Last weekend it was time to celebrate 2017 and 20,000 people came out to party. Roc d'Azur once again hosted the end of season get together with 5 days of events.
This would be my fourth visit to sunny Frejus on the stunning French Riviera. After being ill I wasn’t in a position to compete at this year’s Roc d’Azur so the pressure was off, I’d be on the start line but there would no front group like the last couple of years, instead I was here to enjoy the trails and atmosphere. However it's never easy to cruise around in a UCI World Series Marathon especially one as competitive as Roc d'Azur, winning here is a big result for anyone so it brings out all the big names. Some pros are ready for the end of season and cruise round like me, others battle tired minds and bodies but crack half way through the race, and others are fully motivated to win this monumental race.
The course isn’t an easy cruise either, the trails might be fun and rewarding but they give you a battering. Take the majority of riders to the marathon course and they’ll ask for a 150mm long travel full suspension bike with dropper seatpost and wide tyres, not a 100mm cross country bike the majority will use, the speed the top guys and girls go shows the skills these riders have. It’s not just the descents that are tough, the climbs, all 2300 meters of ascent are often steep rocky and loose.
The start gun went bang and to my surprise I was able to accelerate round the outside to make it to the front of the race just as we left the arena, someone take a photo quick! Only 86km’s to go! Shortly after everyone else accelerated and I got swamped so ended up back in my starting position of roughly 37th! I wasn’t going to waste too much more energy, no more accelerations, stay in the saddle and keep it steady or I wouldn’t make it to the finish.
Austria’s Daniel Geismayr took the win after an early solo breakaway, he beat countryman, World Champion, Alban Lakata. Geismayr claimed that “winning a race at the Roc is my greatest achievement so far”. Four time World Champion Annika Langvad took the win in the women’s race: “I really wanted to take part in the marathon to ride with my rainbow jersey, it’s such a special feeling”.
On Sunday the cross country race takes place, an old style xc race, one loop, 56kms. Out into the hills on many of the trails from the marathon event. Almost 5000 people take on Sunday’s race with 9 start waves of approximately 500 people. These riders experience the rush of the Le Forunel descent where the rocky ground takes many prisoners. Then there is the magical Col du Bougnon, the Alp d’Huez for mountain bikers, lined with enthusiastic roaring spectators. Pauline Ferrand Prevot couldn’t hide her delight at winning the Roc d’Azur, “I chose to play a waiting game, preferring to take it easy until Le Bougnon before I attacked. The season has finished in the best way with this victory”. Switzerland’s Nicolas Rohrbach won for the first time at Roc d’Azur, with Austria’s Daniel Geismayr (winner of the Canyon Roc Marathon) and Jordan Sarrou (last year’s winner), rounding out the podium.
Whilst a lot of people compete in both the marathon on the Friday and cross country on the Sunday I opted to race the Friday marathon and then on Saturday head out on into the hills north east of Frejus for a bit of an adventure. Several years ago during my first visit to the area me and an ex-teammate headed out into the hills the day after the marathon, we rode this huge ride which almost killed me but I now have fond memories of that day. This year I headed out in the hills to ride some of that route again. East along the coast before heading into the Massif de l’Esterel, a quick loop up into the lower hills through the pink rocky terrain with beautiful views out over the ocean. Then dropping back down to the coast I rode towards Cannes before riding inland, some steep pitches took me to the Lac de Saint Cassien. From there I took the quick rollercoaster descent through the nature reserve back to Frejus and gelato. A fantastic end of season 70 kilometre recovery ride with 1000 meter ascent!
Roc d’Azur just hosted 5 days of product expo and racing ranging from triathlon to gravity enduro. With sunshine, beaches, beer, gelato and bikes what better way is there to sign off the year?