Stage 2: Clamensane - Digne-les-Bains
Racers who make it through day 2 know they will make it through the rest of the event. A combination of distance and hard technical riding, plus two large carries and over 2000 metres of climbing over a distance compressed into 50 kilometres, tests the endurance and riding skills of the pro and expert racers alike.
Special stage 4 is reached through high Alpine meadow and a steep climb onto a col.
The stage itself sums up the Trans-Provence attitude. Every kind of terrain you can expect to meet over the seven days of riding is compressed into a 400 metre drop - a steep rock and mud chute drops you into open meadow, with numerous options of line choice after traversing round a ridge lower in the valley. The trail then drops into the grey pumice stone of the lower valley before singletrack through woods and into a streambed completes the stage.
A relatively short pedal or hike, depending on your ability or fitness; a bleep of your timing chip against the balise (timing device) and special stage 5 begins. The hard effort of the climb is rewarded by loam and pine needles. After special stage 4's "pick and mix" style of riding, competitors enthused about the continuity and the chance to enjoy a little more flow.
Special stage 6's riding had been described as "cannonballing", "so fast I thought I might die", or for the less confident, a river full of babyhead rocks requiring a steady eye when it comes to line choice. Less technical than most stages of the Trans Provence, the ability to hold on and not hesitate favoured the strongest riders here.
Ash, the creator of Trans-Provence, is always a little nervous about special stage 7 - and the rider's responses to it. His concerns aren't for the quality of the trail, which is beyond superb, but for the potential anger of riders after enduring the 700 metre climb to reach the start of the trail.
As in previous years, the shouts of anger and threats of violence were quickly forgotten after the riders tackled what is one of the hardest, fastest and most technical trails in the whole week of Trans-Provence. So good is this trail, named "Donkey Darko", that it left Fabien Barel literally screaming with happiness at the final time check and a well-known journalist suggesting that we make people sign a waiver to keep its location secret.
We say though that if you're prepared to suffer the hideous climb to get there and you're good enough to ride it, then we think you should know more. A 800-metre vertical drop takes you from an open grass summit to the dry and barren riverbed in the valley's bottom, via seven kilometres of singletrack which is right up there with the best trails in the world. To enjoy it, your on-sight riding needs to be top notch to cope with the rock drops you'll encounter, ride switchbacks ambidextrously and nail tight singletrack without being intimidated by a large drop to your right or left.
The bottom of the trail sees you hitting a section of riverside singletrack that could turn an atheist into a believer; a pine forest rollercoaster with multiple crossings of the streambed and a feeling of intuitive flow which leads even the most tired riders to fly for the first few moments of day 2.
Results (general classification after two days)
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