Aidan Bishop about the Big Ride powered by Cannondale – Spanish open Enduro Series
In 2012 I had the opportunity to go and take part in a round of the Big Ride – Cannondale enduro series in Spain. The race was held in the town of Tui in the north east region of Galicia. It is the hometown of the organisers Guti, Monica and their Sherpa Project team. Also racing that weekend was Jerome Clementz, Cannondale’s enduro racing star. Everything that weekend was great, well ok the weather wasn’t so great but you can’t have everything! The race as a whole and everything around relating to promoting it about town and filming and photographers was very slick, professional and impressive generally, the route was clearly marked, the trails had good variety, there were good feed stations laid on and all riders shared a good day out riding the mountain. This, to me was a very good example of how races could and should be. So with that in mind it was an easy decision to return in 2013 for the whole series as I knew all the events would be of a high quality, friendly and I was keen to go racing more of the trails they would offer.
The first round this year was held in the town of Ojen in southern Spain, so plenty of cheap flights to choose from to fly to Malaga and a short drive to the race site. First day and it rained a bit, I really hoped I wouldn’t curse the races by bringing the typical British weather with me! But practice day we awoke to bright blue skies, this is what I had in mind when I opted to race in Spain! Again the event impressed me, with event and sponsors flags, signs and banners making a big visual impact on the town, and the clever use of town buildings for race HQ and the always large and impressive podium/start stage, all coming together to make the event appear custom made for the organising team and look very professional. The route made for the equivalent of a very good day’s riding, with the timed stages in the mix and you definitely felt it at the end. A tarmac road was used here as opposed to all being offroad, which is something a little different for a mountain bike race but I found the chance to spin the gears up here a welcome break over grinding out a steeper offroad route. The stages had a good mix of technical and fast and flowing trails, to offer every rider something the like. The final stage here was an eye opener however, being used for serious DH riders to train on, I would question that it was maybe a bit too much for enduro bikes as it was long with lots of big rocks to give you and your bike a big workout. Having said that after a couple of runs on it I had a blast riding it, as I think many did.
On the racing side, Tony Perez came out the gate very strong and showed himself to be a big contender for series honours for 2013. With little persuasion needed a couple more Brits, Mark Scott and Joe Rafferty came out to race and we occupied the first four spots for most of the race. Tony showed impressive power, speed and consistency and secured top spot for the first round, a crash on one stage and a broken chain on the final one left me thinking of what might have been that weekend, still just off the podium overall wasn’t a bad start but I knew I would have to be stronger to beat Tony this year.Second round, the series was back in Tui again and having such good experiences there last year I was looking forward to returning. This year the weather was dry and hot, making for a great weekend on the bike. Jerome Clementz returned once more, this time accompanied by girlfriend Pauline Dieffenthaler and Ben Cruz of the Cannondale Overmountain Team all fresh off of strong top ten results at the first Enduro World Series race. The event was looking slick again, start ramp in town centre, registration in town council building, goody bag on sign on and clear markings of the route to be followed, everything in place for everyone to have a great weekend.
From stage 1 Jerome set the pace and confirmed his pedigree of racer, however a Portuguese ride Jose Borges posted a time to better Jerome by a whisker….it could be an interesting race!? Stage 2 was a long 7 min stage that had everything in it and here Jerome schooled the rest of us and jumped over 20 secs clear, very impressive and it left everyone else to try and chase his lead from there. No one could match him however and he rarely seems to make mistakes and so secured victory, Jorges claimed second just ahead of Ben Cruz who battled through a nasty stomach illness on the Saturday to bag the result. Tony came in fourth with me behind in fifth, meaning I was second behind Tony in the overall standings but also meaning I had to get the better of him next round if I wanted to win the series overall. With Pauline winning the women’s category in Tui, Cannondale were well represented in a race series it has put its commitment into.
Third round was Cercedilla, near Madrid in central Spain. Being in July I made a road trip to this event taking in a stage of the Tour De France on the way, a great trip overall but it turned out to be a long and hot drive without air conditioning! Deceptively high in altitude here and again the same good overall impact and impression for the event. Trails were good, sun was out, another success of a weekend. Dudu Cuesta, racing in the Master 40 category showed very impressive speed here to take second overall behind an equally impressive ride from Claudio Louriero. Tony took third here and I blew it by puncturing on stage 2, opting to stop and fix it so I could finish the day rather than risk smashing my wheel and completely ending a chance of finishing. As a result I lost minutes and didn’t score any points that round towards the overall, afterwards discovering that every round counted I may have risked a podium position overall aswell, not a successful weekends racing for me but I still had a good time riding and racing and that is all part of it.
The fourth and final round of the series is something a little different, not the usual against the clock multi stage enduro but a mass start avalanche style race with chairlifts. I like the way this add variety to the series and can be a big attraction to many riders whilst striking fear into others. Being a relatively small ski resort in the winter, it’s not very busy in summer months and there aren’t really any bars or restaurants like we had been spoilt by at other events. But what it lacked in atmosphere here it more than made up for with the riding, as it was held at Manzenada Bike Park in the Ourense Province of Spain. One central chairlift to the top of the mountain and a choice of many different style trails back down again, not what you would normally imagine when you think of bike park trails but for the better I think as they had developed mainly naturally providing a big smile on your face every time you rode them. In order to seed all riders for Sunday’s mass starts, a 2 stage enduro was held Saturday afternoon where you got the lift up, raced down one trail then rode back up to race down another. The times from both runs added together to give you your race time which would grid you for the start line on Sunday but also this time would be added to Sunday race times to give the overall result.
A good idea overall I think but also a long overall time to race without mistakes or mechanicals, so ‘safe’ riding would be a factor over the weekend. I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the event that I had managed to still be in third place in the overall series after my non scoring previous race, so a big objective was to secure that position with a glimmer of hope that I could get second place back maybe. I was really enjoying riding there and was feeling good on the bike, this showed come race time where I managed to qualify first for Sunday’s race. Last year’s clear winner here Joseba Leon was back and was only 0.4 secs behind me so it was all to play for still. As it turned out I came a very close second in both races and secured the victory, I was very happy to have two clean race runs and ride strongly. First race and after it calmed down from the start chaos I was battling with Ruben Rodriguez, someone I have become good friends with since the first round in Ojen and a fast bike rider. We rode together, gapping the field a little and swapped the lead a couple of times but he got the better of me at the line. So with one more run to do I had a 4 second advantage over Ruben and 14 over Joseba. Second race and this time Joseba got out front and was pushing hard, I got up with him and stuck on his wheel. Once my legs felt recovered I passed him only for him to pass me back later head tucked down pushing a big gear. We swapped the lead several times before the race was up, with me getting the lead with 100m to go only for him to squeeze past again before the line. Finishing together meant I kept my time advantage but we took 20 secs out of Ruben behind meaning it ended me in first, Joseba second and Ruben third, all of us happy to be on the podium and had some truly fantastic and close racing that day. The podium stage was set up in the village at the bottom of the course and a long buffet table awaited all the riders, this was a really great touch as it brought everyone together to talk about their races and experiences and great a really good party atmosphere, a great way to finish the weekend.
So the series was done and with my good finish I had managed to claim back second place in the overall behind Tony Perez and in front of Dudu Cuesta so that was an added bonus for me, I had also ended 1st overall in the elite category so a happy ending for me.
Now thinking ahead to next season and I will definitely be looking to go back and do more Big Ride Enduro’s. The organisation always is good, they look good and are professional and after every race their media coverage and releases have something for everyone to relate to, whether they appear in videos or see photos of themselves every race is shared widely and extensively. I can’t really think of any negative points to raise about these events, all the organising team do a good job and are friendly and I think this is a key part in creating the good and friendly atmosphere that is found at each race. I have certainly made many new friends at them and look forward to seeing them next year for more good times and riding.
Words: Aidan Bishop | Photos: Javier Boquete / Polvo / Barbara Sztyk