Ladies on the Rocks

Jan 8, 2015 at 11:17
by Katrina Strand  
The crew stops to take a mid day break.

The last stage of a long week is completed and we roll the final few meters down to the old town of Menton. The Mediterranean is directly before us. We are the ones attracting the attention of passers-by though. Have they never before seen four girls wearing bikinis and full face helmets? We can already see the yellow Mavic tent on the Promenade along with some of our cheerful competitors, most of them already with a well-deserved can of beer in hand.

Park the wheels, helmet, backpack and shoes off, and then finally the long-awaited jump into the sea. We did it!

The Trans-Provence, now in its sixth year, has gained the reputation of being one of the toughest Enduro stage races. In six days the French Maritime Alps are crossed from Clamensane (south of Gap) to Menton on the beautiful Côte d' Azur. Just under 8,500 meters of ascents and 15,000 meters of descents await the motley array of professional riders, serious amateurs, media reps and pleasure-seeking hobby-oriented riders from Europe, USA, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Trans Provence: 6 days with 75 starters. This totals 450 crazy individual adventures that we - Anita and Caro Gehrig, Katrina Strand and Ines Thoma, could witness and take part in, day by day, on their way to the sea.

Blind racing is an interesting thing . . . Katrina Strand racing with eyes wide in search of the next TP sign. Duncan Philpott photo.
Katrina Strand

The trail was fast, flowy and the dirt was incredible! I’m sure I was giggling out loud, snapping my bike through the corners, brakeless and tucked – so much fun! Could this be the best stage of the week? No.

“I think it’s the wrong way!”, there was someone on the side of the track yelling at me. “Are you sure?“ I yelled back, still in full tuck. “No!” he replied. So I kept going full speed ahead. Not for long though, as soon as I hit a road with no TP signs, I knew I had a made a mistake.

Day 1 was already a big day. 58 km, starting in Clamensane and finishing in Digne-les-Bains, way up in the mountains, 6 days away from the beach. Wait, everyday is a big day in the Trans-Provence, but Day 1 was for sure one of the biggest, I just made it bigger. So my hike back up hill began, and I stopped a few more riders who had clearly made the same mistake as me. After around 45 minutes I saw where we all went wrong.

Those TP signs are like gold! I learnt that day to ride with wide eyes (well, sort of, I did get lost a second time...oops) and to also accept that getting lost is basically the spirit of the Trans Provence. I like to see my detours as a contribution to an even more epic adventure, they made that swim in the ocean on the last day even that much more amazing!

Ines Thoma full speed ahead. Sam Needham photo.
Ines Thoma

Sweat is dripping from my forehead. More than 1100 meters in altitude difference and steep trails already lie behind us, during which we have balanced our bikes on our shoulders and put one foot in front of the other. The first transfer stage of the second day is almost done. A technically difficult, steep stone field has to be crossed and the last 150 meter climb of a precipitous slope traversed, then we stand breathing heavily at the summit. Without mutual help, encouragement, and the great atmosphere in our group we probably would not have made it.

The second day of the race has absolutely embedded itself in my memory, a true day of adventure. With legs tired from yesterday, I was up and out of bed at 6 o’clock in the morning. Never before have I carried my bike at an altitude of 1400 meters, over rocks, through narrow gullies and over wide fields. But with the breathtaking views under an azure sky, the effort is worth it and the feeling of standing on the summit is just incredible. The race trails are also absolutely amazing. I feel just great on the flowing, fast and physically demanding trails in the valleys around Val d’Allos, and can build up my lead from the previous day by almost a minute.

The day couldn’t be better could it? On the last stage of the day, which leads us down to the picturesque town of Colmar, three large white cows suddenly appear in front of me on the trail. Of course they do what cows do - instead of getting off the trail, they panic and race frantically down it in front of me. Unfortunately their “frantic race” is so slow that I feel as if I’m in the rush hour in Manhattan on my way to give birth in a labour ward. I would love to go faster, but can’t. The seconds tick away and after what feels like an eternity (probably only about 20 – 30 seconds) I manage to overtake the huge white giants.

During this stage I have learned one thing. The Trans Provence is an adventure which cannot be planned in detail. It is not always easy to find the right way; it is not always easy to get through the day without having falls and failures, and - apparently you must expect to meet wildlife crossing your path. Everything is possible on the way to the sea.

Anita Gehrig negotiates her way through the technical rocky and exposed descents that characterize the week. Duncan Philpott photo.
Anita Gehrig

Day 4 - The sky is as grey and overcast as my mood. I’m tired and worn out from three long days on the bike. We didn’t even have 30 minutes of wake-up time on the bike, because we were shuttled straight up, over 1000 metres in height. Suddenly, in the middle of the morning calm, I hear an unwelcome sound - pff - a puncture. I get off my bike and repair the mess with tubeless milk sealant, while #thefüstlicrew support me. At this point I’m having trouble summoning up any energy and to make things worse, shortly before the end I lose my chain. It seems like everything is happening today!

I ride up the next long climb with Caro and she goes ahead of me in the single track transfer, a section about which everyone had raved. A dream of a trail, but again I hear it - pff - my attempts to call Caro remain unheard and I sit alone in the forest and mend yet another puncture..., "Actually I should be happy that this doesn’t happen to me during one of the stages”, but nevertheless I find myself at an emotional low point. Even at the end of the trail I don’t meet up with my companion. Feeling frustrated, I pass the lovely village of Roubion and am suddenly deeply impressed. It’s unbelievable how beautiful the villages are that we pass in this race. We are very lucky! I give myself a sharp kick in the ass and finally switch my brain from misery to enjoyment.

The second stage of the day is in the bike park of Roubion. From the lift I can already see some of the trails and they look like a lot of fun. This stage leaves me with a big grin on my face and later I even learn that I achieved the best time. At the finish I finally catch sight of my friends and we make our way towards the location of the next stage and onwards towards the coast.

Caro Gehrig deep in the woods. Duncan Philpott photo.
Caro Gehrig

The alarm goes off at 6:30 in the morning. Even though today is the last day of this incredible adventure, I can hardly get out of bed. The last five long days on the mountain bike have sapped all my strength, every muscle hurts and is screaming for rest. The anticipation of concluding the race at the beach of Menton motivates me however, and I manage to get myself up in time for breakfast. I quickly pack a backpack for the day, exchange a raincoat for a bikini and am ready to go. Today we have to summon up all of our strength to take on the risks of the difficult trails, avoiding any crashes and finishing the race without any technical problems.

The first trail of the day brings us to the newly created, but already infamous "Ze holy Trail”. At the end of this trail it was clear that we would have more hurdles to overcome before we would be able to dive into the water. The day continues, steep and almost impassable and with tight, narrow switch-backs. Although I try to ride cleanly and fluidly, I fall more than once. I’m at the end of my strength!

Finally we come to the last stage of the Trans Provence 2014. On the trail description, which we always receive the evening before, no potential danger zones are indicated. This leads us to believe that we are about to ride a nice, maybe even flowing final trail. Almost wistfully, one after the other we start the last stage. However, there was no sign of ‘flow’, only countless unbelievably tight and obstructed switchbacks. At the finish we fall into one another’s arms, happy to have survived this trail and the whole Trans Provence 2014, and to have participated in such an adventure. Now it was time to change out of the stinky bike clothes and into bikinis! The refreshing leap into the sea isn’t far away...

The Trans-Provence is BIG. The shortest day is approximately 6 hours, while the longest will take the fastest riders 10. Although everyone’s experience during the week is different, we all find common ground as our minds create new definitions of what is possible. What we as humans are capable of is truly phenomenal, and an adventure like this expands the horizon.

Huge thanks to Mavic for making this adventure possible, Duncan Philpott and Sam Needham for the photos, and of the course #thefüstlicrew for moving the moments of suffering into moments of fun!

6 days and over 300 km later riders sit down to relax and rejoice in their epic adventure. Duncan Philpott photo.

MENTIONS @mavic @duncanp @SamNeedham @katrina

Author Info:
katrina avatar

Member since Jun 11, 2003
2 articles

  • 12 0
 This is AWESOME! Thank you so much for sharing it -- what a rad way to 'experience' the ride... Now you've got me itching to race some trail bikes! Smile
  • 4 0
 Day 2 will be etched in to my legs and the downtube shaped groove in my shoulders for a VERY long time. Honoured to have shared the trail with you guys
  • 3 1
 Awesome stories! Thanks for sharing them and helping me relive some of my similar memories of this epic adventure! I wonder what Ash will have in store for this year's crop of nutters Smile
  • 2 0
 Well Done Katrina!! Even though there is the competitive element of the race, it seems to take a back seat to the shear joy of the ride with great friends. IMO "fun" should definitely trump "fast". more of this please...
  • 3 0
 good reading n some sweet pictures
  • 2 0
 Cool good jobs girls and very jealous apart from the bikini bit.
  • 2 0
 Like you've never dressed in a bikini before dude !!!
  • 1 0
 I hope one day to be in good enough shape to manage an adventure like this!
  • 1 0
 Anyone know how to get a GPX file of the route?
  • 2 0
 There'll never be one in existence... Wink 1 rule of the TP that never gets broken is the sharing of the route on any public forum, strava or otherwise
  • 1 0
 You obviously havent tried googling "transprovence gpx" then? Sorry to be the reality check here but it looks like some cnut put one up way back in 2011 on I haven't tried googling for 'trans-savoie gpx' yet - Id rather stick my head in the sand and pretend its not already out there! I feel bad for Ash though, it takes years of very hard work to string together such a route, and anyone freely distributing it without prior authorisation is no different to someone pirating music, downloading movies from share sites..... Yes, you can get it for free if you want to - but if no-one ever paid for this info/content, no-one would bother to put the hard work into creating it in the first place. That can't be a good thing, surely?
  • 1 0
 Happy to pay for guiding but if none available & Ash has changed his guided week calendar to late season then you have to self-guide. Why wouldn't you want to ride the best bits and be able to ensure you don't end up in the wrong valley miles from home?
  • 1 0
 Nice work Katrina. Keep it up.
  • 1 0
 YEAH Kat!!!! So Awesome!
  • 1 0

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