Tour du Verdon – or why you need to buy a trials bike!

I tighten the collar of my goretex jacket to keep out  the rain while I tuck into a 4 course

dinner with wine, along with 178 other trials riders, in a small village high in the French Alps.

I’m halfway round what is possibly the best trial in the world. Its the Les 5 Jours de Trial du

Verdon that took place the last week of August in Alpes de Haut Provence. And it was a wet

one, but not all the time, but like Scotland, the storms hang around the mountains and

one minute its t-shirt time in the sun and next its a thunderstorm.
This is one of the French “classic” trials and like a mini Tour de France travels from village to village

everyday winding up the Verdon valley.
A coach is arranged to take you back to collect your van each day and every lunchtime the

event stops for a hour for a sit down dinner with wine and an aperitif . Its no easy ride

though as each day you start with a 4.5 hour ride mainly off road before lunch and slightly

less in the afternoon. You get, and need, three fuel stops per day and there is a time limit

which is usually generous. There are two routes – red for Experts and blue (easier) for Senior 3

and “Veterans”. Yep you guessed I’m a Veteran! I’d travelled down with Steve Farrall and

John Penfold and we met Yorkie Nigel Greenwood there.
One English rider (Lee) had ridden an Italian 3 day just one day before this event and was

running on a very tight budget, sleeping in an old estate car and living on the free dinners!

The hard expert route attracts a class entry: Steve Colley, Jordi Pascuet, Bruno Camozzi and

a host of Young French Aces, Brochet, Bethune etc. Old French Aces Thierry Michaud & Phillipe

Bertlatier rode while local hero all-rounder JM Bayle could only make the last 2 days – he was

testing GP bikes until then.The ride round is truly spectacular – so impressive you could happily

miss all the sections and just enjoy.
Later in the week some tired riders just took fives and did that. You get fast forest fire roads,

gnarly goat tracks and vast grassy hillsides all climbing up real mountains – ever upwards.

Up into the clouds and to a ski station on the last day.

The first day featured a 90 km ride out to lunch in the local trail park (

– it took ages and the rain found us. We had ridden sections on the rivers edge and hill

climbs of silty coal like gravel berfore arriving late – 1530 for the dinner stop.

Steve & John dashed off thinking they were running out of time & I followed later hoping

that the organisers would scrub time penalties. They did. But I ran out of clutch leverage

3 sections from the end – the hot silencer had melted or vibrated though a poorly routed clutch hose.

I had to go back by road and collected 60 marks for missing those sections.

At the finish area I could only find the Sherco truck, where a helpful mechanic helped me

bodge a shorter Sherco hose onto the Beta.

Fortunately that was almost the only mechanical problems we suffered.  Steve managed to wipe

out 2 rear mudguards and John had a puncture. Steve had a great week leading all on the blue route

for 3 days, maintaining a 10 mark advantage. Until day 4 when the wobbles set in and he lost 38 on

the hardest day giving his rival a 10 mark lead.

The last half day saw him secure second place. After losing those extra marks on day one I took

it easy and tried to ride following  Colley & co where I could. Impressive to watch – but I could only

keep up when they had hard sections to study – on the tracks they just flew past and dissapeared

with a shout of “merci” as I pulled over to let them past.
Most of us would make way  for the faster rider on course, but sometimes there was no room

for passing – for what seemed like miles.

The infamous goat tracks. Steep rocky paths twisting and winding up mountain sides.

Sometimes overgrown and sometimes round exposed hillsides hundreds of feet above the river.

I’ve no head for heights and these really spooked me. I just had to never, ever, ever look down

– riding slower and slower hugging the hill side. These parts of the course, while spectacular, were

also tough on the body – many times I stopped – “just admiring the view” which tanslates to

– I’m flippin’ knackered, let me die here. I wasn’t alone though – often the hill was littered with

panting, resting riders.
Day 3 was tight on time for everyone – I was 19 mins late – but I’d hung around

watching the aces. Even Colley had a few time penalties. For most of these guys it was just a stroll

in the park- just a few dabs are lost. Gas Gas was one of the sponsors and most of the front runners

were GG mounted.
Its an incredibly  well run event – 160 officials are required and 280 dinners are cooked each day.

You start and finish on a proper podium where an OTT French MC shoves a microphone in your

face expecting a witty comment. Each day you receive a gift from the local village – wine,

biscuits, a mug etc and of course you get a t-shirt. Every local village council helps sponsor

the event and thats great, except come the awards presentation all 15 Mayors give a speech………..

The thunderstorms returned just in time for that.
You can ride in this superb event for a mere 220 Euros (about the same as one trackday

and they feed you!) ),  the only problem is some hassle with the local environmentalists might

put next years event in doubt. Of  the Aces , Jordi Pascuet won from Camozzi & Colley.

Of us lot,  Steve F was second, John P was 31st and I finished 51st out of 100 finishers on the

“easy” route. Nigel G was 14th and best Moto Ancienne (a Honda TLR250!).
Mike H.

Originally written in 2002. The trial ran until 2007 and I got to ride all of those….

The organisers now run something in Morocco.