Well, here it is at last… Race Report time. The whirlwind of build up and practice now seem like a distant memory and its taken me longer than usual to get out the race report action, but those are both insights in themselves as to what a ENDUROzilla sized weekend it was for EWS Round 8 in Finale.
Yes, practice had been rad, but it had also revealed one thing that is both consistent and easily forgotten:
I always expect EWS stages to be fuuucking hard and they’re always harder than I expect them to be
The difference this time however was for the most part the stages were all pretty banger and unlike 2015, where admittedly I was a bit of a hater (a genuinely weird state to be in whilst in Finale), this year there were only a few cunty sections of concern to freak out about.
Add to that it was the final race of the year and quite genuinely, I was feeling significantly more pumped and less nervous than I can ever recall. Awesome build up, armed with new coaching mojo & wisdom, a slew of golden bike set up changes and trails that were way fucking cooler than a year earlier.
In essence, there were no excuses in my pussy suitcase which I would be able to pull out over the weekend. I wasn’t even worried that I once again had the number plate 176, yes, meaning I was rolling with some fast motherfuckers racked up behind me.
Besides, any possible pressure I may have felt paled in comparison to what these two must have been experiencing… The two U21 protagonists of Adrien Dailly and Sebastien Claquin moments before they rolled out to Stage 1, heading into race 8 tied on championship points. As they say, there can be only one:
Finale being finale, there is no way around a big ass transfer liaison first up. The benefits of sitting in the Piazza across from the beach drinking coffee diminish with every pedal stroke that leads you further into the hills, and it was a big old grind up to the start of stage 1. It was cool to be rolling with the German ENDURO squad from La Thuile, but as we pedalled up to Stage 1 I was hoping that’s where the similarities with the last round would end…
So in the end, it did take a very solid 2 hours 10 minutes or so to get to the stage start. Drenched in sweat and given how much gear faffing I had to piss about with, it occurred to me that with 40 seconds to go I had better hurry the fuck up and get those gloves on… So much for PRO calmness.
Stage 1 – POSTE 3.5 Km – 700 m Elevation Loss
ENDURO Froth! Let’s get this thing started… Whilst not quite the longest stage of the weekend, it did have the greatest elevation drop, which was even weirder when you considered how flat it was at the top, not that I was complaining of course.
Due to regular Italy Go PRO laws, all the shots you see here are from practice, which sounds good, but as I was about to find out was about as irrelevant as talking about your genitalia at a job interview:
Given I’d had two runs of #1 in practice, I was actually pretty pumped on it… Second run down on Thursday and I was pretty stoked with how it was rolling, recognising though it was like being woken up with a bucket of cold piss in terms of starting the day. The smooth top allowed me to start thinking about small check list of items I needed to put into practice for the first run of the day:
Patience, head up, feet level, be dynamic, move the shoulders, keep the legs loose, less pedaling, let the bike move under me, flow like water, focus…
Given 98% of my brain capacity focuses on croissants, sex, bikes and counting down the 15 seconds before I OCD check my phone/Instagram again, this is a shit load of stuff to process during a race. Never fear, I knew what was coming and I was ENDURO born again… Hammer all the fucking way down. Except, then there was a problem:
Stage 1 was no longer stage 1
In a moment of stellar un-PROness, we had practiced Stage 1 as early as possible on Day 1 of practice… Which of course meant by the time we got back there on Saturday morning, it had been massacred, especially the ‘fresher’ sections, as you can see, like your teenage niece/nephew/cousin/mistress these didn’t need any help to get themselves fucked up:
That’s ok, stay calm, keep it steady and don’t freak out… Even if the surface of the track looks nothing like you remembered it. As the track started to deteriorate, so did my riding and nerves. I could smell the hot stench of melt down and I hadn’t even arrived at the hard parts yet. Ok, time to freak out.
Dirty tip – If you think a stage is going to get slayed by rad cunts, then perhaps practice it as late in the day as possible. Yes, something I knew and didn’t do and something Coach Karim did do. Commence face slapping now.
It was just after the section above that the reaming started… The fact that I felt as slow as fuck validated when Dan starting 30 seconds back caught and passed me… But then they started to arrive thick and fast and before I knew it, I was having the full Ream Dream flashback to La Thuile.
Holy fuck this shit… The more I tried to settle into it, the worse it got. The trail was so smashed it would make a sidewalk in Syria look respectable, I couldn’t adjust to how different it was from practice, nor could I seem to get myself comfortable with riding down endless moving rubble. By halfway down I was riding tighter than a frog’s pussy.
Even sections I’d felt pinned on in practice were scaring the shit out of me and instead of smashing them, I was crawling down death gripping and over braking like a Chinatown taxi driver at the end of a 12 hour shift. Sections that felt sweet on Thursday now felt like death traps:
As yet another rider screamed “Allez Allez” and tore past me, that horrible feeling started to descend on me faster than I was descending the stage: “Fuck you suck bro” and of course, you need to say that with real disdain and effort as well, not as a casual observation. I’m talking really spitting out the ‘suck‘ part with some force and venom to it.
With the full stage 1 melt down protocol in effect, I simply switched to survival mode and wanted to get through the stage unscathed physically, given that the mental wounds were already deep and gushing blood through my subconscious. Not such an easy task when the lower quarter of the trail was perhaps the sketchiest.
The cheering crowd at the bottom looked somewhat confused when I arrived, starting to wonder why the course sweeper had been sent down so early. I was desperate to let off the brakes and ride like I had ridden during the week, but it felt like epic disaster awaited the moment I did that.
I crossed the line with a combination of disbelief and disgust in my mouth… For you poor reader, I know you’re probably thinking “Fuck cunt, not this again…” But you can probably imagine what was going through my head as I tried to clean off the stoke factor that had dribbled out my ass and all over my knee pads. This wasn’t the script… This wasn’t the way it was supposed to roll given the week of radness that proceeded stage 1.
For today’s Dirty Trademarked ‘unrealistic self loathing results comparison’ format, I have chosen two key characters from the week. First up, Coach Karim of course, who ended up winning the Masters category to provide a comparison of what I have to contend with in 2 years time.
I have then doubled down on that with Louise Paulin, who Pinkbike described as “The fastest mother in Italy“, some may recall her high speed guiding from 2015, she was good enough to lead our shuttle during practice.
- Coach Karim – 7.24 for 1st Masters
- Shuttle commander Louise – 9.32 for 20th in Pro women
- Dirty Nomad – 11.13 for 221st in Pro men*
*For the optimists out there (fuck you), I came 222nd in 2015 on Stage 1 in Finale, so 12 months of effort and experience later and things are really moving up in the world. FML.
Stage 2 – CAVATAPPI: 2.1 Km – 450 m Elevation Loss
Ok, I’ll be honest – I was giving zero fucks about meeting the liaison time cut up to the start of Stage 2. Seriously, what difference would it make? Why the fuck was I even here? Wait – I wasn’t here… The guy that had ridden all week and loved practice and felt awesome on the bike, where the fuck was he?
Had he fucked off back to the hotel to eat more of those sweet custard filled breakfast donut things which also had unnecessary amounts of icing sugar on top of them? What body snatching fuckwittery was going on here?
The ride/walk up to Stage 2 gave me plenty of time to come up with a busy to do list: Bike for sale, EWS retirement, No more blogging about how shit it went, don’t need new Shimano shoes given these M200’s were coming apart at the seams again… I was so busy dismantling my self esteem and EWS career I didn’t even notice the whole world had got to stage 2 with 30 minutes to spare.
Stage 2 was pretty straightforward – Cool at the top with only a couple of tricky parts, rad in the middle with stiffy inducing swooping flow and then a whole shit load of hairpin corkscrew like turns at the end that waited patiently for you to run out of talent or arm strength before they would have their way with you. It was a crowd favourite.
The one tricky part at the top wasn’t even as bad as it initially looked either in practice…
Until you inexplicably went left an clipped a tree with your ENDURO as fuck 780mm bars…
You bet your ENDURO specific ass I went straight down the middle on race day… Mainly as I had calmly ridden into the stage in a rather restrained manner, simply desperate to ride smoothly and feel like I was actually on it as opposed to another flailing melt down. Luckily for me, Stage 2 wanted to have as much fun with you as an All Black groupie at an Airport:
I was essentially in “Fast Trail riding” mode and by this point, something strange was happening… No one had caught up to me… This was confusing. Usually by now the Ream Team had arrived on the scene and between its EU members, started to gang bang my riding confidence. But at this moment, there was nothing but me and this sweet flowing stage to enjoy:
So eventually Dan did take the 30 seconds out of me to catch me, but no sooner had I let him through than he went OTB and snapped his front brake lever off, leaving me to soar past as I approached the vortex of the corkscrew.
As most PRO’s describe it, the end of stage 2 was “Sick, fucken rad, loose as, proper trail“, choose from those as you see fit. I would tend to agree, but from this amateurs stand point it was just a touch outside my talent bubble to make me feel like I was nailing it. A few sections just a tough too tight and slightly too steep to allow me to convince myself I was a hero in my own lunchbox. But as we say on the Corporate intern programme: Down you go…
Case in point on the corkscrew: Rocks and then a complex of left/right hairpins leading you directly to the next sequence which looked strangely like the one you had just done… Repeat until you’re out of breath, talent or both. The bottom section a casual -38% just quietly, so enough to make you think hard and quite good if you’ve got your cornering technique nailed… Starfish puckering if you don’t:
I managed to not make a total McFuckyou meal of the corkscrew, getting to the end feeling not only genuinely stoked, but also without seeing another competitor pass me as I blasted across the river to the finish line.
Was this starting to smell like redemption? Could I walk back some of the loath list items I had constructed on the way up to Stage 2? The vibe was on the up for sure, with a slight movement in results…
- Coach Karim – 5.42 for 1st Masters
- Shuttle commander Louise – 6.58 for 18th in Pro women
- Dirty Nomad – 7.45 for 215th in Pro men
Stage 3 – CROMAGNON: 2 Km – 210 m Elevation Loss
Foolishly I had said to Dan (making his EWS Debut) in my slightly wanker ‘I know everything’ voice at the start of the day “Don’t worry maaaate, the Italians like to chill, so heaps of fucken time for the liaisons bro”
I was hating my face and words as I realised three quarters of the way up the 6km road climb to Stage 3 that I didn’t have liberal amounts of time to indulge my wet hairiness in. The hammer even having to be applied a couple of times to make sure there was ample faff time available for my eRoutine at the top. La Thuile levels of liaison indulgence this was not.
After a Stage 2 that didn’t resemble donkey fellatio, I was actually quite primed for stage 3. I know I’m supposed to say ‘lit’, but good luck getting anything resembling a flame going here given how disgustingly drenched I was. However, there was also the slight matter that I had been down Cro-Magnon (what a cool fucking name for a stage) 4 times, thus making it feel like my local trail, except not cunted.
Well, I say 4 times, but in a case of #preridenotfreeride fail, the part that I had sessioned and mastered wasn’t actually in the race #irony #FML, but the part that replaced it was just as rad:
Sheepishly I will have to confess that I think I liked Stage 3 because it was… Well… Hmmmm… Flat? As in, about half the elevation drop of stage 2 for the same distance. Before you beat me about the face with a pair of 100mm Fox 32 forks and dress me in gimp lycra, it made up for it with tricky sections, a shit load of sniper rocks and this kind of radness right here:
Holy fuck this was an EXCELLENT stage – Fast and rocky at the top and then into this sweet flowy dirt and tech sections in the lower half. I have frothed endlessly on this site that the best trails bring the variety to the shred fight and Cro-Magnon had got the memo. I felt oddly on fire, but more importantly I was just loving riding what felt like an extremely unique trail. I mean, this wasn’t every day kind of stuff:
It was going so well that it was hard to believe… I hit all my lines, hadn’t fucked anything up and once again, there was not a single sign of anyone behind me… It was almost like I was ENDURO born again, the rebirthing was upon us!
I think this is the point where I need to take back the bad words that I may have muttered about some of the 2015 stages, I apologise unreservedly Finale, you clearly lifted the game for 16 and stage 3 was an example of how fucking cool the riding is here.
The other great thing about 3? It didn’t seem to get ripped to fuck like stage 1 and parts of 2, if anything, it was maturing beautifully the more it got hammered by the froth squad. Aided by the fact I was Coked up to the eyeballs with so many gels that I may as well have needed a TUE, I was hammering on the pedals through the short climbs and flatter sections, whilst still not losing my mind when the frequent tests came:
Blasting into the lower section and still no one had caught me… Wait, was I still on the right course? Was I still me? I chanced a quick look back coming out of a hairpin and there was nothing but rabid Italian fans and clear track.
FUCKEN GO you CUNT! I screamed in my head. I pumped, I weaved, I moved my shoulders, I let go of the brakes, I was dynamic! I channeled Coach Karim with his Baby Hesus radness spirit, lifted my head and opened the heart rate taps to the absolute wall… Holy fuck, I was RACING. I wasn’t just surviving, I was actually feeling like I was in a race…
In my frenzied run to the line there was one slight fuck up when I took the Nico Vouilloz line, only to find that I wasn’t him, but still charged across the line with an involuntary screaming holler of joy. Screaming, literally to a stop I looked back. No one… A gap… Not a rider in sight. Clear air? Alone? My brain did the math quickly and realised this was the first time I hadn’t been caught on an EWS race stage.
Bank that weird small victory, and to top if off, only 3 seconds off a top 200 time… Yes, I knew where those 3 seconds were too.
- Coach Karim – 5.20 for 2nd in Masters
- Shuttle commander Louise – 6.09 for 11th in Pro women
- Dirty Nomad – 6.36 for 203rd in Pro men
So tantalisingly close to the top 200 stage wise, but more importantly snatching radness from the jaws of cuntery and had a shit load of fun in doing so.
If you’ve partaken in previous EWS Race reports then you’ll be well briefed in the fact that day 1 usually ends with much short shitting and equal levels of anxiety about day 2 to come. I’m pleased to say that this cycle has been smashed at last in Finale. That post day 1 beer feeling significantly sweeter and justified than any time I can remember on an EWS round, perhaps maybe Spain aside.
But Day 2 was going to be another story, 4 stages and ending with the most mental part of the weekend, Mens DH. Stay tuned to see how that all rolled and in particular, would I avoid first stage of the day melt downs and even perhaps make a run on the top 200?
We’ve been here before, but not quite like this, weird amateur glory is there for the taking.