A slowing pro road career and a shattered wrist pushed Kieran Page towards an ebike and just how much you can ride with one between your legs.
Photos by Matt Wragg.
We’re not normal. Ask most mountain bikers what they fear most about injury and it’s not the pain, the surgery or the long-term consequences. More than anything for us it’s the time off the bike. So when I shattered my wrist at the start of the year the crash didn’t hurt too much, the surgery was easy enough, even the sleepless nights as the scar healed weren’t too bad, but the six weeks off the bike were hellish. Normal people don’t think like that.
10 January. Around teatime. It was a stupid crash, but they always are, right? I can’t tell you why I crashed, I didn’t make a mistake, it was an easy trail and I wasn’t hanging it all out. That didn’t matter, I still I found myself being driven into the ground, face-first. I managed to get a hand out in time to break my fall, but that broke my fifth metacarpal and the cubitus. It took two operations to plate the cubitus and fix pins in the metacarpal. Six weeks to heal, then another two once the pins came out. Eight long, soul-sucking weeks…
What made it worse was that almost as soon as I was out of the hospital my new bike arrived. Now that was torture. It was taunting me: sitting there with pristine tyres and gleaming paint and me stuck there with nothing but time to imagine how good it must feel. So instead of dwelling, I started planning, putting together the perfect ride to celebrate my new ebike… what better way to cope with being off the bike than daydreaming about getting back on?
One of the best things for mountain bikers around where I live is the train system. It’s a thread of steel and rock through the mountains, connecting the villages to the world. At a time when an ebike is limited by the battery range, this means you can explore far further than you could otherwise – there are even bike racks on the trains so for a couple of Euros you can just hop on. This meant I could connect the two centres of my life – Peille and Sospel.
Peille is my adopted hometown where my family and business are, and Sospel is where I started my new life once I had accepted that the life of a professional road racer was no longer possible for me. It was there that I gained my guiding qualification, I still run the weekly kids MTB school, so it seemed fitting to start the ride there, just a 20-minute train ride from my home.
Climbing up out of Sospel you can take the iconic road climb up to the Col de Braus, but where is the fun in that on an ebike? I prefer to head up the Roccas trail. This long, rocky chute of a trail has been used in a few editions of the local enduros, but that is going down. Going up it is on the edge of what is possible with an ebike – you have to be decisive and precise to avoid pushing the bike up long stretches, but it definitely is possible.
It’s the ideal test to see how much fitness you have managed to keep hold of – anybody who thinks ebikes are for the lazy should try getting one up here, by the time you reach the step ups at the top you heart is pounding in your ears, but you can’t let focus drift or you will quickly find yourself pushing rather than riding.
Coming out of Roccas you head up you have to take a short stretch of road before you reach the next trail, Betto. This is another enduro race stage, but it’s a lovely climb. Sitting higher on the north-facing slopes of the mountain you have lush, deciduous woodlands with the forest canopy high overhead. Even in summer, it stays relatively cool under there and it’s a nice change from the intensity of Roccas, a steady spin up towards the crest above.
Emerging from the trees you join the Crete de Lavinia which has one of the best views anywhere in the region. On a good day, you can look out far past Nice and maybe catch a glimpse of St Tropez. If you’re really lucky, you might even catch a breeze wafting in from the sea… The ridge opens out into a 50km/h blast down towards Baisse du Pape – it’s the perfect warmup for what is to come – a first check to see if everything is still working when the speed goes up, if the reflexes are still there and the bike is set just right.
It’s then a short nip up the fireroad and onto the face of Mont Merras – this is where the descending gets serious. This has served as a stage on the Transprovence and many local extreme XC races and is the first real test of whether I can still throw the bike around when the stakes get higher as the loose rock seems to want to throw you from the bike. Out of Merras, you are almost straight into one of the most important trails for me – Yega.
My overriding memory of this trail is after finishing the work opening it, we had a BBQ in the middle of nowhere with Corsican smoked sausage and a couple of bottles of Beaujolais. Hauling the tools out after that one was interesting, to say the least. The trail itself for me is a beauty, narrow and technical to wide and flowy, it’s an impossible task to keep clean as it is so far from civilisation, but I love it so much I can’t resist a lap. It also serves as the linking trail – up until now I’ve been riding on the Sospel side, but Yega brings me back to Peille and my home trails.
Yega drops you at the Col de Banquettes and straight into Gazouil. This was one of the first trails I re-opened here – when we first rode this trail you had to cross the stream on pallets thrown into the water – not fun at high speed. We built a bridge over and since then the trail has featured in a few mountain bike and trail running races. It’s a fast trail, but one you have to keep your wits about you for as there are a few sections that can spit you out if you come in without thinking.
From there it’s through Peille bikepark and onto the Val de Ville climb. This is another trail most people use as a descent, but it’s a tricky one to clean on an ebike on the way up to the iconic road summit – the Col de la Madone (it’s where Lance used to go to see if the “programme” was working well). We don’t waste time on the road here, crossing the asphalt and keeping on up the summit above and the start of the homeward leg.
Sitting just below the antennas, some 1,100m above the sea below, Cabanelles is a bit special. At this height, inversion layers frequently roll in and you feel like you’re plunging into the unknown. It flows through several zones, from barren rock, to lush forests and grasslands, down to Mediterranean scrub on the lower flanks. It’s a trail I’ve put a lot of work into over the last few years and went on to feature as one of the stages in the first ever round of the World Ebike Series in April this year.
A quick stint on the road brings you to Buampin, an unforgiving roman road that has featured in more than a few editions of the French Cup enduro series. I normally ride this trail up, as I think it’s more fun that way. No matter how new or shiny your bike, it will always feel terrible here as the square edged hits buck the bike about beneath you – it’s a full body workout, especially if you have been laid up…
Finally, we reach Chemin de la Viella, or A8 as we call it. Every spring for at least the last ten years, the French version of the Simpson’s crazy cat lady can be found with a shopping bag full of tools, pruning, trimming and digging water evacuation. It’s an eye-wateringly fast descent where you can hit 60kph if you’re brave (or reckless) and is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. What better way to get home? 45km, 1,700m climbing and three hours. I’m sore, dusty, tired and grinning from ear-to-ear. And do you want to know the sick thing? After all that anticipation the feeling of getting back on the ebike, this ride almost makes the injury worth it…