The Trans-Provence was an enduro race of legendary status. A multi-day epic in the Southern Alps with dozens of long, technical and exposed racing stages that are raced ‘blind’ (ie. you cannot practice them beforehand). It last took place in 2019 but has now been succeeded by the Stone King Rally. 6 days of world class high alpine enduro racing taking in 8 000m of ascent (rider powered) and 20 000m of descent across 24 stages. Absolutely bonkers numbers!
Dan Dobinson of iRideAfrica, the Western Cape’s Godfather of Enduro, is saddling up to race the Stone King Next week! We met up with Dan to check out his bike setup for this incredible event and hear how the preparations have been going! Catch our bike check and interview with him below!
Dan the man! You must be excited for the upcoming Stone King Rally! When did this plan come together?
Dan: With one day to go before my flight and in this day and age of Covid, I still don’t trust that the plan has come together! As soon as news of Stone King Rally broke in Nov 2021, I looked up the dates, gulped at the price and asked my wife if I can go on (another) adventure of a lifetime. I have the most understanding and gracious wife in the world and her response of, “You’ll never miss the money and you’ll never forget the memories” meant that my application was in and my savings were blown by mid December! While the race is an expensive luxury, my thinking is that I’d rather spend the money on the experience and put off buying a new bike as my trusty steel Mercer Gangly Gibbon is still trucking along just fine!
Could you give the readers a brief overview of what the Stone King Rally is and what excites you most about it?
Dan: Ash (the mastermind behind the event) describes it as an Odyssey and it most certainly is that- a long and eventful or adventurous journey or experience. It’s a 6 Day, 24 stage enduro race with about 8000m of climbing and 20000m descending. That equates to about 30 minutes of flat out racing per day with stages between 6-15 minutes long. It is excruciating on your quads and hands but oh so good for your soul!
The most exciting thing about it, to me at least, is that all participants are racing the stages “on sight” (or blind). This means the racing moments are all about trying to find your flow state and the liaison and campsite vibes are all about celebrating another day in the mountains. The Stone King Rally goes beyond the race though and it will also allow riders to do similar routes throughout the year as part of a tour which will be incredible for people that don’t need that ‘race fix’- the history, culture and the wildness of these places is something I cannot express in words.
You had the opportunity to race the Trans-Provence enduro in 2019, we had a good catch up on that in our podcast a while back, how will the Stone King rally differ from that?
Dan: I think it will be a very similar affair though this year for 75% of the route we’ll be riding through Italy and 25% in France so at the very least the espresso will be 100% better! I’m sure there will still be a gazillion tight switchbacks which I still can’t negotiate. I did promise myself that I would learn to ride them better but there is not one place I have found that has 3-5 switchbacks within 20 meters of each other to practice on. Maybe that’s a feature that a trail builder can build somewhere? Another similarity that I’m sure will shine through is all the work that goes into finding these old trails , fixing them up and linking them to ancient villages so that they can get a much needed economic injection from a new type of tourist. Some of these old routes stem from the salt trade as far back as the 7th Century and some of them are old Roman roads that have been lost to time-it’s unreal to be linked in a small way to these old stories.
What would you say were the biggest lessons learned at TP that you’ll be reminding yourself of at Stone King?
Dan: Thanks to Gary Barnard, I was quite well prepared physically for TP2019 so I can’t remember ever being fully overwhelmed with the pain and suffering. I think this year is going to be different as I see my training has only been 15 hours per month on average. Not ideal! Also Gary, couldn’t make it to Stone King this year so not having a riding buddy to get you through the lows will introduce a new hardship. Luckily there are 100 other like minded people doing the event so you are bound to forge some new friendships as you try to dodge the mishaps and mechanicals that are given to you by nature. The biggest lesson though is just to soak it all up and be in the moment – it is increasingly rare to have so many hours in a day with no digital distractions and no rushing to the next client or appointment and I will be revelling in that freedom!
What is your greatest strength as a rider when it comes to taking on races like TP or the Stone King?
Dan: I’m not the fastest rider and I am definitely not flashy but I think I have three attributes that help in these kinds of events 1. I have been riding since the 90’s so I understand grip at a subconscious level. One look at a piece of dirt and I tend to know if it’s going to be grippy, slippy or shitty 2. I have always been thrifty and don’t like spending all my money on bikes so I’ve learned how to ride to protect my equipment – I’d rather slow down and not get a puncture than blast through and impress 3. I seem to be able to ride an unknown trail (blind) at very close to the same speed as if I knew it. I’m confident in the fact that slowing down at times can actually help build speed. These 3 attributes help a lot when racing into the unknown!
With 262km, 8000m of climbing and 20000m of descending on the cards, and having busy work and dad schedule, how have you been preparing for that physically and mentally, and how prepared are you feeling?
Dan: I’m pretty nervous but I have a plan! I’m no Strava fan but I did log my training rides since December and looking back at them now I’ve averaged about 15 hours/month (yes, per month!) which is less than most weekend warriors I’d imagine. I love being at home and spending a lot of time with my 2 daughters so 4-7 rides per month is what that works out to (I’m also pretty lazy and hate training to be honest).
Luckily I have some amazing steep, janky local trails so while my rides have been short, they’ve had some decent elevation. I’ve also done a few long adventures on road & gravel bikes and also had an amazing weekend of wild camping and trad climbing with Dave Mercer-these experiences are less about the exercise and more about just getting used to being out in the elements for long, uncomfortable periods of time -in other words, building character! I’ve also been doing a bit of hanging to get the grip strength strong and just desperately trying not to get sick (chewing lots of raw ginger and gargling and snorting salt water). At TP2019 I went in with a bad cold/cough and it was no fun to spend 6 days at maximum effort coughing up your lungs.
A lot of people may see 262km over 6 days as easy but if you do the elevation math then it’s 3333m average/day! Shuttles help out with some ascending but make no mistake that it’s brutal to race that amount of vert in a day and we are out for about 8-10 hours per day only stopping for espresso and gelato when we can (how rad is Enduro?!).
My plan to deal with the lack of training though, is to spend a week in the quaint village of Molini di Triora with Rene from RadRides to get a few days of big rides in. If I’m smart, I won’t crash or break my bike and manage to get up to speed while my quads can learn to deal with the lactic acid. As they used to say in the Grand Tours -it’s better to go in fat and get fit along the way and I guess I’ll see if that works out! Also, Rene is the king of flow and chilled vibes so I’m hoping some of that will rub off on me as that’s exactly what will help at Stone King Rally.
WA: When it come’s to bike setup, what are the most important considerations for an event such as the Stone King Rally?
Dan: I’d say it’s to have a bike and parts that won’t fail. That obviously comes with a weight penalty but I’m glad to see some articles out there trying to convince people that weight really isn’t that important when it comes to trail riding. Having a bike 2kg heavier when the actual rider is more than 5x the weight of the bike is negligible in terms of energy/time saved while the time saved by not having a mechanical on stage is enormous. On top of that, not having to work on your bike after riding for 10 hours is heaven sent! You are your own mechanic at the Stone King Rally and I prefer just to lube my chain and check the bolts and go quaff some lovely craft beer rather than working on my bike in the dark, without a bike stand and without any decent tools!
WA: What kind of support is there at the event for mechanical issues? What are you taking with you to cover your bases?
Dan: There is limited emergency support from a mechanical team at the event but they can’t fix everything or carry spares for everyone obviously. At TP2019 I had pinched both my brake hoses in crashes and they were leaking fluid but the team didn’t have to correct hoses for my setup so a bit of super glue on the hoses got me through the week-in fact, I only just changed the hoses out for this trip 3 years later! My Mercer is non-boost at the back so I’m taking a spare thru axle as non-boost is very unpopular nowadays. I’ve packed a spare cheap Deore derailleur and shifter, some spare brake pads and a spare tyre (you go through a back tyre in 3-4 days descending that much). I run a Vittoria airliner in the back tyre and I’ve taken a whole spare rear South wheel (lucky me, to have a whole spare just lying around!) . I carry an air pressure gauge on the ride to keep tyres at optimum pressure -it’s incredible how much the tyre pressure changes throughout the day! Other than that, it’s a spare gear cable, quicklink, chain, spokes & nipples and a spare dropper post lever. Anything else needs to be fixed by zip ties or duct tape or a big rock a-la Jack Moir!
WA: At Trans Provence in 2019 you claimed 2nd in your age category behind some bloke named Steve Peat? Have you got your eye on similar achievements this time around?
Dan: I still have no idea what Peaty was doing at an enduro race-but the big man is blitzvinnig even through the tight woods! The age categories are nice and simple at these events (he says, wishfully hoping for something similar in SA), Professional, Amatuer and Masters (40+). As always I’m really only interested in overall results and it would be great to get a top 20 again but when I really thought about this question it occurred to me that it doesn’t actually matter at this stage. I will ride as fast as I can and will fix my bike as fast as I can when things go wrong and I will doggedly try to get to the end without any major injuries. Where that lands me in the results is whether everyone else can do the same. Therein lies the magic of these events – You aren’t competing against anybody else but rather doing the best you can at the time.
We wish Dan all the best and clean lines in the alps! Keep an eye on our @wildairbike Instagram handle for some updated form him out in the mountains next week!
For more info on the Stone King Rally visit: stonekingrally.org