For Whistler local Katrina Strand, riding her bike 300km over French Alps from Clamensane to Menton was exactly the kind of challenge she was looking for.
The six-day Trans-Provence enduro race features around 15,000 metres of elevation gain, with 5,000 of those metres assisted by vehicle shuttles.
“I got lost a couple of times, I had some mechanicals, shit does hit the fan, but that event is not as much about the competition as it is about the adventure,” said Strand. “You have those moments of suffering, but I really just stayed focused on what I was doing that exact moment. You could take your time between the stages, so if I wanted to stop and have a snack and lounge in the sun, I could do that.”
Over the six days there were 24 timed enduro stages, with Strand managing fifth place in the women’s category with a time of three hours, 25 minutes and 30 seconds, putting her in 35th place overall in a limited field of 74 riders.
Due to the logistic challenges, only 74 riders are allowed to compete with professional racers being invited and the remainder of the field gaining entry through a lottery system.
While Strand was in peak condition for the Trans-Provence after a busy season of enduro racing, she was challenged by the rough terrain and the fact that she had to race blind on the timed sections.
“I have raced (downhill) in Europe before, but this was totally different,” said Strand. “I guess the most challenging part was the switchbacks. There’s a specific technique to get around these switchbacks, tighter than anything we have here.
There’s not one trail I could relate it to. It was full on trials maneuvers in combination with high, high exposure.”
Getting to the tops of the climbs also proved challenging, with some hike-a-bike sections taking as long as four hours over un-rideable terrain such as boulder fields.
“No bike shoes are meant to hike that much,” she said. “A ‘pro tip’ I’d give somebody going into that race would be to do some blister prevention. Putting tape on my heels on that first day would have been some great advice.”
Less than a week after crossing the finish line in Menton, Strand was already riding her practice runs for the Enduro World Series (EWS) final in Finale Ligure, Italy. Hampered by crashes on the first two stages, fatigued from the previous week at the Trans-Provence and fighting off the onset of the flu, Strand still managed a respectable 16th place. Of the 47 women registered for the EWS final, 36 made it to the start line and only 31 actually finished the race.
“I know I can do better than that, but I’m not disappointed in my result,” said Strand. “The competition is thick, but I was a little behind my pace.”
Strand is currently resting and recovering before beginning her coaching and training of other local athletes and youth. Her 2015 race season will begin in March with the New Zealand Enduro and the first stop of the EWS at Crankworx Rotorua.