Village of the Damned

The Legend goes that in the 14th century, Queen Jeanne the 1st of Naples who was on the run with her children after being accused of poisoning her first husband, Andre of Hungary, found a hiding place in  her Castle in Rocca Sparviera. Nestled on the top of a 1100m mountain, with a impregnable view on the surrounding valleys.

Local villagers holding some sort of grudge against the Queen and her entourage, as they already had a hard time feeding themselves, helped out the Hungarish spies who showed up in pursuit of Queen Jeanne and brought subsistence.

On Christmas eve, Queen Jeanne went to mass in the neighbouring village of Coarraze. When she got back home, she found her children served on platters on the table.

Heartbroken, she fled the village the next day and curse the village and its inhabitants: “Un jou vendra que aqui non cantéra plus ni gal ni galina”, which could translate to “A day will come when rosters and hen will stop singing here”.

Either a damnation or a coincidence, the village got fully abandoned by the 16th century after a series of earthquakes shook the village and the spring ran dry.

Since then Sparrowhawk’s Rock (literal translation of Rocca Sparviera) has been nicknamed the Village of the Damned.

With this story in mind, we planned a 30km adventure that would take us from the medieval village of Luceram to the village of the damned and loop back. The ride can be started from different point and you can make it as long or as short as you want. We made it a mini-adventure to fit in half day as it was on trails we had never been before and if we were to get a bit lost it would not be too bad.

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Heading down to Rocca Sparviera

Here is our route.

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Riding through the Village of the Damned

It was indeed a pretty gentle ride at first climbing wise, the descent got a bit technical as we approached the village. We actually did spend an hour exploring the ruins and enjoying the view before heading back. You can definitely imagine how arid it could have been on the top of that crest with no spring water.

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Matt Wragg in the front of the lens
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Mini adventure in Paillons

It had been forever since Matt Wragg and I went on an adventure together, due past end of season injury, work, different training regimen, illness, you name. We simply did not make time to enjoy each others’ company on a day-long ride. We put it right this week and I took him on a mini Trans-Paillons ride.

 

 

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 From Col de Ségra to Ongrand by Matt Wragg.

 

Our sole objective was to get from Sospel to Peille on time to catch a train home so we did not have to pedal our way home – which is easily doable if you leave early enough, have the motivation, bring enough food and have enough daylight. So not that day!

 

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Downtown Peille by Matt Wragg.

 

I took him on a ride I did once a few years ago, which means I was not 100% sure of the topo of the trail, how much climbing we would have to do, how technical it would turn out to be, if the trails were still maintained. Plus this time I forgot to put the map in my bag but knowing roughly that area, it was not too life threatening if we were to get lost.

 

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Waiting to catch the train by Matt Wragg.

 
That is why Matt calls going on a exploring ride with me is an adventure! And we did not get lost on that route,even though we missed a turn and skipped a bit of signletrack. We got to Peille with a little over a hour to spare before catching our train and plenty of time for a quick lunch. We have had enough time to had an extra track to our ride which is always a bonus.

 

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 Hopping in the train to Sospel by Matt Wragg.

 

I am looking forward to more of these mini-adventures as we get our riding in-sync.

Datas from the ride

On the road again…

What has only been 2 weeks on the road seems like an eternity. After a month and a half home, away from racing and socializing, we took off for a journey, which would see us go to 3 countries for 3 different reasons.

 

Matt and I set off from Sospel on a 7-hour trip to Friedrichshafen, Germany for Eurobike.

Sunrise CH

We were lucky enough to found a sweet B&B on the Swiss side of Lake Konstanz with a gorgeous view.

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I went roaming the halls in search of new products for 2015. I’ve published my findings on Pinkbike:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

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Eurobike is an interesting place, as you feel like a kid in a candy store with all the upcoming cycling products surrounding you. It is also quite exerting physically and mentally to be around so many people.

 

After those crazy few days we headed to Switzerland, to find the total opposite of what we had experienced in Germany. Lenzerheide, in the Grisons, was quiet and restorative.

wpid-psx_20140831_181711.jpgWhile Matt was busy with a photoshoot, I was able to explore trails, relax and even meet up with a friend I hadn’t seen in 2 years. We even had a little one-day trip to St Moritz, what a gorgeous place. wpid-psx_20140902_125244.jpg

Our third stop was Italy for the fourth and final round of Superenduro. We went from the Plessur Alps (Central Eastern) to the Cottian Alps (South Western).

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The terrain was widely different in Sauze d’Oulx, with dusty singletrack winding in the pine trees, Greina plains and sharp shelly rocks on the peaks. wpid-wp-1410195130117.jpeg

As per Italian custom, the course was unveiled over a week prior to the event. Arriving on Wednesday evening meant 2 days of practice for 2 days of racing. We had 3 stages and a half to memorize as we repeated all stages at least twice.

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I had a few really good stages over the weekend but as I was too cautious on the first 2 stages of the weekend and had a mechanical on the second, I ended up in 6th. For the overall series, I finished up in fourth. wpid-wp-1410195175475.jpegIf you like datas and are on garmin connect or strava, here are the link to follow:

– Garmin Connect:

Stages 1&2

Stage 3
Stages 4&5

Stage 6

Stage 7

Supermountain stage

– Strava:

Stages 1&2

Stage 3
Stages 4&5

Stage 6

Stage 7

Supermountain stage

 

We are finally home after 2 weeks of being gypsies. There is 2 more races to go until the end of the season: Enduro Marathon de Gourdon and the EWS in Finale Ligure. Before this, we have to move house though, still in Sospel but a little more lost in the countryside, which should keep us busy for a while.

XMB challenge, WTF is this?

If you only want to ride long travel bikes. If you only shuttle or ride park. If you smoke like a chimney. If pedaling uphill and hike-a-bike do not do it for you. Then do not even bother reading the rest.
But if you’re a fan of trails with views. That a ride with at least 80% of singletracks is what you are looking for. If you dig technical descents. If you secretly dreaming of having Graves calves. If your motto is no pain, no gain. Then XMB is for you.

Trail with a view
Trail with a view

I discovered this new style of racing last fall. I had just moved to Sospel, in southern France, and didn’t know anybody to go ride with. So I bought a local map and began to explore the local trail network. I must admit that coming from the U.S., I’m addicted to Strava. Not only for the pseudo competition but mostly to discover new trails and I use it as a training tool. After uploading a few rides I did in Breil -sur- Roya, in the next valley over. I saw that three of my favorite descents were segments with the name ” XMB – descent”. A quick Google search and I found the XMB challenge website. From February to May, there are 4 events in the Alpes- Maritimes.
To sum it up quickly, each race has at least 1400m of ascent, almost all on singletracks for 35/40km. As Enduro season does not start until the end of April, it seemed like a good plan to get in shape.

Hike-a-bike during the liaison to the start
Hike-a-bike during the liaison to the start

The first round took place this weekend in Aspremont, a few kilometers inland from Nice. The day before the race, I suddenly wonder what I got myself into! I was sick all week and go race XC was perhaps not the best idea. In addition, while preparing my racing bag, I find myself packing my XC kit. Something I have a hard time admitting owning and even more wearing in public. And then, I realize there is 1400m of ascent in 29km, it’s going to hurt! So I decided to use my XC/trail bike: a Blur TrC (120mm rear travel) with a Revelation adjustable from 120mm to 150mm and a lockout system. And I also added a pair of shorts to cover my chamy.
On race day, I found out I wasn’t the only undecided one as to what to wear and what equipment to use. You could see everything from semi-rigid to 150mm and even a few freeride bikes. There was XC riders, all club-clad, with matching kits and a bunch of Enduro racers such as Yoann Barelli, Thomas Lapeyrie and Aurélien Giordanengo coming to test their winter training.

Thomas Lapeyrie on the way to second
Thomas Lapeyrie on the way to second
Hike-a-bike
Hike-a-bike
Maxime Folco, winner of the event
Maxime Folco, winner of the event

The atmosphere was friendly and we all met in the center of the village for the liaison to the start. Just 3km on the road plus a bit of hike-a-bike, not a bad warm up before the race.
The race is pretty brutal and if you go for GC, it is better to have trained all winter and have an XC background. Time is made on the climbs and not descents, even though the latter are awesome in this race format.
It was an interesting experience, although Enduro is definitely more my thing, as I do not have to worry about my time on the climbs. But once I get in better shape to race XC, I will give it a go. And above, just go ride it again as the trails were beautiful.

Riders are getting spreadout after the first climb
Riders are getting spreadout after the first climb
Proof that it is possible to keep smiling during a XMB
Proof that it is possible to keep smiling during a XMB
Descents were worth the sufferfest
Descents were worth the sufferfest
A good rest is needed after the race
A good rest is needed after the race
Top 35 Scratch
Top 35 Scratch

All results here.
And GPX track for those who want to challenge themselves.

All pics by Matt Wragg