Words: Ali ‘Teaboy’ Todd
Photos: Ben Winder and Superenduro
As far as opportunities go, an invitation to go to Italy for the first round of the Italian Superenduro Pro series was quite appealing. Three days of travelling later (sleeping in the van – foot-well, seat, or anything that availed itself), it may have seemed less glamorous, but by the time we rolled into Sestri Levante in a sleep-deprived state of happiness, I would have done another ten days in the driver’s footwell just to have stayed there. James (McKnight, Mr Bike Magic) was there to race with his team, while Ben and I were there to ride practice and report on race day.
Having got there at six in the evening, the first thing we did after finding a good place to have a pizza was to sleep. Back in the van (but now with more space as we’d dropped bikes and kit off, and now with an amazing view over the Mediterranean ten feet away) we had the next day to practice the tracks before race day. After a decent night’s sleep (bar the unfortunately placed gearstick), it was time to hit the tracks.
Right outside Sestri Levante were the mountains where the trails were placed, so the race started from the town centre and climbed straight up to the top to get to stage one. The first half of that stage (only a short one going half way down the hill) was a bit greasy, but listen to the Italians who are used to dust, you would have thought it was the end of the world. To the UK riders, they felt right at home, bar the temperature and the rocks. Out from the first stage and back up, we carried on riding the superb trails that were stages two and three (similar to the first but without the grease!), until we hit the last stage.
As someone who spends quite a lot of time on downhill bikes (I moonlight for Dirt Magazine, don’t tell the boss), I felt right at home… for about one minute. The ground falls away on that track, and all you’re left with is steep, rough rock that carries on and on… and on. It was a full fifteen-minute stage, more like a national downhill track than something you’d want to ride on an all-mountain bike. Battered and bruised, and barely able to hold the bars after the pummelling from the rocks all the way down, we made our way back to the van and hit the sea, much to the amusement of the coat-clad Italians.
Come race day, James was up and out for eight to meet with the Italian Life Cycle team, who were helping him with spannering and a pit area, as we started to head up to the hills. The riders had been set off two-by-two from the coastal pit area, with a time limit to climb the roads to the start of each timed stage. It’s a hell of a climb – I felt a bit of pull in my legs just from practicing and the sleep-deprivation so I was almost glad not to be racing with James. Some of the continental riders had been there for weeks practicing, and knew the trails inside out, so it was also a big challenge to try to put in a good time. This is something that I believe will be a big point of contention when the Enduro World Series kicks off in May, as there will surely be a real advantage for those who can easily travel to the venue to train on the tracks. We’ll have to see how that pans-out.
Open Gallery16 Images
Back to Sestri Levante and Jerome Clementz was the talk of the town, and he proved why straight away. His riding through every section was almost clinically precise – wasting no speed, pumping through sections rather than pedalling, he put in a time that was almost impossible to beat, 33 seconds up on the second place rider, Davide Sottocornola. Alex Lupato would have been right on Clementz’ tail though until he snapped one side of his bars off from the stem, riding the rest of stage two one-handed… A pretty amazing feat, the ever-humble Clementz told us that without the technical hitch for Lupato, he would have been very close to the win all the way.
Michael Prokop was the other most notable entry – his 4X career got him sponsored by Red Bull and gave him a name for being one of the best riders in the world, but Sestri wasn’t quite his day, finishing in 45th. James hit the trail at serious pace, placing thirty-fifth in a field of five hundred (a result I would have been pleased with, but that he seemed mildly disappointed with: 45km of riding two days in a row took its toll and cramp set in a few times for him). Top placed Brit abroad was James’ friend Paul Aston, who put in an inspiring performance finishing fifth.
As far as races go, this one blew my mind. The atmosphere was amazing – there were mountain bikers all over the town and the trails were incredible. The views alone at every section were worth the climbs, and getting out of the British cold wasn’t bad either. In fact, it made such an impression that I’m making plans to head back out in a few months and race a round myself – something that I think every rider should do.
Full results and further information can be found over on the Superenduro website.