October 2017, UK, late evening, dark, wet, my iPad bursts into life. Facebook Messenger. "Hey mate, fancy doing Trans-Provence again?"
Six years ago, after my season working as an assistant guide with Doug McDonald at BasqueMTB in Spain, Doug, Carlos and I took an end-of-season trip to the southern Alps, part of which we spent with Ash Smith, sampling some of the Sospel trail network and one or two sections of the already famous Trans-Provence race route. I instantly fell in love with the trails, scenery and weather that this part of the world has to offer, so I signed up for a Trans-Provence guided tour (rather than entering the race) for the following year, 2013.
The 2013 guided tour was a 6-day affair, with 10,000 metres of climbing and 15,000 metres of descending built into the 280km route. It was a physical challenge for me (I was 48 even then!), but an extremely rewarding one as we literally crossed the Alps on our bikes, starting near Gap, riding the most amazing trails through jaw-dropping scenery and ending up by the sea in Menton. The feeling of riding into Menton and jumping in the sea was an unforgettable one, and not a little emotional with all the fatigue that had built up during the week. I made a lot of friends that week, friends with whom I am still in touch to this day.
I didn't however feel the need to do it again. I have since been on several mountain bike trips in the same area with Ash, sampling the trails without the need for the 10,000m of climbing. All have been amazing.
Fast-forward five years to 2017 and I get that message from Dutchman Matthijs, who I met on the 2013 trip. My initial reaction was 'no', but after some persuasion from Matthijs, "it's the last one Ash is ever doing", I found myself signing up for 10,000m more pain. I was slightly comforted by Ash's assurances that the van would be taking 'some' of the sting out of 'some' of the climbs, and that it was now a five-day ride with some of the more 'dull' transitions removed.
I passed word around my regular foreign-trip gang of riding buddies and to my surprise we immediately had seven (a van-full) signing up. A couple of dropouts later we ended up with five Brits (Paul 'Bucket', Jim, Gareth, John and me) joined by German-Swiss couple Paul and Patrizia (annoyingly good at tight, steep, rocky switchbacks).
One thing that has changed since I last rode it (apart from being in my mid-fifties now) is that I have bought and learned to use a camera (mainly in response to some of the photos taken by others on the 2013 trip) and I have been practising on my last few trips (see my other blogs). No excuses this time.
Anyway, a year of fairly hard training later we arrived in Nice in late September 2018 for what was to be an awesome trip. Our guides were Julia Hobson (on bike) and Andy Bates of 3Sixty Transfers (in the van). Both did an incredible job and we can't thank them enough.
Enough words. Here are the best shots from the trip:Arrival and Day 1 - Barcelonnette to ColmarsDay 2 - Colmars to ValbergDay 3 - Valberg to Valdeblore
Day 4 - Valdeblore to SospelDay 5 - Sospel to Menton