My second trip out to Europe was again going to be a busy one with three races back-to-back.
French enduro series, Samoens
I decided to enter the first round of the French Series in Samoens as I thought it would be good preparation for the second Enduro World Series, which was being run under French rules. So a weekend of getting used to the format and the super long, tough trails was the goal. In the French series there is no practice allowed at all. The courses are marked out on the Friday and you are free to walk, but there is no way you can walk all 5 stages, you can only get an idea of the terrain to help with your tyre choice.
It's an early 7.30am start on the chairlift as the first stage starts around 8.15am! Racing flat out on trails you have never ridden so early in the morning is tough, but wicked fun. During Saturday we did five runs over three different stages, culminating in close to one hour of racing. A big storm earlier in the week made the conditions a bit slick on the steep, freshly cut terrain so I used Bontrager DH Mud tyres on the front all weekend just to have the control and to be able to steer!
Sunday was an even tougher day as it was the longest stage and we had to do it three times. It was close to 20min of testing terrain and some pedaling in the mix also. I had a pretty big crash on Saturday but got away with little damage, but it was just a reminder to me as to what can happen when you lose concentration. I managed to stay on the rest of the weekend and rode well enough to take the win ahead of Cecile Ravanel.
This was one of the toughest tests of enduro I have done and I just hoped that it would be worth the suffering as it would be good preparation for the next week’s EWS.
Enduro World Series round 2, Val d’Allos
After a few days of recovery and some driving we arrived into Val d'Allos, a beautiful village in the mountains roughly two hours north of Nice. We had a few days to wait until race weekend so we had chance to do some rides on the other side of the valley. It seemed as though you could find a long climb on the road and then find epic single track descents back down wherever you went in the valley, it was quite simply stunning. I found some great riding and almost felt as though I had probably done a bit too much riding right before a big race weekend, but it was hard not to as it was so much fun!
The French race format had to be adapted slightly to fall in line with the Enduro World Series rules as there must be some practice allowed at an EWS event. So instead of doing each stage twice, the first run down each new stage was a practice run, no stopping allowed, just a roll down to check out the stage. For me this meant that last weekend’s marathon of eight timed stages would hopefully have been much tougher than this weekend where we actually only had six timed stages. However I think the intensity of the World Series and the pressure that I put on myself soon made it tough and it felt like a full-on French enduro by the end of the weekend!
I took an early lead after stage 1 and managed to win all three stages on Saturday, giving me a lead of around 50 seconds going in to Sunday. The long stage on Sunday was brutal some tough single track traverse climbing to start and then just a long, relentless trail that needed concentration and pedaling to keep your speed. I lost out on the first time to Cecile Ravanel, but the second time down managed my energy better and went quicker, taking some time out of the rest of the girls. It left me with the final stage where I knew I just needed to ride safe. That's often the hardest thing to just try and ride safe. I found myself thinking about it way too much and rode the worst I had all weekend but thankfully it was good enough to still take the overall win. An awesome feeling to take my second win in the Enduro World Series and especially at the venue where enduro racing began in France 11 years ago, a special race to win.
Enduro World Series round 3, Les Deux Alpes
From Val d'Allos it was back up into the French Alps for the third round of the series at Les Deux Alpes. Again this would be a different format, this time run by the organisers of the Crankworx bike festival.
The course map was released on Friday but again there was no way you could walk the courses; instead I chose to go for a ride with a few friends and went off exploring the back of the mountain where we rode some of the Mountain of Hell qualifying track. It was a beautiful trail with everything included: techy stuff, high speed singletrack and alpine meadows.
The first thing that struck me about this area was just how steep the mountains were! I felt as though I had been on my brakes all the ride. This was something I soon became used to, as on Saturday we were allowed to practice the four stages. I decided that as they were all accessed by the chairlift I should have time to do them all twice. Well I did manage that, but I was out from 9.30 - 5.30 and came back at the end of the day pretty damn knackered. Maybe not the best idea I’ve had the day before a race, but it was done and I just hoped I could hold on for one more day.
I started the day off feeling pretty tired and thankfully it was a late start as they put the highest ranked riders last this weekend. Stage 1 was the crucial stage of the whole day as it was the only really physical, pedally stage and it was the longest too. I knew that I would have a tough job to keep ahead of XC racer Cecile Ravanel on this stage and also this race was the first race back for Anne-Caroline Chausson after she broke her ribs in Punta Ala, so I knew I would have a tough day to try and win the third round. I started off the stage pretty steady just trying to pace myself and as I started the steep climb in the middle of the stage I could see Cecile ahead of me, I had made up some time and felt good, but as the steep climb ended then the long traverse began and I just ran out of steam, I got slower and slower and was willing the trail to start to descend again. It did finally descend all the way to the finish but I was so dead I rode the bottom section horribly and lost all the advantage I had gained and ended up crossing the line in 2nd place, losing 9secs to Cecile, but happy to be ahead of the other girls.
The rest of the day would now be about getting that time back. Stage 2 was my favourite as it had some nice steep, tight, techy riding at the top and then some fast berms and singletrack near the bottom. I had a pretty good run and finished up in 2nd again, this time behind DH racer Emmeline Ragot, but most importantly I had taken time from Cecile and I was now back in front by 7 seconds. Stage 3 I also enjoyed even though the trail was pretty cut up and destroyed by the time we came to race it. I managed to take the win on a stage where a few of the girls punctured and extended my lead to Cecile by 22secs.
All I had to do now was hold on to that lead in stage 4, which was my least favourite as it was so steep and rough at the start. I have done very little DH training or riding for the last 12 months, so by now my hands and fingers were really starting to feel the last two days of what had been essentially DH runs on a trail bike. I rode super safe again on stage 4, took no risks and finished up in 4th. It was good enough to still take the overall win with a gap of 15secs over Cecile. Anne-Caro got faster throughout the day, and took the final stage win, so I expect in three weeks time in Colorado she will be back to her normal speed and will be, as always, a very tough person to beat.
To have won the first three rounds of the Enduro World Series is just amazing, I never expected to be able to do that at the beginning of the season. I have now set myself a tough challenge to be able to keep it up, but I will be trying my best to keep the run going.
Next stop for the EWS is at Winter Park in Colorado. This will definitely be a tough race as its a high altitude venue and I'm sure we will have some more North American riders challenging for the podium spots.