Transvesubienne - Prologue

The prologue of the Transvesubienne was full of firsts for me, although not first place!

This was my first race in France, my first downhill race, my first stage race (on a bike anyway) and it all began with my first ride on a ski lift.

The information which had been sent out to the competitors was of course all in French and so the start was something of a surprise to me, I had signed on, collected my number and been through bike-marking and was then informed of how to get to the start. We were already at 4,921ft but the start itself was another 952ft further up the mountain.


Waiting to head up to the start line

It had never even occurred to me that chair-lifts wouldn’t have seatbelts, but I arrived at the top having managed both to hold onto my bike and on to the lift itself, swinging wildly, 60ft above the ground. The 1,000 riders were split into groups of 30 for the prologue, set off at five minutes intervals. I had enough time to have a look at the first few sections of the track and then made my way back to the start line. Mr MacKley was in the first group, I watched them set off, shouting ‘Come On Tim!’ in my best Wimbledon voice, although my perch was considerably larger than Henman-Hill.

I was in third group. This was run in reverse seeding order I should add, as a complete novice at this kind of event I was number 788. Us novices were in the first few groups, survivors of previous races in the next few and the favourites starting in the final few of the 34 groups.

I had been paying attention during Tim’s start and knew the best line to take. I took the right side for the first corner, moved across to the left for second turn and was in 5th place when the course narrowed to single-file. It widened again as it turned, someone in front of me got it badly wrong and stuffed it into the barrier and I found myself up to 4th. The speed picked up very quickly as we plummeted downhill and then into the trees, braking hard as the course narrowed again. This was an awkward traverse, very slippery and a bit of a challenge just to keep the bike in a straight line. I could hear from the noises behind me that I was holding up some of the other riders.

The first corner

We emerged from the forest and began to pick up speed again. This was a proper Alpine decent, just easing the pressure on the brake levers would cause the horizon to leap towards me, I was running a 44-11 setup but that felt almost inadequate.

The course got gradually steeper and twistier as we wound our way down the mountain. There was a big drop down into the main race HQ and then we turned and headed down a ski slope, weaving in and out of the slalom course. We turned left at the bottom and across the river.

The following section was quite tricky, we were in a gully, the sides rising high above us, the rocks on the ground below us getting progressively bigger as we headed down. We zigzagged down the mountain, some of the hairpin turns made tricky by the fact that we had now caught riders from the groups in front of us, there were very limited opportunities to overtake, it was a case of shouting, pointing the bike in the right direction and hoping for the best. The riders I was passing were generally co-operative and I got passed the ones I needed to pass with no incidents. This section was much slower, getting down the rocks still attached to the bike was good enough for most people, doing it quickly was good but not the prime concern.

There was an unexpected bonus at the end, although it may have been less unexpected had I been better able to read French. St Martin Vésuble is a lovely medieval town, full of little squares and plazas, linked by narrow alleyways and vennels and steep, tight stairways. We plunged down through the town, cheered on by the locals from their balconies and the innumerable little cafes and eventually emerged at the finish line in the central market place, where the crowds were out in force. I had been riding flat out, almost entirely downhill, for 41m52.5s, and I was still at 3,018ft!

The Mt Zoom Bullet-Proof jockey wheels appear to be fairly acurately named. From about halfway through the race I appeared to be riding a randomspeed, pressing the gear shifter would determine roughly when the bike would change gear but seemed to have very little say as to which gear it would eventually choose. Most of the course was sufficiently steep that gravity was enough to keep my speed up, I was braking far more than I was pedalling anyway. After I finished I had a look to see if I could see what the problem was and found that half of my rear mech cage was not so much damaged as just not there. The chain was only running around the top wheel, half inside what remained of the cage and half not. As a result it had no tension at all, both jockey wheels had somehow survived the experience though.


Fairly typical I thought, a 13 year old bike and it’s the shiny new XTR-Shadow that breaks. Fortunately I have an identical one on the hardtail so I swapped them over, didn’t take too long.

For the main race I had to be on the start line for 6:30am and so I set an alarm for 5:30. I snuggled down under the duvet in the back of the van, listening to the enormous hail-stones bouncing off the roof and watching them pile up on the windscreen.


Results
Top five and other British riders

Men
1     Francois Bailly-Maitre             France
2     Olivier Giordanengo                France
3     Gustav Wildaber                    Switzerland
4     Freddy Betremiuex                France
5     Jeremy Arnold                       France

86     Tim MacKley                      Great Britain
197   Mark Neill                           Great Britain
297   Andrew Howett                    Great Britain
313   Gary Hill                             Great Britain
402   Vik Chaudhuri                     Great Britain
566   Martin Gee                         Great Britain

Women
1     Nadine Sapin                        France
2     Daniele Troesch                    France
3     Jenn Hopkins                       Great Britain
4     Mona Petri                           Great Britain
5     Masse Feuillard                    France


I will give a special mention here to Mona. Like me, she had competed in the 24hr World Championship the week before. Doing any race the week after a 24hr is tough enough, but to take 4th place was excellent, she was only 5m40.4s behind me, and with Jenn in 3rd it looked like being another good race for the Brits. These prologue times would be added to the times for the main race to produce the overall result.


A little preview of what was to come in the race. This particular piece of track is level, nice and smooth and with a very gentle right turn. Just don't look down!

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