As we boarded the plane in Munich alongside a shuffling crowd of sandal-clad pensioners, there was little trace of the relaxed southern European nonchalance that we would soon be greeted with, nor of the race fever that’d take us over. We were heading to Madeira, our last chance for a taste of the sun before winter really hits. Now in its third year, the Sandokan Enduro race had been on our race calendar all year and the time was finally here.

Familiär ging es zu vor dem Start des dritten Sandokan Enduro-Rennens.
The now typical start of the third Sandokan Enduro Race.
Lokalmatador Emanuel Pombo ganz entspannt vor dem Start.
Local hero Emanuel Pombo keeps his cool before the start.

Step off the plane and straight into holiday mode: the sun might already have set but this Atlantic Ocean island was still a balmy 23° C. For this trip I brought Stephan along, who spontaneously booked a flight as I told him the plans for Madeira just a few days before. We’re met by Jeremy, a partner of the Bikulture mtb guide company, who not only guide riders over the sun-drenched island’s best trails but is also responsible for a large part of this race’s organization.

Illuminated by moonlight, we head away the capital Funchal, towards the other, quieter end of the island, Jardim do Mar. While this small coastal resort is still classed as somewhat of an insiders’ tip for surfers, it also doubles as the perfect base for mountain bikers for a few days.

Gutes Wetter + gute Stages = gute Laune!
Good weather + great stages = who wouldn’t be in a good mood?

After a day of training, seven stages lay ahead of the riders at this year’s Sanokan Enduro. A wildly diverse circuit, the race managed to incorporate everything to make any rider’s palm sweat (in a good way, we might add). With such variances between each timed stage’s terrain and style, the results were destined to reflect this. Stage one left an open field, dipping into a tight track with high scrubs on either side, while stage 2’s start on dry, grippy earth weaved riders onto a wet, slippery, rollercoaster-style track littered with rocks and ruts – incidentally, it was also the scene of my first crash, with the slashed tyre from the first stage acting as the catalyst. After these pretty catastrophic time losses, I decided that competing wasn’t going to be a priority on this day and I duly took the following stages easy – although even that didn’t eliminate my magnetism for issues.

Jérémy in einem der Tunnel auf Stage 1.
Jérémy in one of stage 1’s tunnels.
Die Spuren des Sturzes auf der vorherigen Stage sind hier bei mir noch deutlich zu erkennen.
The previous stage’s crash left its mark on me.
Beating your number:  rider number 4 Kiki Bron finished in second place = result!
Beating your number: rider number 4 Kiki Bron finished in second place = result!
Pombo kennt sie alle: die besten Linien.
Pombo knows all the best lines.
Bestes Wetter und die atemberaubende Aussicht boten eine grandiose Kulisse.
The weather and the views made for some unforgettable riding.
Reisebegleitung Stephan schnell unterwegs.
Fellow traveller Stephan in action!
Fast schon ein Local: Stefanie Klostermeier auf Stage 3.
As good as local: Stefanie Klostermeier on stage 3.

Despite two more flats, a minor crash and one seriously failed line choice quashing my hopes of a decent position on the results, my mood remained sky-high throughout the whole race. An incredibly well organized race, this idyllic island proved why a late-in-the-year enduro race is more than worth the travel when you’ll get the chance to ride such challenging but super fun stages in weather that’s virtually become foreign to everyone in central and northern Europe.

Die Pokale warten auf ihre Gewinner, die Siegerehrung fand direkt am Meer statt.
The trophies await their new owners, with the presentation taking place on the beach.
Die drei schnellsten Ladys des Rennens (v. l. n. r. Ann Carolina Costa, Morgan Charre, Ana Leite).
The three fastest female riders (l-r: Ann Carolina Costa, Morgan Charre, Ana Leite).
Siegerpodest der Herren (v. l. n. r. Kilian Bron, Emanuel Pombo, Paulo Sérgio Batista).
The men’s podium (l-r: Kilian Bron, Emanuel Pombo, Paulo Sérgio Batista).
Nach Paulo Sérgio Batista und Nico Vouilloz sicherte sich 2015 Emanuel Pombo den Dolch.
After top honours went to Paulo Sérgio Batista and Nico Vouilloz in the past, 2015 was the year for Emanuel Pombo to win the dagger.

Experienced World Cup downhillers, Emanuel Pombo (Liberty Seguros/Ciclo Madeira) and Morgan Charre (Solid Reverse Factory Racing) showed the rest of the field exactly how to ride, taking stellar victories at Sandokan. Pombo won with a slight 21 second advantage over Killian Bron (SUNN), while Morgan finished almost five minutes ahead of Ann Carolina Costa (Cancico Riders/Mel de Cana RS).

Check out issue #020 of ENDURO Mountainbike Magazine, out in January 2016, for an in-depth look at Madeira’s riding scene.

Words: Christoph Bayer Photos: Bruno Santos

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