Some enduros are legendary for their technicality, some are renown for their festival atmosphere, this weekend the SuperEnduro at Sauze d’Oulx put the ‘End’urance in Enduro. The team behind SuperEnduro must have been on some strong coffee when they cooked up this impressive race itinerary. Based in the beautiful Alpi bike park and taking in some of Italy’s fastest, buffest and flowing singletrack, the event comprised a mammoth 8 special stages and a mass start SuperMountain race from the summit. A format that would have even the fittest riders hanging from their bars. The weather was excellent, riders were up for the challenge and there were more than a few surprises in the results.
Showing the increasing popularity of enduro, this year’s event was certainly multinational, drawing riders from Italy, UK, Switzerland, France, Germany and a huge crew from Ireland. It is evident that enduro is growing throughout the corners of Europe. For anyone out in the evenings, you could not miss the 11 affable guys out from the popular Dublin based MADmtb club! After competing in Niall Davis’s popular Irish Series, the boys in green were keen to sample the epic stages that can only be dished up in the Alps. Demonstrating an unconventional race preparation technique of consuming impressive quantities of alcohol each night, each morning the guys would shrug off the haze and ride from the first lift to the last with smiles and good humor. Anyone who bumped into team MADmtb will be sure to have cracked a smile at the antics of the good natured bunch.
With many riders arriving in the week to get some practice runs down, the weather played a trump card and no sooner had riders brought lift passes than the clouds opened and the normally dry and dusty Sauze trails were turned into slick, foot out luges. Spikes were the order of the day, and pretty much every rider arriving at the lift looked to have been down a fair few times. Hotels became Chinese laundries as socks and shoes were hung on every radiator and kit bags were raided to find clean gear! With good weather forecast for the race, expectations were hopeful and riders fought to put down clean runs on the wet and muddy trails on the official practice day!
Race Day – Saturday
With trepidation curtains were pulled open all over Sauze to see if the dark clouds had finally released their grip on the peaks. Sunlight baked the highest ranges and there was not a cloud in the sky, the race would be fought in the dry. Many riders still stuck with the spikes for the first few stages, but the trails were drying fast and soon nearly everyone was on all weather rubber. The course consisted of 3 stages, repeated twice with a significant climb under the chair lift each lap.
Stage 1 was the goat track, a technical collection of rough flat corners, rugged chutes and a flat out singletrack pedal. Being quite a short stage, this stage suited DH riders, and in a surprise debut 1st and 3rd fastest times were set by Welsh DH riders Phil and Sam Shucksmith, with Irish ex WC Downhiller Gav Carroll taking 2nd place. In their first visit to Sauze the guys had put down some blistering times to push the favourite enduro specialists down from the top spots. Stages 2 and 3 were much longer, testing both body and bike through over 12 minutes of flat out corners, sweeping berms, rough rooty passages and tight switchbacks. This is where the experience, training and focus of riders such as Davide Sottocornolla and Andrea Bruno should have been a distinct advantage and proved the case on the results sheets, though by a smaller margin than they would have hoped, with the Shucksmiths still snapping at their heels. In the womens classification, in a small field of 9 riders, Laura Rossin took the top spots over rivals Chiara Pastore and Valentina Macheda winning all three stages.
After a time check and some food, riders headed back up onto the hill to race another lap of the three stages
With over an hour of timed stages on day one, this was certainly an event for the fit. As riders popped out of stage 6 having completed another lap of the 3 stages, there was still more to do, riding the lift back to the top of the Rocca Nere, they clawed over the saddle to drop down to Sestriere for a unique special stage 7, a stage that most riders had not ridden due to the lack of easy uplift. Starting on the grassy flanks of the mountain, the trail dropped over rutted grass land, before cutting over exposed edges and finally though woodland. At this point most riders were exhausted and this final stage was loved and loathed in equal measure. At the end of the day on Saturday it was still all to play for with the big players such as Mannu Ducci, Davide Sottocornola, Alex Lupato, Adrea Bruno and the surprise Shucksmiths all in the running for the top spot!
The overriding impression of this enduro is that it was physical and hard, riders had to work to reach their start times and the climbing was done under the hot Italian sun. In an interesting twist, riders were given just 30 minutes to work on their bike before they were all locked down in the sports hall for the night. That night in Sauze was a strange one, with bikes locked away, there was no last minute tinkering normally associated with enduro racing and logo’ed up riders clicked around looking lost without their steeds.
Race day 2 – Sunday
Peaking too soon many riders had been out to celebrate being part way through, and there was some very rough looking faces in the early hours of Sunday morning waiting for the shuttle buses back to Sestriere. After a couple of emergency stops for those that had indulged too much local hospitality, the buses arrived at Sestiere and riders were reunited with their bikes to head back onto the hill. Repeating stage 7 again, it was clear that the sheer physicality of the event was too much for some, with many riders opting to drop out before the second day. The final stage and grand finale was a mass start SuperMountain race, with all competitors lined up (after a long 40 minute climb) in order of their ranked performance. The race was fierce with little overtaking opportunity, so challenges were sketchy at best, and a number of riders went down. As soon as riders entered the finish area, indignation over contact faded away and it was all big smiles and handshakes with the collective sense of achievement of making it to the end of such a huge event. Alex Lupato managed to hold off the chasing crowds to steal victory in the SuperMountain race with Chiara Pastore taking a decisive victory over the womens class. In the end Davide Sottocornolo took a hard earned victory overall with a total time of 1:25:16 closely followed by Mannu Ducci 1:25:32 and Sam Shucksmith in third with 1:25:54. With riders separated by mere seconds over nearly an hour and a half of racing, it is evident just how close the top level of this sport has become. In the womens race, showing strong consistency Laura Rossin took the win with Chaira Pastore close behind in second, Irish rider Tarja Owens took third and and Valentina Macheda had to settle for fourth.
Was it too hard, should enduro test riders to the limit? All questions that will surely be asked by the organisers, enduro is still growing and lessons are being learnt! However, we need events like this to put riders to the test, to push boundaries, if only add to the variety of the sport that we love. After the dust had settled and riders sat in the piazza for celebratory beers, it was clear that Sauze d’Oulx is the perfect venue for enduro racing, mixing great hospitality, amazing trails, good food and a nice chilled out vibe. For all those that survived through to the SuperMountain race, the amazing views, adrenalin fuelled racing and fast and loose trails will be forever etched into their minds. Enduro has never been tougher, or more fun!
Words and photos: Trev Worsey