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Rob rides with Fabien Barel, Jerome Clementz and Anne Caroline Chausson

| Blog, Features, Mountain Biking Uk | 06/03/2013 09:09am

What happens when you let the pros plan the itinerary…

Looking out over the small, idyllic town of Peillon, it was already clear this press trip was going to be a little different to most.

Peillon couldn’t be more picture perfect – winding, narrow cobbled streets, beautiful buildings, a mountainous backdrop and of course, the fact that it sits atop a cliff makes things even more dramatic. But for mountain bikers, what’s more exciting is that within the hills and mountains surrounding this little town in Provence, lay the trails that shaped the riding of legends such as Nico Vouilloz and Fabien Barel. And it’s this very terrain that’s been getting quite the reputation for itself courtesy of the Trans Provence multi-day stage race.

The camp we were attending was being hosted by Mavic. The plan was to give us a run down on their latest Notch clothing line while getting to ride some of the trails that helped shape and influence the final products. Mavic made sure that they listened to the likes of Jerome Clementz, Anne Caroline Chausson and Fabien Barel when designing the kit, and ensured all three riders would be on hand during the press camp to help explain what Mavic were trying to achieve. On top of this, they tapped into Fabien’s local knowledge to ensure the riding was sufficiently exciting and with the help of Ash Smith (the organiser of the Trans-Provence), added a significant twist to the press camp.

With the clothing presentation done early on in the first evening, what lay ahead for the next couple of days was set to be a mini-Trans Provence. Seven timed stages on some of the best trails Provence has to offer.

Over the next two days, Fabien’s casual briefings before we plunged head long into the stage unawares as to what lay ahead were being taken less seriously as each stage passed. Not because we didn’t need to listen mind you, oh no! It was more about how he perceived certain elements of the trail and how that differs to how we, the average riders, perceive and deal with them. What he considered ‘mildy technical’, many were struggling to ride down; ‘mellow’ meant ‘it’s flat-out fast but not Champery steep’; and a ‘slight drop around the next bend’ could mean ‘miss your braking and it’s a trip in a helicopter for you’.

Still, bring journos from around the world together, add some amazing trails and then a stop watch to proceeding and things were always going to get fun.

Stage one proved to be a quick wake-up call, using freshly cut trails up top with steep chutes and fast hard compression that flowed into smooth singletrack that wound its way around the hillside.

Stage two started out with some crazy lines that bashed their way down through a rock field then into some nasty, rough, super tight switchbacks. Getting this smooth was almost impossible but the hardest thing here was keeping an eye on the signposts so you didn’t miss a turn.

Stage three shunted the speeds up as the trail took on some slightly wider trails littered with rough rock sections. Speeds were high and picking your line key.

Stage four offered a couple of interesting spots on course. First off was the icy shoot into the 90-degree right hander which if you couldn’t make, the drop of certain death awaited. Secondly was the washed away trail. This also featured a drop of certain death but luckily had a small hand rail should things go horribly wrong. Still, you had to hit it and hope for the best. Luckily no one got to experience the drops though. After this the trail slotted into a high walled, pinball chute through the grey earth. This offered a rollercoaster ride through the grey gulley that spat you out wanting more.

Stage five was in fact the most mellow of the lot. Speeds were high but there were certainly fewer technical elements here, just a smooth, winding trail with flow you can only dream of.

Stage six started up in the snow. Once you’d managed to paddle your way through this little lot without taking a tumble, speeds picked up and you had to stay on your toes to keep out of trouble. Fast turns with rocky exits needed to be navigated with care to keep you on the track and on the pace.

Stage seven was rough. Although Fabien had said this is pretty mellow, he didn’t seem to divulge just how rough things get later down the hill. After navigating the first few nadgery switchbacks, speeds pick up and before you know it, you’re going full bore over rock fields and scrabbling for the brake levers in an attempt to make the final two hairpins.

The racing was close and made for great entertainment. Everyone was pushing things but in a relaxed kind of way that made for a great atmosphere.

Following the pros as always was an eye opener. Watching Jerome skip from one line to the next at break neck speed was eye opening, while trying to keep up with Fabien on steeper sections was terrifying.

But back to the task at hand, what better way to experience the product. Obviously it’s rare all these elements present themselves like this and allow for a camp of this kind, but holy shit, what a way to do it! Good work, Mavic!

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