Round 4 of the Enduro World Series was in La Thuile, a small traditional village in the Italian Alps close to Mont Blanc. The format was 2 days of practice, 2 days of racing with 3 timed stages per day and a mixture of chairlift access and pedalling with 4700m descent over the two days.
With some horrendous weather in the days leading up to the race including snow and 60 kmph winds for those practicing stage 1 early on Thursday, this was looking to be another epic EWS challenge. Luckily the weather improved and practice was so awesome I had to drag myself off the trails each day to conserve energy for racing.
Stage one was the longest of anything in the EWS so far, starting up in the clouds and patchy snow at 2600m and descending all the way down to the village. The top was full of big, sharp, slightly greasy rocks. After that came a loooong flat out fast slightly downhill trail across rough grass, which required a lot of pedaling and taking your heart rate up to high levels. This dropped into a tough section of narrow singletrack which required full concentration. At first fast and dry with some rocks and switchbacks but becoming boggy, mixed in with some technical rocky sections just as your tyres got covered in water and mud. Up to this point I was going well, made it fairly cleanly through the tricky boggy bits and caught the girl ahead as the trail kicked up into a horrendous steep fireroad climb. Going into this after already 15mins descending, my heart was thumping, legs burning and arms screaming but seeing someone ahead I gave absolutely everything to get to the top ahead. Dropping into a muddy narrow singletrack I was going cross eyed and so full of lactic I could barely hold onto the bike and soon after had a minor crash, catching the handlebars on a bank at the side of the trail and twisting them round at almost 90 degrees. Arrrgh panic! I desperately tried to straighten them but they were totally stuck and in the end I had to dig out a multitool to get them straight, whilst all the time riders were passing me and the clock was ticking. I was stopped for a good couple of minutes and they were still slightly off center as struggled to get back into the flow riding the seemingly never-ending last section of switchbacks through the forest to the end of the stage. Gutted.
After that was a long pedal and hike-a-bike up the other side of the valley to stage two. I was excited about this one, such an awesome trail full of loamy fast switchbacks through the trees – the kind of trail you could ride non stop all day long. As we set off the forecast rain began to fall meaning sections of the track got pretty greasy and other more sheltered bits were still dusty so it was hard to judge what speed to ride. I was still not back in the flow after stage 1′s disaster and messed up at what seemed like every moment possible, missing lines, hitting little climbs in the wrong gear and generally making a meal of it. Was not happy, I loved this in practice and went into it feeling confident.
Stage 3. By this time the rain was well underway and the temperature had dropped so that despite lots of extra clothes by the time we got to the top of the chairlift we were all absolutely freezing and all I wanted to do was be at the bottom in a hot shower. The top section dropped down two steep rocky sections which were fine in practice but had now become greasy and muddy. I slid out towards the bottom and got tangled up in the tape but quickly back on track. Then came a fast, fun grassy section with a few big corners. Coming into in there was deep muddy puddle which I’d been coming into at speed and jumping over in practice. I did the same thing but the bloody mud had got longer and I landed smack into it and the bike wiped out underneath me. Slapped my elbow and knee off the ground at high speed and twisted my saddle so that every time I tried to lean the bike into a corner after that the saddle was sticking into my leg. F**cksake! After that things got better and I got into a good flow. The trail was awesome and the rain damped down the dust making it even more fun to ride. Loamy corners, roots, high speeds and the finish down a short bike park trail into the middle of the village.
Having had too many stupid time wasting crashes on day one I was keen to improve things on the second day. Rain over night meant the trails were wetter and more mud filled than the day before. Stage 4 was a repeat of the monstrously long stage 1. I didn’t start well having a small crash on a muddy section high up (wrong tyre choice!) and later on wasted more time getting my bag tangled up on the saddle as I tried to let someone pass from behind.
Stage 5. This was another awesome stage, the same start as stage 3 yesterday before turning off into more endless loamy corners in the woods. Rode better. By stage 6, another long one, I was beginning to feel the exertions of the past 3 days, mostly in the form of arm pump. The trail was so good and I rode the top 2/3rds well, telling myself to stay loose and relaxed through the rocky and sometime muddy singletracks. Towards the bottom the corners got steeper and my arms just gave up, I couldn’t hold my speed because my fingers weren’t able to pull the brakes anymore! had to take it mega steady. Towards the end the trail flattened out for some pedaling before turning uphill onto a fireroad climb. This was a major sufferfest and it was only the sight of a couple of girls ahead that kept me going at full gas before we dropped into a few berms and a short sprint to the finish. At the finish line there were people everywhere lying on the ground or hung doubled over there bikes gasping for breath for a good five minutes after we finished. Awesome!
La Thuile is seriously one of the best places I’ve ever ridden and I’m dying to get back. The format was great, the race was a challenge but manageable and the people fun to hang out with. Having gone into it confident of being able to ride the trails well I was disappointed with how I rode but you can always learn from mistakes!