Words and photos by Dave Anderson.
With the dust now settling on the 2017 Enduro World Series we thought we’d get a measure of where it’s heading. At the final round in Finale Ligure we spoke to riders, organisers and staff to see what were their highlights and low points and to see where it should head to next…
Chris Ball – EWS Managing Director
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? We’ve had bad weather. It’s been pretty famous has the ‘Enduro Wet Series’ – it even got its own hashtag. But over the years we’ve built-up a lot of experience, the team has grown, the local organisers have grown. So how everyone in the EWS organising team has dealt with the challenges thrown by the weather and how the team have pulled together, this is a genuine highlight I’d say. Our output has gone up, our organising has got slicker, we haven’t cancelled a single stage all year even with all the challenges thrown at us, whether that be wildfires and smoke, or weather – rain, wind, lightning, whatever. So I’d say that the highlight has been watching the whole thing and feeling like it’s matured for the first time.
Has there been a low point? A low point was France, round five, when it rained for the fifth consecutive event and I just thought… man the course there was amazing, the people there were amazing, and that part of the world just never gets rain. I’d said all year “it won’t rain in France, it’s our guaranteed dry event”, and it rained like hell. But we still got through it, and the racers got through it.
What would you like to see more of next year? I’d like to see just more of the same I think. Watching the teams work, watching the riders develop, the racing has got really tight. Watching Adrien [Dailly], a young 21-year-old, race against Sam [Hill], a mid thirties legend, watching the dynamics and how everything is forming into this nice group of people with the right spirit. I’d like to see a lot more of that. It feels like this year people have all been pulling in the same direction, and that’s good.
Duncan Philpott – Photographer / Media Squid
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? The highlight for me was seeing the local turnout in Whistler for Jesse Melamed. He was so close the year before when everyone was rooting for him and fair play to him he managed to pull back time after the longest stage. Normally the Top Of The World stage seals the deal, whoever wins that one has enough of a margin and that’s it done, but he clawed back time on the short stages in a really impressive fashion and it was awesome to see him see it through.
Has there been a low point? The low point was race day Tasmania, only in a superficial way, the weather was so bad everything was soaked through, kit was dying left, right and centre. The course went right past where we were staying so I made a complete kit change halfway through the day thinking that would warm me up, I was wearing two coats, every layer I’d taken to Australia and still freezing cold at the end of the day. It was a tough one that.
What would you like to see more of next year? I’d like to see more of the hint of competition in the women’s field that we’ve seen this year. There’s been more rounds this year where Cécile [Ravanel] hasn’t had a clean sweep of stages, she’s a phenomenal rider and it’s great to see the level she’s at, but also the tier of riders just behind her. There are so many women in that category all battling with each other and if they all step up at the same time you’re going to have five or six people in contention at every race and that would be fantastic.
Ric McLaughlin – EWS Commentator / Beard Owner
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? I think for me personally it was getting an ‘in’ to the whole circus. It’s just such an amazing team, all the riders, all the teams, all the group of people are just a really nice bunch to travel and ride with. In terms of racing it’s been getting to watch Sam Hill be Sam Hill. There’s at least one shot each round that has us all gathered round the monitor watching him inside line around something ridiculous. It’s cool to see him happy again and enjoying racing, it’s cool to see him riding his bike and just loving it.
Has there been a low point? When Jesse (Melamed) got a puncture in Madeira on Stage seven and just seeing him fixing it, knowing that he’d just thrown away the race. It was difficult to go and interview him, and I’ve a lot of respect that I could see him just choking it back and giving the interview when he just wanted to be anywhere else in the world
What would you like to see more of next year? Dry weather? A dozen more cameramen? That’d make my life easier. Just more of everything, I’ve enjoyed everything this year so just more of it and more new race venues, I think that’s really healthy for a race series.
Jesse Melamed – Pro racer for Rocky Mountain-Urge
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? It’s the same every year – going to new places to race and being with everyone. Even injured right now it’s such a cool family vibe, everyone’s friends, everyone’s looking out for each other – they feel your pain and want you to do well. So it’s going to a lot of new places with a group of awesome people.
Has there been a low point? I guess right now the injury is a pretty big low point, but I’d say it’d have to be Madeira with my mechanical. I was leading after day one, it was kind of a surprise you know, and to have all that time taken away from me was pretty hard.
What would you like to see more of next year? I think they’re already doing it, I really like the back to back races, back to back weekends is pretty cool and more races please.
Katy Winton – Pro racer for Trek Factory Racing
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? For me it was definitely Ireland and getting my first ever podium. That was amazing, but also Aspen is usually where I lose my consistency through the year so to hold my own there and not be too far off the pace I was super pleased with that too. I put those demons to rest.
Has there been a low point? Not yet. I’ve been really pleased with the year so far, maybe Madeira was a bit of a low point for me having a mechanical like that, completely outside my control, but those things happen and it’s just part of it so you just crack on. Everybody has their fair share of problems so you just get on with it.
What would you like to see more of next year? I really like the one run of practice I think that’s really good, moving forward with that practice and making it more exciting. When you don’t quite know the trails you need to rely more on instinct and that hopefully makes the race more fair because everybody gets the same chance to look at the track. I think enduro is in a great place right now.
Yoann Barelli – Pro racer for Commençal Vallnord
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? It was probably coming back from all my injuries in the season and being in the top ten in Whistler. I had some really strong stages and felt like I was riding fast again, personally that was a real reward for me to feel that again.
Has there been a low point? To show up in New Zealand and get injured before the race and not be able to race. Coming back from this injury, getting strong again, and then crashing in Ireland and getting injured again. Coming back from this injury, getting strong again and then getting injured in Milieu in France. The low point was all these injuries, yeah.
What would you like to see more of next year? I wish we could have more long stages, I think this year we’ve had some short ones with a lot of pedalling in between. Long 25 minutes stages. I wish we go back to the original format with 15 to 20 minute long stages and an hour and half of racing over the weekend. For me that is the true enduro, the roots, and I wish we go back to that.
Isabeau Courdurier – Pro racer for Sunn
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? It has been, definitely, to win in Tasmania in the pouring rain after such a hard day. And to battle all year to get back here in Finale to second place overall for sure.
Has there been a low point? It was definitely my beginning of the season I was really sick, I wasn’t able to finish in Rotorua and in Ireland I was seventh because I was completely sick. I had a really hard time and struggled to get back in shape, that was the lowest point of the season.
What would you like to see more of next year? I’d love to see more and more women into the sport, especially in the under 21. I really believe we can do good with this sport, there is a good spirit between all the girls, we keep cheering each other, if someone has a mechanical we always help and get through it together.
Marco Osborne – Pro racer for Cannondale
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? Whistler stage one – Top Of The Word to Ride Or Slide was just the hardest stage I’ve ever raced and probably the hardest stage we’ve ever raced at EWS. It was full on, gnarly, just hard to hold on. That for me defined what enduro is about and what we should have more of.
Has there been a low point? Just carcassing and eating shit in the mud, I’ve been doing that a lot. Just trying to stay on your bike in the mud.
What would you like to see more of next year? More races in the Alps, more long stages, more lift accessed terrain. I’d like to see a more blind racing style, the French style where you get one run, none of this walk the track a week before, you should just be able to get up the mountain and go.
Rae Morrison – Pro racer for Giant Factory Off-Road
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? I really liked Tasmania, just in the middle of nowhere and there were amazing trails and it was super fun.
Has there been a low point? Definitely. I crashed out in France on the second day of racing, I clipped something and went headlong into a tree. So I had to pull out of the race and rest my head a bit.
What would you like to see more of next year? Just more of the same really, more variety of places and trails. It’s really cool to travel all around the world experiencing all these different cultures and different terrains and styles of riding. It’s a cool series.
Josh Bryceland – Pro Bicycle Fun Time Haver / 50to01 CEO
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? Well to be honest when I did the first year, I did the first and the last rounds, I was unfit and I was unprepared and I really struggled with it. Saw my arse to be honest. So this year I went to Rotorua and it was a massive day, I was f**ked just getting round on practice so race day I was knackered, but the tracks were just unbelievable – it was super technical and I had an absolute belter. The weather was on my side, but I had a good result and it fired me up to do some more. The rule here [in Finale] with the one practice run is wicked.
Has there been a low point? Not really, I flatted in Ireland, that’s been my only mechanical. I’ve been learning this year, I had [Maxxis] DoubleDowns on instead of my downhill tyres, just because I don’t like pedalling them around because they’re weighty f**kers.
What would you like to see more of next year? One run practice, totally. I think it just levels the field way more, you’re just reading the trail as you’re going then, more freestyling, that is the beauty of it really. Oh yeah and less uphills!
Joe Barnes – Pro racer for Canyon Factory / Dude Of Hazard
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? Coming to Finale. The style of tracks they’ve taped in is really good. They’ve taken it back to more techy riding so stages one and two are perfect examples of what I think enduro should be like and that’s purely through taping and track choice. The area has got everything and I think they’ve chosen a really good selection of trails.
Has there been a low point? Personally? It was when Ritchie overtook me because it’s the first time I’ve ever been overtaken, but I was hanging and he came steaming past. It didn’t affect my overall standing luckily but I had to pick it up after that.
What would you like to see more of next year? I’ll stick with the same theme, more techy riding; just get the switchbacks in and keep it physical. And ride trail bikes, it’s bob on.
Greg Callaghan – Pro racer for Cube Action Team
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? It has to be the win in Madeira.For me to get the win in Ireland (2016) was a big step and it’s something I’ve wanted to do since that first win in Ireland. So it has to be that.
Has there been a low point? Aspen, and Whistler was a bit, because I was just struggling for the speed looking for a bit of pace that just wasn’t there. That was quite hard to handle but happily I’ve bounced back now.
What would you like to see more of next year? More crowds. Every time there’s a big crowd it’s just so good, so good for the racers but also for the series. So I’d like to see more of that.
Jerome Clementz – Pro Racer for Cannondale
What was your highlight of the 2017 series? The quality of the tracks – all the trail builders at all the events they’ve just kept improving so that every time we go somewhere it just keeps getting better and better.
Has there been a low point? I think for me it’s that some ‘law enforcement’ hasn’t been respected. We had a few issues with riders and I think they should have got penalties. So that could be improved in the series.
What would you like to see more of next year? For the sport to keep progressing in the right way. I like that we only get one run of practice before racing, it’s quite fair for everybody, and no track walking.
With a growing consensus amongst the racers we spoke to towards minimising practice and moving towards a more blind racing format we thought we’d finish by asking Chris Ball to respond.
Chris Ball – Yeah, the blind racing thing is interesting, I personally love blind racing but it’s not actually feasible at an international level. That’s why we don’t have it, it’s not fair and it doesn’t actually exist – once you’ve done an event once it’s not blind. But over the years we’ve been working towards minimising practice as much as possible, mainly through the time we give for practice – so in Ireland you couldn’t really physically do more than one run. Ultimately though as the events grow, which takes time, we put more structure and staff in place and we’re actually able to manage it as a one-run format in practice. Which is what we’ve been trying in a couple of locations and finishing with here in Finale. So it’s always been our goal, it’s just taken time to build that level of infrastructure to actually do it fairly.