With the world’s best now arriving in Val D’Isere, many shaking off jet lag and airline induced stupor after the last two weeks hectic race schedule. All eyes are looking towards the weekend. From 6:00AM this morning the stages were opened for a WALKING inspection, still no riding allowed, so riders headed on mass up the hill to check out what was in store.
With the stage tops only accessible by Arial lifts there can be no ‘shuttling’ gray area, and for this round the only practice allowed is a single run immediately before 2 race runs. This is arguably the most fair format in the EWS, and by taping in stages that include unridden terrain and normally prohibited walkers paths, there should be no ‘local’ advantage. This morning the 3 special stages were opened for inspection on foot, and most riders headed up to walk at least one of the long stages to see the sort of terrain that the course designers had chosen.
The tops of the special stages feel quite old school, moving away from the manicured bike park into open alpine terrain. With plenty of options for line choice, this is surely the true expression of enduro. It will be great to see how the fastest riders deal with the terrain.
The stages are long, and most comprise terrain that has never been ridden. Most of the top sections are loosely taped over open alpine grass flanks, with plenty of embedded rocks, tussocks and wheel holes. There will be a fair amount of talk over what wheel size these sections favour, a bigger 650b or 29er may hold more speed over the rough ground, but will be harder to accelerate if the action gets stop-starty. Long stretches of off-camber traverses over grass may be a handful in the wet!
As the stages drop down the mountain, the action will get a lot faster as the trails become more established, with the most confident riders flat out. Linking up unridden walkers paths, exposure is never far away and with a loose and dusty surface riders will have to be on their game to unleash the optimum speeds through the stages.
A lot of the stages are flat out and fast, but there is still plenty of sharp, rocky gnar to negotiate, careful line choice will be essential through these sections to avoid punctures.
With a suspect weather report, predicting 30mm of rain on Saturday, many riders thoughts will be on how the loose dust will handle a downpour, is it going to slick up, or will there still be grip. It will be interesting to check out the tyre choices on Saturday morning!
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Words and Photos: Trev Worsey