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Trans Savoie 2015: Race Day 3

I can’t say I was ever much good at impressing girls as a teenager, but my more successful friends used to say that the trick was to knock them down and then build them up. Well that was exactly what the Trans Savoie crew did to the racers on day 3.

Words: Phil Shucksmith
Photos: Mick Kirkman

Stage 1 started at 2700m near the top of La Plagne. Even the transition to the start of the stage was pretty wild, carrying the bikes along a thin ridge to access the back of the mountain. The original plan for stage 1 was to have a mass start.

Ali, the organiser had said it was at least 100m wide at the start. Thankfully the chief martial talked him out of the idea. The information sheet at the start of the stage said it all, ‘Mental boulder field then flat out’! Sound like a good place to have a mass start! (oh and definitely not 100m wide). Although the weather was beautiful, heavy rain overnight meant that the ground was very slippery under foot.

The first few riders went off and managed to navigate the boulder field which had no established path though it with relative composure. I was seeded 7th after day 2 and so was next up on the start line and was the first rider to make a complete balls up of the rocks and collapse orquardly over the bars (I imagine not the last person to do that)! The rest of the stage was wild building up serious speed down a narrow and very slick path though filelds which unpredictably would suddenly change to very tight switch backs and then back to a flat out straight.

Phil Shucksmith.

Stopping when a turn was spotted was easier said than done and i’m pretty there was some wild riding to be witnessed. The bottom section of the track was pretty mental traveling along a mixture of gravel tracks and traversing paths at breakneck speeds. Although technically simple this was probably the most dangerous track to race blind and indeed Nico Lau had a pretty big off on a relitively simple path. The track was 7.5km long, aprox 1100m decent with a winning time of 16:21 set by Nico Lau.

The track was 7.5km long, aprox 1100m decent with a winning time of 16:21 set by Nico Lau.

If, like me, other riders were left a bit confused about whether they were riding really well in slick conditions on stage 1 or just being a complete pleb, stage 2 provided the answer, the organisers final slap down before building us up again. Stage 2 was a pure zig zag walkers path down some very steep woods. There are only so many 160 degree turns you can do before making a costly mistake. Amazingly is was not a Frenchman but Swiss Florian Golay took the win on this very french track.

After a very long transition to stage 3 where the racers had to climb over 1000m to the start, it was time for the build up again. Stage 3 was hero territory. A top section hitting speeds of 40mph  on a never ending supper smooth thin path though the high alpine meadows before heading into the trees for a beautiful combination of banked switch backs and flowing straights. I did’t see one rider who was not buzzing after that stage!

To maintain the exstacy back to the camp stage 4 had it all. Some of the most difficult turns we had faced but interspersed with flat out flowing sections that made you feel like you were the best rider in the world even if the time keeper might disagree. Francois Bailly-Maitre took the win on 3 and 4.

Introducing: Jamie Nicoll

Yesterday I said that I would start to introduce some of the race leaders and who better to start with than Jamie Nicoll. Jamie has such a presence about him on the racing scene, admired by all for his gentle mild manner, incredible skills and maturity.

Jamie Nicoll

Age 37, Jamie started mountain biking back in 1991 racing cross country where his natural flare took him to the World Championships and earned him the offer of a professional riding contract. Uninspired by the way mountain biking was heading at the time Jamie could think of nothing worse than cycling loops around unchallenging cross country courses for a corporate outfit. He turned his back on cycling and turned to mountaineering where he worked for a number of years as mountain patrol in between taking on pretty serious and under resourced mountaineering adventures. There is always a lady in every tail and Jamie found himself back in Wellington too far from the mountains and so started to get back into a bit of mountain biking.

It wasn’t long before a friend of his, a typically optimistic Kiwi took on a challenge set by a wealthy individual to build a number of private bike parks. The project was not going quite to plan until Jamie was convinced to get involved and soon enough epic trails started to appear from the rugged soil in Mexico.

Jump forward to 2010 and Jamie had made quite a mark as a trail builder but he still hacked around on an old hard tail. A day that would change enduro history was when the old faithful hardtail bit the dust and Jamie was forced to borrow a mates bike for the day, a Giant Reign in fact. Jamie was blown away by how much bikes had come on since he was last competitively interested in them and subsequently got talked into entering the 2010 mass start race at Crankworx, coming 14th in the Pro category.

Unfortunately, only months after, Jamie had a serious work accident that left him in a coma for 2 weeks and with very severe burns. Before the horrendous accident Jamie said he had little drive for racing, but for some reason when he woke from his coma he had a real urge to race, maybe a fresh drive from such a near miss experience but also a need for focus to get him through an incredibly difficult period. That winter he launched into a full season of NZ downhill and followed it by coming over to Europe to race the mega avalanche, but actually ended up pretty much doing a full european season as a self supported punter.

His drive was unrivalled and by his own admission he maybe pushed too hard for how soon all this was after the accident. Never the less in 2013 he pulled out 8th overall in the EWS earning himself a place on the Polygon team. It could have been any of a number of reasons, not least developing a serious fatigue condition from over training, but having the obligation to deliver results was taking its toll on the enjoyment of the riding especially when not on top physical form. Nevertheless, despite the EWS not going to plan in 2014 he continued his unbeaten streak on the mountain of hell which he won again this year, topped off a 7th and 3rd in the Trans Provence with another 3rd in 2015 despite losing 3.5min on the final stage with a puncture.

Seeing Jamie ride this week at the Trans Savoie is inspirational. He is not one to sit still and I expect we will continue see inspirational things from him over the coming years, not to mention this week where he is sitting in 3rd overall.

Trans-Savoie Day Three:

Route: Macot La Plagne, Champagny, Bozel.
Total distance: 36km
Total timed descent: 3,500m
Number of stages: 4

Standings after Day Three:

Men:
1. Nico Lau – 2:22:23
2. François Billy-Maître – 2:25:20
3. Jamie Nicoll – 2:26:11

Women:
1. Meggie Bichard – 3:07:10
2. Kerstin Kögler – 3:17:02
3. Monika Büchi – 3:24:18

Full results here

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