If it’s tough you’re after then look no further than the gruelling Transpyr, the seven-day, cross-Pyrenees mountain bike race in which reaching the finish is a badge of honour in itself.
by Cath Harris
This year, Evans’ Mark Lee did exactly that and more, completing the 780km ride which annually claims a drop out rate of more than 40%. Mark’s teammate, Tom Casey, would not have been far behind but for stifling heat and injury in the early stages. “What a week, what an event and what an amazing opportunity,” Mark beamed after the finish.
The race starts at Roses on the Med and ends, 18,000m of climbing later, at Hondarribia on Spain’s north Atlantic coast. Participants must enter as a team of two or three. Mark and Tom pipped scores of applicants for the two Evans’ places. Mark admitted fear and Tom, terror, even before they left for the sixth running of the event. Mark, Evans’ Greater London Regional Manager, had initially been a downhiller before Enduro/XC became his passion while Tom, Assistant Manager at Evans’ new Cambridge store, is a triathlete who put running and swimming on hold to prepare for the Transpyr. They would need all the miles time allowed to have any chance of finishing.
The first hour was flat and fast giving little hint of what lay ahead. Tough climbs splintered the group and as the temperature soared to 37°C there were many casualties. Mark completed the stage but Tom pulled out at the last feed station. “I knew it was going to be hard but this was off the scale,” he recalls. A 600m climb with gradients of up to 30% welcomed riders to day two. “To start a 113km stage like this was crazy but the single track decent on the other side made all the sweat and pain worthwhile,” Mark says. Respite was short lived and riders were soon pushing the boundaries again, reaching 2,300m before lunch (locally made pasta for 200). Mark dipped under eight hours for the stage but was slowed by seven – yes seven – punctures.
Organisers promised “hotter, steeper, longer and even more elevation” for day three. It was no empty pledge. No less than 1500m of ascent within 30k greeted stage three’s starters, followed by “some of the best single track I have ever ridden”. Many riders wilted in the heat but a rejuvenated Tom sped up “the largest climb I have ever done”. He was still feeling good as the finish neared but lost control on a descent and was catapulted onto a rock. He had injured a hand and couldn’t hold the bars. Another frustrating rest day beckoned. Mark was in better shape and could barely wait for stage four. Single track descents and long, steep, rocky climbs were ahead – “the sort of riding I love”. Mark’s plan “was to get to the front and hold on as long as possible” and at the last feed station was in an impressive 11th place. “I turned on the power pistons and overtook four riders just before the mountain peak.” He crossed the line in fifth place. Tom returned for stage five and the Evans duo tackled a 3.5 hour climb and cliff edge descent together. They covered “desert-like terrain that often looked like the Wild West,” Mark says. “After nine hours Tom and I crossed the line. Tom was really happy to finish the stage!”
But triumph turned to trepidation with news of stage six, the Transpyr’s longest day, ever. Within 138k riders would tackle 3,500m of climbing. “I certainly was not looking forward to this day,” Mark adds. “But I decided to race it. Tom was aiming to make it to the last feed station at 118km then grab a lift.” Soon after the start, Mark took the wheels of the Trek Factory Racing riders, some of the front running cyclists from the start. “Unbelievably, I held on for 50k but then punctured.” He suffered another flat 80k further on and cursed his decision not to use tubeless tyres. He made up his losses on the final day when a steep early climb preceded “one of the best descents of the week”. Another cliff edge descent followed “then a super rocky single track that would have frustrated the fast cross-country riders.” But the route had a sting. “Suddenly we hit a tarmac road that must have been 40-45% gradient in places. It went on for ages and my group of 12 soon became four.” Undulations followed before Mark “powered up the final climb” dropping his three companions. “I smashed the last descent finishing the stage in fifth place.” For Mark, the week had become an enviable blur. “I couldn’t help but think what a lifestyle it had been. The only things I had to worry over were: where’s my next meal coming from, what is the next stage profile and where I am I sleeping? Perfect!”
- Sadly, tragedy marred this year’s TransPyr with news that a 36-year-old participant had died after crashing at the end of stage one.
- The 2015 seven day TransPyr covered 780k and included 20,000m of climbing. There are two shorter options: East – three stages, 360k, 7,500 of ascent; West – four stages, 420k, 10,500m of elevation. The 2016 race runs from June 12-18.
- When the guys weren’t wearing their Evans Cycles race kit, they were equipped with the Gore Bike Wear Alp-X-Pro range which is the ideal MTB race kit for those not wanting to wear Lycra.
- For those of you who are made of steel and who want to embark on this challenge, the sign-up for 2016 is already open. Take a look on their event page here.