In search of the perfect trail

Trans Savoie in retrospect

Trans Savoie 2015 Digested

So after getting back into the swing of normal life for 2-3 weeks, it's time to reflect on the 6 day stage race Antony and I participated in at the end of August. Months of training were realised in the toughest physical and mentally draining challenge I can remember being a part of.

The flight to Geneva was fun taking full advantage of the business class lounge at Heathrow (first time I’ve been caught drinking Whiskey at 7.45am in a few years). When gathering with all the other competitors at Geneva airport it was noticed how certain brands were present in a big way with everyones kit; Evoc bike bags, Bell Super 2R lids and Mavic shoes, we obviously all shop in the same place and read the same articles. We both noticed as well how uber cool lots of the folk were and how young they looked (straight out of mtb magazines). I’m nearly 45 and Ants pushing 50, amongst our usual riding gang, we are around the top of the pack, but amongst this “it” crowd I felt slightly less complacent (a feeling that would become common place over the next few days). So after a few intro’s and a chaotic packing/bun fight into the coaches we sat back for a 3hour transfer to the first camp site.

Base Camp, was pretty cool with all our tents laid out in neat little rows (these would be packed up by the camp crew and moved to a new site each day following the racers as we headed to our final destination Chamonix). After unpacking and building bikes there followed a quick meal of pasta pots and bolognaise then the riders briefing. Serious stuff with big warnings of taking it easy for the first day or 2 as the terrain and trails were very technically demanding and in previous years 70% of the injuries had occurred in the first 48hours! There followed an early night and sleep didn’t come easily.

Day 1
Up at 6, get in the toilet queue, prep bike and equipment (again) breakfast at 7 and away by 8, this was pretty much how every day began throughout the race. Conditions were ok, dryish and cloudy. Our first staged section was very tentative as nobody was sure quite what to expect, although it turned out to be pretty bike parky and mellow compared to what was to follow. Ant and I opted to ride together as opposed to being released at 30 second intervals as most of the competitors. We both noticed how hard it was to catch your breath due to the altitude. Stage 2 was a wake up call, very steep exposed switchbacks in multiples of 10 plus. I’ve ridden trails like these in Italy, Spain and Switzerland, however always in a group of holidaying friends, never blind and never with a race clock ticking and far better riders overtaking on seemingly impossible race lines. PRESSURE. Generally at 6 timed descending stages totalling 5000metres per day, the transition stages 1000metres per day are supposed to be a more relaxed affair, however rarely were, as both coming from an XC background, we often found ourselves getting to the top and beginning of the stages along with the pro’s after a furious uphill pedal…….downside….. less people for us to over take and more people wanting to get past us. The rest of the day passed in a blur, one of the highlights being Ant and I were 2nd and 3rd overall back to camp after the first days racing, a day in which there had been 1 broken leg (in 2 places) and one broken ankle for a couple of unlucky racers, the warnings were to be believed.

Day 2
Wet wet wet. Proof of this being how few pro pics were taken, the trails were carnage with many of the rootier or gnarlier steeps being unrideable for us, slithering was the order of the day, delays on some of the assisted chairlift transitions caused such a backlog of riders at the end of stage 5, that we were told stage 6 had been cancelled (I was quietly relieved as secretly I was shattered, soaked to the skin, had had a big off tumbling down a cliff 20ft whilst boulders rained down around me, one actually smashing 2 spokes and flatting my rear tyre), tragically when we got back down the bottom we discovered the train still running so stage 6 was back on! I felt a bit like a prisoner walking to his execution on the ride back up to stage 6. As it turned out what a result... it was the best trail (for us Surrey Hills boys) so far,  fast swooping single track, we got to the bottom yipping and whooping like kids, very glad to have made the train and got the chance to ride it. Major grumbles back at camp from those riders who hadn’t dug deep on the climbs and hence missed the last train to stage 6. a few more ligament damage (get well soon Paddy) and muscle pulls and hundreds of cuts bruises and abrasions amongst the cadre, oh and one of the marshals slipped and broke his hip while marking out the course today! I went to bed very very tired nearly 10hours in the rain and wind with another night sleeping on a ground mat in a tent surrounded by farts and zips going all night.

The sun has got his hat on hip hip hooray.

What a difference a day makes. we had been briefed that todays climbing transitions would be the hardest yet with significant hike a bike sections. They weren’t joking. temperatures got close 30 degree’s and there was very little shelter on the climbs, some folks learnt the hard way about filling water bladders at every opportunity, sometimes from troughs in villages, sometimes from rivers running down the mountain, I had my own personal battle with swollen knees due to rheumatoid arthritis and stupid amounts of hike a bike. Like a good buddy Ant waited at the top of the next stage and we blasted down as a pair on one of the most breathtakingly beautiful vistas ever seen by us. miles of snaking 10inch wide gullied singletrack running along a ridge line, quite excited to see the helmet cam footage of this one as it was a doozy.

Health scare back at camp, 15 riders down with gastroenteritis.. note sudden emergence of hand soap and gel at all toilets and food stations.

Day 4
My body has finally become accustomed to the level of activity I’m insisting it performs each day, I felt my strongest so far and confidence wise had managed to string a few good descents together “nailings” probably a bit strong. Our main riding buddy Stuart from Chiswick who we met before shipping out has now left us to ride with quicker guys, my excuse is he’s only 32 but the reality is he is fitter and faster. He's going to guide us around the Quantocks...an area he knows well, on our return.

Day 5
All change,, my weakest day so far, absolutely exhausted, finding it difficult to focus and concentrate on the descents, after 4 days of chasing Antony uphill at his pace, the cracks are starting to appear in my fitness when compared to his....he is a machine.

Nearly there

Day 6
We've come so far. Its all about finishing unscathed now. A much more relaxed vibe to todays racing and a stunning tram ride with views of Mont Blanc. The finale being a 10km descent with 1000 metres of undulating descent, mellow meadows,wooded, loamy with some pedally sections a few rocky shoots and switchbacks, no crazy exposed near verticle obstacles on this one.... phew. Out of 130 entrants i think 92 made it back from the last stage, I heard that 5 riders were so exhausted that they actually threw in the towel on stage 5 with just one more climb and descent to do before completing their 6 day odyssey! 

Man what an experience.

The trails and scenery were absolutely the best

The cameraderie special

The organisation as a logistical nightmare....pretty good

I won't lie, for me the trials and tribulations at the time probably outweighed the good times, but thats because I had totally underestimated how tough it was going to be, however it was a hell of an acheivement for a couple of middle aged Surrey riders to do and it is with a sense of pride and no regret that I can say I'm a Trans Savoie 2015 finisher.


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