What a weekend! Autumn sunshine, dry dusty super technical trails, a rare chance to swim in the sea, awesome food and coffee – Finale Ligure is a close as you can get to paradise so to have the chance to spend 4 days riding and racing against the best riders in the world was amazing.
Day 1 covered 47km with 1500m of climbing to access the 3 timed stages on a stunning route through the mountains behind Finale often overlooking the sea (unfortunately the 4th stage was cancelled due to a bad crash). The first stage was the shortest of the race and despite being the least technical it included a couple of steep drops and plenty of rocky sections to keep the enthusiastic Italian crowds entertained. I need to learn to chill out at the start of races, rode like a nervous idiot, ignored all the nice lines I’d picked out in practice and generally made things hard for myself.
As I flicked my seatpost up to tackle the long technical climb up to stage 2 my seatpost cable snapped – disaster! I decided to get to the top and try to fix it there when I knew how much time I had. I couldn’t get the snapped cable out to replace it but with seconds to spare I managed to get the seat down so that at least I could ride the technical stage somewhat safely. The stage was quite flowy in the beginning before turning into a steep rocky climb requiring concentration and power. I had to stand up because of the saddle and half way up my legs were exploding and I had to hop off and run – bummer, was planning to use xc skills to my advantage and instead lost time here! After that the course dropped into a long and extremely technical downhill with several rock gardens, drops and sharp steep switchbacks. It took full focus and concentration to remember what was coming up and which line to take. I rode it all, got down cleanly and caught a couple of girls en route but next year I have to make myself take some of the shortcut racing lines for extra speed (big loose drops, head said no!).
After passing back through the town with a chance to stop in at the pit area where Specialized came to the rescue and fixed my seatpost, we had to tackle another long and at times even more technical climb up to Mani, where stunning sea views awaited. Stage 3 began fast, turned into a very short flat out climb and then descended from the top of the mountain down to the sea. The track got steeper and more rocky towards the bottom with some extremely tight switchbacks followed by a few flights of stairs which popped out in the village square in Noli. Rode ok, problem free and lots of fun.
Sunday began with a steady 14km road climb up to the first stage of the day where we arrived half an hour early. After sitting round chatting I picked up my bike with 2 minutes to go and realised I had a flat tyre – major panic, just got it inflated and legged it to the start. This one started out fast, all downhill but with some chances to pedal before the trail got more technical taking in some big rock gardens, switchbacks and loose drifty corners. Lost some time getting stuck behind some of the girls in front but amazing stage, so much fun to ride.
Having survived that all that was left was another uphill road slog to the top of stage 6, a repeat of the 2nd stage from Saturday. After another deflated tyre and pre-start panic (tubeless not sealed properly!) I hammered the climb this time and caught 2 girls before the top so that I could have a clear run at the descent. I had my lines dialled by this stage and rode it all perfectly until 50m from the end when there was nothing left to do I somehow wiped out and lost time getting tangled up in my bike. Doh. I was not happy with myself but quickly got over it after a short pedal back into the paddock in the centre of town where there was time for swimming in the sea and freshly made pasta. The party afterwards was another story in itself and I’m still feeling wrecked from it!
I finished 23rd overall, happy enough for a first EWS. My times were getting comparatively faster each stage and to survive the course without walking stuff or having an major incidents was a good start. Thanks to Fox for the fork service after Saturday, the difference a bit of suspension makes is amazing.
Can’t wait for next year!