Friday, 11 October 2013

The other side of the Trans-Provence...

Well my summer is finally drawing to a close, and in just a couple of weeks I'll be heading back to the UK. I've had a great time here, the guiding, the recceing, the new friends I've made, the fantastic riding I've done, but I'm definitely ready for a rest now! The last 3 weeks guiding were great, riding the route of this years race, so some new trails for both Chris and I and the guests, all of which went down pretty well, especially one of the super long descents that I'd found whilst recceing earlier in the summer, named by fellow guide Chris as "Hobson's Choice"....a trail that I love, and that Gareth I know would have thought was fantastic.

Riding the classic Rochers de Bramus trail high above the Guillaumes valley
Whilst the guiding was tiring after weeks on end of riding physically demanding trails though, it was nothing to how totally exhausted and broken I feel after a few weeks of working during and around the Trans-Provence race week! There are over 35 people who I'm sure are feeling every bit as tired as I am right now and can empathise with what a tough few weeks it's been.

When I didn't get an entry for the race myself last year, I was pretty gutted, until I ended up spending a summer guiding the route of the race, and being asked if I wanted to work on the timing system during the race. It seemed like a good option to still be able to experience the atmosphere of race week, even if I couldn't race myself. Having not really spent a lot of time on the "other side" of races, the side you don't really see as a racer, I have to say I was not expecting the week to be as tough as it was.
Hours of printing and laminating!
It started straight after the last week of guiding, with a week spent printing, cutting, and laminating over 2500 signs for the race, followed by inventorising and loading up all the kit needed for the race. That's several box vans full of camping gear, timing gear, cooking equipment, lights, electricals, stationery, food, everything to use for a week for over a hundred racers and staff.

Then it was off to camp zero to spend 4 days preparing everything for the start of the race. Fortunately it was hot and sunny, and despite the days being long, busy and tiring, we did manage to escape a couple of times for a lake swim, and spend several fun evenings relaxing with a few gin and tonics.
Perfect scenic lake for a swim
Pretty Haute Provence villages near the TP 2013 start
 I remember thinking in the days before the race, once everything was starting to come together, that it felt like we were in the calm before the storm. That turned out to be true in more than one way!
The day of registration and prologue was long but still not too hectic, and I had chance to practice using the timing system ready for the race week proper, without being under too much pressure. It's a great system from SportIdent, used in lots of the adventure races and mtb orienteering I've done in the past, but on those occasions all I've done is turn up, scan my timing chip and get a print out of my's a little more complicated from the other side of the computer! When there are many of the world's best Enduro racers and most of the world's mountain bike media relying on you not to screw up and to get on with the job of producing each days results quickly and efficiently, it adds an element of stress to the situation too!

Things started to get tough from then though...
That night I was sharing a cabin with some of the media team, many of whom had just arrived that evening, and were keen to catch up with Ash and his dad Chris over a few bottles of whiskey. Despite trying to get an early night, it was pretty noisy through the paper-thin cabin walls, and so it was well into the early hours of the morning before things quietened down and I fell asleep...only to wake up to the sound of my alarm a few hours later at 5.30. Starting a week as busy as the one I was about to have is not great after only a few hours sleep.
We awoke to stormy looking skies and a poor forecast for the day's racing...not what any of us, racers or staff wanted to hear with a long day ahead.

Early morning starts...Mavic tech team already working too
My daily routine during race week started early each day, with handing out racer's timing chips, sandwiches and maps for the day, followed by quickly packing the van when it returned from the morning's first shuttle wave, with all the food, drinks and equipment needed for the daily feed station and timing station. Then racing round to the feed station location and rushing to set everything up before the first racers arrived. Once everyone was through it was a case of packing everything up, racing around to the end of the final special stage for the day, setting up the timing station complete with generator, huge mavic tent, computer system and live results screen, before the first riders arrived. When everyone was safely back in and finished for the day, I made manual adjustments for penalties, printed the stage and overall results, and prepared the html version of results ready for upload to the website, and to go out with the day's press release from the media team. Then packed everything away, drove back to camp and usually ended up with other jobs to do, meaning a late dinner and rarely getting to bed before midnight each night, ready for a pre 6 am start most days.
Day 1 feed station scenes
On that first day, mid morning, the heavens opened. Dom the video editor and I arrived at the feed station location in the pouring rain, with the first racers already waiting, cold and wet. The conditions deteriorated as the storm moved in, and soon we were inundated with tired, freezing cold grumpy racers. Inevitably, as the staff member there, I took the brunt of their moans....the coffee ran out, why wasn't there more? Was the rest of the day being cancelled? Several racers ended up sat in an ambulance for a while as they were on the verge of hypothermia, and the conditions showed no sign of improving. There was a huge gap between the first and last racers through the feed station, so by the time I'd packed up and rushed around to the finish of the day ready to set up the timing station, about 15 of the first racers were already through and headed back to camp. A decision was made that I should just head to camp and set up there. When I arrived, the camp staff were understandably equally tired and grumpy after taking up and putting down tents all day in the rain, and most of them slunk off to take a break and go and drink beers. Unfortunately that meant I was the only person around, not only to work the timing station, but also for racers to ask every single question related to anything....most of which I didn't know the answer to, but as no-one else was around for me to send them to, I had to help them or figure out the answer, meaning I got further and further behind with everything I needed to be doing. I was more tired than I'd been in ages and struggling to concentrate, and then came some complicated timing problems that needed sorting, as well as pressure from Ash and the media team as to when the results were going to be ready for upload and the press release. At this point I'd had enough. It seemed as though all the racers and other staff were finally relaxing after a long tough day, and yet I was hours from finishing, and doing not only my work, but theirs as well. It was too much, I physically could not do everything I was being asked to do on my own.

All I wanted to do was go home, get a hug from Gareth and relax in each other’s company away from the rest of the world, and the fact that that was impossible made everything seem even worse…I felt so aware of his absence, and how much I missed his love and support especially at challenging times….I felt lower than I have done all summer….I was not enjoying the TransProvence, and vowed that this was the last time I’d work on the race.
I guess since I lost Gareth, my coping mechanism when I’m having a tough day has been to get out on my bike, to get away from everyone and everything and think clearly, to remind myself of the things to be happy and positive about, and to feel closer to him. This was probably the first time I’ve not had the opportunity to do that, and I was lost in knowing how to help myself and cheer myself up. When I finally got to bed after midnight that night, I spent a long time lying there thinking and silently crying. Not a good day :(
A much sunnier day 2 feed station scene!
Thankfully day 2 was warm and sunny, and the rest of the week continued to be too. Everyone was in a better mood, racers and staff alike, and although the job was never easy and every day was non-stop from start to finish, I began to enjoy at least parts of it! I got to see racers, both pros and amateurs, every morning, lunchtime and evening, and nearly all were friendly and chatty. It was a privilege to be able to be the first person to see who was winning each day as the racers came in, to personally hand them their results, and to witness the incredibly close battle for first place between Jerome Clementz And Nico Lau as the week progressed. In the end, Nico took the win by 1 second after 6 days of racing….unbelievable.

Fabien Barel and Francois Bailly-Maitre looking at the live results at the race finish, Fabien beat Francois into 3rd place by seconds, after taking the stage win on the final day of racing
It was hard in some ways to see everyone high on adrenaline at the end of each day, chattering excitedly with each other about the amazing trails they’d just raced down, and to not be part of that. It made me just want to be riding my bike! But there were positives too; I made many new friends, and gained a new-found respect and admiration for race organisers and how hard they work to pull an event like this off. I was lucky to have the help and company of Dom, the video editor each day, without whom the task of getting everything set up throughout the day would have been impossible. As well as this, there were Ludo, Alexei and Kevin from the Mavic tech team, who were lucky enough to listen to me jabbering away at them in grammatically poor French each day at the feed stations, Paul from Mojo Suspension who kindly serviced my forks and shock and imparted some factory tuning wisdom that hopefully will enable me to look after them better in the future, and Fay. Fay started the week racing, along with her husband Lee, but unfortunately crashed mid week, breaking her hand and subsequently being forced to watch from the sidelines. I would have been totally gutted in her situation, but she never showed her disappointment, and ended up being great company and one-handed assistance as she travelled with me and Dom throughout the day. I hope she gets a place in next year’s race to come back and shred the trails she didn’t get chance to this year!

Ash chatting to Cannondale team racers Anton, Ben, Mark and Manuel at the race finish in Menton...looks serious, perhaps the beer had run out?!
By the end of the week, that first day was almost forgotten, and although I was glad it was all over, a few days on and I’m already changing my mind about working on it again….(although I’d  obviously still prefer to be racing!).

Inevitably, in the days since the end of the race, after finally stopping working for the first time in a couple of months without even a day’s break, my immune system seems to have decided it wants a rest too, and I’ve been full of cold. Despite this, I HAD to get out on my bike and ride after spending 2 weeks off it, and watching everyone else riding their’s! It probably hasn’t helped me fight off the cold, but mentally I feel recharged already!

Late summer light on Sospel's medieval bridge
Autumn has officially arrived in the South of France since the race finished, and although I’m determined to make the most of still wearing shorts and flip-flops before heading back to the UK, it’s becoming more of a challenge in the cold mornings! Tomorrow I’m heading to Finale Ligure in Italy for a weeks riding before making the long drive home, and although it will be strange to leave Sospel and somewhere that’s felt kind of like home for the summer, I’m more than ready to not be living out of a bag or my van for a while!

I'm already excited to know I'll be back here guiding from May to September next year, but for now I'm looking forward to hopefully catching up with as many friends and family as possible in the coming months, and to some exciting winter plans in the pipeline too.... Ciao for now!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds bloomin busy to me. It also sounds like it wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been there. You are an inspiration. I'm looking forward to drinking tea and hearing stories.
    Dig out the long trousers, you'll need them back here!