There can be few prizes in enduro as desirable as those on offer to the victors of the 2013 Ischgl Over Mountain Challenge. Not only would the winners take a away a sizable prize purse, but also be awarded with a hand crafted sword for the trophy cabinet. No wonder that over 240 riders braved the snow and harsh mountain weather to take part in the landmark event. Taking an impressive 6th place overall on his Cube Stereo, Cube UK rider Scott Laughland tells us how it went!
The European Open trial run for the 2014 European Championships took place this weekend in Ischgl, Austria. Known as the Over Mountain Challenge the event would see racers complete 2 stages in Austria before dropping over the mountain into Switzerland then the final stage back to Ischgl. Alpine weather can never be predictable and with snow arriving midweek covering the race track, the organisers made the difficult decision to alter the course. Switzerland was now off limits and the race was shortened by dropping one stage, but the action was still intense.
Now with 4 all-weather stages Friday evening saw the opening party and registration, training started on Saturday morning followed by an evening prologue. After a wet and snowy week in the resort, participants awoke to a sunny morning and practice got underway. Considering the rain leading up to the event the stages rode well on the Saturday, the evening was then spent preparing for the prologue course followed by a single race run. Some World class riders attended the event, Nico Lau, Mark Weir, Gusti Wildhaber and newly crowned Enduro World Champion Jerome Clementz, thus making it a highly competitive field after the large prize purse.
The prologue started in the centre of Ischgl and with riders starting and finishing at the same point, meant some uphill. The Trail Solutions crew did a great job of creating a prologue stage, building jumps, berms and a massive wall ride. Many locals came to spectate and this created a great atmosphere with main sponsor Cannondale handing out noise batons!!! In the end it was Nico Lau of the Cube Action Team who took the win closely followed by team mate Gusti Wildhaber, surprisingly race favourite Jerome Clementz was off pace finishing in 8th, almost 4 seconds off the lead time.
Sunday morning riders woke to dry conditions, a surprise since rain was forecast. Riders set off in groups with 2 minute intervals and headed up the hill. Stage 1 saw riders having to ascend 250m vertical by bike to the start and for most this was a nice awakening and got the body warm before dropping into the technical stage 1. Out the start gate and riders battled a tricky right hander before dropping into a rutted walking path littered with rocks and roots to catch the unwary rider out. Since it was a short stage, times were going to be tight and Jerome showed form again by taking the stage win by 8 seconds on the 2 minute track, an impressive ride!
The Silveretta Gondola took riders to 2300m where stage 2 started, from there riders descended down some tricky and tight single track that to ride at speed was exceptionally challenging. Then came the dreaded climb of 80m vertical almost every rider struggled with it, the first half could be ridden but the remaining part had to be hiked and many took to it with their bike on their back. Once at the top however riders were rewarded with a fun single track section to complete the stage. Since fitness was a major factor Jerome showed his dominance again and won the stage closely followed by the two action team riders.
A short ride to stage 3 and riders were greeted with a purely downhill stage, tight twisty turns following one of the marked walking paths back to Ischgl village. This was the only stage affected by the rain and many riders struggled to keep the bike upright. Such a short stage, sub 1 minute 30 made tight racing and in the end it was Nico Lau who took the win despite puncturing. Again boarding the gondola riders were taken to the top station before having to pedal 2.5km to the start of stage 4 at 2600m.
Stage 4 like 2 was very physical and started with a sprint into some long sweeping turns, it was a trail that just flowed, bermed turns and fade away jumps. The mid section featured a loose rocky section where at full speed riders were hitting around 50kmph you were then back in to the flowing trails. If you were smart here you could save a lot of time by setting up wide for corners and looking ahead. The stage finished nicely with some natural trails alongside a flowing river before spitting you out at a farm out building. This time a new race winner and Gusti Wildhaber took the stage win despite having a minor mechanical. Racing now over, riders were gifted an amazing descent back to the town before handing back their timing chip and getting their results.
In the end it was Jerome Clementz who won the overall and the 1600 euro prize purse, followed by Gusti Wildhaber and Nico Lau. In the girls it was Ines Thoma, followed by Pauline Dieffenthaler and Anita Gehrig
The event was a test run for a potential 2014 European Championships to be held here and from a riders perspective it ran smoothly, information was well communicated and all the staff were friendly and very approachable. Massive thank you to the Trail Solutions team for all their hard work not only at this race but across the whole year!!!
Full results can be found here
Words: Scott Laughland (Cube UK) Photos:Christoph Bayer