Exclusive | Trans Savoie – Tales from the front of the pack
When we approached Whyte Bikes Enduro Team rider Martyn Brookes to report his experiences from the pointy end of the pack during the Trans-Savoie (which kicks off today), we were hoping for a unique peek at what goes into preparing for such an event. What we were not expecting was such a insightful and detailed description of what it takes to race multi-day stage races at the highest level. As a chassis engineer for Bentley, Martyn is a stickler for the details and it shows in his meticulous preparation and bike setup.
After crossing the line of the 2014 Trans Savoie, hardly able to maintain a grip on the handlebars, The words “Never again” were repeatedly voiced . . . A hairline fracture to my right hand from a fall early on the 5th day made the final stages a painful challenge. It didn’t help that I was in a fierce battle to hold 3rd position, which removed the possibility to back off and cruise to the line. Days and weeks passed by and slowly with every person I spoke with the accolades and memories of the event grew within my mind. I was buzzing about the trails that were ridden, and the journey that the event takes you on. The experiences are quite incredible, and the pure amount of time that you spend in the mountains, with your bike is incredible.
Countless moments and too many off track excursions to recount, leave you wondering quite how we all made the finishing line.
2014 had been an incredible year for me, somewhat un-expectantly picking up big results against the world’s top racers. Earlier in the summer a podium finish in the Mega meant an all expenses trip to Reunion Island was to be my prize. It was whilst training for the Reunion island instalment of Megavalanche, I crashed, and I crashed hard. I was sprint training at the Crewe BMX track, and the surface was not forgiving when I hit it at 54kph.
Essentially I cased a jump and pitched myself over the bars, then missing the entire down slope, before striking the take-off of the next jump. The resulting damage required surgery to reattach my Sartorius muscle back to its intended position! I now have 3 rather fetching additions to my pelvis. An M6x 55 titanium self-tapper, and 2 ceramic muscle anchors. The recovery period was long; with 6 weeks lay on my back, then a further 6 weeks where I could move about using crutches. During this whole time though, there was no doubt that I would ride a bike again, only when. As something to look forward to, and also a little peer pressure from good buddy Matt Love, I was convinced to enter the Savoie again during a grape and magazine recovery visit.
Since then I have battled to regain the required strength and fitness to complete the race. It was a week prior to Christmas when I first turned a pedal again, 10 minutes on a turbo trainer was all that felt right. Over the next days, this increased until 45mins was possible. I had set target of riding by Christmas, and it was Christmas Eve when along with lots of good friends a lap of Cannock was completed. SO much fun was had, and the best gift imaginable! During the recovery time, I lost an awful lot of strength and muscle. I lost 6kgs, and my body fat rose to over 20%. My right leg shrunk by over 8cms in circumference!
Last year I recorded 34hours, 26 minutes of moving time during the event. This to cover 420kms and 27,600m of elevation change. In total though I had over 47 hours of elapsed time. This from starting my Garmin leaving camps, and stopping when I arrived at the next. That is a long time to spend on the bike in any circumstances, let alone crossing the Alps! Prepping specifically for the Savoie is a difficult task, how do you prepare for every possible type of trail and obstacle. As much as the physical demands, the concentration required for 30 minute stages at high altitude, is a big ask.
My approach has been similar this year as it was last year. That was to build the broadest base fitness possible so that the transitions and general demand of each day does not pose a challenge. The same base fitness helps with recovery and also the ability to maintain a high effort for the duration of a long stage. Last year I suffered with the altitude, struggling to produce any form of power without blowing very swiftly. To combat that I headed out a week prior to the race start this year.
Staying at 2,000m and riding/walking up towards 3,000m each day. I climbed the Col de L’Iseran on Tuesday from Bourg St Maurice. This was a 3 hour climb at a steady effort, ending at 2,770m with a hot chocky! In addition to the physical demands, the technical demands of the event is something which I have really worked on in the build-up. During my recovery I was not able to complete long rides, so instead focused on shorter more technique based rides. I built steep new trails in local forests, which at first I could not ride, but slowly built the confidence and skill to ride the steep chutes, and corners.
Bike set up
I tend to keep the setup of the bike largely constant, rarely deviating from my known base settings. With the unique nature of the racing being entirely blind, on arguably the most technical stages in the world, I have made subtle changes only. I have fractionally softened the fork, this to allow for random impacts, bad lines, and mistakes due to blind racing. Also with racing blind that actual speed will be slightly reduced. I have reduced the rebound damping by one increment. This to help the fork recover following hits. I have not decreased the rear air spring preload, though with the increased mass of a full pack, I will be running increased sag.
I have added a 5mm spacer below the stem. This to raise my stack height, with the majority of the descending very steep. In a similar vein, I have rotated my brake levers 5 degrees back closer to level. Before heading out to the Alps, I completely stripped the bike back to a bare front triangle. I then waxed the frame, this to prevent mud/dust from adhering. Anything to reduce the effort each day to clean the bike. I then re built the frame with new bearings, drop out, headset, cables etc. I serviced both fork and shock, to make smooth supple damping. SRAM flushed out my brake lines, and re bled the brakes. I have increased my rear rotor diameter, this to give the brakes the best opportunity to deal with the impending torture. I fitted Organic pads, as I prefer the feel and bite of these pads on long descents.
I also fitted a new chain, ring and cassette, also jockey wheels. This to control the lateral movement of the chain, and at least for a few days to have a nice quiet bike. I have fitted new tyres ahead of the race start, and hope to get to day 3 before I will need to replace the rear tyre when it is torn up. I will use the tyres tubeless and have added additional solution, and also added glitter flakes to the solutions. This helps seal bigger gashes if I should pick up a puncture mid stage.
Below follows the actual setup that I will be using during the race.
- Frame – 2015 Large G150 Works, development swing arm fitted, intended tubing for 2016 with increased stiffness.
- Shock – 2 at the race, both monarch debon air. 2015 Lc, Lr tune, 6vr bands installed, 4 clicks Rebound. 2016 Mc, Mr tune, 1 vr, 6 clicks rebound. Burgtec Offset bush fitted
- Forks- 160mm airshaft fitted, freshly serviced, 2 tokens +5ml oil, 0 LSC, 8 rebound. 68 PSI
- Brakes – SRAM Guide. Increased rear rotor diameter from 170mm to 180mm, Resin Pads fitted to start the event.
- Wheels – SRAM rail 50 wheels, Re-tensioned by BETD, nipples thread locked.
- Tyres – Maxxis High Roller2 EXO 3C front and rear. Front 24PS, Rear 28PSI. Increased pressures to avoid impact damage to rim.
- 160ml Stans solution, with additional glitter particles. More than normal, in a bid to seal bigger cuts.
- Drive train – SRAM XX1 cranks 175mm, 36t direct mount chain ring. X01 for mech, cassette etc. (new chain, ring, and cassette fitted for event. New chain is much more robust to lateral movement, and much quieter.
Out on the trail, I will carry an Osprey backpack with 2.5L water and some additional spare clothing layers. I will carry brake pads, gear cable, mech hanger, tubes etc. I will then have my bigger Lezyne multi-tool, and large hand pump. I carry duct tape, cable ties, tyre plugs for emergencies and glasses if it’s wet.
Back at the camp I will have more comprehensive spares. I have a spare bolt for every position on the bike, spare brake systems. Reverb remote, barbs, hose, outer cable, rotors, mech, rings, chain, pads, pedals, saddle, shock bushes shock. Brake/reverb/tyre fluids. I have the fluids to carry out a fork service twice during the week.
As for the kit I will be wearing. I have the full complement of Endura gear with me. This from standard light weight shorts, to splash proof, to full blown waterproof should it turn nasty. I have my sealskin waterproof socks, a light weight waterproof jacket, and a Gore-tex again should it get nasty. I will wear Bliss knee pads, my Bell Full 9 helmet with a selection of goggles based upon the conditions. I have my airbrakes with a clear lenses and a roll off, Crowbar with blue lenses with tear off, and mayhem with tinted lenses. I have both Torq recovery and energy powder to keep my body running as sweet as the bike. I will take 3 full sets of dry riding kit, plus wet gear with me. New socks and undershorts for each day.
Today I am taking a well-earned rest day, to begin prepping the bike before the start. I’ve been riding my spare wheels the past few days so small jobs like a fork service, pad swap in the brakes and slipping my race wheels in. tomorrow I need to back the event bag ahead of the start on Sunday. Today has been a day of both spa, and coffee!! My batteries are charged and I am excited to start the event.
Being pragmatic, I know I don’t still have the strength or fitness that I had last year, I am still rebuilding this. I do enter the event though as a technically stronger rider, and with the experience of last year to call upon. I hope to worry the top guys at times in the next week.
We will be following Martyn Brookes through the Trans Savoie, so keep glued to ENDURO-MTB.com for the next installment
Words: Martyn Brookes Photos: Martin Brookes and Ronan Duggan