Charlie Williams Takes on the Trans Riviera.

Charlie Williams heads to the French riviera to take on yet another of the Megavalanche organisers’ unique race offerings, the Trans Riviera.

Touted as an extreme cross-country race, Charlie Williams heads south to find out whether the Trans Riviera lives up to the hype.

Photos by Photographe – Zoom dans l oeil de Fab.

The feeling I had when I saw the finish line was rather emotional, a bubble appears in my throat but I choke it back, moments later, I cross the line and see Mark Edwards of UCC; he asks me how my race went as his UCC Colleague Irene puts the 2023 Trans Riviera finisher medal over my head…

The words that I spouted at that point were: ‘That is quite possibly the most beautiful yet technically & physically demanding single day point to point race in the World’, Mark replies. ‘It is a race for mad people like yourself.’ This race is a very special race indeed…

Now let’s rewind the clock back 24 hours… I’m sitting in the front seat of the transfer van with Francesco Faloci ( the head guide at VTT MTB Mercantour) at the wheel and my friend Mike Thickens next to me. We are on our way to the start of the 2023 Trans Riviera organized by UCC Sport event, the guys behind the infamous Megavalanche, Maxiavalanche series and Transversubienne to name but a few.

The race is pitched as:

An amazing long-distance extreme Cross Country race, the Trans Riviera. This amazing event will take you from the mountains of Tende to the beach of Menton for 95, 60 or 40km of the most fantastic single tracks of the Riviera, through rolling uphills and technical downhill single-tracks’

Extreme cross country. What exactly is that? Only time would tell…

The 1 hour 20 transfer drive from Menton to Tende is the definition of man vs nature, the juxtaposition of the concrete structures and the never ending naturally eroded cliffs of the valley caused by the Roya River is somewhat surreal, and all too prevalent is the evidence of damage from the floods that hit this valley in late 2020, the inevitable repair work is ongoing…

We arrived at the event headquarters in Tende around 16:00. Quentin Richard was on hand to welcome us all while collecting our number boards and a rather cool Trans Riviera race shirt. We pick up our luggage and after a short 2 minute ride we find the campsite, pitch the tent then return to HQ for dinner.

Now don’t get me wrong but race event catering is a somewhat contentious/repetitive issue in the UK, with the normal burger, chips, bacon butty the expected norm… Not in France. They really know how to cater; a 3 course meal starting with stuffed mozzarella balls on baby leaf salad and cherry tomatoes followed by pasta with chicken cooked with turmeric, carrots and mushrooms and for dessert, tarte au pommes. All washed down with a choice of beer, red wine or water, there was even second helpings of the pasta too. Much needed in anticipation of what was to come the following day.

Race day dawned with an 06:00 alarm to de-camp then head for breakfast, freshly cooked scrambled eggs with hams, cheeses, cake, toast & coffee or tea were on the menu. Before we knew it we were on the start line. George Edwards was to lead us out on his now legendary Yamaha WR400F, this particular WR has seen more alpine terrain, single track than any other in existence.

It is the what we in the UK would call the ‘Trigger’s Broom’ of motor bikes, I even saw it get a new tyre at last years Megavalanche. The very sound of it is comforting to the ears as it will often turn up, with George aboard at the point when you need encouragement the most…

5,4,3,…GO. We’re off and riding in the 4th edition of the Trans Riviera. 95km and 2900m of climbing and 3700m of descent await us all. The first climb was thankfully a steady affair of 6km mainly on asphalt and gravel. I’d not slept well the last 2 nights and felt misaligned on the bike, you know those days when the bike is not part of you more apart from you? That was today. That is until the trail started dipping into the woods and the first descent of the day exposed itself…

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The loam-ometer broke after seconds of dropping in, fast flowing single track interspersed with steep diving switch backs, some requiring rolling endos others just a foot out skid depending on how the mood was, deep grippy loam ensued and a Swiss rider behind me shouted ‘Is this the best race in the world?’

Turn after turn after turn of loam then fast sniper singletrack, steep technical rock chutes, it was as though the book of trail building had been thrown at this hill and spilt its contents all over it…Heaven. There’s nothing better than a blind run down a 10 minute plus trail to get the mind and body focused. I felt whole again and my anticipation level of what lay ahead over the next 80 odd kilometres was re-kindled to ‘surely it can’t be better than that’ level…

Well it can and was. Every climb was rewarded with a descent that ticked every box of the mountan biker’s wish list, trails so technical you could not blink, trails so fast that the details of such became a blur between checkpoints, trails that were so much fun you caught yourself laughing in between turns, stairs so harsh you wondered if you’d taken a wrong turn or bought the wrong bike. Would it ever end?

It wasn’t always excitement level 11, no, there were times I’d wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into? At 41km a third of the way up the 3rd big climb of the race I really started to suffer, morale was low and the first signs of cramp appeared, I was in that dark place wondering if I’d drank enough, eaten enough…

I’d definitely not slept enough and after the highs of the last descent was it only fair that a corresponding low must balance the high. That’s what my logical head was yelling at me. Then out of nowhere the soft ‘Dubba Dubba’ of a 4 stroke appeared and there on the horizon appeared George aboard his trusty WR. A friendly smile and a ‘Good Luck Charlie’ were just what I needed to see and hear.

I stopped shortly after to remove my base layer and take on more food and drink, a halfway-ish reset if you like, it even started to rain which brought a cooling reprieve to the early summer heat. I remounted and carried on, the next descent was minutes away… Oh, how the trails can change. That small amount of rain had made the rocks like ice. I tried a rock slab line to see how much grip there wasn’t, thoughts confirmed. Grip had taken a vacation. It was a procession of riders doing squid impressions, but out of nowhere came a rider who defied the laws of physics… It was Francesco, the local guide and my transfer driver. I couldn’t believe my luck.

I tagged onto the back of him immediately and we scythed our way through the field on lines that only a local would know. 8 minutes later I’m back to the happy highs, flowing behind Franceso as we navigate the grip in between the non-grip, a rider is catching us so I take a very quick glance up to the last switchback to see who it is… Slam. I’m on the deck, front wheel straight into a boulder. I curse myself for such a rookie mistake, I pick myself up and dust myself off, quick check and everything is good. Phew. A few minutes later I caught back up to Francesco and thanked him for the wheel to follow before the next food stop at 55km.

Somewhere around 65km I found my second wind. I attributed this to taking on more fluids and more food than I thought necessary at the last food stop and the next 20 km were a blur. The longest climb of the race (over an hour) flew by, helped by the stunning views and a glimpse of the sea.

The rain, a long evaporated memory gave way to bone dry dusty trails and grippy rock, the faster you rode the easier it became as flying over terrain is a rather effective way of making them smoother, riding the last few descents of the Trans Riviera was an experience ranging from pre-cognitive flow to hanging on for dear life as stopping was not an option in places, walking the last climb of the Trans Riviera was something I’d rather not repeat any time soon.

Aa certain Mr Killian Bron had to have a 20 minute nap at the top… I cannot convey the level of technicality, physicality versus reward of the trails in mere words. Only that the feeling I had when I saw the finish line was rather emotional, a bubble appears in my throat but I choke it back, moments later.

I cross the line and see Mark Edwards of UCC; he asks me how my race went as his UCC colleague Irene puts the 2023 Trans Riviera finisher medal over my head; the words that I spouted at that point were: ‘That is quite possibly the most beautiful yet technically & physically demanding single day point to point race in the World’, Mark replies. ‘It is a race for mad people like yourself’. This race is a very special race indeed.

So according to my GPS, in 6 hours 48 mins I’d ridden 90km and climbed 3150m. (3800m strava corrected) which by my calculations resulted in circa 4800m of descent. That is one big day in the saddle. One which quite handily finished on the beach in Menton which resulted in a very refreshing dip in the sea after consuming the post race meal and beer. Would I do it again? Most certainly, but with more food intake and drink.

I chose the long version of the race as it fitted in with my current plans for later in the year, my weapon of choice was a Transition Spur, with Maxxis Ardent Race tyres, weighing in at 11.5 kg (not inc. bottle, CO2 or spare tube). You could feasibly do the long race on an enduro bike but there are time cut offs on the course so with burlier tyres and heavier bike you may struggle.

The other options are to enter the eMTB Trans Riviera which has a battery swap point midway courtesy of Loisi Bikes. There are also 60km options for the MTB and eMTB as well as a Gravel Trans Riviera which takes a different route to the MTB missing out the technical descents. UCC organization is second to none and always makes everyone feel welcome, on top of that the camaraderie of all the riders at these events makes memories and friends that can last a lifetime.

You can check out the Trans Riviera over on the UCC website here.