TransProvence Enduro Fusion Tour – Roya Valley

Cat – on the very edge

37.4 mph…

That’s the speed we hit on the last run of the trip. Chasing down and trying to keep up with our guide, a former Olympian on a bike, as we hurtled down Brollercoaster – a trail that loses a thousand feet in about 2 miles and a little over 5 minutes, all the while passing over sharp rock gardens, sweeping turns, natural jumps and drops and sketchy chutes.

It was probably the most exhilarating 5 minutes of the holiday – where we used 6 days of practicing on the steepest, gnarliest Enduro stages that the Roya valley has to offer, to totally nail that trail (dude). Riding at just over 100% on techie terrain at high speed gives you a buzz like no other.

It had all started 6 days earlier; a band of seven bikers riding from the Auberge du Col de Brouis perched high above Sospel and Breil sur Roya. We teetered down the first trail of the day, oh so steep, rocky and endless compared to home. There was a touch of surprise that the very first trail wasn’t a gentle warm up – it was straight into technical, narrow, steep, exposed, switchbacky terrain. Switchbacks, that staple of trails in the TransProvence area.

Unfortunately one of the band took a tumble towards the end of the morning which ruled him out for the rest of the week. The rest of us reined in our bravado after that – the consequences of a little bad luck on steep unforgiving trails had just been demonstrated. An ambulance ride and a day in hospital confirmed nothing more than rest was required, but it was a big fall…

The days after that followed a familiar pattern. Early breakfast (7.30), rolling by 8.30. We could be on the trails within minutes of pedaling away from the front door of the Auberge, and being on the Col meant that these trails pointed down. Steeply. Either towards Breil or Sospel. So many options to start each day. All steep. All exposed. All featuring switchbacks. None ‘easy’. Some mornings this felt a bit much for cold legs and barely open eyes but the senses were soon fully alert!

Paul – and his Bronson

Following the first descent of the day (and a coffee in Italy if we were lucky) the van and trailer would whisk us off to the top of another mountain in the Roya Valley. The descent would generally include an Enduro race stage or two from one of the many local races or even a Trans Provence stage. The trails themselves varied from silly-steep super-rocky-steppy exposed switchbacks, sections of which were unrideable for a few of us, through to ‘enhanced’ steep but swoopy and flowy woodland trails with the odd berm, jump, or gap thrown in to get us shrieking with delight.

After 2 big descents, lunch would follow – generally a sandwich from the Auberge eaten at a cafe with snacks, coffee and banter.

Lunch – today in Sospel

The weather was generally good, but not wall-to-wall sunshine. We only got rained on once (sorry Paul). I insisted on one last run down the longest of Sospel’s downhill tracks just as the thunder made it obvious we were going to get soaked. We did. It was exhilarating nonetheless! Another super-fast 500 metre descent ticked off!

Me – on a very easy bit!

The afternoons would generally bring the highest point of the day – reaching as high as 2000 metres with a long descent to follow, picking our way down first from the treeless summit, through the woods and then into the rocks and riverbeds. All your skills tested on one trail, hops, speed, steps, shale, rock gardens, switchbacks, and the strength of your braking fingers!

On the France/Italy border
Alan – dude.

Time permitting the van and trailer would shuttle us up again and again. There was no end to the trails on offer. The only limit was ours. Most days by 6pm we were crying ‘enough’ as our whole bodies ached from the endless downhill pounding…

That’s not to say we never climbed. There was a memorable hike-a-bike to a rocky summit, only to be greeted by a large, angry and overly defensive dog guarding its herd of goats, and there were several long, steep and baking hot fire-roads where our legs and lungs were tested at altitude…

Our amazing guide – Julia, dragging us up a fire-road

The guides were great. Nothing was too much trouble. Always smiling and always accommodating. Thanks so much guys! How they got the van and trailer to the top of some of those mountains needs seeing to be believed.

So all-in-all, a great week. A swim in the sea to end one ride, a swim in a gorge to end another. Every day was different and we didn’t ride the same trail twice. Except of course Brollercoaster…

The Auberge was great – comfortable beds, top notch food (but a bit low on carbs!) and an endless flow of beer and wine 🙂

And the Bronson? 37.4 mate. 37.4…

The Bronson. Instantly makes all my other bikes redundant…
Kieran (L) – our resident Olympian, and superb guide/local historian…

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