders gather at the finish in St Martin.

The founder of the TransV - George Edwards - also happens to be the man behind the Megavanlanche.
The founder of the TransV - George Edwards - also happens to be the man behind the Megavanlanche.


As the night fell the clouds rolled in and out with the promised storm threatening. In the end there was some rain through the night but nothing like the amount everybody had feared.
As the night fell the clouds rolled in and out, with the promised storm threatening. In the end, there was some rain through the night, but nothing like the amount everybody had feared.

5.30 am for Mary Moncorge.
5.30 am for Mary Moncorge.

On the turbo trainer before 6am - it takes real commitment to come and play here.
On the turbo trainer before 6am - it takes real commitment to come and play here.

It looked like a nervous wait on the start line.
It looked like a nervous wait on the start line.

And they re off
And they're off!

With a race this long taping just isn t possible so you need to follow the red arrows home.
With a race this long taping just isn't possible, so you need to follow the red arrows home.

The first part of the loop took riders high into the mountains and their first contact with civilisation was the village Utelle for the first timing check food and technical support.
The first part of the loop took riders high into the mountains and their first contact with civilisation was the village Utelle for the first timing check, food and technical support.

Emeric Turcat headed into the second timing check behind Alexi Chenevier but on the long climb to Col de la Porte he proved the stronger rider gaining a small margin which he held all the way to the finish line.
Emeric Turcat headed into the second timing check behind Alexi Chenevier, but on the long climb to Col de la Porte he proved the stronger rider, gaining a small margin which he held all the way to the finish line.

The top local rider was Maxime Folco - he has come close to winning this race more times than anyone else but has never quite managed to grab that top step. This year he had to settle for fourth.
The top local rider was Maxime Folco - he has come close to winning this race more times than anyone else but has never quite managed to grab that top step. This year he had to settle for fourth.

Jerome Gilloux took the win in the ebike class - you have to take your hat off to him as the day before he was racing the E-EWS in Pietra and anyone who thinks ebike racing is easy should try that combination before passing judgement.
Jerome Gilloux took the win in the ebike class - you have to take your hat off to him as the day before he was racing the E-EWS in Pietra, and anyone who thinks ebike racing is easy should try that combination before passing judgement.

Mikael Fanget descends towards Utelle.
Mikael Fanget descends towards Utelle.

Back in 1996 Francois Dola took a break from World Cup DH duties to share the winning step of the podium with JP Bruni yes that Bruni today he took home the third step in the ebike class.
Back in 1996 Francois Dola took a break from World Cup DH duties to share the winning step of the podium with JP Bruni (yes, that Bruni), today he took home the third step in the ebike class.

Choose your weapon 27.5 enduro bike with a coil shock...
Choose your weapon: 27.5 enduro bike with a coil shock...
...or a lightweight XC machine at this point of the race the enduro bike was winning .
...or a lightweight XC machine (at this point of the race the enduro bike was winning).

Nadine Sapin also took on both the E-EWS coming off second place behind Tracy Moseley to take the victory at the Trans V.
Nadine Sapin also took on both the E-EWS, coming off second place behind Tracy Moseley to take the victory at the Trans V.

This was a familiar experience for more than a few riders - fortunately he got up grinning and carried on.
This was a familiar experience for more than a few riders - fortunately he got up grinning and carried on.

2019 French marathon champion Pierre Billaud leads Nicolas Reculeau down towards Utelle. On the long climb to Col de Porte Pierre pulled away to climb up to third overall while Nicolas slipped back to sixth.
2019 French marathon champion, Pierre Billaud, leads Nicolas Reculeau down towards Utelle. On the long climb to Col de Porte Pierre pulled away to climb up to third overall, while Nicolas slipped back to sixth.

Lycra XC tyres and loose shaley hardpack Definitely not a combination for the faint of heart.
Lycra, XC tyres and loose, shaley hardpack? Definitely not a combination for the faint of heart.

This is how much of the race passed for many - riders tended to bunch up behind a slower rider with few opportunities to overtake on the narrow singletrack.
This is how much of the race passed for many - riders tended to bunch up behind a slower rider with few opportunities to overtake on the narrow singletrack.

Winner of the women s race Dannaelle Buroit takes the safe option on the grey earth.
Winner of the women's race, Dannaelle Buroit takes the safe option on the grey earth.

Second place in the womens race went to Juliette Courtigne.
Second place in the women's race went to Juliette Courtigne.

Race day didn t go to plan for Mary Moncorge her legs went on the first mountain and she didn t finish the second climb and by the evening she was running a full-blown fever.
Race day didn't go to plan for Mary Moncorge, her legs went on the first mountain and she didn't finish the second climb and by the evening she was running a full-blown fever.

This tricky corner with a nasty drop to the left nearly caught many people out and more than a few resorted to descending on foot.
This tricky corner with a nasty drop to the left nearly caught many people out and more than a few resorted to descending on foot.

A team effort helping Dider Langasque save precious at the ravito.
A team effort helping Dider Langasque save precious time at the ravito.

In recent years ebikes have opened the race up allowing more people to try their hand at this kind of high mountain racing.
In recent years ebikes have opened the race up, allowing more people to try their hand at this kind of high mountain racing.

A coveted sticker.
A coveted sticker.

This was a common site at the finish line head down everything left on the mountain.
This was a common sight at the finish line, head down, everything left on the mountain.

Maybe the single kneepad is something like the Michael Jackson glove
Maybe the single kneepad is something like the Michael Jackson glove?

Kneepads were considered and inconvenience by most racers...
Kneepads were considered and inconvenience by most racers...

Smiles and scars ofr Alexis Chenevier. After Emeric passed him climbing he managed to hold him in sight for a while but ended up pushing too hard trying to make up time... His seventh victory in this race will have to wait a little longer.
Smiles and scars for Alexis Chenevier. After Emeric passed him climbing he managed to hold him in sight for a while but ended up pushing too hard trying to make up time... His seventh victory in this race will have to wait a little longer.

2018 French Marthon champion Emeric Turcat and the Scott Spark RC that took him to his second consecutive victory - for this race he added a dropper post and a 120mm fork compared to his usual racing setup.
2018 French Marathon champion Emeric Turcat and the Scott Spark RC that took him to his second consecutive victory - for this race he added a dropper post and a 120mm fork compared to his usual racing setup.

Not everybody had such a glorious end to their day. Heal up soon Thibaut
Not everybody had such a glorious end to their day. Heal up soon Thibaut!



64 Comments

  • 43 0
 Now that’s some real xc.
  • 8 9
 The trails are nothing XC. You have to make up your mind between shaving time on the climbs, or gaining precious seconds of it on your way down. I remember Loic Bruni's dad winning the race in the early 2000s with a Balfa. For those of us old enough to remember, Balfa was nothing near lightweight lol .
  • 27 0
 @Euskafreez: exactly, this is what xc should be.
  • 11 1
 @dualcrownscottspark: I agree with you here. This is what modern XC bikes are capable of, so this is how they should be raced.
  • 4 20
flag scott-townes (Sep 21, 2020 at 7:01) (Below Threshold)
 @Euskafreez: That's how XC should be. Over the past 10 years they became too easy allowing people with good cardio and little bike handling skills to dominate generally speaking. These new terms like "down country" are such a joke.
  • 19 0
 @Euskafreez: The guys who win this are the dudes that are monsters on the climbs. Climbing is where is it is won. Overwhelming majority of time is spent climbing. Downhill time is just a small fraction.
  • 21 0
 Needs to be pointed out that the race starts at altitude and finishes at sea level. It climbs 2900m but descends 4150.
  • 7 0
 @tacklingdummy: I've finished this race twice. You can't win it unless your handling skills are good enough. Being the best climber won't help on this race. You have to be good in the downhills, to save energy and overtake people.
Most of the XC folks doing great at this race on modern XC bikes (very capable bikes those long travel XC) are pretty handy on a bike. Reason is that the french were they're young, they race in all disciplines before choosing one. It's called the TNGV or something, national trophy of young mountain bikers.
  • 16 0
 @nozes: And allmost all of that climbing is extremely technical. The best walk quite some time. If your fitness, climbing skills and /or bike do not allow you to ride what is somewhat rideable, you are walking A LOT. Sure, in those 'choose your weapon' pics, the enduro bike gets the style points, but also probably an hour of extra racing time compared to equally abled riders. I think the best weapon of choice is a 120mm 29er with sturdy, but good rolling tires. It should be as light as possible and still stay in one piece. It's an allmost impossible combination, which makes this race so great. As a rider, you have to have it all: Great up as well as downhill skills.
  • 2 0
 @jeroenk: Exactly.
I never raced the Transvesubienne,but I've followed the race and it's evolution throughout the years since the mid-nineties.
It's a format that has everything for almost everyone.
I even learned to carry my bike over my shoulders over very steep climbs watching the pictures on magazines!
  • 4 0
 @Euskafreez: Yeah, I agree you can't be a hack at the downhills, but now pretty much all the top climbers are very good at downhills. Look at Shurter. Also, in my area, a lot of the top riders on the leaderboards of all the climbs are top guys on the leaderboards of the downhills. They are putting down some crazy numbers on both climbs and downhills.
  • 4 0
 @Euskafreez: Not only JP Bruni won this race (three times!), but his teammate did it also (two times) : Claude Vergier, Loris "Syndicate" Vergier's father ! And on the last time he did so not on the downhill parts, but by firing his rocket on the terrible climb from Pont de Cros to Levens ! He was riding a Balfa, not the BelAir, the "light" model, but the 2Step with a coil shock that weights more than his son's DH bike does today (I still ride a one myself).
They were called warriors ... that simply meant Tansvesubienne's finnisher, as you like it ;-)
  • 15 0
 Such an awesome event. Rode it twice, in 2011 and 2012 and it took me almost 12 hours (just before the cut-off) to complete the race.
All kinds of people and bikes competing, from full on enduro to hard tail singlespeed
  • 11 0
 @mattwrag We need a "bike of the TransV" !
  • 26 0
 @fracasnoxteam: Bike checks coming tomorrow-ish, but my wife is sick so priorities, etc.
  • 12 0
 @mattwragg: All the best to your wife then!
  • 4 0
 @mattwragg: Of course. Healing vibes!
  • 10 0
 Quentin Derbier, former 4X WC, raced it on an hardtail and finished 38th.
  • 4 0
 I bet he had an appointment with his chiropractor on the next day lol .
  • 4 0
 Done it 3 time, that is the ultimate mtb experience if you ask me.
TransV is not here to play in the "i piss longer than you" "toughest race in the world". As a multisport endurance athlete i'm tired of races trying to become the hardest but that's not the Transv which has the same spririt for about 30 years. You have to stay on the damn bike despite what it's throwing at you. Each time i did it i faced risks of retiring : bad fall on the head, slipping while hiking in the snow etc...
It's here to amaze you with nasty climbs nasty downhill and all the conditions/types of terrain you can imagine in a single day.
Also compared to what i see regularly here on pinkbike it's not prepared/groomed terrain for mtb like american are used to. It's mostly hiking trail, prologue has a few slow bermed switchbacks but all the terrain is 100% natural.
  • 5 0
 I think most american mountain bikers never even rode a mountain hiking or goat herding trail.
  • 7 4
 Marji Gesick 100 in Upper Peninsula of Michigan. 110 miles and over 10,000ft of climbing. Jeremiah Bishop claims it's the hardest single day mountain bike race in the world....
  • 5 0
 Ehhh... I've finished it four times and while its certainly the hardest mountain bike race I've done, I have a difficult time believing there aren't harder races out there.
  • 1 1
 I was going to post this as well. It's north of 14000 feet of climbing now, and coming close to 120 miles. Thanks, Todd!
  • 1 0
 @notenduro: hardest single day race maybe? 10 000 feet is a lot in a single day period.
  • 4 0
 My vote for toughest would be Vapor Trail 125. 125 miles, 17k ft of climbing and it's all above 9k, mostly above 10k. I'm sure the race in UP is tough, but Midwest climb numbers are suspect because GPS counts every 20 foot hill as a climb. 40 250ft climbs is a much different experience than 3 3k climbs even if they both add up to 10k.
  • 7 0
 Sure you'll find races that are harder because of milage and altitude, but I have yet to find one that has as much difficult miles, both up and down. Those sections on the pictures aren't chosen for their difficulty - there are simply easy to reach from Utelle. The trails are that technical allmost all the time and world cup enduro difficult in some places, which you won't do on your enduro bike, if you care about the time limits. I've done it a few times and there truly is little comparison. I think in lots of countries, this kind of thing would not even be possible because of liability issues, but the French are this mad and I applaud them for it.
  • 2 0
 @dthomp325: That's cool, I never heard of it before. Looks like it got cancelled the past 2 years and their website isn't being updated anymore though?

Midwest climbing can be deceiving, it's not even 40x 250ft climbs - it's more like 400x 25ft climbs. It gets you in a much different way than 3k climbs, since it's so many micro-challenges instead of macro-challenges.
  • 1 0
 Are those races technically demanding?

Otherwise, the Salzkammergut Trophy (Austria) is probably harder: 210km, 7000m vertical.
(Mainly easy gravel roads though, and not that many single trails)
  • 1 0
 He never heard about the ultra raid de la Meije
  • 2 0
 I'd submit the Mountain's Revenge. 24 hours. Average elevation of 11,000ft. Course record of 154.7 miles, 27,045ft
  • 1 0
 @thefazz: Oh dang, I totally forgot about Mountain's Revenge. That one is proper hard.
  • 2 0
 Only the braves! Finisher 5 times.... the hardest and most technical in Europe...only techy single tracks...sharp rocks...loose terrajn most of the time.. many climbs like Brec d Utelle where jou must carry the bike on your back. A lufe experince for sure...Be able to be a finisher is such an achievement! Good job Georges Edwards!
  • 3 0
 essayes l'EPIC enduro. en mode course c'est plus dur et vraiment interessant comme defi!! la transV reste magnifique et unique dans bien des aspects! c'est d'ailleurs une des plus belles au monde
  • 4 0
 Local legend with the #10 plate decided to cycle home after the race: 4k meters of climbing and 135km in a day. No thanks
  • 3 0
 Mad props. Bravo @mattwarg pour le boulot de fou, couvrir la course et sortir le taf aussi vite!! btw that race is one of the most exciting one ...
  • 4 0
 you too are exciting!
  • 1 0
 Hi, @mattwragg , I think there is a slight mistake in the first picture of Mary Moncorgé (or did she actually take the win and I misunderstood completely ?) ; did you write it by anticipation ?

Hope she's getting better very soon !
  • 8 0
 I took the win on the Prologue on saturday but unfortunately couldn't finish sunday as I got sick. Danaelle took the win for the women as mentioned further along in the article.
  • 1 0
 This race looks epic! Thanks for showing us around the amazing courses around the world.

Shout out to my local "the course is WHAT?!" race, the Cascade Cream Puff, now being run as the Alpine Epic (of course not this year...). Here's the Trailforks for the 2018 course: www.trailforks.com/route/cascade-cream-puff-100--50

That's 3600m of climbing and descending... for the half-course. For the full you do it again. Climbing is mostly gravel but it's still a hell of a course.
  • 2 0
 Looks like another one on the bucket list. We do have a few of these types of races in Norway as well - 100k plus trail ultras, both single and multi-day events. Wishing for more of this type of XC coverage, PB!
  • 2 0
 @audric & mattwrag: I’ve done both Epic and Transvesubienne a few times and would say they are comparable. Absolute misery the last 2 hours.
  • 2 1
 Peeking around the corner when anyone says "is this the hardest one-day MTB race in the world:" Vapor Trail 125, Marji Gesick 100 and like a hundred other races. This one looks cool, though.
  • 4 0
 Pure mountain biking, looks awesome and challenging.
  • 1 0
 Just did it for the second time. This was a hard one with so many short-ish ups and downs (hike a bike up for most) in between the big climbs and downhills.
And my Garmin had 3200m up in the end...!
  • 2 0
 Done in 2013 under snow in first miles. Never done a harder race . Real mtb race with big singletracks and very technical...congrats all finishers
  • 4 0
 Its called cross country and it always has been.
  • 4 4
 2400m over 80km of ungroomed mountain trails? Same specs as the Bow 80 in the Canadian Rockies east slopes. Stopped running a few years back for so many reasons.
  • 3 0
 Yeah that's what people say when they haven't heard of it.

The TV is easy if you just look at the numbers. Now if you do it, you will find that even people that regularly ride the same amount of elevation and distance 2 times a week have issues with finishing.

Basically it's a mix of easyish, technical and very technical trails that will cut your tires, break your rims, derailleur...
I addition you will think "nah I can do this on the bike, I don't do it by foot" mistake > you fall and you now have a bit cut and some thorns in your face.

With today bikes it is probably a bit easier because you can have a light efficient solid and downhill able bike. 10 years ago it was really a struggle
  • 1 0
 "Breaks your derailleur", yep, happened to me last year already after 2.5 hours in rain and snow... Wink

It's a real pity I couldn't go there this year.
  • 1 0
 Awesome that this took place in the birthplace of mountain biking... France.
  • 1 0
 True climbing figure this year was something around 3350 meters (11 000 feet).
  • 1 0
 On the top of my bucket list
  • 2 2
 @mattwragg i'm sure you are aware of " Shimano Epic enduro" more than 115km and 4500m+ (?)
  • 3 0
 Yeah, it's big, but with enduro you climb at an easy pace and get time to rest at the top - it'd be an interesting comparison if you fancy trying both. Wink
  • 3 1
 @mattwragg: Done the Shimano Epic and can tell you that if you want to make it to 2nd Loop and 3rd there's no chill pace on the up!
But i know that the Trans is considered the toughest...
Can we compare both by calories burnt? ahaha
Props to you to cover this event and bringing the news and shots this fast!

Cheers
  • 2 0
 @mattwragg: I raced the TransV many times 7 is my best result around 2004 and also raced 2 times the EPIC enduro, where I believe my best result is 6 or 8 ... bref. ... EPIC enduro is wayyyyyyy harder. because it's double the amont in climbs, you don't chill that much to make the 3 different loops AND the downhill are way more technical and you ride it full on!!! it was a interesting comparison for me for years. I now have my answer. In 2015/16 I raced some of the most epic races around the globe, had to make some choices. It was unreal!!
  • 1 0
 @TitoTomasi: Thanks for this feedback Tito.
You're a freaking monster kinda GOAT
  • 1 0
 @TitoTomasi: +1 done the 2 also ... 1st EPIC last year ... and I was waaaaaay more trained than for my last TransV ... and indeed, to me, Epic is another level. It is not the climbs that kill you at EPIC (even if you have to manage 5000md+ ... which is not a piece of cake specailly in the 3td loop) but the downhills are. Technical/physical, rocks everywhere that are just waiting for you ...
  • 1 1
 Maah Daah Hey race in ND 106mi 14000ft of climbing there is bigger single day races Smile
  • 1 0
 the bc bike race should be the downcountry world champs
  • 2 3
 Dear pink bike, You look fat in that down country scheme....

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