Enduro World Series to date. Progression.
When, with the support of my favorite longtime sponsor, Giant Bikes, I made the switch to racing this shiny new (unless you live in France or Italy) “Enduro” format, I was excited for a new challenge. And excited to be a little less busy, or at least different busy. After nearly three months of chasing primarily the Enduro World Series with a few regional events thrown in for good measure, I can assure you it’s no easier or less stressful than the Cross Country World Cup. In many ways, it’s more difficult. But I’m learning, and progressing, already to a level that I was hesitant to aspire to. Here’s a little re-cap of the highs and lows, delivered in a less-than-timely fashion on account of being out riding in the hills instead of sitting around in hotel rooms, reading, writing and waiting to race…
Round 1- Punta Ala, Italy.
Whew, that was classic new-guy stuff in Europe. Having spent the last decade flying across the pond to race bikes, I figured some things would be similar. And they were, similar to the first time Carl and I rode a train around Germany in 2003… Flights were delayed, teammates and baggage lost, hotels impossible to find in the middle of the night, scrambling to learn where the course was and how to ride it with which tires and helmet, how to get done in time to shop for and cook dinner, etc. It was kind of funny to have such Grade-AA struggling. We still rode decent though, on pretty awesome, quite intense, raw trails from the rain-soaked Tuscan hills to a sunny Mediterranean beach. Aussie pinner Josh Carlson lived up to my expectations after his impressive riding in practice with Top-5 stage times and a 10th place finish. I had smooth runs, but knew that my legs weren’t that fast and my brain wasn’t exactly up to speed on committed rock chute pinning, and came in 33rd, a fair shake off the pace after four Special Stages. Humbling for sure.
Familiar interlude #1
Coming home from the wild Tuscan jungle to some good old-fashioned Oregon Enduro racing was as pleasant as transitioning from the St. Wendel World Cup to the Mount Snow NORBA. Carlson and I set about being pumped on the familiar feeling in Hood River and going 1-2 in the opening round, contested under sunny skies with perfect Post Canyon dirt. Mmmm. Two weeks later the OR series came closer to home and I had a chance to corner fast and kick up dust in Bend, notching a win on the Anthem 27.5 prototype in my garage. Little bikes can be fun too, especially on familiar turf.
We made some videos with Giant in Hood River. It was pretty rad working with good folks and cameras to produce a worth-watching piece.
Round 2- Val d’Allos, France
If there is a heartland of Enduro, the mountains of Southeastern France are it. Fred Glo pioneered the format in this sleepy little ski village on the border of the Alps Provencal and Mediterranean Alps ten years ago. It was an instant hit. And the French have been perfecting it ever since. Two days of racing, courses cut and marked, but kept private, in the week before the event only to be practiced once just before they’re raced upon. Real, classic, perfect mountain bike riding. Fast and open, slow and tight, high alpine to the valley floor, technical climbs, fresh-loam descents, all served by two rickety old chairlifts. Josh and I were quite off the pace on day one, ending up in the 30’s and 40’s after three stages. Carlson steeled himself to ride faster and more committed on Day 2, which featured the longest test of the weekend, 15 minutes of utter perfection. I kept playing it scared and riding within myself, while talking with Greg Minnaar about pacing strategies (his input on the downs, mine on the pedaling) but moved up a bit and started feeling the groove. Josh got fired up and pinned it, unfortunately a bit too hard, having a pretty major crash and ending up in the Digne les Bains Hospital for four days. Hats off for sending it, Frother, heal up so we can get back to it! I ended up finishing up 26th and ultimately having a good time on the weekend, even though there’s work to do. Which Kelli and I did for the next two days on some of the best mountain bike trails anywhere in the world… You don’t rest for Enduro racing, right?
Round 3- Les Deux Alpes, France
A seven-hour drive over some classic French roads in the team Sprinter Van, with trailer, piloted by esteemed British Mechanic Paul Miles delivered us to the proper Alps. The ski resort Village of Les 2 sits high above the valley, almost touching the alpine, surrounded by 4,000-meter peaks. It’s quite visually assaulting. And the riding was too! Steep, fast and open, the courses were marked (often across open ski slopes, devoid of trail) on Friday and we had one day only, Saturday, to practice (and burn in) four special stages. Enough time to do an 8-hour day and get two runs each. Contour Helmet Cam footage was invaluable at this round, watching and discussing the stages over dinner with Team Skillz Coach Oscar Saiz (who beat me in 2 of 4 stages) and then again before the running of each stage. I was keen to continue the program of riding quicker and getting more comfortable, but was also developing a strategy of being smart and consistent with good positive feedback. Mostly, I’d kept my bike and body together at each round, and had moved up the ranks because of others’ attrition. The plan kept working, I took time on the first stage, which was quite pedally, then held on for the next three, which were Enduro-ified Downhill race tracks, evidenced by the wins of each of those stages by current and recent DH honches. 20th place for my efforts, and the first win of the season by a very deserving Jerome Clementz, the O.G. Enduro rider.
Familiar Interlude #2
It’s been a while since I’ve done an altitude training camp, and this one was by accident, but it all worked out in the end. Giant Bicycles held their annual sales meeting in Park City, Utah for the two weeks before the EWS round at Winter Park, Colorado. I always try to make it to The Link to kick it with dealers and ride sweet new bikes, and this year it just happened to work perfectly with our racing needs. Good times were had and a bonus race contested on the weekend down the street. The Bell Enduro Cup is three rounds of racing in Utah, put on in this inaugural year by Mountain Sports International, the fine folks who bring us the Freeride World Tour in the winter. Keep your eye on this space, as this crew knows how to build events to a premier level. As a stop on the North American Enduro Tour, the Canyons round drew a stacked field for one day and three stages of high-speed Wasatch racing. In a real tight affair, Curtis Keene prevailed, with Brian Lopes three seconds off and me another two back. Whew, that was tight. Jamie Driscoll (will someone give this immensely talented, nice guy a cyclocross contract?) and I went out for a couple hour bonus ride on the Wasatch Crest Trail after the race, just to keep the training camp theme rolling…
Round 4- Winter Park, Colorado
My first good World Cup XC result came when the Euro contingent came to race in Durango, CO in, what was that, 2002? I didn’t even like racing at altitude, but I kind of knew how to do it, and dug the feel of the Durango Trails. The same thing happened in Winter Park. My body and brain felt good and I rode fast, finishing on the stage podium (big check even!) for the longest, hardest stage of the weekend, the classic #3 trip down Roof of The Rockies and Mountain Goat. My program of limited screw-ups had one little chink on stage one, but less trouble than most left me in eighth position for the (abbreviated) weekend. Unfortunately, there were some concern from riders about the physical nature of Colorado mountain biking, resulting in a stage being shortened from a sweet top-to-bottom test to more of an extended Downhill race. Meh, if folks who get to travel the world racing Enduro (fun!) need to complain about being “forced” to race trails that they aren’t used to, they live kind of a sad life. Actually, it was BS. The Enduro World Series is founded around existing, high-level events put on by individual promoters who bust their ass to get everyone racing on their best trails. To have people show up and say they don’t like it loudly enough that they have to scramble to change the tracks is more than unfair to the promoters, it’s disrespectful to the spirit of Enduro. Which, last time I checked, was to race sweet bikes on sweet trails all around the world. If sometimes those trails start off only slightly downhill, strewn with roots, well, you should’ve grown up riding in Maine, or the Alpine meadows of Colorado… The complainers lucked out that standard Colorado weather happened on Saturday, sparing them from “having” to race down the ——— Trail off the backside. Not quite content with three days of racing Winter Park’s finest, local pinner Joey Schusler led Rosara Joseph and I on an all-day mission across the continental divide to Boulder on Monday. 8 hours of backcountry perfection, trending down hill, nothing to complain about there…
Familiar Interlude #3
I was tired from racing the last two weekends and traveling around like a petroleum-enabled Chicken, but the lure of the Downieville Classic is too strong to resist. Plus, I wanted to try marginally keep up with Carl in the Cross Country and beat him in the Downhill. The XC almost worked out, which left me hopeful for the DH. He still smoked me. Skinny guy has some tricks up his sleeve, most of which involve being in great shape and an incredible dirt time-trialist. Hats off to you, Carl. I really support what the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship crew does down there too, raising money to keep locals employed maintaining and building ever-more trail. A good chat with Greg Williams got me up to speed on some exciting new projects they’re working on in the region that could very well host an Enduro World Series someday, maybe alongside a Motorcycle Enduro round…
Round 5- Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.
Yup, that’s it. If I never do another Enduro race, or even mountain bike ride, ever again, I’ll be happy. Whistler was that good. The locals there are a hard bunch, and they sent us out on what would be just another day’s ride for them, which ended up being the most epicest EWS round yet. Seven hours from start to finish, starting and ending with trips to Whistler Peak but taking in some of the least known, scrappiest, most amazing trails the valley has to offer in between. And earning them with impressively hard liason climbs. Like I said, just another day. Nobody complained, even though I could tell some people wanted to, because you can’t complain about something the local Dentist does after work. The racing ended up being just as exciting as the trails themselves, with major attrition in the two days of practice before the race and during the event itself, the two stand-outs of the season had a close contest, deep in the forest. Jerome Clementz came into the penultimate stage with a 21 second lead thanks to his deft touch and strong legs on the valley loop. Jared Graves was second, concerned with the amount of time he’d given up, but hopeful for the last stage, a 23 minute downhill race through the entirety of Whistler’s legendary (for good reason) bike park. I’d made good choices and ridden fast as hell all day and was somehow in fifth coming into the final stage, with a bunch of DH honches hot on my heels. Scary. Graves pinned it like only a BMX Olympian and many-time FourCross World Champ can, taking 33 seconds out of Clementz to turn silver into gold. A deserving win for the Aussie. I was still excessively stoked on how good a day it’d been so far and fell into a groove of riding my Trance Advanced 27.5 like a DH bike down all 5500 feet. Last year I lost 2:15 to Jerome on this stage, this year it was only 15 seconds. Yesssssss. Fourth place, just behind a similarly deserving Jamie Nicoll, Kiwi privateer racer and trailbuilder who is rapidly building himself a name in the Enduro World.
The Parkin Boys over at DirtTV have been doing a bang-up job covering the EWS rounds this year. Check out this Whistler recap, lots of action, and I make a slow-mo appearance. Neat. Then surf around their site for all of the other rounds as well.
Round #6, Val d’Isere, France
Back to the motherland to check in on how the recent home turf racing with the World crew would pay off in their ‘hood. Turns out I’ve still got some work to do on my French Technique. Although whilst carrying our bikes to the start of stage one, high atop the Espace Killy peak, just like the Olympic Downhill ski racers carried their skis in 1992, we had a chance for some switchbacking, keeping that heel down. Wait, that’s French Crampon Technique… I need French Enduro technique, which always requires the mental fortitude and physical strength to hang on for at least a couple of 10+ minute bomber stages, going as fast as you dare on a beautiful little goat path, perched on the side of a peak. Fun skill, but I’m still working on it. Fortunately, the Tribe Sports crew’s chief trail designer, Alex Balaud, is a genius. There hadn’t been a proper Enduro race at Val d’Isere to date. Alex got to spend some serious time linking together sections of the (free all summer!!) Val/Tignes bike park, ancient French hiking trails and plenty of rough and tumble open alpine slopes, where we’d choose our own adventure, between the tape. Real good riding, and what I’d always envisioned Enduro to be. It would’ve been such a fun project to be the Tribe Crew finding all that terrain and piecing it together in a perfect way. Thanks for the work fellas. It enabled me to crawl back from 48th place after the first two stages to 17th overall by the weekend’s end. And, on account of typical “existing in the mountains” stuff, like August snowstorms, we didn’t even get to run the queen stage twice as planned. That’d have bumped me up a bit more, if I didn’t loft the wrong grassy hill and kill myself trying to entertain Nico Quere (who probably wasn’t watching) again…
We stayed the post-race night at the Northwest Shred Posse’s favorite Swiss Brit, Rob Hamilton-Smith’s place outside Geneva and got some good Enduro history insight. He reckons the EWS stature has prompted the Tribe crew to make things a touch easier with all this “one practice run” and “not racing well over an hour of brutal stages per DAY” stuff they’ve been doing this year. His beef isn’t that it’s less torturous, but that it results in less overall seat time, which is what we’re all there for, right? I finished 18:01 of Stage 3 real pumped on bike riding on perfect, post snowmelt dirt in the sun and kind of sad that it was only 2:00 in the afternoon and we were all done. Scanning the pits for someone who wanted to go back up and do a play run, there were only people packing their vans and getting out of town. That said, considering the weekend started with a Heli-evac from practice run #1 and then had both a thunderstorm and snowstorm for the EWS and Tribe crew to work through, I can see why everyone had enough… Strong work, fellas.
It’s been a busy few months for sure, but I’m pleasantly surprised, OK, friggin’ stoked, about the progress that’s been made and what’s hopefully to come. It’s been a challenging but immensely rewarding process, learning to play the finer points of bike riding ever more perfectly and manage my brain better. Which is why, even though I was quite pooped, I couldn’t help but stay in Whistler for five extra days after Crankworx, racing Garbanzo DH and riding every trail in the Valley that I could get beta on how to get to. Not that you even need it, go to Whistler, get a map, post it on the dartboard and ride whatever trail ends up speared, you won’t be disappointed. If we didn’t have to go to France for the next EWS round this weekend, I’d likely still be there, using that Season Pass that Natalie and the Crankworx crew so graciously set us up with, and now I have to stress over when to go use again.
Thanks for reading, and to everyone who makes this all possible. Here’s to seeing if the progression can continue at the seventh and final round in Finale Ligure in October. I’ll have a week of French practice at Trans Provence coming into it. That has to be good prep right? For cyclocross season?
Speaking of, Chris Milliman swung through Bend the other week to make a lil’ promo for the new TCX Advanced Disc. Finally, we can skid like jerks on cross bikes. Will make the Enduro bike transition less dangerous…