Well, the 2013 season is in the history books. After last month's World Championships, I spent almost six weeks back home getting into the swing of a normal life and routine. It was tough getting motivated for this weekend's EWS in Finale Ligure because I knew that my second place overall was secure and that I couldn't gain enough points to take the overall lead. Really, I wanted nothing more that to finish off the year with a win.
Regardless, I got some good training done in preparation. I thought of it more as a lot of riding and throwing in some random periods of going as hard as I could. After all, you don’t want to keep burning yourself into the ground when you have nothing to gain or lose in the overall, and you should be letting the body recover prior to getting things into gear for 2014.
Sunday – Shaun Hughes (mechanic of all mechanics) and I packed up and departed Brisbane for one last 2013 adventure to Finale Ligure, Italy, for the seventh and final round of the Enduro World Series.
Tuesday – Tired from travel and ready for bed, Shaun and I arrived in Finale at about two in the morning. We were met once again by Albert ‘the Albertross’ Callis who had arranged our rooms to be ready for our late entry. With that, we were all set for some much needed rest before our big week.
Wednesday – We had time to check out the area and go for a spin to wake up the body. I felt surprisingly good and the body didn’t feel dead from travel; a good sign for the week. We met up with a few guys who had ridden here before and they showed us some good trails. It was exactly what we needed and we rode for about two-and-a-half hours and snuck in two quick shuttles. Afterward, we called it a day and went straight back to bed. Good first day.
Thursday – Today was the first official practice day. This is a bit of a change from the usual Italian format of less practice, and I was a bit worried about how it would play out. I knew that many people had ridden or raced here before and knew the courses well. But, as a competitor, you can’t think about that stuff; you just have to do what you can and hope it's enough. In a way, I suppose I was thinking of it almost as preparation for 2014. I got in 10 runs for the day with a lot of time on Stage 4. I pinpointed Stage 4 as the stage where time could be made or lost; I could take some risks and “make my move" so to speak.
Friday – More practice. I was really enjoying myself, feeling fast, and looking forward to the weekend's racing.
Saturday Racing Day 1:
Stage 1 – We rolled out at 8:30 in the morning for this fairly short stage that contained a variety of technical, flow and short sprints. I had only ridden Stage 1 later in the practice days while I was a little tired, and had thought it was more physical than it was. I paced myself to how I thought I should and I rode well technically, but I soon realized that I was barely breathing. When you are fresh and your body is amped up for racing, you can go pretty deep and I realized that I had saved far too much. It was another rookie move and a good learning experience for next year. I still found myself right up at the pointy end of the race, just a couple seconds off pace.
Stage 2 – A really good overall test for the riders, but far from what I would call ‘the peoples' favorite’ to race. It was so hard to find the flow. The stage contained a solid minute-and-a-half technical climb followed by three minutes of brake-dragging DH trails. And that was about as diverse as it got. My run was just too conservative; I took the climb hard, but ended up slow in a few sections because I spent too much time focusing on my lines, setting up for corners, and not crashing. But, I was on pace at the pointy end again. Nico Lau seems to love the tight, techy, awkward stuff and put some good time into all of us on this stage. I was happy enough to still be at the top of the results sheet, but I knew I was capable of much better. I was a little disappointed.
Stage 3 – I was determined to not make the same mistakes and I wanted the win on this stage. It was a pure DH stage; steep and very technical with only one 10-second sprint out of the start. I knew that if I could lay down a win on this stage, my legs were good and I would be in a good spot for the remainder of the stages.
My run went exactly as planned with a perfect balance of opening up the throttle without any major risk. It's exactly how I should always ride. I got my stage win and I jumped into the overall lead after this stage. Jerome Clementz was super consistent in the early stages and was only 0.1 seconds behind me. Nico Lau should have been in the lead, but was late at a time check after Stage 2 and was penalized one minute. It's really hard to see riders penalized like this, but I'm sure even Nico would agree that rules are rules.
Stage 4 – This is where the day got interesting. Stage 4 was the stage I had been looking forward to all week. It was time to do some damage. After Stage 3, the organizers left us a very tight transition to Stage 4 and it took 40 minutes of solid tempo climbing to make it to the top. My heart rate was a fair bit higher than it had been on any other climb all week. A pace had to be held that would have been hard for amateurs to maintain without being penalized for missing their start times. Drama was brewing! Regardless, all the top guys made it up with about five minutes to spare before the Stage 4 start. Jerome was in the gate, goggles on, 10-second countdown started, when he was suddenly told, "NO, NO start, the stage has to be cancelled!” To go from race-ready to stage cancelled in a 10-second time frame—CRAZY! It turned out that one of the later Stage 1 starters had been involved in a major crash and that there wouldn’t be enough daylight left for everyone to complete Stage 4 once the course was race ready. So, it had to be cancelled. The welfare of the riders absolutely has to come first. But, as far as the race went for me, I couldn’t help but be very disappointed. Out of all the stages to cancel, they cancelled the one I had targeted. It seems there's been a few similar incidents this year that have worked against me. Oh well. So, that was it for Saturday's racing. I was in the lead overall, so I can’t complain.
Sunday – Racing Day 2:
Stage 5 – This stage was so much fun! Whoever built this trail needs to build more; they know what's up! This was definitely the stage that people were most pumped on and every rider in the field could equally enjoy. It was just fast and flowy from top to bottom while still being physical. It was hugely enjoyable.
I had done three practice runs on Stage 5 and probably could have done more in order to get the most out of the trail. But, you can only do some much in practice.
My run was going really well until the last steep, rocky section. There were a ton of spectators and you can’t help but open it up a bit more in that atmosphere. I ended up overcooking a right hand kink, went head-on into some bushes, head and shouldered a tree, and went full death grip in order to not crash! Somehow, I managed to stay upright (Tip for the day: It's amazing what you can ride out of when you really try and don’t give up). But, I went from what should have extended my lead by about three seconds (so I’m told by people doing splits) to falling 1.2 seconds out of the lead before the final stage. No biggie in the grand scheme of things, but far from ideal.
Stage 6 – Stage 6 was a repeat of Stage 2, and Jerome and I were almost dead equal on time. With the overall race win on the line, I knew it was going to be a tough stage. If I wanted the overall, I couldn’t afford any mistakes. My stage went fairly well, but it was so easy to make mistakes given the technical and tight nature of the track. Unfortunately, I made a couple small mistakes and my stage wasn't good enough. In the end, I finished 2.7 seconds down and in second place overall behind Jerome.
I came to Italy looking for a no-pressure race and a win, and I was a bit disappointed to not get the win. I made my share of mistakes, but I know Jerome did as well. It’s not like he had the perfect race, and he still deserved the win. Although, without Nico Lau’s one-minute penalty on Saturday, he would've ended up fastest over the two days racing. So, despite what happened, I have to say well done to him, too!
It’s been a great season. In closing, I can say that being so close to the win here will give me endless motivation while preparing for 2014. I can’t wait!
As always, thanks to Shauny for keeping my bike 100 percent, and to Albert for helping wherever he could. Good support at this level is mandatory and I couldn't have got where I am without the help of these guys, the whole Yeti team, and my sponsors. So, thank you to everyone.
Apart from all that, it’s well and truly into the silly season for finalizing plans and sponsors for next year. I can’t totally relax just yet, but at least I can take a bit of a physical rest!
'Til next year and thanks for reading!!
Frame – Yeti SB66c Medium
Fork – Fox 34 float 2014 160mm
Rear Suspension – Fox Float X
Seatpost – Thomson Elite dropper
Wheels – DT Swiss 240 hubs, 500 rims, and Aerolite spokes, alloy nipples
Tires – Maxxis Minion 2.5 EXO, ghetto/split tube tubeless. 27psi F, 30psi R
Brakes – Shimano XTR race lever, Saint calipers, 180mm Ice-Tech Rotors
Derailleur – Shimano XTR Shadow Plus
Cranks – Shimano XTR 170-millimeter with Stages Power Meter
Chainring – Shimano Saint 36-tooth
Cassette – Shimano XTR 11-36
Pedals – Shimano XTR trail
Chainguide – E13 LG1
Bars and Stem – Renthal 740mm Fatbar lite, 20mm rise, and 50mm Duo stem
Headset – Chris King
Grips – ODI Ruffian MX