If there was one thing that was certain prior to the weekend’s racing in Les Deux Alpes, France, it was that Jerome Clementz’s time to shine was only just around the corner. Having given a tough fight to Fabien Barel at the first round of the series in Italy and then battling hard to recover from a flat tyre and finish a very respectable seventh at round two in France, many considered the Les Deux Alpes weekend to be his. But this is enduro racing and with four stages scheduled no one could really predict what the outcome would be.
Practice from DirtTV
In the lead up to the Les Deux Alpes round conditions looked good, and with scorching sunshine beating down on the almost entirely open (i.e. no trees) hillsides of the French resort the field was set for another extremely tough weekend out in the mountains. This was set to be the smallest of the EWS races in terms of trails raced (with four stages on race day), but they were long old stages and incredibly fast and steep by all accounts, so downhill skills and enduro fitness were both to play their parts in the outcome of the event.
The race course was comprised of four separate stages with practice on Saturday and racing on Sunday, the first stage including the only big physical output of the day and the remaining three being steep, open and very fast in places. The course looked to favour the downhill specialists and looking at the results that is partially true - with the exception of Clementz of course who just seems to be capable of wiping the floor whatever the trail, conditions or competition. Jerome's ludicrous 25 second win on the first stage proved just that...
On stage two, Nicolas Vouilloz once again asserted his supreme bike handling skills, taking the win from Aussie Jared Graves by one second. Vouilloz's Lapierre teammate Loic Bruni has been having a strong season so far in the World Cup downhill and showed his all-round ability here, backing up his senior in third place.
Stage three was Bruni's time to shine though - the young and ever-happy Frenchman stepped it up a notch and slotted into the top position two seconds in front of the UK's very own Dan Atherton and Jared Graves (in that order). Both Bruni and Graves had poor first stage efforts with 44th and 19th respectively, so it's hard not to imagine that the final results could have been quite different had they not.
The fourth and final stage was incredibly exciting to watch, with riders coming pin-balling into the finish arena and cutting across the Crankworx Slopestyle course before hitting one last dust-bomb berm and putting in a final pedal stroke for the finish line. By this point Dan Atherton was beginning to show his huge potential, coming in second behind an outstanding ride from New Zealand's Sam Blenkinsop and just in front of a by-now consistent Jared Graves.
Full official highlights film from DirtTV and Enduro World Series
The final results showed few surprises aside from the absence of Barel from the top end of the results sheet (eventually finishing in 15th) and the introduction of Kiwi Sam Blenkinsop, who finished an amazing third place and whose fitness is clearly right up there - which will surely put him in contention at the downhill World Championships this year on the fitness-testing track in South Africa? Remy Absalon has always been a top contender in any enduro competition and has now found his EWS feet, finishing fourth and one place in front of Dan Atherton who is looking strong for the season. That leaves the two masters: Vouilloz is the king of bike-fettling wizardry and his skills are arguably unrivalled by any mountain biker ever; and Clementz who just seems to have the complete mountain biker package - including an enthusiasm for a post-race beverage, which we of course applaude.
Tracy Moseley is another racer who appears to be greatly enjoying the 'new' discipline - she's travelling constantly and riding for fun and loving exploring new locations in-between races, much as Jerome does. She cleaned up yet again here, although only winning one stage. The other three stage winners were Cecile Ravanel, who finished second in round two, Emmeline Ragot and a certain Anne-Caroline Chausson who is getting back up to speed following injury and is certainly not worth counting out of the running for the rest of the season. Maybe she'll be hassling Tracy at the top of the results sheet next race?
Vouilloz took his super-analytical approach to the first losers spot, something which he will be ever-so-slightly disappointed with but still no doubt relieved to be back in the running for the overall. Never too serious, always smiling, Jerome Clementz took the win and also won the 'spirit of enduro' prize. Hats off to you, JC.
Fabien Barel is the man to speak to if you want to hear about how tough this discipline is not only on your body but also the bike you ride. Having dominated the first round of the EWS, Fabien’s luck dried out. Several of the top contenders at round two suffered with flat tyres, but Fabien unfortunately also did so here at round three. With Fabien's chances at the overall looking somewhat hampered at this point, the unpredictability and importance of durable components for the discipline is becoming very evident. Vouilloz is another who knows this all too well - at round one he suffered a flat rear tyre - but having gone away and come back with a new bike, new wheel size (650b of course) and a strengthened motivation he is now a hot contender for the season ahead. Yeti's Jared Graves is of course another man to watch having led the series coming into Les Deux Alpes, his unparalleled commitment to training will pay off as the season progresses and takes in some more physical tracks. Then there's Clementz of course: who could doubt the self-professed 'little guy who ride bike and love life' and the fact that he must be the clear favourite for the overall - enduro has his name all over it (check his Twitter @enduroJC).
In the women's category it goes without saying that Tracy Moseley is leading (by a country mile by now), with a full hat-trick of wins she is as-yet unrivalled. Cecile Ravanel shows huge promise though, as does Emmeline Ragot (another rider on Lapierre!) and never count out Anne-Caroline Chausson, who should be back to full speed for the next round after her injury sustained at EWS #1.
Finals video from Crankworx
We're looking forward to seeing how the season pans out, especially with the Megavalanche this weekend in Alpe d'Huez it will be interesting to see who from the Enduro World Series races and how the multi-rider start affects the outcome there.
The next Enduro World Series race will be in Winter Park, Colorado, on the 27/28 July and forms part of the Colorado Freeride Festival.
Quality event round up from the BMC Trailcrew