Enrico Guala is a passionate multi-tasking Italian mountain biker who runs a distribution company, the Super Enduro race series and a trail building business. He’s a man of endless energy and enthusiasm and many see him as one of the driving forces behind the rise in popularity – the craze – of enduro racing.
We recently announced the dates of the 2013 Italian Super Enduro series and even more importantly the dates for the first ever Enduro World Series, a project being spearheaded by a group of forward thinking promoters, one of whom is Enrico.
We caught up with the man of many plans to hear about his company, his race series and enduro racing on the world stage.
ENRICO GUALA AND HIS COMPANY
So Enrico, can you describe your job briefly?
It can’t be explained briefly! Hahaha. Sometimes I ask myself: “what is my job?” Basically I make my living with my company, I have a distribution company with my partner Andrea and we have 18 brands. It’s actually two things though, we have two parts to the company: one is sales and distribution; the other is consultancy.
We started in 2006 building a small bike park and we made a little bit of money to buy Ibis bikes, that’s how we started. Basically our business, 4Guimp, is a model of business based on our experience. It mixes our knowledge, our background and our passion. We try to have a business that reflects what we’ve been doing for a long time – riding bikes, buying bikes and building tracks for bikes.
So you built some tracks, the bike parks, and then used that as a way of starting a distribution company?
Exactly that. You know when you sell ideas you don’t need money, just ideas. And if they pay for your ideas then you can start to pay for products.
It’s obviously gone pretty well, you must have some good ideas!
So far, so good. At the same time, building trails is important for everyone, for the sport. Without trails we won’t have jobs or anywhere to ride! So it’s all in our interest.
So how many resorts and bike parks have you worked on?
I don’t recall a number, but it’s at least ten places. The first trails I built were in Finale Ligure.
Then we have Alpi Bike Park, which is the biggest project we handle by ourselves, then a resort called Maddesimo and we also have a pumptrack company that we handle as well. I think that we have a little role in the development of mountain biking in Italy.
We’ve been basically working here and there, not only for business but also to help other resorts to start things off.
Where’s the best place to ride in the world then…?
Hhhhhhhuuuh. You know the answer! I think Liguria in Italy – where I live – I used to say it’s like the like the Californa of Europe. If you just think about the facts: 95% of the region is mountains; and half of the region is facing the Mediterranean sea. We have mountains up to 2,200metres. We’ve been living in this place for millions of years, which means we have plenty of trails. I think Liguria is the best place in the world to ride bikes.
95% of the region is mountains; and half of the region is facing the Mediterranean sea. We have mountains up to 2,200metres.
You recently rode in Asia, how was that?
It was different…. The biggest difference is that there’s no trail culture down there, so you never know what to expect from a ride. It’s fast developing. I think with trails and a mountain can be a good place for mountain biking. You just have to know where to go and let the trail guide you.
They’ve been producing bikes for a long time there though, and now they’re starting to discover about riding bikes. This is thanks to some people, some industry people over there. For instance, Martin from KS built a 4X track at his factory just to show his workers what a MTB (mountain bike) is, why they’re producing these bikes. KMC chains let their employees go ride bikes every Friday afternoon to learn more about the parts they’re manufacturing.
THE ITALIAN SUPER ENDURO SERIES
How long has the series been running, when and why did you start it?
Oh now that’s a good question, how many hours do you have?
MTB has been evolving for many years; I would say it’s a thirty three year old sport. However, only very recently has technology allowed the bike companies to make very efficient and light bikes that can be ridden up and down, like the bikes of the pioneers. You know, they only had one bike to do it all back in Marin County when it all started back in the 70s.
Enduro bikes, mid-travel, all-mountain bikes, are exactly the same. But to sell these bikes, especially in Italy, you need a reason. The reason is racing. We are racers – every Italian is a racer at heart. Just drive on the highway in Italy –it’s horrendous!
Full gas all the time?
We are competitive so you know, for cross-country bikes you have races, downhill bikes you have races…. But with this kind of bike we are in the middle, it’s like: “why should I buy a bike that’s not as light as a XC bike, not as fast as a DH bike?”
Together with Franco Monchiero…actually, he was the man to call me one day (he’s a very good motocross rider and we’ve been friends for a very long time) and he said, “Listen, we have to organise an enduro race.” I said, “No I’m too busy with building my company”, to which he said, “No, no, we need to do it, to do something different.” Or at least I feel like that’s what he told me. So basically he convinced me and the next year we started with seven events.
We wanted to give the bike a reason to be raced, and to give enduro a shape, a format suitable for Italians – that suited the Italian way of thinking. We started with the same format we have now, with very strict rules and different to the French system.
We wanted to give the bike a reason to be raced, and to give enduro a shape, a format suitable for Italians – that suited the Italian way of thinking.
We introduced time penalties (for not reaching your designated start on time), which the French races didn’t have. If you come to San Remo or Finale Ligure or many places around the world, you do not have lifts. And the French system is only on lifts. So, how do you do it without lifts? You have to pedal up.
So you wanted to create a series that could be taken absolutely anywhere with hills?
That’s what you need if you want a sport to become popular and to establish the sport on a national scale.
All of your races start and finish in towns, don’t they?
Yep. That’s again why it’s good to have a bike that can pedal up and that can be ridden for 60 km in a day – of course you have to be fit – and moreover the excitement in enduro is the downhill stages. When I go to Finale with my friends the idea is to pedal up, ride some trails then have a beer on the beach. That’s essentially what enduro racing is.
Usually gravity riding is in the mountains, you cannot show the masses what you do. Of course, the prologue in Finale is not high-level skilful mountain biking, but you show the crowds what you do.
Have you seen the popularity increase a lot in the last two years?
Yes. I think in a way I find myself thinking that enduro is just mountain biking, it’s what I have been doing all my life. I bought my first MTB in 1985, a GT Backwoods with 18 speed Suntour and fully rigid. What I was doing with that bike was exactly, well very similar to, what I’m doing with my Ibis now. I go out with my friends for a ride and have fun on the way down. Enduro is just a way to describe what people have been doing on MTBs forever. The big difference with enduro bikes is that we have a huge amount of fun, much more than I did with my old bike.
I think the reason that enduro is exploding in popularity is that cross-country and downhill just went too far for most people. It’s for the average guy who works 9-5 in an office all week who doesn’t have the time to train, to practise and doesn’t want to hurt himself. I think even cross-country went too far from what most people do on their bikes.
THE ENDURO WORLD SERIES
What’s your part I the series? What role do you play and what’s your job title?
I don’t have a job title…the EWS (Enduro World Series) is a group of people that put together an organisation based in the UK – Chris Ball is the managing director in Edinburgh – so again it is something that grew up along the way. I met Chris the first time last year in Finale, 2011, and we met again at the UCI – where he worked before – and when UCI dropped the world series idea it was natural to keep talking with the people that we’d been talking with for nine months.
I don’t have a job title…the EWS (Enduro World Series) is a group of people that put together an organisation based in the UK – Chris Ball is the managing director in Edinburgh
I would say it is a group of people – Super Enduro, the Enduro series in France, Crankworx and Chris. And at the same time at the UCI there were other organisers involved, but the feeling with them wasn’t as good. It was a natural evolution of a relationship and idea we had been building for nine months.
My job is to bring the experience and knowledge I have learnt from running the Super Enduro. I’ll be running the first and last events – Punta Ala and Finale Ligure.
Will you be attending only your own events or all the events?
I’ll be at every race. I have to!
Will the other organisers or are you the most motivated?
Haha that’s a good question that you should ask the other guys. Basically we all have our own businesses, I think Chris will attend all events, Darren and the Crankworx team will of course be at their American and European events and I guess some other events throughout the year. The schedule is not finalised yet. We have a lot of work to do together so I guess we will be meeting over events.
Which race in the EWS are you most excited about?
For sure the opening in Punta Ala because it is the start of a new adventure, not just for us but for the world of mountain biking and for the people involved in enduro.
I’m very curious to see the overseas events, just because it will be totally new for us, especially having a proper enduro race at the Crankworx means a lot for the growth of the sport and the evolution of the event itself.
Last but not least I’m eager to attend the Enduro of the Nations because, being part of the EWS means that the event will reach a new level of attendance and visibility.
…it is the start of a new adventure, not just for us but for the world of mountain biking and for the people involved in enduro.
Any confirmed ‘big name’ riders?
Beside all the top enduro riders, we heard that some big names from both the cross-country and downhill worlds will join us…We’ll see.
How far do you see the EWS going? Have you thought long-term about it?
I do see EWS being an organisation that will help to establish enduro as a discipline and eventually being in charge of helping the development of the sport together with national and local organisation and clubs. We founded EWS to be a rider’s organisation focused and with a constant and open relationship with the sport and the industry. After the announcement of the EWS we have received incredible support from teams, industry and national and regional organisers, all of them ready to play their part in the game. I think we will be evolving and developing the sport but will always be open to listen and evaluate any interesting proposals.
How is the industry receiving news of the EWS?
As I said, the support has been great. Company owners, marketing manager, team managers are all very supportive of the EWS. Active support from the industry and active support for the industry is a sentence I like, if you know what I mean. We provide a platform to grow the sport and the market and the industry provide the support to make it happen. It’s a win-win situation.
What happens if someone cuts the course?
They will be whipped!
Read more about the coming Enduro World Series in our interview with managing director, Chris Ball here.
We’ll be catching up with more race organisers like Enrico in 2013, watch this space.
ALL PHOTOS IN THIS FEATURE © SUPER ENDURO