The Transvesubienne has been one of the big races on my calender this year that I have been really excited about. It is a fairly epic sounding race that really appealed to me, the stats and distance sound pretty full on (3900m climbing, 5400m descending, 82km distance) although it’s reputation as possibly the hardest single day mountain bike race in France was apparently due to it being so technical.
By the time I headed up to St Martin-Vesubie I had already been on the road for about three weeks… a Five Ten talk in London, the Lake Garda Bike Festival, visiting friends near Aix en Provence, then a great week of xc riding, road riding, stand up paddle boarding, yoga and cherry picking in the South of France with my friends Sabrina and Willy.
I had heard from Sabrina’s friends that the TransV was not to be undertaken lightly, and I think they wondered if I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for! Especially as I had no support, a fairly heavy bike compared to the carbon race bikes most guys would be using, and no real idea of what to expect. I have done quite a few fairly full on and long races in the past in pretty terrible conditions, and always love pushing myself in that way.
I decided to ride an Orange Gyro 29er, instead of my usual Five. The big wheels, smaller forks, and a more xc style set up would suit this race better than my usual Enduro bike. My brother Joe built and tuned it for me, he’s always built and maintained my bikes which is awesome! That same weekend he was racing the EWS in Punta Ala and got an amazing 9th!
I met up with Matt Page (24hr solo specialist) and Dave Beskeen (Elite xc racer) at the race. It was great to have the company, we all got on great and had lots of good banter. The accommodation was like something out of a horror film (‘The Hostel’ more specifically), in the middle of a spooky wood and all run down.
Apparently it’s where all the naughty children get sent. The rooms were like cells, and and the food was rank. Matt was awake all night with food poisoning. It was pretty funny and we had a good laugh about it, but not ideal right before a big race.
The weather was awful, torrential rain and only a couple of degrees above zero. It was actually snowing when we were trying to find the prologue course. We didn’t find it, but through the mist we did bump into multiple world xc, marathon and Cape Epic winner Christoph Sauser. It was really cool to meet such a legend out there, up a mountain in the freezing wind and hail.
On Saturday morning we headed to the start area ready to race the prologue in the afternoon. The weather was grim, and the prologue was later cancelled. We were relieved, as we would have to spend the rest of the day cleaning bikes and filthy kit ready for the race the next day. Instead we sat in a nice cafe out of the snow and wind, drank coffee, ate pizza and made final preparations for the next day.
Our alarms went off at 5am, and at 6am we were at the start being herded onto the start lines we were seeded in. I asked a guy on the start line what was coming up to start with. He said ‘a one minute down hill then an hour and a half climb’. Haha, great! I passed Sauser with a side wall tear in the first minute of racing. He got three more punctures, no gravity dropper (too heavy!) and went on to come third. What a legend.
The race had a lot of steep up, and a lot of steep down, not much in between. The climbs consisted of mainly pushing/carrying our bikes up a steep, rocky, muddy mountains. There was not much climbing that was ridable, partly because of the conditions but mostly rough and lose the terrain.
For the majority of the race, especially the first half, everyone was riding in a train as there were 700 riders on narrow single track. Passing people was hard, and with big drops, exposed cliffs, and very technical narrow trails, most of the time it was just too dangerous to risk it only to end up behind another rider. It was the same for everyone though, and probably just as frustrating for a lot of people.
There were four feed and tech stations on the course which was great. Although it turned out that the ‘tech area’ was not support supplied for everyone but was a place personal support vehicles could drive to. The feed stations were a very welcome sight. I tried to keep eating and drinking well although I didn’t feel like it. It was physically exhausting, basically from the shear amount of pushing and carrying the bike up steep hills so my lower back was really sore. The descents were really long, steep, physical, rocky, tight switchbacks, roots, cobbles, thunder and lightening… a bit of everything with not much room for error. They were even more sketchy because of the amount of rain, slick mud and other riders to contend with. After nine and a half hours out racing, we had about three km on the road to the finish by the beach. I was so pleased it was over, I had done it, and could eat and eat and sleep now! Dave had done really well, finishing in the mid thirties. Matt had a terrible time and finished just ahead of me. I was happy with fourth in the women for my first time doing this epic race!
It was definitely a proper test of man and bike! A quote from Matt’s blog ‘I lost the plot big time and considered sitting down and having a cry’. Haha. That’s coming from the European solo 24hr champion! Talking about the race with Dave and Matt over pizza, it was funny hearing their stories and we had some good laughs. We were deliriously tired, and soon fell asleep in a stiff and sore heap!
Thankyou to the organisers for all your help in making our stay and travel logistics smoother.