Day 6 of the Trans Provence is when the mountains finally finish, giving way to the expansive blue of the Mediterranean. It's a natural and indisputable end. It's part of what makes this journey unique. A feeling of completion, because you really can't go any further. And so I put my helmet and goggles on for the final stage, focus one more time to do my best, ride fast and stay upright. The clock starts, minutes later stage 24 is done, the end. I breath out. I'm part sad, part happy as we roll on down through the old streets and cathedral stairs to the beach.
The cathedral stairs which draw the TP to a close. Photo: Max Schumann
This was my 6th and last Trans Provence. Last not because I'm going anywhere, but because after ten years this was the last TP, ever. The TP has its roots deep in the essence of mountain biking - its raw trails, sparse marking, big days, pushing and carrying bikes to high places, descending through ancient walking trails built for people and donkeys, with the tightest switchbacks and eroded corners you’ll ever find. We raced blind, meaning we had never seen nor practiced the trails beforehand.
Days on days of views. Photo: Max Schumann
Ash and Melissa offer a little bit of encouragement along the way. Photo: Max Schumann
After racing the TP for six years, this year's course repeated only 3 previous stages out of the 24 total. That’s how crazy-rich in trails Provence is. Imagine, hundreds of years ago, a terraced rocky landscape, gardens and orchards for food, animals grazing the high pastures, stone houses dotted all over and trails linking people to neighbours and produce to valley markets - maybe subsistence living at its best. And leaving a legacy of sublime mountain biking terrain for us in modern times.
The exposure on the TP trails is real. Photo: Max Schumann
Camp 0 - The far north of the Provence, has more of a high alps feel akin to the Haute-Savoie region with tall grey peaks and green mountainsides. But over the six days things get hotter and dryer with the land taking on more hues of white, orange and pink. A Mediterranean feel takes hold and the first glimpses of the sea come hazeley into view.
Tent City at Camp Zero. Photo: Jamie Nicoll
We sleep in tents, eat either in halls or al fresco, watch movie edits from the day before's action. Ash, the race organiser, never says much about what to expect the next day, except things like "this one gets a bit technical", "it's a bit exposed" and "you've got a bit of a carry here". Real discovery it is... and boy can those carries be long, steep and hot - with temperatures usually around the mid 30's.
Not often spotted - a flat piece of track on the TP. Photo: Max Schumann
Wheelies amongst the French ruins. Photo: Max Schumann
Sven Martin moves ahead of the pack, ladden with camera gear. Photo: Max Schumann
My race this year went pretty well considering I don't screw my race head on much anymore. I seldom race now, spending more time as an adventure athlete, discovering new places without a timing chip, engaging with new riding communities and industry journalists. But this event is an easy exception, having an ethos of leading us on an unknown journey through nature while riding bikes.
Racing doesn't get prettier than this. Photos: Max Schumann
On day 3, stage 9, I punctured on some sharp rocks costing me dearly as I rode the flat tyre to the finish. That’s the game here, riding hard but preserving bike and body to make it to the end. It was good to work hard and satisfying to get close to on my old race speed for the week. A top 10 overall against the other pro boys was fine with me.
The moons sets on the 10th and final Trans Provence. Photo: Jamie Nicoll
Standing on the coast and diving off the rocks into the deep, blue, salty water after you have given your best, literally leaving behind blood, sweat and tears, is a truly worthy moment.
Last words go to media kids Gary Perkin and Sven Martin before race organisers Melissa and Ash share an end of an era podium moment. Photos: Max Schumann