Big Alps, 6 days, 30 timed stages, 25000m descent, 8000m climbing
A few weeks ago I did the Trans Savoie, a 6 day enduro race high up in the French Alps with 6000m descent per day as well as lots of pedalling. We began in Val d’Isere, racing in different areas of the Savoie Alps and camping overnight with the finish at Mont Blanc.
It rained over night before day one and clouds swirled around the mountains as we made our way up in a chairlift to over 2000m to the start of the first stage. The day had some good variety including bike park, really technical awkward rocky singletrack, rooty woodland, fast flowy trails and looooong climbs with stunning views. First day nerves and wet greasy trails had me riding like a muppet for much of the day, pinballing down the hills and loosing time with stupid crashes and mistakes. The nightmare situation would be to crash out on the first day so I was happy to get to the end in one piece and hoped to settle in as the week went on.
Day two was based around Bourg St Mource where there were more clouds and some rain on the cards. Some more time on the gondolas and well as some uphill pedalling and lots of long, technical, intense trails made a tough, tiring day. Having missed a turn and climbed an extra 500m, by the time we got to the top of the last stage I was so exhausted I wondered how I could survive a 900m descent. It’s amazing how a great trail can energise you (combined with eating a load of energy gels), and after 30 seconds I’d forgotten the tiredness and was racing absolutely flat out in pissing rain down an insanely fun bike park track. The unusual black dirt had an unexpected amount of grip so you could com screaming into rock garden and bermed corners flat out, wheels drifting but somehow always stayingng upright. There were riders close by in front and behind so motivation to push hard was even higher and left everyone was bouncing of the walls by the end, buzzing on endorphin’s and excitement. Awesome but didn’t sleep well that night, kept getting flashbacks of loamy corners and smashing berms!
By day 3 I’d lost track of were we were but the first stage started at the top of a huge mountain with massive 360 views of surrounding peaks and glaciers. It a real epic day with two 1000m+ descents starting up above the tree line, crossing open mountains before dropping into woodland trails with more switchbacks, today with dust included as the sun made an appearance. The last trail was on more unusual grippy black dirt along a river with some incredible steep drops, roller coaster whoops, pedally sprints and tight switchbacks. Stoke levels one again high and the day seemed less exhausting than day 2.
Day 4. We moved closer to Mont Blanc riding in the Meribel/Courchevel area withthe big snowed capped peak providing a backdrop to much of the days riding. The sun was blazing down, the trails offered another big mix of technical, bike park and flow. This was the kind of day you forgot you were tired, the views on the transitions were stunning so it was impossible to complain about the pedaling between stages. I joined up with a few of the other girls so that we could get a good run on the tracks without worrying about having to let faster guys past. It was one of the most fun days on the bike I’ve ever had, the last two trails left us with a severe case of ‘over stoke’, we rode flat out chasing each other down loamy corners and flat out pine needle woodland but finding extra breath to whoop and holler in excitement as the trails just got better and better. By the end of the day we were literally exploding with endorphins, I can’t imagine how heroin can offer a better hit.
Day 5. The pervious day’s madness where tiredness was masked by adrenaline, meant I woke up feeling exhausted and realising that I could be in for a tough one. We had a couple of chairlifts but a lot of climbing between stages meaning a long day in the saddle. My forearms were like solid lumps of concrete from all the arm-pump and it was becoming difficult to pull the brakes and stay focused for the full length of a descent. There were some rad trails, mostly technical and steep but fun. The last one, just as everyone was feeling really exhausted, was probably the hardest of the race. In a damp forest, the whole thing was litttered with greasy rocks and steep grippless corners that required full commitment to ride. Having felt good on the bike all week this reduced me (and a lot of others!) to feeling like a beginner. I was too tired to focus and didn’t have the strength to get myself out of mistakes so ended up running down sections. Not the best end to a day but that’s all part of the challenge!
I woke up to day 6 after a bad night sleep in the tent somewhat saddened that the adventure would be soon over but also looking forward to not riding a bike! We were now in the Les Contamines / Mont Blanc area and I was blown away by the scenery. We spent the day riding in the shadow of Mont Blanc with closeup views of stunning glaciers. Once again the trails were awesome but tiredness was taking over. I was in survival mode having to slow down as my fried brain was unable to process the trail fast enough to make the quick decisions needed to ride at speed, strength to hold the bars and pull the brakes was also lacking and a 1000m climb to the 2nd stage didn’t help. The last stage was pretty special, we took a furnicular normally not allowed for bikes, up to the bottom of the glacier on Mont Blanc and then raced down 1200m to the bottom of the valley. Once again we got girls train going and somehow extra energy reserves (and the thought of a cold beer at the bottom) kicked in as we raced flat out through dusty corners and fast rock gardens to the finish line.
Overall an absolutely awesome week. Every day had you pushing your comfort zone, be it through the long transition climbs or surviving racing blind down long and technically challenging trails. In the end it was more the mental fatigue that I struggled with than the physical, staying 100% focused for 10-15 minutes, 6 times a day is utterly exhausting. Camping out in the mountains for a week, doing nothing but eat, sleep and ride was a brilliant escape from normal life and it was hard to burst the bubble and come back to reality. Going with my brother Eóin and a bunch of friends from Zürich made it great fun but it was also brilliant to meet and ride with similarly minded, fast people from all over the world. Surviving the challenge and the buzz it brought made dragging ourselves out riding in sub-zero temperatures on dark winter evenings all worthwhile, it’s not an event to be underestimated and the fitter and stronger you are the more you can enjoy it.
I race on my Banshee Rune and couldn’t have been happier with the bike. I didn’t have a single issue with the bike the whole week, it got me out of multiple sketchy situations, gobbled up rocks and roots, got me a reputation for nailing switchbacks (its the bike not me!) and generally took any abuse I could throw at it. Thanks to Magma Bike for getting it running perfectly before the race.
Already considering next year and planning the next adventure as an antidote to coming back to earth with a bump…
Thanks to Mick Kirkman and Ronan Duggan for the photos.