As the inaugural World Series event in a fairly new discipline this weekend’s race at Punta Ala threw up many questions.
In order to get a much clearer idea about what the organisers were expecting from the riders, and to further my knowledge about the specific physical demands of this race, I headed out to join Matteo, Dan and Martin in Italy.
The event was held on the Saturday evening (Prologue) and Sunday, but practice was open for a number of days prior to this, and enabled the riders to ride the tracks as many times as they wanted – with lift assistance. This made it clear that the pace would be high as some riders would know the trails very well indeed. However, there were also liaisons to factor in, and to know how hard to push. I went out on Saturday to ride some of the stages with Martin and Dan, and also the climbs/ liaisons to time them and work out exactly how hard they would need to go between each stage.
It was clear that the stages were very technical, and long! It would take really sustained effort to perform well on each stage, and also very good endurance fitness and nutrition to keep concentration throughout the day and still perform on the last stage.
Come race day and after seeing Dan and Martin off from the start, me and Matteo headed off to the bottom of Stage 1. After seeing the guys come down and noting times, we then followed the course of the race and were able to feedback to them on their timings and how long they had for each transfer.
After a long day on the bikes for them, they both made it back to the pits having really impressed with 4th and 5th places, no mechanicals and very consistent riding.
Every one of us learnt a lot from being here, and although we are expecting other rounds in the series to challenge the riders in other ways, I’ve got a better understanding of where we are going and what we are looking for in their training and preparation.
It was so good to be back in Italy! The location was amazing, I’ve never been there before but the pits were less than 100m from the beach, we were on this huge campsite with everybody there, all the mechanics, all the riders.
Thursday morning was pit build, I left Mark Maurissen at 4.30 the afternoon before and just drove through the night – I drew into the site at about 8.30 next morning , I’d had it. Affy was just waking up…
But it was the first day of practice that I’d desperately wanted to get to Punta Ala for and the conditions were great so we were straight out, setting up the bike, making a few important modifications to the bike to fit better with the tough Punta Ala Stages.
Once Martin showed up it started to rain! With Affy we’d shuttled but we couldn’t do that in the wet. Martin had never seen these stages before so I was a bit anxious – we did get a few trails in and made a few tweaks to his bike as well.
Friday was better, we shuttled together and it was cool to be able to show him the lines and give him advice – especially as Dan had a few more days of local knowledge. The mood was pretty good, we are a good team already – things were going smoothly, we’re al very focused on the race but at the same time it’s so good to be riding bikes with people that you like and get on with, having fun with the riding for its own sake. Friday night I was flat out – after dinner more checking, up really late then up early again Saturday morning….
Because on Saturday it’s the Prologue which Dan won last year. Even though it was Prologue in the evening we still had a spin on the stages. All god, we really started to build confidence and get some quite fast times coming through, amazing to consider that Martin had never even been there.
Dan loves that prototype bike! It is great an Fox Suspension have done a brilliant job on it. I think it’s a big jump forward, a brand new platform that’s definitely working well already – with time and Dan’s sensitivity to his bike we’ll get it spot on. Martin is crazy! They ride exactly opposite to the other – for me working on their 2 bikes is like switching worlds in terms of the set up. Marin is the only Enduro racer I know – in the top 100 for sure who rides flat pedals – he’s racing on flats with Shimano flat shoes, and he’s racing with Conti Kaiser, the same as Gee and Rach.
When it came to the race I was more stressed than Dan, I’m trying to keep those guys calm and relaxed and to act my usual easy going self but inside I was stressed as fuck – surrounded by legends with everything to play for. The races went pretty smooth, Martin had a little crash on PS4 but he only lost 3 seconds – 3 seconds! Wow! That kid has such grit and energy it’s amazing what he can do! The Enduro mood is so friendly, we chat with all the other riders, even the biggest there’s maybe 1 or 2 that’s all literally out of hundreds who didn’t stop by, everyone is in it to win – but not by trampling over others, they are all there for the love of this sport, to have fun on the bike and have fun in the race.
Bring on Val d’Allos!
Whichever way you look at it I’ve learnt hugely this weekend… First of all, on the bike I had chance to practice with Dan on the race stages. He gave me so much very good advice … When I follow Dan, I’m having fun sometimes racing in his lines, from time to time experimenting a little with a line of my own – it was an absolutely top way for me to see what was the best and quickest! A huge thank you is due to him.
Then I trust Matteo entirely which is really great, he’s our mechanic but he also builds a great team atmosphere between us with his jokes! It’s really important!
My bike is perfect! Working with Fox suspension in Spain was huge! The prologue was fun and I really enjoyed it, for me I felt really relaxed, it was like the race hadn’t really started and I just had a blast!
We stayed in bungalows, very close to each other for communication which was nice and kept it all together and relaxed. I was not so stressed for the race, I don’t usually get tense… but I wanted to make the best of it, I’d say I was focused! I told myself that a top 15 would have been nice but it wasn’t a firm goal for me.
The good parts were the two special stages where I rode fastest! Then in the afternoon I got very tired – I already had beaucoup kilometres and beaucoup height difference in my legs and I have made a fall (when I took a different line than I’d taken in training so …) some small errors started to creep in, due I think to fatigue. For Val d Allos, I will try to repeat the “same race” without the errors and putting myself under pressure.
Though it’ll be a completely different experience because there will be no workouts before …
I came to Punta Ala on a real high – I had my new bike which I absolutely love and I was returning to a place I’d raced last year and really enjoyed. With all the hype that’s been building up to the event, the fact that it’s everything I’ve been training for, designing the new bike for, my whole life’s been geared around this new World Series and it was finally getting started – the feeling was almost like relief.
I’d ridden a few of the stages before so I had some idea of what to expect but the first job on arriving in the resort was to walk all the stages. Normally I would have done this scouting on the bike but coming out of Metabief I had a really annoying chesty cough so I wanted to stay relaxed and not strain my body too much. Matteo arrived on Wednesday after driving all night to get there in time for practise. We were shuttling and he was working on the bike and I could see that he was relieved too to be getting stuck in – especially in Italy!
The whole of Wednesday I just had this massive smile on my face riding my new bike – it was so much fun I didn’t even want to race – just to keep playing on my new bike! All the courses were marked out amazingly well, everything ran really smoothly – there were 600 riders entered for the race but in practise I barely saw anybody the whole day – there was no catching people up like practising DH at a World Cup.
On Wednesday night Martin arrived with his dad Patric and it started raining! It rained hard all night.
Thursday and Friday was training with Martin. I’d walked the stages and done a full day’s practise on the bike so I pretty much had the tracks dialled which is where I wanted to be when Martin arrived. We spent most of the day with him following me, showing him the lines, we tried to get at least three runs in on every track as a good benchmark but once we’d done one or two I started following him, it was cool to see how much energy and passion he puts into his riding. A lot of my riding is quite mellow, I use the terrain to give me speed but Martin pedals everywhere, hitting corners as hard as he can. He’s one of those riders you follow and think how can he possibly be going that fast – and then you realise that you’re caught up in it with him and you’re following and keeping up. It definitely snapped me out of the mellow riding I’d drifted into over the last few days there and got me up to race speed.
The Prologue was set in the nearby town of Castiglione della Pescaia. The 40 second sprint started form the castle and threaded down through the old town, down steps and through narrow lanes , it was really good , like a mini Lisbon downtown race but 600 riders practicing on a 35 second course was a bit hectic so we only got 1 or 2 practise runs in each. Just before the race started to rain , it go so slippy for some of thise boys but to be fair by the time I raced it was dry. I’d won the prolgue last year so I was pretty confident that I could win it again but a stupid mistake cost me valuable tenths of seconds and I came in 13th! Fair play to Alex Cure who won it – it’s good to see a new face up there amongst so many of the top guys.
Sunday morning , race morning was quite stressful– Enduro race mornings are tense because at the first checkpoint you have to roll onto the stage at exactly the right time and if you don’t there’s a 6 minute time penalty – all over. From that point on the riders are on their own, no outside assistance allowed, for me that meant no more help from Matteo or support from trainer Alan Milway – for race day they became just spectators. It’s a weird feeling being on the start line for Enduro, once you set off you’ve got 90 minutes to get upto to the start of the first stage so it’s like you’ve started to race but you kind of haven’t! Enduro is great in that you don’t have to worry about warm up or any of the other stressful stuff that comes just before a DH race. A lot of people like to ride in a full face helmet and take along an open helmet for the climbs, I don’t like the feel of a spare helmet wobbling around so I tend to stick with the full face, walk the steep climbs and use the time to eat – it’s really important to keep up calorie intake throughout the day.
At the top of the first stage was crazy – there were so many top riders there from all different disciplines – some of the fastest guys from Downhill, 4X and the Enduro specialists. Alan Milway and I were talking beore the race and saying how impossible to was to predict the podium and so it proved to be with such a mix of riders represented in the top results.
I rode well. I hit my lines perfectly all day, I wouldn’t have done anything different, I was just a little bit off pace all day – as ever I got faster and faster throughout the day until my best result on the last stage. Finishing Stage 5 I never had such a big smile on my face, no mistakes, no mechanicals, it’s one thing to ride fast all day, quite another to get through all those stages clean.