The hike to the start of Stage 2 was through one of the most unique landscapes I've ever encountered.  Memories.

2014 Enduro World Series Season Kickoff

The Rule of 18

Just as the winds across the Cascade Mountains, the winter has blown by steadily, with calm interludes and periods of intense gusts.  It’s been a nice bit of time though, spent digesting the previous summer of Enduro and fall of Cyclocross racing while enjoying the pursuits offered by the drop in temperatures.  2013 was my first full year facing the new challenge of racing the Enduro format that’s so hot right now.  I’ll spare everyone the cliché descriptions, but it will suffice to say that this is the kind of thing I’ve needed to be doing all along…  Proper mountain biking that happens to take place in a competitive format.  Not to say it’s been easy, regardless of what the folks on the World Cup circuit think of us lazy Enduro’ers.  This winter has given me time to reflect upon what the discipline requires in terms of, well, discipline.  Turns out, for me, it requires serious self-control in terms of one thing.  Braking.   Or, rather, not braking.  So, that’s what I’ve been working on all winter.  Not braking in turns, whether on the bike, moto or skis.  Flowing like water, committing to the arc, acquiring that free speed.  It’s been thoroughly enjoyable and waaaaaay more difficult than all the years of staring at a Powermeter, trying to improve my V02 Max by 1%.  Re-learning reflexes as an adult takes some serious focus, and I’ve still got a long ways to go…

 

Outrunning slough requires staying off the brakes.

Outrunning slough requires staying off the brakes.

The other point I’ve come up with is that our utopic new (unless you’re French, then it’s old hat) format is exhausting.  Cross Country requires a heap of training well before the events, then a bunch of resting and riding hard for a relatively short, constant amount of time on a course that’s not exactly crucial.  Then you rest up and do it again.  Showing up at an Enduro, you’d better be fit and rested because you’re going to spend the entirety of the next 4-5 days in motion.  Figuring out the plan with information acquired only after your arrival necessitates balancing a variety of tasks.  Course walking, squeezing in as many (not very) practice runs as (perfectly limited) time allows on a half-dozen or so tracks, reviewing helmet cam footage, discussing lines, getting bike setup dialed, not getting lost, eating and sleeping are pretty much all that happen at a World Series round, or any regional event, for that matter.  It’s pretty awesome.  I love the aspect of planning out the weekend and trying to make the most of it, all while riding the best trails a region has to offer.  Even more so now that we’ve got a clever new French teammate, Yoann Barelli.  He’s wicked smart.  After a few days of prep, you then have two full days of racing a handful of times per day.  Each and every stage requires your body and mind to be fully activated, ready to optimize your limited knowledge and avoid getting removed from the gene pool.  Again- awesome, and intense.  With this insight into what Enduring takes from a person, and considering that I somehow made enough good choices to pull of 9th overall in the inaugural Enduro World Series in 2013, I’m going to focus on the sports premier events for this summer.  Which means less filler.  Which kind of scary, considering it’s always good fun and job security to race domestic events, ensuring good results, but I feel like the effort used there will undermine the intensity required at the big ones.  So, here’s hoping those brakes are used correctly and we have a solid summer of EWS competition…

Getting through turns like this in the NW bike buddy train requires staying off the brakes too...

Getting through turns like this in the NW bike buddy train requires staying off the brakes too…

 

Another layer of the Enduro transition is that now I get to ride bikes which enable the pilot to really get after it, almost in a way that people might be inspired by viewing.  The mind’s eye sure does love to be entertained.  This has created the opportunity to work with some of my fine sponsors on film and photo projects as of late.  Neat.  I’ve always loved watching action sports videos, and have always taken something away from them for my own pursuits so it’s great to be involved in the creation of some.  Even if they’re just for the internet.  We spent some time Down Under with the Giro team this winter, which was naturally good fun, and there are a few projects in the works for this summer, including a feature film, The Rise of Enduro.  Looks like I’ll be busy, one way or another, embracing new challenges.

We made a video in Oz.  Good times were had.

http://www.giro.com/us_en/australian-adventure/

So, with all that said, it’s still good to have some training camps to get things started off before the EWS season began in Chile on April 19th.   We had our annual Giant Factory Off-Road Team gathering in SoCal in early March, and it was easily the most productive use of that week I’ve had in twelve years with the team.  Chiefly because Spanish skills ninja Oscar Saiz came with his bag of instructional tricks developed for our Downhill team members and passed them on to us Enduro riders.  It was immensely informative and constructive.  We’ve got some great ideas to implement this summer.  Fired up on skills!

 

Kelli Emmett did work this winter too, she was training for this sunset moment at our new favorite SoCal suburb DH track...

Kelli Emmett did work this winter too, she was training for this sunset moment at our new favorite SoCal suburb DH track…

The second training camp for me was the Sea Otter Classic.  Since he knows me, team manager Joe Staub went ahead and signed me up for the Enduro, Cross Country and Downhill at Laguna Seca this year.  Perfect, I can get in shape real quick, and kind of tired, in three days, then rest up on the way to Chile.  Good plan.  Racing, while it is the basis of the event, has long since been overshadowed by the “Spring Consumer Tradeshow” that Sea Otter has become.  People sort of know who wins, that’s about it.  So, I let some of my teammates focus on the wins and got some good training and, um, tradeshow activities in…   I’m wicked proud of Josh Carlson, who hasn’t toed a line since spending four days in a French Hospital last June with myriad injuries sustained at the Val d’Allos EWS.  He came back frothing, as expected, and won the inaugural Sea Otter “Enduro” before nearly winning the Downhill.  Good to see the lad back on his feet!   I contributed a 3rd in that event to Carl’s 2nd and Yoann’s 4th, thus completing our Giant sweep.  Just like we talked about.  Saturday’s cross-country was made strangely pleasant thanks to it being my first ride on the new XTC Advanced 27.5 Hardtail.  The thing was so much faster than my winter bike with DH tires that I ended up passing the field as we crested the first climb and led the first downhill.  Neat.  Then I settled into (really really fast) training pace and rode most of the race with Carl, chasing the lead group and finishing 18th eventually.  Puffing up hills is still good fun once in a while.  Sunday’s DH race was a barrel full of monkeys.  I only overbraked twice, and finally did all the jumps right (fun!) to put down a 2:09 run, good enough to best some fast looking guys and match my 18th in the XC.  Those are both waaaaay better than last year.  Wait a minute.  There were a bunch of World Cup racers in Monterey last year who were definitely in South Africa this time around, so maybe I’m not actually getting faster.  Shoot…  Let’s go to Chile and find out.

 

Jumping for speed on the Sea Otter DH track. Really entertaining, that 2-odd minutes per run.  Thanks for the photo, Chuck.

Jumping for speed on the Sea Otter DH track. Really entertaining, that 2-odd minutes per run. Thanks for the photo, Chuck.

There was certainly no shortage of talent at the opening round the Enduro World Series this year.  I’d been curious as to how many folks in this budding discipline would have the funds and wherewithal to make a trip across the equator and Atlantic.  Turns out most of the top 40 riders were stoked enough to make it happen.  Warms the heart, that.  And I’ll say that out of every single soul who traveled to the rustic but expansive ski resort of Nevados de Chillan, six hours south of Santiago, there wasn’t one person who didn’t  have a great time.  Nobody knew what to expect, but all came on faith, and the Monten Baik Magazine organization team of Large, Nacho and Matteo did an absolutely outstanding job of putting together an event that might just end up the best of the year, or in the history of the series.  Absolutely perfect dirt, which we were able to sample on a wide variety of incredibly fun, unique, challenging trails.  The stunning backdrop of the Andes Mountains just as fall was painting the hills in a beautiful, every-changing array of color, from firey reds to the fresh white of new snow, made the setting all the more perfect.  It was really amazing.  And we got to spend four straight days out there, amongst it, being blown every with each and every turn.  While trying to stay off the brakes…  After the first day of practice on stages 1-3, a few folks said the stages weren’t very “technical” which we later learned was irrelevant upon seeing stages five and six.  But even so, I’m pretty sure there is nothing in mountain biking that is more technically challenging than maintaining maximum velocity through turn after turn of perfect soil.  The limit is just so high.  And so good.

 

The beauty of practice is that you can run around like a tourist, snapping camera phone pics of Fumarelos and Foliage.  And Aaron Bradford.  Above Stage 4.  All-time.

The beauty of practice is that you can run around like a tourist, snapping camera phone pics of Fumarelos and Foliage. And Aaron Bradford. Above Stage 4. All-time.

As was the racing.  Naturally goal-averse, I was hesitant to put down a number when Oscar good-naturedly inquired as to each of our ambitions at the opening round.  Considering last year’s 38th in Punta Ala with some serious struggling on the more gravity stages, I expressed desire to be in the top 20 and on pace on the DH stages.  Ask, do work, and ye shall receive.  By the end of day one I was in 17th overall with Yoann just seconds behind in 22nd.  We were within striking distance of the top ten.  Perfect.  Other than the absence of Josh from the leaderboard.  He’d taken himself out in spectacular fashion on the first day of practice, on the highest speed section of track we would face.  Scary.  Fortunately, he only spent a few hours at a Chilean Hospital before being discharged with a Grade 1 AC joint separation and some impressive swelling…

 

The fateful last chair ride...  Glad you're OK, Josh.

The fateful last chair ride… Glad you’re OK, Josh.

Day two dawned crisp and perfect just like every day in Chillan, and we started it with one of the funnest stages I’ve ever contested, a rip from the Fumarelas (steam vents) down into Valle Hermosa on a well-worn horse trail, creating one of the most magical, perfectly bermed loam trenches I’ve ever seen.  So good.  With time and energy for only one practice run on this stage, I braked too much at times and ended up in the twenties.  Yoann rode smooth and French to pull back some time.  Stage five was lower in the valley, deep in the forest, and therefore tighter and slower, with some short climbs to keep us honest.  I fancied my chances of a top-10 on this stage.  I had a clean, solid run and finished 18th.  Hmm.

 

Where this race was won and lost.  Such.  Good.  Turns.  #loamtoyourdome  The foliage is a nice touch...

Where this race was won and lost. Such. Good. Turns. #loamtoyourdome The foliage is a nice touch…

 

Then there was one left, the decently epic stage six, which started at the top of the ski area, way above treeline, in the shadow of the Chillan Volcano.  After the long, cold lift ride, I climbed up into the lava fields to find a place to relax and visualize before the start.  A condor soared overhead as Rene Wildhaber found the same place for his pre-race routine of Thai Chi.  Listening to his rhythm as I made my way down the track in my mind was calming and reassuring.  We would start on a fast jeep track before stair stepping down a ridgeline through a barren alpine landscape on a trail scratched in by Large and Nacho on their dirt bikes just weeks before the race, weaving through patches of fresh snow and ancient basalt.  Two bus stop switchbacks as the ridge broke gave riders their first view of the forest, a stark line of burnt orange that we hurtled through soon after, playfully flowing into one of the most amazing forested sections of trail I’ve ever encountered (other than our secret winter training lair in the PNW…), it just got steeper and loamier until one was locked in a perfect trench, sliding between screaming Chilean fans, knowing the most important right catch-berm of the weekend was approaching rapidly.  This turn slung riders back out into the light for a short climb up into the Chillan Bike Park and the final plunge down a rocky, but incredibly flowing creek bed and onto the home straight.  So.  Good.  I did it all fairly perfectly, except for over-anticipating that crucial right, and ended up 16th on the stage, matching my 16th from Saturday’s final DH test and confirming 18th overall.  I’ll take it.  Yoann rode like water in the finale and was 10th to end up 16th overall.  That was why I couldn’t hold his wheel in the bottom forest during our second practice run.  I’ve got a lot to learn about turns from the French, and should likely start working on their language too…

 

How's that for a Start Line?  Yoann about to show me how it's done, and by that I mean falling into a gopher hole and going OTB...  Stage 6.  Actually epic.

How’s that for a Start Line? Yoann about to show me how it’s done, and by that I mean falling into a gopher hole and going OTB… Stage 6. Actually epic.

Speaking of French, those guys are really, really good.  13 of the top 20 riders hail from the birthplace of Enduro.  By contrast, I was the top American, followed by a decent stack of us in the twenties, Marco Osborne, Aaron Bradford and Ben Cruz.

The O.G.’s were led by their champion, Jerome Clementz, who laid down a gutsy ride in the final stage to turn a two-second deficit to Jared Graves into an eight-second advantage.  When that guy pushes to the max it’s something to see…  Hats off, Jey, glad to see you starting the season where you left off last.

 

Well, here we are, another bike season beginning.  I’m more excited for this summer than I’ve been in a long time, trepidation about whether I’d be able to figure out this new jam has turned to excitement to get to each event with a few more tools to use (ideological and in the form of my sweet new Reign, a bike we built to keep us safe while we get weird in the gnarly bits), a little more confidence, and a feeling that each and every one of them is going to be a damn good time…  Thanks for reading, I intend to actually tell some stories from the road this summer, now that I won’t be quite as busy scrambling to figure out what to even do at events other than be sort of scared…

 

And to the folks who make it happen-

 

The crew at Giant Bicycles, can’t believe it’s been twelve years!

Giro for protecting my head and keeping my feet firmly on the ground.

Smith Optics for making the great days better.  Not easy to do.

Schwalbe tires for giving us exactly what we need for Enduro- Super Gravity (I ran 19 and 21psi all weekend in Chillan, feeling that loam!)

SRAM, with your amazing Pike fork and groundbreaking XX1 drivetrain, again, just what we need out there.  Guide brakes are the fresh icing on our sweet cake.

DT Swiss wheels go round and round, left and right, all year long.

 

Giant gets a big hug for using out input to develop this new mutant shred beast of a bike.  It's so good at speed.  And in the turns.  Turns scary volcanos into Pooh Bear's Nap Time...

Giant gets a big hug for using out input to develop this new mutant shred beast of a bike. It’s so good at speed. And in the turns. Turns scary volcanos into Pooh Bear’s Nap Time…

 

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