Another action packed weekend has passed, one of the busiest on the events calendar this year (and the coming weekend looks no different for that matter)! Mega2RX at Cervinia, National Champs in the UK at Bala, Mountain of Hell at Les 2 Alps, the list goes on. One thing for sure is that it did not affect the guys from the Italian Superenduro series who hosted another sell out event at the superb Alpi Bike Resort venue of Sauze d’Oulx.
Sauze and its 2013 race format
The venue is hugely popular with riders, the trails feel natural and make for great riding and action packed racing, open Alpine mountain tops offer stunning views and steep riding and the lower woods are relentless in both gradient and technicality.
This year’s format would be similar to 2012 but a new twist was received with mixed feelings amongst the riders who would have to compete in a mass start event (Supermountain) for the final stage of the weekend. To add further excitement the riders would have to leave their bikes in a “parc ferme” after the final stage on Saturday with only 30 minutes to make adjustments and repairs.
Saturday kicked off with 3 special stages in the morning, the stages would then be run for a second time in the afternoon before the riders passed over the mountain at 2424m to complete the day with a seventh stage down to Sestriere, the first purpose built ski in the Italian Alps which is steeped in snow sports (and fascist) history.
On Sunday riders would link back to their bikes via a bus before taking a chairlift up to the summit to compete on the same stage again, the next climb back up would have to be done via human power. Upon arrival riders would line up on the grid ready to take on the final stage head to head in a mass start race.
Schmooze and cruise
Schmoozing around the pits on Friday I bumped into the usual suspects: defending champion Andrea Bruno was tending to his aluminium Transition Covert having packaged up his carbon version in preparation for his US tour; Alex Lupato was looking cool, calm and collected; and the rapid Davide Sottocornola was deliberating over tyre choice for the rapidly changing conditions.
Weather forecasts in the lead up to the event had been fairly inaccurate and a huge downpour on Thursday afternoon had left the ground sodden, riders were struggling for grip on the off camber and fresh cut sections. Lower down in the trees the hard-pack had a butter-like quality making for tricky going.
Riders from far and wide had made the journey to Sauze d’Oulx including a large Irish contingent. GB’s Tobias Pantling was present choosing to make the Superenduro series his prime focus for 2013 having been denied an entry into the Enduro World Series, brothers Sam and Phil Shucksmith also made the long haul to savour the fine food and hospitality.
Getting down to it: racing
With so many other events on it came as no surprise that some of the enduro stars were missing form Saturday’s start sheet but that was not going to spoil a hotly contested morning of racing. Manuel Ducci was suffering with his tyre selection and lost some time to Davide Sottocornola who pulled a 25 second lead, Sam and Phil (Shucksmith) found the longer stages tiring but rode consistently to maintain a top ten position throughout day one. Andrea Bruno took a stage win and showed good form throughout the day.
Conditions improved and the temperatures made for hard graft on the 350m climb, which the riders would have to do twice in between chairlift assisted ascents, the harsh terrain took its toll on equipment and my hopes of a podium in the masters category went out the window as a rock wrecked my back wheel. I was not alone though as I spotted broken mechs, seat posts and multiple punctures. It seemed as though everyone had a tale to tell with falls common place even in the top ten!
Saturday evening was strangely quiet in Sauze, the split in pit areas did detract somewhat from the atmosphere typically associated with Superenduro, a sentiment that was echoed by many of the riders. Fingers were crossed that the weather would hold as night fell, the trails had started to dry throughout the day but storm clouds loomed above the mountains in the distance.
Sunday morning and a 20km shuttle to parc ferme for the riders before an impromptu delay to the start, another event was using the double track climb as a descent, with four events being run on the same weekend the mountains were bustling with bikes and bodies, it was a shame for the Superenduro crew that another event impacted on theirs.
Having completed the stage the riders then climbed up 450m to the mass start grid area, Sam and Phil Shucksmith worked hard to make it first and second up on top getting first dibs on grid position, Bruno, Lupato, Ducci and Sottocornola soon followed. I got a chance to talk with various riders and the feeling seemed pretty mutual at the front of the field that a mass start this far through not only a weekend’s racing but a race series was a big risk, a whole season could hinge on this one stage.
Regarding the parc ferme, many agreed it was a novel idea but felt it detracted for the overall ambience of the main pit area, the long wait in between arrival and departure on Sunday also added frustration to various people, “too much waiting around” was a common phrase.
Down to racing and Alex Lupato along with Davide Sottocornola got the jump on the rest of the pack, Ducci, Bruno, Pantling and the Shucksmith brothers tucked in behind as the riders strung out up the first climb, Phil Shucksmith punctured in the first few kilometres putting him out of the running for stage 9 but he did still manage to hold on to his top ten in the overall classification. Alex Lupato took the win on stage 9 with Manuel Ducci in a close second with just a few seconds separating them.
The ladies had been having a battle of their own in amongst the guys and it was Laura Rossin who took the overall win with Chiara Pastore in second ahead of Ireland’s Tarja Owens in third.
Here’s what other racers had to say on the Sauze race:
“The tracks are incredible, UK racing is at such a high level we have the skills but as the track are so much longer I’m finding that half way down I’m struggling to hold on.”
“I think the parc ferme is a good idea but the event being spread over two locations has detracted from the atmosphere, you have to make quick decisions and ride conservatively”
“I think the girls are just going to get lost in the melee of elbows with the mass start, its a little bit intimidating even though I’ve raced cross country and mass start before I’d prefer a solo start but perhaps with a very small time gap between riders to make it exciting.”
(David was was one of three people racing a hardtail, he diverted off his off road cycle touring holiday to take part in the event. He’d even sold his Stumpjumper to come out here and do this! After the event he was en-route to Innsbruck)
“I’ll be excited if I avoid death in the mass start! The changes are cool, its a bit like SuperEnduro meets whacky races, for the serious racer its probably not so good but I like it, even the bus ride out this morning was fun.”
All photos by Marco Bisio.