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Exclusive interview with Trans-Provence chief Ash Smith

The Trans-Provence is a pioneering event in the world of Enduro racing. A week of self-propelling across the French Maritime Alps with numerous timed special stages along arguably the best technical singletrack in the world.

The TP is in a lot of mountainbikers’ Must-Do-Before-I-Die lists.

You can read all about the Trans-Provence on our event page.

We grabbed a few minutes with TP’s mastermind Ash Smith to talk all things Enduro…

Enduro Info: What are the USP’s of Enduro racing (as opposed to XC, DH)? Why race an Enduro?

Ash: Because it will tell you how good of an all-round mountain biker you are (and you’ll have a great time, but that’s “just” a by-product).

The incorrect notion that XC racing tests the all-round mountain biker “because it’s up and down” is dying out, happily. Every mountain biker on this planet takes longer to ride uphill than they do to ride downhill and hence, to test the best all-round rider (and let’s say for the sake of argument that the best rider is made by the best combination of ascending fitness and descending skill, not forgetting that long descents also take it out of you physically) you must make sure that, distance-wise, the amount of timed uphill is much less than the amount of timed downhill. This is what Enduro racing does, this is what Enduro racing is.

Q: What’s good about the current Enduro racing scene?

A: Two things…

Well-designed Enduro race itineraries/courses are a true test of the complete mountain biker, much more so than either XC or DH racing.

The way that Enduro events are inherently set-out, are conducive to lengthy stints of riding together untimed. This makes for friendly atmospheres, lots of banter and great fun which is surely win-win-win (organisers, participants, industry).

Q: What’s bad about the current Enduro racing scene?

A: I wouldn’t say that anything is inherently bad about it.

However, Enduro is in a good place right now, something that I think the MTB industry has started to appreciate and will try to make the most of it. The people who deserve to ride the wave of Enduro’s current success are the top European Enduro riders who have already been in the game for so long and have worked (ridden!) so hard to essentially shape it. Your Jérôme Clementzs, your Remy Absalons, your Florian Golays and a good handful of others. They are Enduro.

What I don’t like is the thought of high-profile riders coming into Enduro from other disciplines and attempting to dictate how Enduro should be in terms of format and rules, especially if by bowing to these demands, we’d move away from Enduro’s original defining principles. I haven’t seen much of this yet, but I’ve seen some. That’s the only potentially bad thing about the otherwise brilliant current Enduro racing scene.

Q: Is the term Enduro still being misused, badly applied? How do you do define “Enduro” to people?

A: When Enduro racing was started in France in the late nineties, the term was meant to be an acknowledging nod towards Enduro motorcycle competition, i.e. the fact that we had taken on their idea of timed special stages and untimed (but often time-limited) link stages. In the early noughties, several British and antipodean race organisers then heard the term “Enduro” in mountain biking and assumed that it referred to the “endurance” aspect of long cross-country races. Hence, several of these types of races became referred to as Enduros in countries like England and Australia. Everywhere else, that was generally known as “Marathon”, “Marathon XC”.

Actual Enduro has only arrived in the UK relatively recently and the resulting (not unexpected!) name confusion has led to the rather silly need for the term “Gravity Enduro”. I am however fairly convinced that the need for this specific term is diminishing, thanks to a kind of “inadvertent pressure from outside”. For example there is a definite lack of the term “Gravity” preceding “Enduro” on an International level (e.g. thoughout the industry, big races, and so on).

Q: Is the Enduro scene going to splinter into different concepts/aims? Is it big enough to withstand such factions?

I don’t know on either count but, I’d say it’s almost certainly to everyone’s advantage if this DOESN’T happen.

Q: Does each country have its particular style/format of Enduro?

A: The two most marked differences currently are between French and Italian Enduro racing. In France where Enduro was first conceived and the first races happened, riding blind or on-sight was and has always been the name of the game. As such, you aren’t allowed to practise the Special Stages in advance of your timed runs. Conversely, in Italy and many other countries, you are allowed to practise in advance. Everyone makes up their own mind as to which of the two approaches they prefer, however, it’s undeniable that one stays truer to the defining values of Enduro.

In the above, you have my personal opinion. However, I am (at least somewhat of) a realist and I appreciate that due to geographical limitations and/or local knowledge in the places where races are run, it’s very challenging to keep blind riding blind forever. It’s not impossible though.

Q: What would you say are the best Enduro bikes available at the mo?

A: This is a tough one as there are so many decent bikes out there these days which are up to the job, i.e. steepish seat angle, pretty slack head angle, upwards of 140mm travel, and strong. So I’ll go for 3 bikes which I believe to be outstanding:

Cannondale Jekyll: this bike’s Enduro racing accolades speak for themselves, but more than that, the Jekyll rides like a dream. So fun, so efficient.

Titus El Guapo: good geometry, good weight, unbelievably affordable.

Mondrakers with “Forward geometry”: fair play to Mondraker for having the nouse to do something different. The long wheelbase has clearly been put there with maximum-stability-whilst-riding-very-fast in mind, but these bikes clearly aren’t a boat in the corners. Seeing top guys like Fabien Barel ride this bike first hand makes me think that Mondraker are definitely on to something.

Q: Moving on to your own highly regarded event, the Trans-Provence. Why did you start TP?

A: It came to me in my sleep one night in 2008. After that, I felt I had no choice. The reason that I continue to do Trans-Provence is that it lets me express my vision of what I think mountain biking is or should be. When I say “I”… what I actually mean is “we”. The Trans-Provence operation is a big team of very dedicated, professional and above all, good people.

Q: What is TP’s main USP (other than its location)?

Mavic® Trans-Provence is still the only week-long itinerant Enduro race ever run, worldwide.

Q: Have you any hints about new things for TP 2013?

A: Trans-Provence 2013 is 6 days instead of 7. I have sensed for the last little while that, at the intensity one rides and races Trans-Provence, 7 days is probably one day too long. There will be something totally new and awesome on Day 1 (think epic ridgelines and unreal views). There will hopefully be a night stage (not all night long, just one short Special Stage).

Keep abreast of all the latest Trans-Provence news by liking the Trans-Provence Facebook page.


One comment on “Exclusive interview with Trans-Provence chief Ash Smith

  1. […] Read our exclusive interview with Trans-provence boss Ash Smith […]

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