There are mountain biking destination which seem to have reputations of legends. Morzine, Les Get, Whistler, Innerliethen, Champery and some might say Finale Ligure. I've heard more and more about this place since the spike in popularity of Enduro and the place where Jerome Clementz was crowned World Champion last year. What stood out for me then was pictures of Jerome and Chris Ball, EWS Director celebrating on the golden sands with rugged mountains in the background.
This was somewhere I HAD to ride and preferably race. I've raced a fair bit in Europe over the past ten years, all downhill apart from the Mega in Alpe D'Huez last year so I was excited to get an entry at the start of the year to the final EWS event of the year. After racing the Tweedlove EWS it was a long wait to the last one but one which would be well worth it.
The race season up until October had gone pretty well for me, consistent results all year with only a few problems during the season with some punctures. After a busy period of racing up until the end of July, a family wedding and heading offshore for 3 weeks meant I missed any racing prior to the EWS. I wasn't really sure on my form and I crammed in some training before hand where I could. It's still hard to know whats best of Enduro but it really does come down to a big base fitness and endurance and an ability to explode on the pedals when you have to. The technical side is a given and definitely something which requires time on the bike.
Trev Worsley (Pictures coutesy of) picked Gary Forrest, Dick Hamilton, Stu Wilcox, Thomas Mitchel and myself up from Nice airport and made the scenic drive along the coast to Finale Ligure. We pased San Remo where I'd previously ridden on a Fox training camp while on the Mojo Race Team in 2008. That time though i was stuck in the back of a Mojo Sprinter in the dark sitting on some bags.
Trev (pictured above with the Scottish boys) sorted the whole week out, he has guided and ridden here a lot before through the Summit Down company he runs whene not writing for Enduro-mtb.com.
After some days getting used to the terrain we spent Thursday uplifting all of the stages. This was a tough day in itself covering a big distance and trying to remember the tracks. This is one of the hardest parts of enduro and through a combination of head cam footage and pace notes it's almost possible to remember the key parts to the track. You end up riding a lot of it on instinct and trying to get as much out of the trail as possible. Every rider approaches this differently with Joe Barnes writting 4 pages of notes per stage and Nico Lau apparently just riding and enjoying the flow. A serious fast flow at that! A river in spate pushing everything in its path to one side.
Day one of racing came around very quickly and the sun continued to rise throughout the day making riding more difficult as the day went on. Stage one was gnarly with little flow but a serious challenge to race. Switchbacks and hairpins made for a tough first stage and almost claimed me as I clatered my knee of one of the many rocks protruding out onto the trail. I placed just in the top 80 during this stage, a bit off the pace and further back than I had hoped. On evaluating the field it was a stacked one and I think everyone's expectations quickly readjusted.
Stage two was reached by a long tarmac climb up some swithbacks and the transition time was tight. Powering past another group of riders I got to the top with some more time to spare and catch my breath. This stage was more balance a track but I struggled on the climb about 2 minutes into the track and my time reflected this with a 88th on the stage. Stage 3, start near the top of stage 1, again was fairly balance with a tricky rock section in the middle before hitting an old cobbled switch back trail. This made for a challenging and lung busting track. This pushed both cardio and technical ability. A long transition with an hour allocated linked up stage 4 which looked over the Med. The red bull arch signaled the start of the stage and quite quickly I forgot how long the flat was at the top. After three stages this was tough work and left you struggling as the hill dived from beneath you and pointed you straight down to the sea. Unfortunately this didn't give you a change to admire the view, only hang on to the bike and ride the loose line down the rocks. I must have caught something near the top of this transition into the downhill and I put a hole through the top of the tyre. This wasn't going to stop me though and I continued down, catching my minute man and hearing a few dings as I went through to the rim every few meters. This is Enduro!
I was placed 81st after day one, a bit behind where I wanted to be and where I thought I would be. Considering where others where though and their season to date I was pretty pleased with that. The competition level is rising and it's become more and more professional amongst a greater number of riders.
I was amped for Sunday and the 2 1/2 hour climb to kick of the day. 20km and 1000 meters later a group of us arrived at the Nato base for the start of Stage 5. My phone went and it was looking more and more likely Graves would take the series win, Barel was on fire though with another great stage result.
It was my turn and again the stage went straight into a climb before meandering down for a few minutes before one of the most enjoyable sections of the week. More dirt and ungulating sweeping corners finished the stage of and I placed 74th on the stage moving up a few places in the overall. This was better and maybe showed that the lack of riding prior to the EWS had effected me and I was finally getting into the swing of things. A fairly short ride to stage 6 allowed a rest before the longest stage of the weekend at over 8km long. The just kept going on and on and on. Traversing, climbing and finally finishing off with some flat out descents made this a physical killer. I finally found my rythem and I topped off the weekend with a 58th pulling my overall place to 71st for the weekend. This was a great result and topped of an incredible week of riding in Finale Ligure.
I was hoping to watch the fight for the series unfold but it was through the medians of mobile phones that I head T Mo! and secured the womens and Grave taken the series win as well. What a finish to a very exciting race season.
The highlight of the week might have to have been Graves offering to buy Ruaridh Cunningham and myself burgers and hotdogs at 3am for him to only find out the establishment only took cash. So there I was buying 3 burgers and 3 super hotdogs for the newly crowned World Champion. What a role model!