Having staged the first event of the inaugural series on the shores of the Mediterranean in Punta Ala, Italy, the Enduro World Series promoters last weekend took the circus away from the golden sands and up into the high mountains for the second round in Val d’Allos, France.
With the first round having been dominated by a Frenchman by the name of Barel, everyone was incredibly excited to see how the differing race format of French enduro events would affect the results. Two days of racing, 10,000 metres of descending and five different trails were to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The French format should be briefly explained. Whereas in Italy the race stages are mapped and announced well in advance of the event (nearly a month in the case of Punta Ala), enduro in France means tracks that are kept secret until the day before the race and one run of practice only.
With no prior knowledge of the tracks a different set of skills is deployed. Reading the terrain as it approaches and knowing what level of risk to take is a skill that comes from years of riding bikes in differing conditions and locations. Some say riding blind is the test of a ‘true’ mountain biker.
Aside from the practice rules, there are many more differences between the French and Italian enduro formats. The timed stages are far longer in France with the test of fitness coming from a long weekend (two days of racing as opposed to one in Italy) of downhills, some dropping 1,000 metres of altitude in the case of Val d’Allos. Uphills are taken care of by chairlifts and gondolas, whereas in Italy the ups and self-powered only.
As with the first round, stickers on frame, wheels and fork mean that the same equipment must be used throughout the weekend.
In the lead up to the Val d’Allos event there was much speculation as to the bikes that riders would be using for the longer, brutal stages that Val d’Allos was to provide (having hosted numerous French Enduro races in the past the style of terrain was known).
With some top names put out of the running in Punta Ala due to mechanicals – namely Nicolas Vouilloz, 10 time World Champion who flatted – it would be interesting to see the changes made for a predominantly downhill race. With over an hour of timed racing promised over the weekend, a solid bike, wheels and tyres would prove of utmost importance.
The first day of racing in Val d’Allos began with ‘business as usual’, but quickly took a turn for the unexpected. Jerome Clementz was looking to dominate in the French mountains – and at a venue where he has previously won French Enduro rounds – however, on the third stage of the day’s five he punctured his new Mavic tyres and was effectively wiped from the running. He was not alone though: Fabien Barel of Canyon Bikes suffered an even worse fate as he double-flatted (on Michelin tyres), leaving him to limp his way to the finish line with a stage time that would leave him with an impossible task to regain enough to get anywhere near his EWS round 1 win. Britain’s Dan Atherton was another rider with technical issues as a front flat (on Continental tyres) pitched him over the handlebars.
The weekend didn't go to plan for Cannondale's Ben Cruz either...
This series of events did leave the door open for several riders who under-performed in Punta Ala though. Current DH World Champion Greg Minnaar had a slow start to Saturday with a crash on stage 1, but by the end of the day he had found his enduro groove and made his way up the results sheet to third! Nicolas Vouilloz, who suffered a rear tyre failure in Punta Ala, had an all-new Lapierre with 27.5 wheels and prototype Michelin tyres for the race and by the end of the first day of racing he was sitting in a more familiar position near the top of the table, in second place and with a very attainable six second gap to first.
The only staple of the men’s category then was that of Aussie Jared Graves, who continued and built upon his form of Punta Ala, finishing the day off in the lead. Hats off to Graves as this is the first season for the Yeti rider to be racing in enduro competitions and it’s safe to say that he is finding his feet.
Tracy Moseley…what is there to say? The woman has won all there is to win in downhill (multiple times), tried her hand at XC and XC Eliminator racing (with success) and now she is showing the rest of the field just how it is done in the enduro racing world. Ex-four cross specialist Anneke Beerten was over a minute down on Tracy, with French XC racer Cecile Ravanel nipping at her heels and one second behind in third.
Interestingly Tracy Moseley chose to race 26 inch wheels here instead of the Remedy 29er she raced in Punta Ala, and also Swiss Magavalanche winner Rene Wildhaber chose to ride a ‘small wheels’ bike, finishing the day just behind Minnaar in fourth.
The second and final day of racing in Val d’Allos would see Cannondale’s Jerome Clementz reiterate his strength in the discipline, finishing the day’s six stages with the fastest time. Unfortunately, as with Fabien Barel who took the third fastest time of the day, the previous day’s bike issues meant that it was not to be (as both days’ times are added together at French Enduro races). Jerome finished a respectable seventh place, with Barel way back in 54th.
Greg Minnaar and his Santa Cruz Syndicate teammates of Josh Bryceland, Steve Peat and Cedric Gracia were on a mission at this race and out to prove a point – that their poor results in the opening EWS race were certainly not down to a lack of skill, speed or fitness. With the race on what the Santa Cruz riders felt a more level playing field – that is, without the weeks of practice prior to the event – the downhill specialists were left to finish like this: Bryceland 11th, Peat 9th, Gracia 8th and Minnaar, after topping the weekend’s stages off with a win in the final of Sunday’s runs, finished an amazing 3rd. Not bad at all for a ‘part timer’ in the discipline.
Other notable efforts are those of Kiwi Justin Leov who finished 6th in his first major enduro outing, Remy Absalon in 5th and Rene Wildhaber, the Swiss mountain man who has won the famous Megavalanche several times, who managed an incredible 4th place on the day. Bike skills, rider versatility and equipment durability will all come into play over the course of the season so don’t be surprised if you see any of these guys at the top of the results sheet later in the EWS.
In the women’s category Tracy Moseley was wiping the floor with her opponents, as per usual. Sunday proved that she could be beaten with Ines Thoma and Cecile Ravanel both putting in superb stage performances during the day, and Anneke Beerten proving solid, consistent and super fast as she was there or there-abouts throughout the weekend. The inevitable happened by the end of proceedings though, and Tracy’s leading margin stood at over one minute. Ravanel and Beerten took the next two steps of the podium and rounded off a weekend of hard-fought racing with smiles all round.
It was business as usual for Frenchman Vouilloz, the ‘Alien’, bringing his assault on the second round of the EWS to a close with a safe but steady final stage, clever riding that led him to the win he so clearly wanted in Punta Ala. Jared Graves must be the stand-out performance of the weekend though. Having successfully raced in World Cup downhill, World Cup 4X, Olympic BMX and recently National level XC, there is seemingly nothing the man can’t turn his hand to, much like Moseley in the women’s. Graves moved one step closer to victory after his podium finish at round one, taking the second step behind Vouilloz and finishing just six seconds down after a total of over one hour of racing.
Series leaders after two rounds
Jared Graves’ consistent, dedicated and calculated approach to this discipline has seen him leap from nowhere to the very top in the space of two weekends of racing, and walking away from Val d’Allos the Yeti rider leads the series. Jerome Clementz hangs in there in second place and Vouilloz is boosted to third in the rankings. Tracy Moseley of course also takes the women’s series lead away from this event and will be looking to extend her lead over Ravanel and Beerten in this coming weekend’s event.
As the first two events have proved though, the differing formats of each individual event and the unavoidable mechanicals that are bound to occur over such a long season of racing may ultimately decide the championship.
The next round is already upon us – this weekend the EWS racers move to the resort of Les Deux Alpes and once again the outcome of the race is completely up in the air. Clementz, Barel and Atherton will be looking to avoid technical issues and put in solid results to boost their overall standings, Minnaar, Wildhaber and Absalon will be looking to retain their form of Val d’Allos and Vouilloz and Graves will have some very serious intentions.
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