Relive the adventure of Silvin, co-founder of Manivelle, on the Tour du Massif Vosgien, a long distance off-road event of which we were partner for this second edition. Enjoy your reading!

Friday, July 01 – Briefing

“18h. In the media library of Ensisheim a funny scene takes place. Cyclists, 72 in all, all wearing the same cap, listening attentively to a very serious presentation. Not a usual start to the weekend, at least for me. And if everyone is so keen to listen, it’s because Pascal, organizer of the TMV, is telling us about the adventure that awaits us tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. sharp.

Pascal is a teacher during the week, the subject is approached point by point, everything is very well explained. I really appreciate the shared instructions about respecting the trails, the hikers and the waste management. The different courses are presented (6 in total, three Gravel distances, three MTB distances), in numbers and in words. I am concentrating, because I have not studied the route at all beforehand. I only know that the TMV300 trail is in fact 350km long, and that there are more than 8000m of D+ to swallow.

Why did I commit to this event? First, because our meeting with Pascal, and our discussions full of poetry and gpx plots, led to a partnership between the TMV and Manivelle that I wanted to represent on the field. And then, on a personal level, it’s a first for me to take part in an official event, with an imposed course, a deadline, a pack around me at the start. This challenge awakens a competitive side that I had already known in other sports, not in cycling. Not the competition towards the other, but the desire to give a lot, at least what I have left of energy after the Machine Contest last weekend. I want to complete the event in 2 days.

The briefing ends, the aperitif begins. The Bra’V brewery treats us to a blond beer, intelligently light, freshly hopped. I meet new people, meet new faces and listen to new stories. Different profiles, different approaches. You can feel the excitement, the apprehension too. I hear a lot of people talking about equipment, probably to avoid talking about themselves and what they will have to give in this adventure.

Ensisheim is celebrating on the main square and we sit down with some other participants around flambéed tarts prepared by the firemen association. I’m in front of Maxime Barrat, a nice person I had already heard about (he’s the happy guy who does ultra off-road in single speed) but I had never met him before. We speak about travel and craft, while rolling our parts of pie, until we resolve to go to sleep to store some sleep. I go towards the rugby field of the village transformed into camping for the evening. The tent is quickly pitched but I can’t sleep, adrenaline probably. I end up falling asleep, hearing my neighbors wondering if they have taken patches.

Saturday, July 2 – 160km / 4020 D+.

Wake up at 6:45 am, I pack up the camp and separate myself from the tent, deciding to leave only with a mattress and a comforter (still a first for me, who appreciates bivouacs with all comfort). After a breakfast-coffee at the bakery, I join the media library for the departure. Pascal is punctual, I suspected it, and the departure is given at 8 am sharp. Our pretty crowd starts happily on the paths and the rhythm is immediately quite high. I try to find mine without falling into the others’, I observe the people, their bikes, their luggage. I find some participants on the short distances too heavy, and those on the longer distances surprisingly light.

The first section of vines shuffles the pack, and I find myself in a small group of three, then two, fairly quickly. I’m riding with Klaus, a german rider on the TMV600, who tells me that he’s doing this event in preparation of a “swim and run XXL”, that is to say 18km of swimming and 40km of running. I think I may be over-revving and let him go ahead as we start to climb towards the Hartmannswillerkopf. First blow of heat, I fill the water bottles halfway in a refuge where the tap indicates non drinkable – “but we drink it” informs me the person in charge of the place. I reach the military cemetery with Mohammed and Damien, already met during the Detour evenings, who climb faster than me on their gravels. They will stop a little further in an inn for a meal marcaire, I decide to prolong the ascent in direction of the big balloon.

I pass the Amic pass then reach the Sudelkopf (1012m) before going down to Murbach. After about 20 minutes of riding the singles, I arrive at this small village built around a church that could house the whole village. It is 12:30, and Murbach has the good idea to celebrate. Music, people chatting under the shade of the trees, old sofas nonchalantly placed on the right and on the left, smells of barbecue and organic tabbouleh, I am absolutely delighted. I am told that I am at the festival “La tête dans les nuages”, a small associative event organized to gather the village and surroundings.

A new gig starts and it’s a tough start, but I try to stick to my guns: don’t stop too long so you don’t have to ride too hard, or sleep too little. I save half the tabbouleh for later and look for something to fill my water bottles. I disconnect the hose installed on the cemetery tap to help myself. Under pressure, the hose sprays me generously and does good to my body temperature. I think later that the festival below was probably connected to this water supply, and that I must have disturbed the team behind the bar.

I then find Maxime, who stopped at the same place, because “there was a table and I only had an avocado and cheese, hard to eat on the bike”, he says. Once again, I tell myself that I’m over-revving, because Maxime is a strong guy. I watch him climbing up the steep hill on her 32×16 single. The frame creaks, the box cracks, he smiles. Our roads separate when I go back down to Buhl, we wish each other a good trip. From then on, I will ride alone for most of the rest of the course. I have 280km left out of 350.

The sun hurts in the vines, which like to stiffen when it comes to climbing. I can’t wait to get back to the shade of the Vosges forests but I know it’s not for a while. The climb to the Hohlandsbourg castle forces me to finish the tabbouleh, then I go back down to Turckheim. I meet a participant of the TGV600 telling me about his record in trail, and being at the same distance as him reassures me about the intensity I give since the beginning of the day. Because in mountain biking, the kilometers don’t go by quickly and the hot afternoon had brought me some doubts about the rhythm I was able to keep.

At the entrance of Turckheim, I can’t resist the urge to drink a shandy when I see Mohammed and Damien on the terrace at the entrance of the village. We speak about our projects for the end of the day, it is harder than foreseen for each of us, to arrive on Sunday does not seem so simple.

Once the drink is over, I go to Munster to climb the Wettstein pass on the last hour of sunshine. I had already ridden this part last year to prepare for the CDM21, I knew what was in store for me. The weather is cooler and I have a new energy which allows me to ride well until 10:45 pm, after having passed the Glasborn, the Linge memorial, the big Hohnack and the village of Trois Epis. I fall asleep just below the Galtz monument, so as not to go down the technical singles with my eyes blurred by fatigue. I surprise myself to be organized in my movements, the lasagne survival blanket – mattress – comforter is quickly prepared, I arrange my night table with headlamp – phone / alarm clock – water bottle, and improvise a cushion with the compression bag of my comforter filled with a towel. While brushing my teeth, I think about the programming of the alarm clock, taking into account the tiredness that I feel then, and the course that I still have to make. I set the alarm clock at 3:45 am, then fall asleep very quickly, lulled by the surrounding noises and the windy survival blanket.

Sunday, July 3 – 185km / 4690 D+.

I wake up naturally at 3:30 am well rested, leaving me the remaining 15 minutes to recover. A few minutes after having packed the panniers, I discover the Alsace plain between dog and wolf from the Galtz. I rush on the single going down towards Niedermorschwihr with the light of the headlight, taking all the precautions not to be surprised. On the panoramic view of the vineyards overlooking Niedermorschwihr, I see the sun emerging, and meet a participant of the TMV600. He slept 1h in the vineyard, the contrast with my night gives me a feeling of freshness, and I feel that I have the legs. I greet him and continue my way through the vineyards towards Kaysersberg. A village that I only knew under its tourist abundance, and that I discover here still all asleep. I reach the CP1 in Riquewihr at the Brasserie du Vignoble at 7am, one hour before it opens, and put the stamp on my brevet card myself. In the next village, Hunawihr, there is a “multi-service business” that will launch the theme of the day: eating often. I take enough to make two sandwiches, eat one, and also take a pain au chocolat and a coffee that I eat on the spot. Two regulars are already there (we are Sunday, it is 7:10 am) to buy eggs, drink a coffee, discuss especially. “Young people go to the supermarket anyway. It’s a good thing we come here, isn’t it?” one of them says to the head of the place.

I leave with my batteries fully charged, ready for the next step, the Haut-Koenigsbourg by the steep paths. On this climb, I think about Maxime talking to me about his choice to ride single speed, and the choice to get off the bike often to push. When I’m on my smallest ratio (32-46), I’m averaging about 4.5km/hr, as is the case on the percentage I’m riding then. I get out of the saddle and make two observations: while pushing, I keep the same pace, or even a little faster, and I have the feeling of being in active recovery since I start to use other muscles. So what about staying in the saddle in these sections? It’s not ego that’s going to get me stuck in the saddle.

I feel very happy to do this climb in the cool of the morning. I arrive at the Haut-Koenigsbourg around 10 am, order a quiche lorraine at the refreshment bar. The waitress does not seem surprised. I take advantage of this break to take stock of the remaining km/height. It’s cotton, I feel a bit overwhelmed. I decide to take the course as it comes, and promise myself to stop looking at komoot at every stop, an action that only brings stress. I won’t go any faster, I prefer to stick to my sensations: I feel good, I push on the pedals, I get tired, I slow down. However, I know that if I want to arrive at the end of the day, my stops can’t be very long.

I go up to the village of Aubure where I take advantage of a well hidden tap behind the church to wash up and refresh my thoughts. I eat my second sandwich prepared in Hunawihr because I have to go up to the refuge of Brézouard and I know that it is steep, again. I have good memories of bivouacs spent with friends in this refuge, thinking about it helps me to forget the profile of this climb. I go back down to the Bagenelles pass, and I know that from there, the most beautiful, but also the hardest part of the course is waiting for me. I feel good on the bike and ride over the Bonhomme pass, the four lakes (Blanc, Noir, du Forlet, Vert) before going back up to Tanet to ride to the Schlucht pass by the Crêtes road. It’s now 6:30 pm, and I’m in good spirits after having enjoyed the landscapes around me for several hours. I eat a small almond bar before setting off again, without looking at the map as I had told myself earlier in the day. The atmosphere changes quickly when I see the track following the descent of the Schlucht summer toboggan (in the direction of the ascent), then the GR des crêtes with a succession of stairs forcing me to carry the bike very regularly. Yes the landscapes are absolutely magnificent, the passage by the Honheck marks me and makes me want to take out the camera every two meters. But I stay almost exclusively on the GR from kilometer 288 to kilometer 315, from the Schlucht pass to the Grand Ballon, passing by the Honheck, the Hahnenbrunnen, the Markstein. That is 27km. I try to do all the downhill portions on the bike to “lose” as little time as possible, pushing my technical limits as a still largely amateur biker.

Halfway through the 27km, I feel exhausted, close to giving up. To take the road of the Crêtes again, to leave this GR which takes me too far in the physical and mental tiredness. I haven’t ridden with anyone since 6am, my throat is getting tight. I mechanically take out my phone, I want to call my friend, to try to take a step back. There is no network and I have already turned the handlebars towards the road. But before pushing the pedal, I look at the screen again, noticing this little bubble that indicates a text message. A message that will allow me to finish this TMV. When you are very tired, a few words that count change the course of the adventure.

I spend 3 hours on this sector between the Schlucht and the Grand Ballon, which I reach at 21:30. I receive the sumptuous sunset as a great applause. I have 35km left, including more than 1000m negative on single track, which I will do at night. I realize then that I am going to keep my goal. I take the time to call my friend at the first village with a network, before swallowing the last 20 kilometers of flat to finally finish at 23:57, after 1 day and 16 hours of race. I receive a sms from Pascal congratulating me for the performance, and inviting me to meet him the next day at 8am to validate my arrival and drink coffee.

Back to the stadium of Ensisheim, I settle down with myself in the locker rooms of the club, on this skated bench overhung by photos of old rugby magazines. I replay the weekend movie. I am happy to have held mentally the end of this event, to have completed it above all for me. Would I do this kind of event again? I’ll be asked the question the next morning, I won’t ask it right away. What is certain is that I don’t find the lightness and freedom that I feel when I travel on my own. But I have found other things there, so who knows. “



On-board equipment:

  • Bedding
    • Wilsa down ultralite 300
    • Vaude Performance Mattress
    • Survival blanket
  • Clothing
    • Warm : Merino top, thermal bottom, necklace
    • Spare parts : Pair of socks
    • Rain : K-way
  • Kitchen (24 hours reserve)
    • Almond + honey/sesame bars x3
    • Cereal bar x3
    • Banana x2
    • Prepared dish x2 (green lentils, and tofu ravioli)
  • Electronics
    • External battery 20000mah
    • GPS
    • Phone
    • Headlamp
  • Toilet bag
    • Chamois cream
    • Sunscreen
    • Toothpaste
    • Toothbrush
    • Doliprane
  • Repair
    • Plug and wicks
    • Inner tube x2
    • Screws, gear cable + brake, derailleur hanger
    • Multitool
    • Pump
    • Tire changer x2