Coming back to Finale Ligure was always going to be the focal point of my 2013 season – having raced there in 2012, I’d been blown away by the tracks, the location, the people and of course the incredible event production that the Superenduro team bring to the scene!
I’d been working towards this race all season – to the point it had even influenced my choice of team bike from Bionicon. Everything in 2013 was a build up to this event, sharing the stage with the world’s finest racers at the most prestigious race on the Enduro circuit – and it certainly didn’t disappoint!
Arriving on Wednesday evening, the first thing to do was show my ride buddy Lee the sights of Finale and the race arena – all along the seafront (almost 2km!) were the race pits and tents from the top teams & riders, then the huge town square was dominated by the stage, SRAM arch and trade tents everywhere. We simply don’t have anything like this in the UK!
With it being a 2 day race, the strategy was to get in as much practice as possible, without overcooking the legs – day 1 saw us hit stages 1, 3 and 4, and day 2 we hit stage 2/6, and opted to ride 5 blind as it was the smoothest and most UK-like from what we heard.
One of the things I always notice when coming to Italy to race is that there really is no way to train easily back home – from the lengths of the transitions (in this race, lots were 1 ½ – 2 hours of climbing!), to the sheer length and technicality of the stages, it’s a different beast to Enduro in the UK. After practice, it was clear that this pattern continued – stages 2 and 3 were particularly evil with properly steep sections, bus stops, switchbacks and savage drops through huge rock gardens – and that’s Italian style, in truth more like boulder fields!
Race day came, Lee and myself were milling round getting ready for our start as the leaders came in for their mid-race checkpoint and interviews. When you hear Jerome Clementz has crashed on stage 2, and Jared Graves & Fabien Barel narrowly missed crashing in the same place, it’s not the best confidence builder! Despite this, we got off on the transfer to the fearsome Dolmen Trail, a mainstay of the Superenduro circuit for years, and a track with a reputation for scalping riders (myself included last year) with its deadly combination of flowy fast sections then tough, steep, rocky technical parts. We got to the top with a good 25 minutes before the start, all the season’s fitness work had paid off! Then, minutes before starting, disaster struck – the marshalls said there had been a crash on the track and we’d be delayed until the rider was rescued. 20 minutes rapidly turned into 40, we knew it was bad. By now, the hundreds of riders at the top were all talking of our concern for the injured rider – and then the helicopter came in. Once you hear the rotors of an air ambulance, you know it’s serious. After 90 minutes or so, the injured rider was rescued, we were told that stage 4 would be cancelled (with 600+ riders and a long day, light would run out) and that we could then start. By now, I was cold and struggled to get my race head on, knowing something really bad had happened – I got down not in superfast time, but still caught a rider, but was mostly thankful to have made it down where others hadn’t.
Onto the transition to PS2 and we again made good time – I got a good first half, flying through the singletrack and caught Hong Kong rider Kenneth Lam on a corner, so took a tight line over rocks and narrowly missed wrecking my rim, with bits of alloy ripped off it. Those new Onza tyres somehow held out, the sidewall should have been destroyed! Into the steep stuff, it got nasty and rocky, then I ran out of steam on the sharp, technical climb, so had to run a bit before jumping back on. Ramped up, I got a pretty decent run down the rest of the stage, cleaning the switchbacks and only having to jump off on the insane rock garden drop turn near the bottom. Back into the town centre, we heard that the injured rider Piero had been airlifted to hospital with a serious back & neck injury – everyone was concerned for him, and it definitely put an air of caution out there.
Transfer to stage 3 was all good – a long road climb before some tough singletrack, then onto a wild, steep, switchback laden track that was host to the Red Bull Timerush. This stage had it all – fast open singletrack, mega steep sections, 180 degree switchbacks, then a mental sprint down a load of stairs and into the old village of Noli – it was seriously hard and arm pump started to get me, but I got down in one piece with minimal incident.
Back into Finale and it was time for some serious refuelling – and as always, the awesome guys from Six Inch Enduro Team came to the rescue! A massive table in a restaurant, a big group of hungry riders and a couple of drinks made for a hilarious evening full of banter and wind ups – even with the occasional language difficulty. I love hanging out with those guys – they epitomise everything that the Enduro scene should be, thrashing bikes, hanging with your mates and above all, having loads of fun!
Day 2 came around with slightly heavy legs – we only had 2 stages to do today, a fast and flowy stage 5, and a rerun of stage 2 as stage 6. But before all that, there was the small matter of a 14km climb transfer to the start of the stage – it was seriously testing on a physical and mental level, and most of us opted to push a few times just to break it up a bit. We got to the start with loads of time, so it was time to refuel at the feed station before blasting down this immense stage – it delivered all the speed, flow and fun that had been promised, and again I caught Kenneth quite early on. About 2/3 of the way down, another British rider caught me, so it turned into a bit of a battle as I fought to try and retake him! But as we approached the rock garden, I overcooked the turn and went into a bush. As I got out and back underway, I heard someone else do it too – and a few days later, heard Jared Graves had done exactly the same! That bush must have claimed loads of scalps over the weekend!
Onto a big transfer to stage 6 and I was well and truly tired – the aim of the game now was to get down safe, knowing that in my tired state, a mistake could prove very costly. A couple of minor crashes and some really bad arm pump slowed me down quite a bit, but my focus was on survival – I saw someone covered head to toe in dust, he must have been so annoyed to be so close to the end only to stack it! On the final steep section, my rear brake finally gave up the ghost, so I had to finish the stage on my front brake only – not an experience I want to repeat anytime soon!
Getting back into Finale and going back onto the stage, I was greeted by all the Six Inch team and handed a beer as I dropped in off the start ramp – the timing couldn’t have been better and it was the perfect conclusion to a brilliant but gruelling race. What happened after mainly revolved around beer, a bit of food and comparing wounds & bike damage – and after the presentations, it seemed like the entire world’s Enduro racers were out on the rampage!
As expected, the Enduro World Series final proved itself to be deserving of it’s place as the jewel in the crown of the season – it exposed everyone’s weaknesses, tested riders and bikes to the limit and ultimately, provided the very best Enduro experience I’ve ever had.
Since getting home, I’ve heard that the injured rider, Piero, is still in hospital but is making improvements – it brings home just how dangerous our sport can be at times. Be strong Piero – the entire global Enduro scene is rooting for you!
Words: Andy Nelson | Photos: Christoph Bayer