Monday, June 7, 2010


After a week of rest, it's now time to share my Transvésubienne experience.

The Transvésubienne is a race taking place in the South-East of France, in the backcountry of Nice. This is known as one of the hardest, if not THE hardest, race in France. Since the beginning in the early 90's, this race has been long, rough, technical and basically just hard. Its legendary status might be too much, but this is no race for the week-end warrior.

I did my first Transvésubienne in 2006. At the end of 2005, a friend bet we could do it on fully rigid bikes. I was the only was to follow. We didn't really know what to expect, but the appeal of the legend was enough for us to jump in the band wagon. We prepared for 6 months and discovered the hardest way what the Transvésubienne was. We had a good time, finished the race, won our bet, came back home sore and happy. After a few months, I was already thinking of coming back. I was hooked.

Fast forward 4 years and I'm finally back at the start of the Transvésubienne. It took me a couple months to get up to speed, but coming in Nice, I'm confident I can finish it once again. But I know it won't be easy. The course is the legendary one, which goes on top of the Brec d'Utelle, toughened up for what the bikes of nowadays are able to cope with. Imagine 86km, with 3300m of elevation and 4800m of downhill. Add rocks, treacherous hiking singletracks, lots of hike-a-bike and even more rocks. And you're not even close to what it is really like!

Transvésubienne 2010 course on Google Earth from LudoTA on Vimeo.

I wake up at 4:45 AM on Sunday. Harsh. From 6:00, we get our places on the starting line. 6:30, off we go! The first quarter of the race is the easiest. A big climb right at the beginning, amazing views from the singletrack on the edge at almost 2000m above sea level, a first few downhills to tease you and as you approach the Brec d'Utelle, it gets more serious!

Brec d'Utelle - Photo © Christophe

The course arrive North of the Brec d'Utelle and get on top of it with a short hike-a-bike giving you a nice view to the East, on the Vésubie valley. At the top, you discover the view to the South West and all you can see beneath your wheels are rocks. After the first switchback, you're in loose rocks the size of your head for 5 minutes and 20 more switchbacks. Low saddle, easy on the brakes, trust your line and go for it. Full suspensions bikes are not much faster than me and my trusty full rigid Deluxe 29er. A bit of rest with an easier part with much more flow and speed and it gets rougher again for the biggest part of the downhill to Utelle. I have a mechanical there, with my chain getting out of my rear derailleur cage, without even breaking. Strange.

Somewhere in the downhill of the Brec d'Utelle - Photo © Art Reflex Photo

Down in Utelle, it goes up again, around the Cime du Diamant and up to the Madone d'Utelle (a small chapel above Utelle and the Vésubie valley), where the second feed stop is. From here, we go down to the bridge above the Vésubie, which is halfway on the course. I start to feel cramps in my legs around here. Rough terrain, not enough drinking and not much time to take my Camelbak hose. But I really enjoy that bit of downhill, which suits me and my bike better. I finally arrive at the bridge in 5 hours. It will be tough to be at the finish line in 10 hours, as my goal was...

The race really begins here. Right from the bridge, the climb is brutal. It's long and not rideable the whole way. Alternatively, I push, carry or ride my bike, whenever possible. Then we hit a fireroad, which gets us to the top. It's hot, there's not wind to cool off on this climb. After more than an hour of climbing, it's downhill again, on a steep, loose and narrow singletrack. Just after the biggest climb of the day, this downhill takes a lot of riders down. I ride conservatively, I have no safety margin with my full rigid bike.

At the 3rd feed stop, I make a long stop. Volunteers are friendly and take care of us nicely. I chat a bit, eat lots and finally take off for another long climb under the sun. This one is easier, but there's still a bit of hike-a-bike to get on top of the Cima Mount. I ate too much at the last feed stop, I'm feeling heavy and my legs are still on the edge of cramps. I manage to keep everything under control, taking it a bit easy for some time. The downhill afterwards is rough and loose, freshly cut between the bushes. My head is still clear enough to ride quite fast downhill and it's a lot of fun trying not to get passed by full suspension bikes!

On the slopes of Cima Mount - Photo © Denis

The last feed stop is also the last time barrier and I have more than hour of margin when I get there. I make a short stop and hop on the bike again for the last stretch of the course. We're on the slopes of the Chauve Mount and after the climb coming from the North, the view on Nice is a relief. The finish line can almost be seen from there, although there is still quite a bit of riding to get to it! But I'm feeling better here. My legs are not worth much, but I have lots of energy left and 10h seems now achievable. Rock on, then!

The end is almost a blur. The downhill is super fun, although once again I'm careful and keep everything under control. I try to be smooth, fast whenever possible and mostly to have fun! Then, we leave the trails and enter Nice, where we ride on a river bed for a few kilometers, before one more climb to the Arena where the finish is. Finally, the line is in sight and I cross it after 10h04 on the course, 201st out of 900+ riders, of which only 418 finished. Job done!

Thanks to my Deluxe 29er, its 29" wheels, disc brakes and a few other nice bits, this experience was much more comfortable than 4 years ago. This bike is still not adapted to the course, which is really well suited to full suspension bikes. But I chose to ride it this way and had fun along the way. Who cares about anything else?

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