By Adam Craig
It's funny, the collective mountain bike community has been pretty pumped on the inception of the Enduro World Series (or “EWS”), myself included. On one hand, at the inaugural round, there was certainly a lot of excitement. On the other, the EWS is a series comprised of events that have been running for quite some time. In France and Italy especially. It was interesting and awesome to observe the two groups (Johnny Come Latelys and regulars) coming together this past week. Those of us who are excited to be a part of this ever-growing community got our first taste of the events and atmosphere here in Punta Ala, Italy. We also got a taste of some damn fine enduro riding, whatever that is... Let's just say it's mountain biking.
Another common taste from the week was pizza. Really good pizza. You see, the standard bike race model for elite riders involves showing up, settling in, going grocery shopping and getting into a practice schedule that's mandated by the organizer. Couple hours a day or so, leaving plenty of time to cook and lurk.
The Italian SuperEnduro series is founded on the principle that as much riding as possible should be done leading up to the event. Or as much as you can handle... This will change at other events, such as the Tribe-promoted French rounds, but so far, I'm a big fan. Their reasoning is that if more folks come out sooner to do a bit of practice (or is that riding?), they'll probably spend some money in the local communities, who will be ever happier to have us come ride their (presumably) righteous trails and feed us campground Quattro Stagione every night well after dark...
It's a good thing the adjacent coastal town of Castiglione della Pescia opened its streets, sidewalks, stairs and foyers to us on Saturday afternoon for the Prologue stage, otherwise we'd have ridden entirely too much trail. The (unusual for this time of year) theme of evening rain in Tuscany continued, and helped spice up the track a bit. Ancient cobblestones get slippery when wet, but not enough to keep perennial threat Anne-Caroline Chausson from putting in a 43-second run, fast enough to best most of the men to that point.
Thinking I knew something about something I don't know much about, I'd made a few wagers on the weekend. Primarily that we'd all be surprised by some of the names on the leader board. Euro shredders who'd been polishing their enduro craft under the radar for years. Alex Cure clocked a 37-second run from the fortified hilltop down to the town square as the sun's rays returned to give us our first surprise of the weekend, besting short course specialists like Brian Lopes and Jared Graves. I like the new-blood theme.
Once the mud settled on Sunday's four proper Special Stages though, it was indeed some familiar names. The racing sure seemed to be a pretty perfect blend of the finer things mountain biking. PS1 and PS3 led riders on an inland loop in the morning mist and muck. Rain is to be expected for Europe. They always have brown pow or slicker.
Both of these stages had a bit of pedaling, and a whole bunch of skipping down time-worn rock gullies and over various depth (death?) holes. Not surprisingly, those with some Downhill or Euro Enduro pedigree rose to the top. Two-time DH World Champ Fabien Barel chiefly, his time of 6:37 on Three gave him a 13-second cushion over Jerome Clementz.
In a nod to the generally pleasant pace of life in the Mediterranean countries, instead of rushing to squeeze in another muddy morning stage, the organizers cancelled stage two and sent the riders back to the beachside pits for lunch and a chance to un-ruin our bikes before PS4 and PS5, which finished above the water. Being a fortunate member of the Giant Factory Off-road Team, I had the pleasure of a mechanic awaiting my arrival and could focus on finding out how far off the pace I was. Decently.
Fabien's hard-won gap from stage three would hold up on the drier, flowing afternoon stages. I'm pretty impressed with how the guy who was complaining about climbing or any aerobic fitness in general at Trans Provence last fall has transformed himself into an ideal enduro machine over the winter. I need to make the opposite transformation (skills and cojones over lungs). Original Enduro Gangster Clementz would hold onto second in front of hard-charging multi-time Fourcross World Champ Jared Graves. Some 16-year-old Belgian kid, Martin Maes, was fourth. Geez.
I had another sneaky suspicion that our American hopes would be upheld by the NorCal mafia's youngest member, Ben Cruz. He's been living with Jerome in France and has quietly picked up the craft. Sixth, on pace. The World Cup XC crossover contingent was represented by French buddy Cedric Ravanel in 17th. I was two minutes down in 38th after a, shall we say, conservative ride on the morning gnarl.
I proved my knowledge's limits by going off on some monologue to my teammates about how Anne-Caroline Chausson would continue to dominate this discipline of bike contest, just as she did DH, BMX and 4X in years past. Having followed her enough in Provence to know how effortlessly she rides a bike, I reckoned she could stay well within herself and still be extraordinarily quick. Well, Anne-Caro, the outcome sucks, but I'm proud of you for pushing hard enough to have a wreck in the wet and crack some ribs. And that you still only lost 20 seconds to eventual winner Tracey Moseley (a 2x DH World Champ herself) on that stage. Get well soon.
Current French DH honch Emmiline Ragot was second and Cedric's wife, Cecile was third, showing that the World Cup XC ladies have skills. The sole American woman in the contest was my fine teammate Kelli Emmett. Chasing the boys around in the mud for a few days got her moving quick. Seventh. High Five.
As the sun set over the Med (and the last of 500-odd competitors trickled in), I think the organizers of this inaugural Enduro World Series event, Chris Ball and Enrico Guala can rest assured that the future is bright for this thing. Thanks for your work, fellas, we appreciate the vision. We'll be in the steep alpine valleys of Val d'Allos, France, next month to find out about another version. Word is this one has long, steep, raw stages, chairlifts and no practice. Sounds like a good excuse to ride some DH this month in the Northwest.