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Route: Les Contamines Mont Blanc, St Gervais.
Total distance: 52.5km
Total timed descent: 2,350m
Number of stages: 4
Full results here
Final standings after Day Six.
1. Nico Lau – 4:24:23
2. François Billy-Maître – 4:26:53
3. Jamie Nicoll – 4:30:59
1. Meggie Bichard – 5:36:06
2. Kerstin Kögler – 5:55:26
3. Monika Büchi – 5:58:49
It’s hard to believe it’s six days since we rolled out of the campsite in Val d’Isére not sure of what to expect, and set off on the 2015 Trans-Savoie journey. Friday was the day that the week’s efforts and frustrations got their rewards. All the exertion, the skill and the bravery crudely broken down into hours, minutes and seconds. And the guy that ruled the steepest tracks and the gnarliest terrain was the guy from close to Strasbourg in France, Nico Lau, and it’s been a pleasure to see him and the rest of the top riders tackling all of the stages this week.
The first stage was just a simple bike park blue down to Les Contamines, but simple isn’t always easy and safe when you’re pushing against the clock on the last day of a week-long event. Every second counts for most of the riders, whether it’s to try and beat your mate, the guy who’s been closest to you in time throughout the week or to win the overall event at the sharp end.
Nico Lau started the day with a three-minute lead built up in the first few days of racing to protect, and rode conservatively today (for him!) to make sure nothing got in the way of winning the Trans-Savoie.
Stage Two was tough to access and needed a huge liaison climb of 1,000m, which was no joke in the blistering sunshine. The trail is one of the week’s best, but after six days racing riders were tired on track and some struggled to make the most of the fact that because of the difficulty to reach the top, the trail is less well ridden and always in prime condition.
Heading down towards St Gervais to pick up the Mont Blanc Tramway, a small, tight 250m-drop stage was squeezed in since the race was passing nearby. It was a tight, tricky steep path down to the Thermal Park in town and caught a few by surprise with some steep rooty sections and switchbacks.
The Tramway itself is a classic piece of engineering that winches tourists up the shoulder of Mont Blanc on a cogged line, eventually stopping just shy of the glacier at a mountain refuge. Trans-Savoie didn’t go as high up as this, as with chained ‘Via Ferrata’ style paths it’s not possible to ride down most of the terrain up close to the ice, never mind race down it.
Instead, the final 30th stage of the week followed the line of the Tramway back down from the iconic mountain towards the campsite above St Gervais. The start blasted down Alpine meadows with views to die for and headed flat out into woods and paths with 10km distance and 1,000m drop. By the end of this stage, racers had clocked up almost 30,000m of descending during the week. Many had no punctures or mechanicals either, proving how awesome bikes are these days to handle this kind of stuff.
Trans-Savoie 2015 women’s podium – winner Meggie Bichard was getting her champagne technique dialed.
For most competitors, survival and the badge of honour of ending one of the toughest enduro races around was enough, but for the top racers in each category, the roll back to the campsite might have been an anxious few minutes until the check at the timing tent either confirmed or scuppered the result they wanted. In the end François Billy-Maître ran him close, but Nico Lau had done enough to protect his lead and win the third edition of the Trans-Savoie after almost four and a half hours of racing.
Trans-Savoie 2015 Pro Men 1st: Nico Lau (Cube), 2nd: François Billy-Maître (BMC), 3rd: Jamie Nicoll (Polygon)
Video Day 5:
Route: Beaufort, Beaufort-Arêches.
Total distance: 44.3km
Total timed descent: 3,560m
Number of stages: 6
Standings after Day Five:
1. Nico Lau – 3:59:07
2. François Bailly-Maître – 4:02:27
3. Jamie Nicoll – 4:06:05
1. Meggie Bichard – 5:07:24
2. Kerstin Kögler – 5:24:20
3. Monika Büchi – 5:28:27
Full results here
For many purists, Day Five might have had the best natural mountain biking of the whole event. The quiet off-the-beaten-track town of Beaufort doesn’t have the drama or the epic scenery of the higher Alpine resorts, but it sure has some awesome trails.
Damien Oton picking up the pace on Stage 6
And if the singletrack in dense forests means loam, hero dirt and roots rather than multi-layered, jagged panoramas, we didn’t hear anyone complaining about any lack of scenery.
Pro Ride/Mavic/Santa Cruz rider Phil Shucksmith had a top ride today – matching EWS heavy hitters like Jamie Nicoll for time in this kind of terrain is no mean feat…
Riders were dropped off at the beautiful Lac de la Roseland in the morning and climbed a little to head into stage one – a trail that set the tone for the day on fierce, fast forest paths. With only one chair lift being used in Arêche, riders had to keep zig-zagging up and down the hills with short sharp liaisons to access some of the riding in the Beaufortain area, which is a mixture of maintained bikepark stuff and wild, steep natural paths.
Breakfast stop at the Lac du Roseland
It was pretty hard to single out each individual stage from Day Five as they all melted into a continuous steep onslaught of loam, duff and roots. Treble and bass was the fitting cool name for the second timed section, and pretty much summed up the soundtrack of the day – the thud of loose roots being thumped by downhill casing tyres and forming a fast rhythm. It’s a sound that will have lulled some of the racers to sleep tonight if they found the groove today.
Radon Factory rider James Shirley has some sick style on a bike. He looks consistently one of the fastest on track in the hardest sections.
The final sixth stage of the day was probably the most technical and race leader, Nico Lau, flatted on the front mid-stage, but still managed to only lose tens of seconds (rather than minutes) and maintain his lead over fellow countryman François Bailly-Maître.
With one day left, the majority of racers are still standing and the vibe on the hill seems to be shifting from one of simply a will to get to the end of the week, to one of not wanting this race to end and have to return to normal life. The look in some of the rider’s eyes on the toughest sections isn’t what you’d see in everyday life and it’s going to be a tough return to normality for a lot of riders next week. Let’s see if Nico Lau can keep his 180mm travel Cube Fritzz on track and finish victorious tomorrow when the race heads over towards Mont Blanc.
Video Day 4:
Route: Courcheval, Meribel, Villarlurin
Total distance: 56km
Total timed descent: 4,830m
Number of stages: 5
Full results here
Standings after Day Four:
1. Nico Lau – 3:19:27
2. François Bîlly-Maitre – 3:22:09
3. Jamie Nicoll – 3:24:10
1. Meggie Bichard – 4:16:10
2. Kerstin Kögler – 4:30:30
3. Monica Büchi – 4:35:02
It happens like this every year – the race feels like it has only just started and you wake up and find you’re more than halfway through the week. The fastest guys are now close to three and a half hours on the clock while the riders at the rear of the field have over seven hours of racing under their belts. Luckily the trails deliver the goods regardless of your pace, so whatever the speed, riders are all hitting some amazing terrain, the sun is shining and the race moves forward.
Jamie Nicoll is in third position after almost three and a half hours of brutal downhill.
Heading out from Bozel the riders got to stretch their legs on a climbing liaison up towards the lifts of the 3 Valleys – one of the biggest ski areas in the world.
Long before winter sports got started in the area, farmers, pilgrims and villagers built up a huge network of paths and trails and these are the treasures Trans-Savoie has hunted out over the years to use in the race.
One of these hiker paths is the first stage of Day Four, and the hardest of the entire week. ‘Ornamental’ is a steep as hell technical puzzle with rocks so big it’s more of a case of carry your bike and clamber your way down it for most of the field. The best few riders take on almost the entire initial boulder field, but you need big cajones and some serious trials skills to not get ejected over the front if you’re going for it.
The chaos calms down once you get out of the rocky section and into fast, rooty loamy woods down towards Meribel. BMC racer François Billy-Maître showed the trail who’s boss with the fastest time yet for this stage in the Trans-Savoie.
29-er for the win – BMC racer François was the fastest on the hill today.
Stage 2 heads right up to the top of Courcheval and is a mixture of high Alpine singletrack with loose stones and rocks at first then a never-ending blue trail which is tough on the body with its hundreds of berms and features.
After lunch, the sunny day was at its hottest for one of the most pedalling stages of the week, which headed down into a beautiful valley out in the backcountry before climbing back out. The next traverse follows a stunning ridgeline that is pure classic French Alp scenery, and with 360-degree panoramic views and late afternoon sunlight there aren’t many better places you could be.
That is until you head into stage 5 and 6 and hit up the loamy forest and leaf-covered trails down towards Bride-Les-Bains that offer some of the most amazing riding in the region. For loads of people that work as guides in the area or are involved in organising the race, this forest is an absolute favourite. It simply offers the magic formula of amazing dirt and loam with a flow that’s hard to believe wasn’t made specifically for mountain biking – fast as hell with good lines, but relatively smooth and non-technical with the exception of a few tricky roots, tight turn, and rocks jutting out. Swooping black lines to infinity through rotted foliage will be imprinted on a lot of riders’ eyelids going to sleep tonight judging by the reactions at the end of the day.
Nico Lau shreds one of the best trails in the Alps (according to nearly all the racers at the end of Stage 5).
Another one from Stage 5 – “Loam Ranger”. We spotted some prototype Fox goodies on Ariel Lindsley’s bike too.
Tomorrow is over in the deep loamy, rooty forest in Beaufort, where the quieter area is home to some incredible, less well-known trails.
Video Day 3:
Trans-Savoie Day Three:
Route: Macot La Plagne, Champagny, Bozel.
Total distance: 36km
Total timed descent: 3,500m
Number of stages: 4
Standings after Day Three:
1. Nico Lau – 2:22:23
2. François Billy-Maître – 2:25:20
3. Jamie Nicoll – 2:26:11
1. Meggie Bichard – 3:07:10
2. Kerstin Kögler – 3:17:02
3. Monika Büchi – 3:24:18
Day Three saw the Trans-Savoie move on from the Tarentaise valley and head into the wilderness of the La Plagne backcountry, beyond the Roche de Mio telecabine. In order to get the riders out on course in time to tackle the distance pedalled today, and also allow for the the brutal 850m climb to the refuge at the top of Mont Jovet, coaches drove riders from Séez to the lift station.
An early start stuffing down breakfast then loading bikes was followed by a chilled drive up the mountain. For those that grabbed some more sleep and rested on the bus, arriving at the gnarly terrain at the top of the Roche de Mio was a pretty good substitute for a strong cup of coffee as a wake up call. It’s an intimidating place up there to be sitting on a pedal bike with just a half shell lid on some people’s heads.
The liaison to the first stage headed across the aptly titled ‘Brown Trouser Ridge’. It had awesome views and nothing too technical in the parts you could ride, but was a psyche-out knowing you would eat it in a big way if you fell off the edge by accident. A quick-ish 200m more grinding up to the saddle of the mountain followed, and from here the landscape opened up on the south side allowing the race to tip over the back of the Bellecôte into a completely new zone, and descend down to Champagny and eventually Bozel.
This first stage essentially started in a boulder field at close to 3,000m altitude, and had literally everything you could ever ride in its 1,500m of vertical. Those that fancied their chances basically bowled down the mountain looking for the path of least resistance until the trail formed itself out of the rocky carnage. Fast classic Alpine singletrack with amazing views was followed by some super-fast traversing on wide, flowy trails before ending on a very technical steep plummet down the side of a gorge. Most riders were pretty stoked at the end of this one.
Another lift from Champagny took racers up to a long liaison round the back of a huge valley to the start of the ‘Spider Pig’ stage. This was a steep contorted singletrack ribbon threading down woods in and out of deep green foliage and it’s hard to believe with all the bermed out turns it wasn’t originally built for mountain bikers.
The next part of the day was either a steady climb for someone like former XC racer François Billy-Maître (winner of two stages today), or an hour and a half of slow pain for those less fit competitors climbing 850m on a steep rough fire road to the mountain refuge at almost 2,600m. Nash Masson here didn’t seem to mind it too much.
The classic Mont Jovet descent starts by flowing at speed across a vast high Alpine landscape before tipping into steeper woods with superb banked turns and lumps as well as a smattering of small greasy roots to keep you honest, and at the bottom not one rider thought the climb wasn’t worth it, with many saying it was the best of the week so far.
The final stage treaded a fine line down a steeply cut ravine to the town of Bozel. Technical, root infested and with switchbacks so tight even the top pros where forced to dismount, it was the tricky ying to stage 3’s flowy, flattering yang. Down in the valley riders regrouped at one of the prettiest campsites of the week and despite just four stages today many riders weren’t arriving back until after 6.30pm.
Courcheval and Meribel tomorrow.
Video Day 2:
Trans Savoie Day Two:
Route: Les Arcs, Montchavin Les Coches, La Plagne.
Total distance: 49km
Total timed descent: 5,450m(!!)
Number of stages: 6
Overall standings after Day Two:
1st. Nico Lau
2nd. François Billy Maitre
3rd. Jamie Nicoll
1st. Meggie Bichard
2nd. Kerstin Kögler
3rd. Lisa Curry
Double-check the statistics for Day Two – it’s not a mistake, there was almost 5,500m of timed descending on the clock. The threatening weather couldn’t make up made up its mind today, so most of the stages were pretty wet, even if you got lucky enough that it wasn’t actually raining during each of your runs. But in the end, no one could escape the downpour as the day’s racing came to slippery, muddy conclusion.
Les Arcs is served by a fast funicular (mountain tramway) that rises almost 1,000m from the valley floor at Bourg St Maurice up to the ski resort at Les Arcs 1600. It takes only ten minutes and then another chair lift to get some serious height, so Trans-Savoie Day Two started with a super-technical, hand and forearm-mangling 1,400m timed descent. “Double Shredder” was already given a technical rating of 6, and the wet weather just took it to the next level. Half way down, riders got some encouragement from Monkey Man and his horn if they were flagging.
The whole of Day Two’s area is home turf for Trail Addiction, the holiday and guiding business that spawned the race, and Trans-Savoie benefits from nearly 15 years of knowledge of all the best trails and routes nearby.
Making the most of the lifts to maximise downhill time, the morning rounded off with another ride up the funicular before traversing over to Vallandry for the T-S remixed version of the classic greasy, knobbly black graded “Elle Chablatte”.
Lunch in Vallandry refuelled riders and briefly relieved any arm pump before heading back up to the relentlessly steep, twisting, brake melting “Axe Wound” trail. Hand cut and finished in places by a local resident who clearly has a past life as a master trail builder, it’s been shaped to encourage bikers away from the hikers in the valley. This ex-trials rider has crafted a gem of a trial with 850m-drop along some of the steepest, rootiest lines in the region…some riders found it pretty hardcore in the damp, slippery conditions, some just ducked trees and got on with it.
The next two stages were over on the La Plagne side of the hill, accessed by the huge Vanoise Express cable car that hangs high on a wire 1km high across the valley from Vallandry. The lift is a result of all the cash that skiing in the winter brings to the region, and has opened up an easier to access network of trails in the La Plagne side in recent years.
These include the 550m “Champion’s Method”, slippy today but which usually delivers prime time forest shredding and loam, and “Gold Rush” named after a great guy and competitor from Year One we like to remember called Brian Goldsworthy, who sadly is no longer with us.
Once down at Landry, over 4,000m of descending on rock, root, loam, gravel, berms, drops, jumps and every other kind of terrain had been ticked off and most sensible people might have called it a day. Trans-Savoie pushed another button though, and the competitors took a final lift up the mountain to end the day on another black graded trail from Les Arcs. This former footpath has been added to the bike park map, and although it’s now an official graded and maintained trail, it’s still a very natural feeling track that added another final 850m of descent to the day.
See you tomorrow when the weather forecast looks better.
Video Day 1:
Trans-Savoie Day One:
1st Nico Lau – 36:58
2nd François Billy Maitre – 37:22
3rd Jamie Nicoll – 37:29
1st Meggie Bichard – 47:29
2nd Monika Büchi – 50:35
3rd Kerstin Kögler – 50:32
Trans-Savoie started with riders just a handful of km from the Italian border in the legendary ski resort of Val d’Isere, before heading full tilt down the Tarentaise valley. Racers in that other race that frequents this part of the world, the Tour de France, might find themselves struggling up the endless climb to the highest tarmac in the Alps, the 2,764m summit of the Col de l’Iseran, but in the T-S version of events, it’s mostly downhill from the top of the Telépherique Olympique cable car for 50km or so.
Sunday morning saw riders wake to dramatic skies and the threat of thunderstorms, but for the most part the weather held off with just a few smatterings of rain to add some spice to the steeper sections. Experience has taught most to watch their backs and go with the flow on the first day of any multi-day stage race (to finish first, you first need to finish, and all that…), but for those lacking experience or not heeding the warnings that 80% of your maximum for the week is a race-wining pace, Day One is a traditionally a big day for mechanicals and misadventure. This year proved no exception, and plenty of bikes and riders took a pounding getting better acquainted with the Savoie granite than they’d have liked. Around ten riders didn’t get any further than day one.
For this reason, Stage One was simply called “Prelude” and led the riders down a tame (by T-S standards) bike park trail to ease people into the week. Still, 450m of timed descending is hardly an early morning trail ride and it was tough to generate speed and momentum from the endless berms and jumps threading across the high Alpine meadows and ski pistes. Before safely making it across to Tignes, the sister-resort to Val d’Isere, racers needed to tackle the second stage of the day, “Comb Over”. At 3km it wasn’t the longest, but a challenging rocky, technical puzzle threading down 500m of height drop in extremely rocky terrain at first and then steep, eroded shallow gulleys and paths down past the resort. There was awesome flow if you got it right, but pure danger if your line choice wasn’t precise. The third stage led down to the lake and was brand new for 2015. we adapted one of the riders’ previous favourites to incorporate even more incredible singletrack than before, and if the constant swooping, flowing fast ribbon of what’s been dubbed “The New Boss” (with one of the best views in the Alps laid out in front of you) didn’t get you grinning like a maniac on wheels, try placing two fingers on your wrist between the bone and the tendon and try to check your pulse.
Before lunch, Stage 4 introduced a brand new trail this year, and if one thing stood out, it was the pure speed you could generate in places if you were crazy enough. Straight line sections and steep gradients on rough ground offered a carrot to the brave, but the penalties for getting it wrong on this kind of terrain are no joke. No one said it was going to be easy, and this was the first stage of the race with a 5+ technical rating – our version of ‘pretty mental’. Lunch next to the stunning Lac du Cheval topped the morning off, and looking around, the stoke factor appeared to be reaching maximum for most people.
Day One’s afternoon started with a long, pretty liaison journey up and down the less travelled east side of the Tarentaise valley, eventually passing through the 18th century farming village of La Monal. This tiny hamlet is listed and protected for its architectural and historical importance, and surrounded by larch forest and simply incredible views of Mont Pourri and its glacier…a pretty pretty tempting place to sit a while amongst the ancient stone huts and babbling streams and contemplate the awesome places our bikes can take us. Sadly, we either had more photos to take or timed stages to survive.
Passing through another beautiful traditional Savoie village, “Heidi’s Bottom” trail was up next and this has become something of a legendary trail in these parts. We switched the route up this year, and instead of charging through town (with locals cheering in the street last year) and doing the whole thing top to bottom, we split the descent into two longer stages. The first part of Heidi’s was extended into new territory and some killer, fresh and loamy new forest singletrack usually missed by the standard route. This did mean riders had to pedal back up to where we’d previously raced through the town, but nobody seemed too concerned after sampling the extra 200m of vertical this generated. The bottom portion of Heidi’s can get quite crazy at race pace and the main idea for the split was that the riders shouldn’t be too knackered to enjoy it. The trail’s finale smashed through a succession of rock drops and gulleys to the sound of wheels chattering and wasn’t for the faint-hearted at full tilt, but was still (relatively) safe for all riders choosing a more sensible speed (or walking down). Some of the top guys hammering through this section were pretty scary to watch. After a full day on the clock Nico Lau leads the race but only by around 30secs from his countryman François Billy Maitre, with Jamie Nicoll close in third. In the women’s field, EWS contender Meggie Bichard leads by over three minutes after six stages.
After the final stage, a calming cruise brought the riders back down the road to the campsite at Séez. Bikes needed fixing while riders needed rest and food before we do it all again tomorrow. What a day.
Highlights video will be with you soon.