Taken from the original article in Issue #016, the world of enduro mountain biking has grown exponentially in the past two years. We traveled out to Aotearoa to check out what it’s really like for the pro’s.

The atmosphere of excitement hung as heavy as the stench of volcanic sulphur filling the air. Standing on this precipice of a new season, it was amazing to see how far the sport of enduro had come. In just two short years, the Enduro World Series has evolved from a concept and dream into a global exhibition inspiring racers from all over the world to travel to the Southern Hemisphere and test their skill in the challenging GIANT Toa Enduro. The EWS was kicking off its third full season – but was it still based on fun and participation, or had something changed?

It’s amazing to see just how far the world of enduro racing has come in such a short period of time.
It’s amazing to see just how far the world of enduro racing has come in such a short period of time.
“The EWS was kicking off its third full season – but was it still based on fun and participation, or had something changed?”
“The EWS was kicking off its third full season – but was it still based on fun and participation, or had something changed?”

Over the last few years the EWS has not only defined the way that we race, but has also impacted the bikes that we ride. For the first time, the bikes that we all enjoy riding, ‘enduro,’ ‘all-mountain,’ ‘trail’ – call it what you will – have a competitive international series. Brands are competing against brands against the clock, and the top rider salaries are large. We used to make buying decisions based on which are the lightest and strongest, but now we want to know which is the fastest! In magazines we used to have mellow hillsides and fun riding, where now we see slogans of “longer, lower, slacker, faster” overlaid over images of riders detonating berms.

This year there were more factory teams than ever, while the pits were full of young talented riders, TV crews, and online media. Enduro racing has become a big business, forging careers and paying bills. Racers racked up long­haul air miles, travelling to the ‘land of the long white cloud’ from far­flung destinations such as Hawaii, Ireland, and the USA. Many were in New Zealand for the first time, some to compete for the championship title, but many more to simply be part of history.

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As we stood in the morning half light, a Maori Warrior sounded the Taonga pūoro horn, the piercing tone ringing out over the boil of the venting Pohutu geyser as the first racer rolled down the start ramp. The EWS 2015 season was on! This first race was important, as we would soon know who had worked hardest through the winter and who had fallen off the pace. It’s a long season, but the first round always sets the tone, highlighting new talents and creating new battles. The real star of the show was New Zealand itself, where the exotic ferns and dense rainforest produced fifty shades of green; giant Californian Coast Redwoods broke through the canopy to observe the seven stages of action below.

The racing was tough and intense, and throughout the day corners were shredded to a chorus of shutters and flashes firing. Within hours, images and videos of primordial jungle action filled the media channels. The rainforest looked incredible but hid many challenges, as this was a race that certainly demanded both downhill courage and technical skill. In practice many riders had gone down, but some went down hard and there were bandages and telling absences on the start line.

In the women’s battle there was only one question on everyone’s lips: Anne Caroline Chausson or Tracy Moseley? Both had the downhill pedigree to do well here and both wanted the championship, Anne to claim the title for the first time and Tracy to take her third series. Trying to upset the balance was Cecile Ravanel; on a new team and with fresh determination, she charged the stages hungry to step higher up the podium, but it was not to be. As Anne and Cecile stood on the finish line watching Tracy descend on the huge video screen, the seconds ticked away and Anne broke into a smile: she had done enough to take the victory.

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In contrast, the men’s race was anything but predictable. Locals dominated with four Kiwis in the top ten, including an amazing performance from downhiller Wyn Masters to take 3rd. It was the French, however, who dominated with five riders in the top ten. Barel wanted nothing but the win and put it all on the line, but he could not shut down Clementz’s flow. So the series and the campaign had begun, Clementz in first and Barel in second.

The tough round had left questions too: the huge gap jumps, steep trails, slippery roots, and fierce competition had surprised many riders, some stages sharing more in common with World Cup downhill racing than the ‘everyday trails’ that had defined the birth of the sport. Every sport needs its role models, and the EWS has done so much to shape their growth – but with increasingly challenging events that push the fittest riders to the limit, does enduro still share a common bond with the grass­roots racing where it first began?

However hard New Zealand was, diversity remains the backbone of enduro and the next two rounds in Ireland and Scotland will surely bring a bigger trail focus, ensuring that the everyday rider can still identify with the image that the global EWS races present.

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As racers carefully packed bikes back into bags and prepared for the long haul, it was time to say goodbye to Aotearoa, an incredible host to an explosive start for the season. Onwards to the Emerald Isle!

Words & Photos: Trevor Worsey

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