Sospel. Good Content.

Come to Sospel they said. It's always sunny they said.

Every winter the blog, like the bike, gets put in the cave and forgotten about for a few months.

There’s skiing to be done. Who’d go biking in the snow after all. OK, fatbikers, but they’re diff’rent to us, so should be shunned. You’re allowed to blame other people for your problems again, it’s fine.

Not quite dust and sun, but Ross seems to be enjoying it.

But this year, after my wee 8 month break from bikes last season, was going to be different. I was going to keep biking through the warm dry alpine winter like all my friends did in 2017. Key to this was a trip down to the 06 for Tim, Ross and me to ride Provence’s finest trails in the winter sun. Enjoying dust and t-shirts whilst Chamonix shivered.

Well, that was the plan anyways.

Tim and Joris make the most of the perma summer. Mmm, dry dusty trails under a blue sky.

Lets go back to the Provence bit.

The 06, Maritime Alpes, Provence, whitevers, can lay a good claim to being the most influential location in European mountain biking and hence the world because, let’s be honest, when did the US ever lead an “extreme sport trend”? The first ever world cup DH was held just down the road from Sospel in Cap d’Ail, and was won by some 17 year old local lad.

Most of the big French names in biking are from this way, and you have to admit racers don’t get much more influential than Voullioz or Barel. Then there’s the Trans-Provence. Ash Smith’s multi day enduro stage race that spawned a hundred imitators and made enduro cool before enduro stopped being cool but managed to stay cool.

So, bearing all that in mind, you might want to know E-Bikes are big in Provence just now.

Whether you like garlic bread or not, it’s the future. I’ve seen it.

Tim follows Ash. The bikes are plastic, but not electric.

Hence, when you get an invite to ride in Provence from Ash, you go. And it was his birthday too so doubly rude not to.

I’d say I endured two days of social media bullying from the rest of the crew who’d already headed down from Chamonix, but to be honest I was either working or sleeping in the days leading up so missed the fun of “where is @chamonixbikeblog?” Meeting in Sospel’s PMU bar to begin a celebratory night of beer, rose wine and aperol spritzers brought me up to speed.

Bry. The best transfer driver in the alps....?

Sunday dawned.

Saturday night meant it wasn’t exactly bright and early, but 5 of us managed to drink enough coffee to stand around offering helpful advice to Tim as he failed to fix his rear tyre and only an hour or so behind schedule we rolled out of Ride Sospel HQ for a day on the trails.

Joris leads out Ross into the Sospel DH track. Not pictured, sketchy road gaps and slick rocks.

Ash has very egalitarianly put pure hunners of the trails together on GPX files so you too can have the experience we enjoyed. We did have Ash, Bry and Joris taking turns shuttling and showing us around, so I’m no really sure what trails we rode, but they were right good!

This right turning trail is right good.

Less good was the weather. Lunch was spent hiding from the rain in the pub, but stoke remained high enough to head up towards the Cime du Bosc. Heading higher meant a change in weather, going from fine rain, through smurr, into a bit of drizzle, then sleet. Finally snow. Which set a bit of an ongoing pattern.

No matter, the Transit had snow tyres and we had extra layers. Ross had heated socks. Having a kit bag ready for expedition to Baffin has it’s advantages I guess.

Bit of snow on the ground, overcast skies, damp dirt. Could be UK, but it's Provence.

Do you ever arrive somewhere and it just feels “right”?

The bluff overlooking the Roya valley is one of those places. I admit, the bullet pocked ruins of a house and a miserable looking bunker from the infamous Maginot Line (ok, the Alpine Line war pedants) would suggest that at points in the past for several people here was very much not a right place, but today on a selection of shiny #enduro rigs (we were all wearing half face helmets and goggles, WITHOUT IRONY. So Damn Enduro. bro) this place felt right.

The first turn, a right hander hairpin that drops steeply away into a wall of death esque wooden berm, looked a giggle in the dry but in snow more suggested death by splinters. Fortunately that was the end of the woodwork (mostly) and from here down was 3 laps of variation on the theme of fast, floaty airs, flow, fun.

A pretty good ride out for the first full day on the bike of the year!

Apparently if you've raced T.P. you'll ken this trail.

If Sunday night was a more subdued affair (most of us are now firmly in the masters category at the races) then Monday morning was also quieter than the previous morning. That quiet you only get when there’s something dampening the normal noises of a village.

The quiet you get when it snows.

Sospel in the snow. This should not look like this.

Chamonix is no stranger to snow, right now the Meteo France bulletin de neige informs us the north facing slopes have 170cm of snow at 1500m, 280cm at 2000m and 370cm at 2500m altitude (Aye, we are a bit worried what this means for bike season). But Sospel IS a stranger to snow.

It never snows there.

Never.

Shuttle lyfe. In about 100m time we stopped going forwards. Can't accuse Ash of not trying though! No sure many other vehicles in the 06 made it this far, the LAPD certainly didn't...

Still, we were here to bike and after various vehicles had been stashed in assorted locations around the region for Plan A riding, and a bit more coffee, we got in the van for some biking.

The plastic bikes were deemed too fragile to survive outside the shuttle, the Edit just needed hit with a stick to break the ice off and she was ready for another lap.

This is where the plan started to fail.

When Facebook started its live feed malarkey they probably didn’t envisage Tim’s attempts to conduct interviews whilst Ash negotiated a stage of the Monte Carlo rallye in a Ford Transit with a good £30k worth of bike in and on it, but who can know what their creation can go on to be….certainly not facebookski.

I’m not sure the live feed of us putting snowsocks on was quite as popular. Either way, sometime later it was accepted we probably weren’t going to reach the trail head and another plan was needed.

Throw horns and smile. Biking in the snow is infinitely better than not biking at all.

This plan was the Foret de Menton. Otherwise known as stage 23 in the Trans Provence. Traditionally one of the last stages of the race, our first stage of the day.

Trans Provence is infamous for its hike a bikes. Doesn't Tim look stoked!

There’s something brilliantly stupid about riding bikes in proper snow. This was none of your usual couple of cm of wet slush that biking in the snow generally involves. Talk of why we’d left the ski kit in Chamonix wasn’t completely done in jest.

Droppin'. Bit of gradient, not too many roots, perfect.

Keep moving with a bit of speed, pick trails that aren’t too steep but still have a bit of gradient and hope there aren’t too many roots under the snow is the usual advice for riding in the neige. I’d generally add use the previous riders tracks as clues but it was now snowing so hard that our tracks were covered between laps.

Playing follow the Bry.

This is all good and fun, but bike kit isn’t ski kit and before too long stoke alone isn’t quite enough to keep you warm. Grand plans of riding the final stage of the T.P. down to Menton were abandoned in favour of another bit of rally driving to a heated room serving food and drink by the beach.

Where it was still snowy.

Seriously, when does it ever snow on the beach in the Med?

Ross is wearing more clothes than I own and has heated socks. Nae wonder he looks happy wi the world.

Time to head back north, on increasingly snow free roads, to the frigid hills of Chamonix where it wasn’t snowing but was cold enough to make me fear for my toes again.

Good content that.

Another trip will be made down to Sospel to try the trails under more usual conditions, you should try it too.

Ride Sospel can sort you out with accommodation and trails, Cool Bus can sort you out with shuttles and if you invite us Chamonix folk down it would seem we can sort you out with unseasonal weather.

Joris came to VTT from motocross. You can tell this, 'cos he got roost.

Cheers Bry and Joris for sharing their trails, shuttles, beers and chat and a massive thanks to Ash and his family for welcoming us down to their house.

Mountain biking's coolest sticker? Discuss.

Bonjour, ça va. Good content that.

  • Chamonix Bike Blog

    Mountain bike blog for Chamonix and the Western Alps

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