Photo Report: TransNomad - Multi Stage Racing in the Pyrenees

Oct 12, 2019
by Doug McDonald  

I think that everyone who rode the TransNomad arrived at a low point some time during their race. For me it was on day 4 after hours of climbing and carrying when we were faced with a green wall of mountain-side which we needed to carry our bikes over. This was a race which took you to your limits and then brought you back with amazing descents, jawdropping views and cold beers at the end of hard days.

It was a race of contrasts, with a serious race going on between some of the best riders in the sport and on the other side a massive adventure through some of the best trails in the Pyrenees. It was a race that was fiercely contested but where everyone looked out for each other and shared stories in the bar at the end of the day. This was the TransNomad and I´m going to try and tell you about the mixture of racing and adventure and share my experience. These are areas I know well and guide mountain bikers through here as a job but when I was offered a space on the TransNomad I was excited by the chance to experience the trails in a different way. It would be a busman's holiday for sure!

Hiking is an important part of the TransNomad. That is how you get to the best trails. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Early morning hikes become a way of life.

Vid Persak on fire. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Normally followed by fast, high mountain racing.

Vid Persak is a class act no doubt about that. On his way to a win. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Doug The author riding through the high meadows. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual

Fast techincal racing at sunrise. It is hard. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
The trails are epic.

Views and manuals for miles. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
And the scenery is epic too.

Day 1: +2050m / - 2540m from Bielsa to Saint Larry.

Day one of TransNomad was billed as the longest, hardest day. With over 2000m of hard climbing and pushing ahead of us, we set off from the hotel at 7:30am after a shockingly early breakfast. Our first task was to push and carry our bikes for around an hour, to reach a high mountain pass between Spain and France. This is an ancient route for smuggling, both of goods and of people, between Spain and France. It was famously used by the Republicans to flee into France in 1938, during the civil war, to escape from the Nationalist soldiers during very difficult conditions.

Crossing it this morning, with perfect sunshine and light winds I can only imagine how those heroes managed. We only stopped at the top for around 30 minutes, to prepare the course for departure, and the cold was intense. From here we had a long descent, split into 3 stages which took us to the Val d’Aure and the ski station of Saint Lary. The trails were prepared by Pyrenees2Vallees and it was incredible with big sweeping turns and nasty rock gardens, which you came into blind and hard on the brakes. The ground was really grippy, apart from in the places where it wasn´t and many people were caught out. We saw some of the best riders set off only to trip up with cold hands and bodies on the first corners and the rest of the pack set off at a more normal speed.

After lunch and a visit to the mechanics for many people we set off on the "big climb" of the day. It was everything we were promised; hard and steep but with amazing views as we worked our way into the French Pyrenees. As we worked our way higher we had time to talk and many people made new friends as we did so. Arriving at the top we were treated to the fourth timed stage of the day, which dropped from a ski station down into the valley with some narrow sheep tracks that were desperate to catch your tyres and send you tumbling off the hill.

It was a really hard stage to race; very physical and fast with big exposure in places. This was followed by a short climb and then the most incredible stage down to Saint Larry, the sort of trail which makes you forget your tiredness. We experienced perfect banked corners and a scattering of technical rocky sections which you scraped through struggling to keep your speed and were finally spat out at the campsite where we were fortunate enough to have warm bungalows to sleep in. That evening we were a bunch of extremely tired mountain bikers, however new friendships had been made during the day and that evening were reinforced over dinner and drinks. During the evening briefing, we were promised an easier day to follow which helped settle our nerves.

During the stages of day 1, Damien Oton (Devinci / Unior) took an early lead, closely pursued by Vid Persak (Orbea), a theme which was to continue to the end. Fighting over 3rd and 4th were Francois Bailly-Maitre for Santa Cruz / Raceface and Gabriel Torralba for Orbea. Local hero Cesar Garin (Orbea / Jeanstrack) was hot on their heels despite "taking it easy". There were sadly only 3 women's competitors and Kristien Achten from the Swooth MTB Team was a long way in front with a very respectable time. In second was Beatriz Diniz Ferragi (Cannondale Brazil) who came all the way from Brazil. Sadly Isabel Van de Voorde was ill and had to drop out. She would return for the later stages but there was no way to claw her way back from 3rd place.

Big Mountains in Vall e Du Louron Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Orbea´s Gabriel Torralba charging hard all week.

The locations are just incredible. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Epic trails.
Plenty of encouragement for the riders. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Epic company.

Slippy French Forest make for fantastic stages. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Diego Grasa from FOX the man with the microphone Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual

Epic mountain biking trails. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
You aren´t alone often but when you are... Enjoy!

Vid Persak from Orbea pushing all week. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Vid Persak from the Orbea Enduro Team.

The early starts really hurt. It was so worth it. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Sometimes you have to stop and just soak it all in.

Early morning hikes to high mountain passes Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Working our way up to the French-Spanish border on an old smuggling path.

Photo by Edu Moreno from BlackMountain Photo.
The trails were high consequence but really a lot of fun.


Day 2: +1350m / + 1800m around the Louron Valley on the Pyrenees2Vallees Trails.

Day 2 started with a long uplift and a difficult push / carry up a ski piste before we reached the first stage. Here we see more of the contrast that makes this race special with the top 5 riders shouting and cheering the first riders away. After the fun, the top riders put their game faces on and it´s all serious as they sprint out of the start gate and dispatch the first section of trail at a speed that seems impossible. The first two stages are more bike park than high mountain, using the excellent trails of Pyrenees2Vallees which offer slippery, technical challenges through the steep forests here. The trails have been built by someone with a real eye for using terrain and keeping it all flowy and these trails include everything from seemingly vertical root walls to wooden bridges suspended from the trees on ropes. Bizarre and brilliant!

The top 5 remain largely unchanged with Damien and Vid changing places a few times and Francois and Gabi doing the same. Cesar remains in 5th overall despite Markel Uriarte (Orbea / Jeanstrack) and Daniel Prijkel (Kona) pushing him back a few places on stages 1 and 4 respectively. Only 2 seconds seperate Damien Oton and Vid Persak and the same goes for Francois and Gabi in 3rd and 4th. The women's field remained unchanged with Kristien Achten stretching away in front of Beatriz Diniz Ferragi. Lots of riders found these stages tricky, especially the final stage which was very steep and plenty technical. Quite a few riders roll into the camp with their clothes showing the muddy telltales of their mistakes.

After riding most people visited the local thermal spa and soaked their aches and pains away. Dinner that night was subdued and people were noticeably tired. Many people slipped away before the dessert to find their beds. Day 3, we were told during our evening briefing, was going to be hard and it would be another 7am start.

Sometimes it was hard to keep your eyes on the trail. The views were incredible. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
On some corners the hardest thing is keeping your eyes on the trail.

The liasons were a time to talk to friends. And to suffer. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
The liaisons are a time for making friends. And suffering.

Three UK riders who met on this trip. Scott Martyn and Colin. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
The race village at the end of the day. Bikes dumped and beers being ordered. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual

Damien Oton smiling all week and pushing hard. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Late nights repairing bikes. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual

Gabriel Torralba from Orbea throwing the horns. He is fresh from a 14th Place in Finale s EWS round. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Gabriel Torralba from Orbea fresh from a 14th place in the Finale EWS.

The procession of riders to the first stage. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
The procession up the mountain first thing in the morning.

Plenty of slippy and tight stages in the French forests. Pants by Jeanstrack one of the event sponsors. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Me vs a slippy French race stage.

Photo by Edu Moreno from BlackMountain Photo.
Some amazing French turns!.

Day 3: +1500m, +1600m from France to Spain.

Today we started with a fairly long uplift in a bus to the north face of the high French Pyrenees. Here the wall which separates Spain from France is littered with waterfalls and is famous for ice climbing in the winter. We started with a tricky 90 minute carry up a steep, slippy rock face to reach a narrow pass through the rock which opened up to show us an amazing looking trail which lead off down to Spain. The 3000m mountains of the Pyrenees stood watch over our passage as one by one we threw ourselves down that trail.

Damien Oton quickly found out that there wasn´t much grip in the perfect corners and went down hard only to spring to his feet again to the cheers of the watching riders. He wasn´t the only one and we watched rider after rider go down on these tricky corners. It seemed like slow in and fast out was the way to get a decent time. This was one of the longest special stages of the week at over 4km and it was very physical. After this, we had a long climb before we finished off with Zona Zero´s amazing Comodoto trail which took us back to Bielsa. This is one of the must ride trails in the Pyrenees, starting high in the mountains above Bielsa and dropping through the forests to the valley floor with a series of flowing corners expertly cut into the hillside. The last special stage is steep and rocky and it literally drops us at the hotel bar, where most of the riders immediately headed.

The top results today showed some change with Vid Persak for Orbea beating Damien Oton for Devinci / Unior to narrow the overall gap slightly. François Bailly-Maitre also edged in front of Gabi Torralba to take 3rd. Cesar Garin stayed super consisten with a 5th place. Kristien Achten kept hold of her lead in the womens group with some really consistent and quick times, she looked to have it all sewn up.

The whole week would be worth it just for this one corner. Puerto de Madera. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Worth it all for just this one corner!

Black mountain tops with amazing rock. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Huge black mountain tops.

The Orbea Enduro Team Vid Persak and Gabriel Torralba. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Gabriel Torralba dropping in. Cheers and heckles galore Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual

Hike-a-bike at sunrise. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Pre-dawn pushing bikes up mountains.

Crazy liason stages. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Epic liason stages.

Photo by Edu Moreno from BlackMountain Photo.
Me not falling on the slippy turns. The trick for me was slow in, slow out!

Day 4: +1400m / -2415m through some remote Zona Zero trails.

Today's riding started with a very exciting uplift in a series of 4x4 vehicles. On the steep, rough and exposed dirt track up the mountain, we had a puncture and a broken trailer as well as a few of the vans stuck and needing a push to get going again. Hands were sweaty by the time we reached the start of the trail high up on the French border. Our route would take up across into France briefly before dropping back down through the Puerto de Madera, a high mountain pass they used to use to carry wood between Spain and France. Here we enjoyed two spectacular high mountain stages, separated by a rocky pass we needed ropes to cross. The riding here was fast, exposed and flowing but any fall would be high consequence. We plummeted almost 1000m down to the valley floor, riding from the barren high alpine, through the layers of vegetation until we finished in a rooty pine forest. To win these stages you needed to be an all-rounder, happy on whatever terrain the mountain could throw at you.

After the frantic racing, we worked our way along the river on a very technical singletrack which caught out a few riders. Eventually, we reached a rough road where the TransNomad team was waiting with smiles and hot food. It was really a welcome sight I have to tell you after a cold start up on the mountain top. The next part of the day was pure suffering, we winched up a fireroad that was too steep to relax on but not steep enough to give you the excuse to get off and push. Pretty quickly we spotted the high pass and most people worked out where we were headed, looking at the green wall ahead with dread. Sure enough the last climb of the race was a steep and tough hike-a-bike that hurt deeply with our already drained legs.

Sitting at the start of the last stage we were treated to soaring eagles and warm temperatures. We were repeatedly warned not to let our guard down and that this stage had teeth, something which served to concentrate minds that were already wandering towards thoughts of cold beer. The stage dropped down from the pass into a steep-sided ravine and we could see the very narrow trail stretching away along one wall of the ravine. Damien Oton set off first, he only had to stay ahead of Vid Persak to win. The speed he dropped into that first section of trail was breathtaking and he was noticably faster than everyone else. Vid set off after. The last three special stages would decide the race overall. Further back in the pack lots of riders were involved in their own battles, either with friends, new rivals or just with themselves. Other riders were just trying to get to the end unscathed and had already decided to back off for the last stages.

We heard over the marshal´s radios that one of the course setters had fallen off and had a minor injury and the nervous energy tangibly ramped up a notch. Then we heard that Damien Oton had gone down hard and was being rescued from the river at the bottom of the ravine. He was OK but had had a nasty crash and lost time. All these bits of news served to increase our concentration as we set off on the best stages of the trip in my opinion. Fast, exposed and flowing with the ever-present drop to the ravine on the left calling for your attention. As promised the stage ended near to the hotel and after handing in our race chips everyone converged at the hotel bar.

The main man Javi Chopen who organised everything. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Javi the main man. Organising everything and handing out high fives.

The Male Winners Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
The female winners. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual

The team spirit and camaraderie was incredible. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
What an experience, what a group.

The overall results were in!

Vid Persak from Orbea took first place with Damien Oton from Unior / Devinci nine seconds back in second. Francois Bailly-Maitre from Santa Cruz / Raceface took third with Gabriel Torralba from Orbea / Huesca La Magica back in fourth. Cesar Garin from Orbea / Jeanstrack was back in 5th place. Kristien Achten from the Swooth MTB Team had a comfortable win thanks to her fast and consistent times. Beatriz Diniz Ferragi came second with Isabel Van de Voorde in third largely due to her DNS on day 1.

Thanks to everyone at TransNomad for organising such an amazing race. I ride these trails regularly, guiding people from all over the world, but it was amazing to ride them in a different way. The organisation was perfect and rider safety was very slickly managed in these high consequence environments, something demonstrated by the lack of hospital visits. Thanks to the sponsors, Orbea, Fox and Met Helmets. Thanks to the trailbuilders of Pyrenees2Vallees and Zona Zero.

Some pedally stages where fitness really counted. Photo by Juanjo Otazu de indomitvisual
Thanks to everyone, see you again next time!



17 Comments

  • 9 1
 Well...sorry to state the obvious but those are beautiful photographs. I'm no photographer but the angles and scenes are great, and so is the color quality. It would be awesome to see a collection like this for The Whole Enchilada and some other iconic trails.
  • 2 0
 awesome write up, I'm surprised at the quality of the trails in these seemingly really remote mountain passages, what a trek!
  • 7 0
 The trails are fantastic here. Also the organization of TransNomad put a LOT of unpaid trail work in. I don’t know for sure but I’m guessing at hundreds and hundreds of man hours up on the high mountains. This race leaves a legacy of freshly tidied-up trails for us all to enjoy.
  • 1 0
 Great write up Doug. Having been fortunate enough to ride some trails in those areas with you and you team, I'm not sure I'd want to ride them at full race pace. Well done for surviving!
  • 3 0
 Well done Weet!
  • 3 2
 Was this a race, or an Orbea photo shoot?
  • 2 0
 I would say both ;-)
  • 4 0
 @NoriDori: it was a race sponsored by Orbea and fox. I got passed a load of photos and just chose the prettiest. Also, because everyone has a little inner narcissist, I put some of me in there and I have an Orbea. The winner was on a Rallon and there were 3 Orbea’s in the top 5. Also I would say that Orbea was by far the most common bike there. Hope that helps clarify it a bit.
  • 2 0
 Congrats Vid!
  • 2 0
 He was flying! Such a nice style on the bike too. And that is after having 5 days to prepare for the race, poor guy thought the season was over and he was heading home after Finale. Top work and an absolute class act.
  • 1 0
 Although picturesque, I prefer pink mountain tops to black mountain tops.
  • 1 0
 Wow, looks amazing maybe someday..
  • 1 2
 Couldn't read it all.. but was it a huge race? If so ,why the full face ???
  • 4 0
 Not sure what your question is, or why you’ve been downvoted. It was a huge race. Lots of fullfacers but they weren’t compulsory. I rode in an open lid but with the terrain and speeds if I was actually wanting to give it full beans I’d have chosen a full facer.
  • 1 0
 @DougBasqueMTB: that was it,and you answered, thanks!
  • 1 0
 Good job Doug!
  • 1 2
 poo poo pee pee

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