The last day or stage of any race always requires a big push, one last effort to get you through, today was no different. Ali had planned two massive stages with two equally as massive liaisons! Word on the street is that stage one is going to be the toughest yet. He said it was going to be a great day just out riding your bike with mates, it turned out to be more pushing and carrying than riding but more on that later! Each day they have said one stage was the toughest so far, so I was expecting it to ramp up a level and it sure did!

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Another early start, I was up at 6:30am, had breakfast and ready to leave at 8am. A coach was taking us up as high as we could go to stage one today and then from there we were on our own to ride, hike and carry our bikes to the first stage. After sleeping in the coach for the 45 minute journey I felt a bit shell shocked to be thrust out into the open on the mountain at 1800m and begin the slog uphill. About an hour later the fire road we were following turned to single track and the ‘hike a bike’ began. Due to the rain earlier in the week, this track was seriously sodden in parts.

I was struggling with the pushing, my shoes and the mud were working together to be as slick as they could be, hindering my progress somewhat. About halfway up a steep, narrow climb another kindly competitor showed me the best way to get my bike up on my back! Embarrassing, I know, but living in deepest darkest Dorset, we don’t really have the terrain down here to become that efficient at the ‘hike a bike’. So, a good 2 hours and 30 minutes later I was at the start of stage one. This one started tough, it was the only stage this week where I decided to run off the start line! In the time I had been watching I had seen at least 3 riders bin it on the first corner and I didn’t want to become the next. The middle part of the stage was fairly mellow, well what has become to be known as ‘mellow’ for the Trans Savoie anyway.

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The lower part of the stage was the most technical thing I have ever laid eyes on. I struggled to walk down it, not particularly steep but the track was littered with tight switchback, root drop offs, narrow rock gullies and all manner of features to make you part company with your bike. I very nearly had a tantrum as I fell over in one gully, my bike bucking behind me as it bounced down the rocks. This was not my idea of mountain biking, especially after the hike up to the top to get this far, I just wanted to have fun. Finally reaching the end, I managed to chat to the other racers over lunch. The feeling was mutual, everyone had had a hard time and felt deflated about the stage. One of the other female racers Lisa said she felt like sitting down and giving up there and then, this made me feel much better! I heard that the stage was there to test the top ten percent of riders, which I am sure it did, by all accounts this stage was rideable. I would have loved to see these boy ride down it, it would have been something else altogether!

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After lunch we took two chairlifts to the start of the next liaison, from there it was a fire road climb and then traverse along a ridge to stage 2. The liaison took three hours, this was one long walk! Unfortunately for me and the latter half of the pack the weather came in whilst we were on the ridge and we got soaked! There would have been stunning views from the ridge, it really was a sheer drop, a beautiful remote place to be. Walking along it (absolutely no riding for me!) it was so quiet I felt so alone. As the clouds and rain got worse I felt glad for the other racers I knew were around me eve n though I couldn’t see them! I was also glad for my super colourful Flare Clothing kit, easy to spot and keeping my spirits up!

The rain made the final stage of the day as slippy as could be – just like riding in the UK then! The stage would have been absolutely mint in the dry, not that steep, but with enough ruts, rocks and switchbacks to keep you thinking, an enormous amount of fun. Even when it got boggy at the end! The day ended on a real high, as I rode down from the stage and into town a large number of racers were in nearest pub cheering as each new rider appeared! Once back to camp I compared my photos of the ridgeline with Martyn Brookes’ – the first thirty riders had clear blue skies and a dry track to race, perfect conditions, out photo evidence could not have been more different!

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The race organisers had booked out the restaurant on the final night’s campsite for dinner for us all, a great atmosphere and an awesome way to end the week with stories to share, a beer in hand and of course prize giving! Winner overall was Jamie Nicholl (Polygon), from there results were similar to the previous day, Gary Forrest in 2nd and then Nash Masson in 3rd. There were equally fast times all round with trophy’s for the Vets, Seniors, Masters and Female categories. As we know Lisa Curry took the women’s win and well deserved too, she is one fast lady.

I have had an awesome week, the Trans Savoie has helped me work on some key riding skills, most importantly looking up and reading the trail, things I will be able to take home and apply to everyday riding. Racing blind is a different skill altogether than racing normal ‘enduro’ and one that needs to be taken with a slightly more relaxed approached. Pinning it at all times isn’t going to win it, the conservative approach wins stages and consistently good times wins races. I also think lady luck needs to be on your side, but maybe that’s just me.
In his after dinner speech, Ali the race organiser said that he ‘hoped the race was memorable’, he said as long as every racer remembered it for the good times or the bad then he would be happy.

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I’m not sure this approach will appeal to all, this race requires commitment physically and financially and I’m sure most want to remember it for the good times. The stages of the Trans Savoie are designed to be technically very hard and many will remember feeling rubbish as they walked down yet another part of the trail. They will then remember the feeling as they cleaned something they previously thought they couldn’t ride and the cheer from the ever exuberant marshals or media guys as they raced past, an awesome feeling and ones that will stick longer than any unpleasant ones, I know mine do and I’m sure Ali will be happy!

Words: Rachael Gurney

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