Trans Savoie 2015: Race Day 1

Phil Shucksmith gives us the lowdown on Day 2 (Day 1 of racing) of the Trans Savoie, but before he starts, what is the Trans Savoie?

It is held over 6 DAYS, with 27 TIMED STAGES, 25,000M DESCENT, 5000M ASCENT and it is 100% TECHNICAL ALPINE SINGLETRACK. It goes through… VAL D’ISERE – TIGNES – ST FOY – SEEZ – LES ARCS – PEISEY-VALLANDRY – MONTCHAVIN/LES COCHES – LA PLAGNE – CHAMPAGNY – BOZEL – COURCHEVEL – MERIBEL – VILLARLURIN – ARECHES/BEAUFORT – LES CONTAMINES – MT BLANC. And it is “the ONLY Multi-Day Enduro Event Linking Natural Trails with Ski-Lift Access. HARDER, HIGHER, TECHIER & MORE DESCENT than any other Enduro” So there you have it:

Race Day 1 (read Day 0 here)
By this morning I had got over the stage of feeling the scared/nervous energy I had in my belly last night and had prepared myself for the worst. An absolute beasting in other words… Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. With the statements that were being bounded around about the race, like 300km, 30,000m. I was starting to think maybe this was going to turn into one of those events where the organisers make it deliberately hard and not that pleasurable just for the sake of it. It transpired that the organisers had no such pointless torture in mind. All of the stages were taped to make the most of centuries of natural erosion of the footpaths, avoiding the tendency to tape-in unnecessary extra corners and climbs.

Stage 1 started directly from the top of the Olimpique lift in Val d’isere. One of my concerns about day 1 was that there was going to be no practice time to adjust to big alpine style riding before getting into the first stage. The organisers had clearly taken this into consideration, deliberately picking a relatively simple bike park trail for the first stage. Hats off to them, it was a great idea because it gave everyone a chance to get dialled in on the bikes on relatively safe terrain, which is something that could not be said for stage 2! It was Jamie Nicoll who took the win on stage 1.

The organisers clearly thought that stage 1 was quite enough time to get bedded-in on the bikes because stage 2 was everything stage 1 was not, except for both being great fun. Supper narrow, totally natural, tight rocks waiting to rip your mech off at any opportunity. The most notable characteristic of stage 2 was a succession of very tight 120 degree switchbacks zig zagging through the woods just after going past Tignes – Le Lac.

It had to be a Frenchman who took the win on this stage and indeed it was Francois who showed strong form on this terrain. I can see how you can make a lot of time on those corners, maybe 2 seconds on each one if you can consistently hit them hard enough to let the back slide round. The reality is that when your arms are starting to get tired in the bottom section of a track sometimes just letting off the front break early to try to salvage a slightly awkward bike position is all most most people can muster and the difference is shown in the times.

Something I found really useful was that at the start of each stage there was a short (very short) description of the track you were about to race blind. Stage 3 read; shallow, fast and expect to work hard. A small amount of information but I personally found it very helpful for preparing mentally for the stage. Shallow suggested that it would be alright to be a bit less cautious on the breaking into blind sweeping corners, work hard helped prepare mentally for digging in when I saw a climb and pacing myself for it to go on for longer than on the other stages. It was a nice contrast from stage 2 to really let the bike roll on this stage and clock some higher speeds. The track went from Tignes-le Lac to Les Boisses, again it was Francois who put in a top effort to claim stage 3.

After stage 3 it was the lunch stop. Freshly prepared baguettes awaited the riders. It is hard to know how much to eat when you don’t know what is coming up ahead, not to mention that the cooked breakfast was still quite fresh on the taste buds. Receiving information that the next stage was short and completely downhill made it sound like this was going to be the best opportunity we would get to take on much needed energy for the rest of the day.

As advertised stage 4 was short and sweet and was an introduction to a new type of terrain that we would stick with for the rest of the day. We had dropped below the sparse high alpine terrain and were now in thick lower alpine woodland with the associated roots, rocks and loam. It was funny hearing the top boys talking at the bottom of the stage about the moral dilemma they faced on stage 4 as there were some really obvious inside lines on some of the corners, but the race briefing had been very specific that only the main path should be used. Who took the inside and who went round we will never know! Nico took the win.

The transition to stage 5 was the only real climb of the day, 17km in length climbing 700m. Both stage 5 and 6 really stepped up the tempo. I couldn’t really believe that they were running a race down such gnarly foot paths. It was some of the most exciting, scary and fun riding I have ever done. The info board at the start of stage 6 said it all. ‘Steeper, bigger rocks, harder than stage 5’, and that after having just thought stage 5 was about as mad as it would get. Although it was Nico who convincingly took the win on both 5 and 6 James Shirley earns a mention for being one of the only riders to not have to dab his feet on the rocks at the top of 6.

In the race briefing for day 2 it has just been announced the tracks are much steeper tomorrow. I’m not sure thats what everyone in the camp wanted to hear before trying to get to sleep!

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