The area of Les Arcs, France has just hosted an enduro race with a difference – pairs racing! Prior to taking part in the event I pondered those common definitions of enduro racing such as “its like riding with your mates” or “a social bike ride”, I wondered whether enduro as we know was actually that social? Riding trails on your own 30 seconds apart, when does that ever happen at home? I contemplated whether this new format of pairs enduro racing, staged by the makers of trailAddiction and the epic race The Trans Savoie, was the answer to all our ‘social enduro’ prayers? I was about to find out!
The Enduro2 format is simple, its enduro as we know it but you race with another person meaning you must both start and finish the stages together. The buzz of racing taking on unsighted, blind stages can now be shared, witnessed and experienced by you and your team mate. Be it your best riding buddy, brother or sister, a tactically chosen competitor or boyfriend or girlfriend. I fell into that last category as I would be racing with my boyfriend, Adam. With 15 timed stages over 3 days and a massive 12,000m of total descent and plenty of ski lift access to keep climbing to a minimum Enduro2 aims to bring back the idea of adventuring, finishing and starting the day with your mates, focusing on camaraderie and friendship rather than that all important second saved or a proper ‘enduro line’.
I always find blind racing a bit like eating food blindfolded, aside from not knowing what will be placed in front of you next, there is a certain trepidation felt about the experience and the feeling you may be left with! Will the trail be like chocolate ice cream, leave you feeling satisfied after indulging in such sweet singletrack? Or will it be bitter like a slice of lemon, leaving your face screwed up loathing for a tricky trail or for many repeated missed lines? Personally, I love the challenge, the adventure and the unknown ready to test me.
The Les Arcs Enduro2 all began on the afternoon Friday 26th July as we set up camp in Bourg St Maurice and then later on attended the racers briefing in a local bar. As with other races run by the trailAddiction crew there are always numerous race packages to choose from ranging from fully catered to race only and of course the price difference varies with those packages. We chose a package that included a campsite for our van but fed and watered ourselves. So, with race briefing taking part in a bar at the foot of some of the most beautiful mountains in France and with the weather promising to be scorching the weekend was off to a very good start! In total there were 80 pairs racing, 2 female pairs, 11 mixed teams and the rest being male pairs, it was going to be interesting watching the tactics develop.
On Saturday morning we rode the five minutes from the campsite to the race headquarters at the funicular station to begin racing. We took our first lift of the weekend, the funicular (a very uphill train!) to the chairlift station and then taking that further to the start of the first stage up at 2,200m above sea level! The views on our journey to the start were incredible, Mother Nature had pulled out all the stops and given us crystal clear blue skies allowing us to admire the sheer mountains around us and see perfectly across to Mont Blanc who watched over us all weekend! As Adam and I stood at the start line with friends we had met at the Trans Savoie last year, we all mulled over why the start of any race makes your doubt your riding ability, the nerves were definitely in the air. Setting off on a blue graded bike park trail to ease us all into racing the nerves soon disappeared, it was a hoot chasing Adam down the trails and over jumps!
Adam and I had chosen our tactics the night before – to start the stage together with me riding behind Ad. This meant that as Adam was the faster rider, he could scope out lines and I would just have to follow, easy huh?! Adam and I have ridden together so much over the years we have been together I trust him and his riding ability and know he wouldn’t take me down a line that I couldn’t manage. Enduro racing is all about consistency and riding in a pair made no change to this, we didn’t want to waste time on crashes. Our one other tactic was for Adam to wear the timing chip, this way he could be stopped at the finish line, waiting to dib out as I flew through meaning no wasted time as I slowed down with the ‘dibber’.
Speaking to the race crew and the marshals on the finish lines it was amazing the amount of teams that didn’t employ this simple tactic, I reckon you could save at least 5 seconds a stage! Another tactic I saw working well for other teams was to send the slower rider off first for the faster rider to catch up. The slower rider could have up to 30 seconds head start (before the next pair dropped in) so as long as the team arrived at the finish line together, they could technically race on the faster rider’s time as he was last into the stage and then out together. Waiting for your pair was of course allowed so the first rider would just have to wait prior to the end of the stage and exit with his team mate. Adam and I thought about doing this but we were having such a good time riding together and I was enjoying hitting the trails faster than I would on my own we decided to ride together and enjoy the grin factor rather than be too focused on saving more seconds!
After a bit of a kerfuffle with the timing at the end of stage one (there was no marshal there when we sailed through) we and about 30 others ended up sprinting the transition to stage two, arriving there to a completely confused start marshal and some pretty tired racers! Due to this stage one was scrapped and racing proper began on stage two. This stage, called ‘No Brainer’ began at Les Arcs at 1800m and took in 900m of vertical descent over 5.5km – she was a big one and had everything a trail could want, roots, rocks, trees, flat grassy turns and hairpin after hairpin after hairpin. It gave us a real taste of what was to come over the weekend and an idea of how much our hands would hurt and our brakes would cook!
At the end of this stage, back on the valley floor we pedalled the flat transition back to the funicular, taking this back up to stage 3 ‘Granny’s Garden’ so called because at one point we raced down a narrow flight of stairs in between gardens full of sun loungers and colourful flowers! This stage was a completely natural rocky trail, dusty and fast, it was loose riding! As this was a social enduro, the next stop was to a restaurant for lunch, this was included for every racer on every package. It was great to sit down and take half an hour to chill out mid race. We also got our times for the morning stages so we did a fair bit of comparing and discussing too!
The afternoon went past in a blur of lift access, great singletrack, gorgeous alpine views and a hairpin or two! With the three awesome stages of ‘Rock N Arolles’ – another fun bike park stage, ‘Double Header’ – the most technical stage of the weekend and ‘Black 8’ – an old downhill run. There was plenty to test us all whether it be during the 15 minutes of unrelenting hairpins and snake pits of roots on Double Header or by holding speed on the chunky flat out sections of Black 8.
Where day one was a predominantly downhill day, I think during the six stages we climbed in total about 50m, day two was much more ‘enduro’. Over 6 stages we were due to climb (hopefully sprint) over 130m vertical ascent. Day two started again on the funicular and same chairlift as day one taking us to a stage called ‘Elle Chablette’. This stage contained some uphill root sections which, for us, required running, it was relentless in its nature, lulling you into a false sense of security in thinking you were going to be able to solidly go downhill! Adam and I had a blinder down here, putting our all into it and absolutely smashing ourselves on the sprints! Stage 2 was much of the same, a quick rest in the chairlift up to this stage and we were ready to take it on. I can’t remember much of the stage aside from the climb in the middle, it was a monster fire road sprint, I had legs of jelly any my lungs felt as if there were in my throat as I dropped off the fire road into the narrow natural singletrack, I had to slow considerably to be able to keep my concentration. That was a proper enduro stage!
To get to stage three we then had to undertake a small amount of climbing under our own steam to get to ‘Premier League’, a short technical stage with tight rock squeezes and some of the tightest switchback corners I have ever ridden (ok, honestly, I walked!) After another restaurant lunch we set off for a brilliant afternoon of singletrack surrounding Peisey-Vallandry near to the chalet’s of trailAddiciton. We enjoyed the best bike park trail of ‘Woodstock’ for stage four, the loamy delights of ‘Jacksons’ (all 4.8km and 880m of vertical descent of it) and lastly stage six ‘Duchies’ where Adam and I had our best result with a third place in the stage. The social enduro continued that evening in town with videos and photos from the first two days on a big screen in the bar and a beer in hand. Getting carried away with the social element, it ended up being a bit later night than expected, especially as we still had three stages and 750m of climbing to do the next morning!
Monday morning arrived just as hot and as cloudless as the previous two days and we woke ourselves up with a 450m climb to the lift station, it was hard going and there was plenty of pushing going on. The long lift took us up to high above Bourg St Maurice and a freshly cut black graded downhill run with a really natural feel to it. After the last two days of alpine riding and the combined 8000m of descending my hands and feet were screaming at me from the off! The trail was loose and dusty, I found I had to stay a long way back from Adam just to be able to see anything. We arrived back at the lift station to take it again up to stage 2. This was a natural walker’s path that the mayor of the town had given us special permission to race. It was an awesome trail beginning with a steep open boulder field and ending in the woods amongst pine cones and hairpins. Lastly we climbed up the road to ‘Elephant Trail’ a fast trail that only gets faster as you near the end. The trail had the signature hairpin but this time there were slightly bermed, giving the confidence to push harder and go as fast as the trail wanted you too! This trail brought us down from high about Bourg St Maurice back down to the town where we rode down to the restaurant for our final lunch and the prize giving.
In the male category German shredders, Daniel Eiermann and Jakob Breitwieser took the win, completing the 15 stages and 12,000m of descending in 1hr52:36, second place was team ‘Five a Day’ consisting of Toby Pantling and Oliver Carter just 2:13 behind the leaders. In third place were local French lads team ‘ADS’, both of whom were on downhill bikes and in a time of 1:55:21.
The other category consisted of the mixed teams and the female riders. In third place were Welsh pinners Kate and James Howard, husband and wife from Afan. Their finishing time was 2hr20:29 which they were just as pleased about as being able to call themselves ‘Team Howard’! The second place team consisted of two friends Monika Buchi and Simon Ruchti. Having taken on the Swiss Epic last year and won their category they now have a prize at the inaugural Enduro2 to add to the list, they stormed it in a time of 2:11:34. Winners of this category though were the female pinners from Nelson in New Zealand, Giant NZ rider Raewynn Morrison and trailAddiction/Ibis rider Meggie Bichard in a time of 2:06:58. Both these girls are competing in the Enduro World Series this year and have been bringing home top ten and top five results so far!
Adam and I managed to pull 4th in this category, some 4 minutes back from 3rd place, our time would have also placed us in the top half of competitors overall. With no injuries, just two crashes and no mechanical issues we are pretty pleased with how the weekend went! Enduro2 is certainly the most social enduro I have taken part in, from racing and chasing Adam, to chilling out at lunch with all the other riders. The location of Les Arcs was perfect for the event, the trailAddiction team know the mountain trails like the back of their hands and were able to handpick the best of it for us. We were spoilt by the diversity of the trails, I would love to ride each and every trail again!
My musings prior to the race were correct, racing a pairs enduro is much more like riding with your mates, adding the factor of teamwork and the joint achievement of pulling in some quick times or helping your teamie fix a puncture in double quick time all adds to the experience. There was some serious racing this weekend but there was also a lot of people having fun and enjoying riding some rad trails, together, quickly and in the sun! I’m going to go as far to say it tops all other races for really bringing out the spirit of enduro in all of us.
Full results can be found here.
Words: Rachael Gurney
Photos and Video Edit – Mick Kirkman / Adam Sclang / Antonio Abreu
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