There’s always so much said about the “spirit of Enduro” and nobody quite knows how to describe it – is it the social aspect of meeting new people, the relaxed vibe, the sense of fair play or something else altogether? I think this last weekend in Italy may just have revealed exactly what the spirit really is.
The Tolfa round of the Italian Superenduro series was my penultimate international trip ahead of the Enduro World Series final later this year in Finale Ligure – I wanted to make sure I got a good feel for Italian racing again and also have a break from the usual muddy, wet, slippery racing I’ve dealt with all season here in the UK, and it sure as hell didn’t disappoint!
From the minute I arrived at Rome Fiumicino airport on Thursday afternoon, this fabled “spirit” was out in full force – 6 Inch Enduro Team rider Simone Seri had driven down to pick up me and MTB legend Karim Amour for the 90 minute drive to Tolfa – as the conversation flowed in the car, the atmosphere became electric and I knew I was in for something very special. To have someone from the organisation go to this kind of effort really is something special and it set the tone for an amazing weekend hanging with the guys on the trails, in restaurants and around the pit areas too.
Friday & Saturday picked up from Thursday when I was invited out riding with none other than Manuel Ducci, Valentina Macheda and Karim, along with Simone and a good bunch of the 6 Inch Enduro team guys. Blitzing the trails with legends, champions and some of the world’s best Enduro racers was a real privilege – it’s safe to say I learned a hell of a lot in that time, both in terms of fast lines & setup tweaks, but also some choice Italian swear words as limits got pushed, speeds got greater and crashes more spectacular!
Onto race day – I knew as a pale Englishman it was going to be a tough day. Back home, we think of a long race as about 30km, and our stages are usually around 3 minutes long. Even this “Sprint” event was 38.8km long, with 1100m of climbing and 4 stages all around the 5 minute mark, and way more technical than I’d expect to see at home.
Stage 1 was fast, twisty & tight in the woods, almost like a UK woodland stage – except for deep dust bowls instead of mud and some pretty lairy drops into corners (the Italians love these for some reason!). I almost lost the bike on one of these but just held on – I’ve since seen plenty of video and photo evidence of others not doing though! I was on a roll and caught 3 riders by the time I hit the finish so was well pleased.
Stage 2 was one I knew would be hard – a fast pedal across a meadow, before a little climb, then the most evil, rocky descent I have seen in a long, long time. A selection of switchbacks, channels and wheel traps laid in wait to catch out unsuspecting riders – and the head-sized rocks all the way down ensured that any crash was going to be a bad one. I hit the rocky section having caught 2 riders again, but made a stupid mistake & went off the line Manuel had shown me in practice, resulting in a pretty nasty over the bars crash that would have been a lot worse were it not for a full face helmet & back protector. Luckily I was ok and managed to finish the stage relatively unscathed, but lost lots of time.
Onto PS3 and I was ready to attack – having practiced it well, I knew the fast lines and where to gain speed and where to save energy. This was a fast, long & super-flowy stage that suited me down to the ground with lots of little jumps, sweeping turns and cool features – all was going perfectly till I dropped my chain having twisted the guide in my PS2 crash. I managed to get the chain back on and both avoid being caught but also catch the rider 40s in front of me – result!!
Between PS3 and PS4 was a monster transfer – 1 hour 20 of climbing, and this was in mid day heat! I was suffering hard on a big bike in a full face helmet, made worse by the fact we’re not used to climbs of that length or sustained heat like that in the UK. I missed my start to PS4 by 3 minutes, so had to slot in when I could.
As a result, PS4 inadvertently became one of the stages I have enjoyed most over recent years – I got caught by Italian rider Mario Ranucci after dropping my chain again(!) and the stage then turned into an epic battle between us! Both of us were shattered – I caught Mario but didn’t have the legs to pass him, then he got away, then I caught up again, then he got away again…… all the way to the bottom. It was like 2 boxers in the final rounds, both exhausted, both giving 100%. When we finished, there was real appreciation from each of us for the race the other had brought to the stage.
Tolfa was a really special event – a tough race coupled with a friendly atmosphere and amazing hospitality that I haven’t seen outside the Italian scene – if you were to ask me now what the “spirit of Enduro” is, I’d have to say that the madness of the race, the friendliness of the riders & spectators and the famed Italian hospitality are all key parts of it. Special thanks to Luigi Sestili, Ciccio Fanchi, Simone Seri and all of 6 Inch Enduro Team, plus of course Enrico Guala, Franco Monchiero and the 3 legends Manuel, Karim and Valentina for some amazing memories, great tips and brilliant inspiration – See you all in Finale!
Words: Andy Nelson – Bionicon Bikes UK Team | Photo: Marco Tanfi, Luigi Sestili