Whistler's Mike Watton stumbled on the Trans-Provence earlier this year through a friend of a friend - who happens to be friends with a Seattle-based adventure racer always on the lookout for interesting events. He'd never heard of the Trans-Provence, which is only in its second year.
But once he knew more, he simply had to go after his friend agreed to sign up.
The payoff was 350 km of riding in the south of France over seven days, including 25 timed downhill stages - the only sections of the ride that were timed. Watton finished those stages - over 15,200 vertical metres when all was said and done - in five hours, 11 minutes and 32 seconds, placing second overall out of 45 riders.
"I thought going in that a top-three was achievable, but then I had a setback before going," said Watton, who had shoulder surgery in February and didn't ride as much this summer as he expected. "About three months out I was thinking that maybe I wouldn't try to be competitive and would just ride for fun and not let myself get stressed out about it. But after day two of riding I thought 'I can do this.'"
Watton says riding in Whistler was definitely an advantage as the descents were surprisingly technical - probably as technical as the descents on Whistler's West side that were featured in Richie's Rally back in August. It was all natural terrain, with narrow, steep trails and endless technical switchbacks, although they also rode down the occasional staircase that passed through a town.
"It was really the perfect Whistler race," said Watton. "You climb up and if you pass through any towns you'd stop for an espresso or a bite to eat, or a beer and enjoy the view. Then you'd climb again until you got to the timed section. Then you'd race to the bottom for five minutes to 25 minutes, whatever it was, then wait for your friends to come down. You'd take off your pads, check the map to see what was next and then you start climbing again."
The race starts in the Durance Valley and finishes in Monaco, with terrain that borders on desert at some elevations. The result was rugged ground, "spiny plants like cactus and a lot of flats," said Watton.
Watton says the organizer created the event as the definitive mountain bike competition, a mountain bike tour operator who has combined the popularity of enduro-style mountain bike events with big mountain stage events. "This is what mountain biking is in his eyes, and I couldn't agree more," he said.