Warning – Its a whopper today, perhaps even a lazy weekend read. Or, if its a dragging day in the Matrix, then grab a couple of pussy’s pastries, close yourself off from the latest horrors of anti-social media for a while and get IXS knee pads deep into the final race report of 2016 as we wrap up the big Final in Finale.

Waking up on Day 2 of an EWS round and there are any number of thoughts that can be running through your head. But the last day of the last race of the season brings its own set of thoughts all over town as people got ready for the final massive day of the year. I would hazard a guess it was probably along these lines:

Martin Maes“Holy fuck, I’ve been on the circuit so long you’d think I’m a Master, but am I about to win my first EWS round at 19?!”

Adrien Dailly“I’m still recovering from that bearded fan guy fisting the boss last week, but only one more day and I could become U21 world champ…”

Richie Rude“Fuck I hope that bearded dude isn’t lurking in the bushes down Stage 7 again… Oh, plus I may just be the first person to become back to back EWS Champion by the end of the day!”

Dirty Nomad“Fuck I hope they have the croissants with icing sugar and that jam stuff rammed up their asses at the breakfast buffet.” #thirdpersoncuntery

But most likely you’d be thinking: “After all that build up, coaching and literary wanking on about how good things felt, why isn’t Dirty Nomad solidly camped inside the top 200?

But before I get misty eyed and carried away with how the day unfolded to answer that very question my dear dedicated/bored reader, let me maintain that this was a BIG weekend. Some nerdy numbers up in everyone’s full face helmet grill to reinforce that please:

  • 100kms
  • 3,202m of climbing… On a big bad motherfucker of a bike weighing in at 14.9kg
  • 8 hours and 20 minutes of ride time

And I was feeling the personification of the girth of this ENDUROzilla sized weekend halfway up the big first liaison climb to the NATO base. Its a solid 2 hours and whilst it was only early 20’s temp wise, I had bucketloads of sweat pissing out from my new #enduroasfuck Giro Switchblade helmet (watch this space for initial impressions). A distinct reminder you need to turn up here mentally and physically ready to do battle.

I was as thankful for my recent Euro Roadie training camp as I was regretful for my prodigious Finale Gelato consumption whilst pedalling a 14.90kg Weapon of Mass ENDURO destruction up this classic climb from actually sea level to bang on 1,000m. A definite rite of passage for a Finale mega day.

Stage 4 – CRESTINO: 4 Km – 300m Elevation Loss

I tend to whinge a lot about getting an ‘easy’ start to the day at an EWS round, which invariably never happens. Well, say hello whilst licking your lips to about the most relaxed race stage you could hope to kick an EWS day off with – about the same length as Stage 1, but 400m less elevation drop.

However, what it lacked in gnar, it made up for with pedalling, so sort of depends what your definition of an easy start to the day is…

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Full Autumn haunted forest vibe during practice

Of course, its not quite that straight forward, with the inclusion of a ‘Neutral climb’ thrown into the mix shortly after kicking off the stage. You had 3 minutes to get between the base of the climb and the timing beam at the top, which tactically meant you really didn’t want to shoot your load, nor arrive too late and incur penalties. ENDURO just got tactical…

I took the load blowing honours, arriving at the top a full minute early, leaving me with the quandary of either hitting the stage re-start with momentum or stopping to pull myself together a bit more. With the fever and fervour of a voter that doesn’t care about being lied to repeatedly, I charged straight back into the action, banking on taking full advantage of the gap behind me and the fact I was feeling surprisingly good for the first stage of the day.

I’ll be honest – After pre riding Stage 4 in practice I knew this was my one to go all in on, so much so I didn’t even wear any upper body armour. With virtually nothing to seriously make me shit my Fox shorts and of course, I could put my evil undercover Roadie powers to use to smash the fuck out of sections like this, it was time to get busy:

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Lactic frenzy fever

You’ve probably heard the reference to how you only have so many matches to burn in a race/day? Well, I was fucking fevering and decided to roll my matches in gun powder, rub some lighter fluid on my thighs and burn this motherfucker down… And that was before I’d even got to the cool parts:

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Cool parts I

Stage 4 was basically some of the classic sweet turns off the top of NATO base… Probably the tamest stage of the weekend, which is why I think I was so rabid about throttling the fuck out of it #itsalwaysthequietones. If ever you wanted to be on a 29er for a stage, this was probably it.

Every time there was a slight flat or rise, I got on the pedals like a spidermonkey that was not only on meth, but had also had several long drags on a team doctor prescribed inhaler. The upside of my roadie antics was being able to carry reasonably rad speed into, you guessed it, the rad sections:

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Cool parts II – Surfing the gully

Stage 4 being filled with these little gully’s that best resembled a dirt bobsled run, like a natural berm heaven with not only beautiful flow, but also golden grip. It was hard not to feel like a hero down here and if you managed to get it right with your shoulder movements, for a millisecond you could almost imagine what it must feel like to be Richie Rude all the time, except with smaller hands:

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Cool parts III – Turn & Burn

I was moving my shoulders, I was carrying speed, I felt like I was flying… When Sven and Dunc screamed at me from the sidelines it only added to my crazed fever as I conspired to empty the tank on the flowiest of all stages. I didn’t even bother looking back, I was alone and I was going to stay that way as well… The radness kept coming at me at the same rate I was cuming at it:

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Cool parts IV – It… Just… Keeps… On… Giving…

Sprinting up the slight pinch to the finish line and I had just enough breath for an involuntary scream of both pure joy and adrenaline at what felt like a wild ride… It was a blur, like I’d watched my own helmet cam footage on fast forward. I not only arrived at the stage finish without being caught & passed, but with a substantial gap behind me. Holy fuck, I was actually racing.

  • Coach Karim – 7.36 for 1st Masters
  • Shuttle commander Louise – 8.28 for 14th in Pro women
  • Dirty Nomad – 8.46 for 197th in Pro men

Holy Fuck II – Inside the top 200! And, given how pinned Louise is, you fucking bet I will take only being 18 seconds behind her on a race stage where she’s also the local guide. Also, based on a spreadsheet I may or may not have, on balance, being only 17 seconds per kilometre slower than Coach Karim was my fastest effort all weekend.

After a history of getting reamed, it finally felt like the worm had turned and I was on the cusp of weird amateur glory. But one stage does not maketh a PRO, there was still much to be done on day 2…

Stage 5 – ROCCHE GIANCHE: 2.3 Km – 270m Elevation Loss

If any stage was going to test out the finally discovered EWS radness powers, it was stage 5, well, more specifically the top of Stage 5. Not only had it felled the Swiss Missile in practice, but it was just straight up awkward, and that was in practice, i.e. before it got reamed to fuck by the legions of shredders who had already dropped in on it:

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The Romans gather…

The thing about stage 5 was that it was as spectacular as it was sketchy, the practice shots here not doing it any justice for what it looked like once you got the 5 second count to start racing. Also worth noting, riding down it with a group of fans screaming was less intimidating than your ENDURO colleagues lining up silently to critique your decision making in practice…

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“Ohhhh… he went right… uhhhh… Did you see that?”

This is the same section, halfway down, when it looked manicured and simple… When I arrived here on race day full of stage 4 mojo and arrogance, it not only looked more munted than a cream cake that had been fucked by a drunk Russian sailor, but I promptly rode it like an absolute cunt in a 40% melt down state.

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They were not entertained

I then backed that up by rooting the fuck out of the next bit as well, in my head I wanted to hit the line on the left here (I may have seen one of the IBIS PRO’s do just that), but upon arrival my brain melted down and I went so high on the right that I clipped the tree you can see up there and almost got sent over the bars. Uh huh…

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Dirty tip – PRO lines require PRO momentum and commitment

So, ENDURO Mojo – Easy cum, easy go. With the stage in disarray, it was time to attempt to exercise patience, pull off a recovery and get back on track. But here’s the thing, on day 1 of practice we rode everything twice, which I have to say is exponentially excellent in terms of getting to grips with a trail. All the stuff you fucked up on the sighting run you can usually nail second time down, thus leaving you primed for race day.

However, with day 2 of practice, given how little shuttling you could do, we hadn’t hit the stages twice in the name of energy conservation, so when the tricky shit came along, confidence was more in the ‘First teenage blue light disco’ realm than the ‘fuck yeah I’m gonna slay this shit’ zone. Momentum is your friend after all:

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Was I meant to clip a pedal here or not?

It was therefore awkward and fumbling, and that was before we had got to the Ridgeline climb. Speaking of, how about the dude halfway up the climb screaming out your first name… Respect for having the start list, and let me just say, when you’re halfway through a stage blowing out your ass and some random Dutch/Belgian/Euro dude starts screaming out your name, it gets you oddly fired up… For those 5 seconds I was basically famous.

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“Kind of a big deal around here…”

Also aiding in my coming back down to earth, as we dived into the sanctuary of the forest, Dan had eaten up the 30 second gap and blasted past me, which worked out well given I now had a hare to chase down the insanely sweet zig zag forest of awesome dirt:

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Channeling the Baby Hesus of ENDURO

I mean seriously, the lower half was a case study in why trumpets sing and people put on their orgasim face when you say you’re going riding in Finale – Its sensational shit and even better, a fucking excellent contrast to the muddy cuntfest we had to wade through 12 months prior on day 2, so much sweet dirt to feed my massive fuck off front Minion 2.5:

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The ribbon of radness

This ridiculously awesome forest shredding action went on and on… Plenty more swooping and swooning to be had, with it tightening & steepening up nicely at the end to throw a slight sting in the tail for those that perhaps were running out of steam or concentration. To perk everyone up though, the end of the stage was rammed with rabid Italian fans who oddly seemed to scream “Allez Allez” a lot more than I would have expected.

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Allezing the fuck out of it

I was surprised and somewhat stoked to make it through the stage with only Dan coming past me, more than sure I would have been eaten up and digested by the Euro Ream Team. But more to the point, I had to double check these results:

  • Coach Karim – 4.57 for 1st Masters
  • Shuttle commander Louise – 6.17 for 22nd in Pro women
  • Dirty Nomad – 6.29 for 195th in Pro men

Not that I want to encourage the celebration of mediocrity for a moment, but stage 5 was my best EWS stage result ever... Not that it felt as rad as stage 4 to be honest, but I will take it compared to be smeared in disaster like stage 5 in La Thuile! Onward they cried!

Stage 6 – ANDRASSA: 3 Km – 210m Elevation Loss

So by now the tail was not only up, but bushy and frothing. Like a peacock crossed with a horny skunk I was ready for Stage 6. Whilst others looked somewhat lemon mouthed at the prospect, I had a mild swagger about it. Yeah, you guessed it: It was another pedalfest.

Bookended by a slightly fiddly start and finish, stage 6 was dominated by the giant fuck off flat pedal sections in the middle. If there’s one thing you’re good at when you’re 80kg’s, live in the cHub and have done endless zombie road miles, its riding along on the flat.

That didn’t stop me from utterly fucking up the start again however, it turns out my new weakness to focus on is riding on loose rock and gravel which has been ripped up by those before you, a consistent new achilles heel for the weekend. Not to say the top of Stage 6 wasn’t a blast though:

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Just another sweet Finale Forest – Bathing in variety

Swooping down through the terraces, somewhat reminiscent of the first stage last year, it was only a matter of time before we got to the section that Rad cunts bemoaned and my inner roadie secretly rejoiced at.

With enough gels in my system to create the same outcome as 2 Viagra’s, I stuck it in the 10T and tore into the flat section like a deranged Oompa-Loompa back stage at a Miss Universe contest. Paint me with a thick coat of 50 shades of pussy, but I was slightly more at home sprinting along here than I was ringing up for more health insurance like in La Thuile:

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“I’ll just tell everyone I hated it at beers… yeah, fucked eh mate…”

This whole flat riding through paddocks antics went on for so gloriously long that not only did I start to consider if my future lay in dead flat XC Bandito racing, but I also realised that I had tumbleweed behind me… Good, as I was going to need it for the fuck ups to come when back into the woods, which started with a multitude of awkward sniper rock sections that I presumed Martin Maes and Mr Rude just jumped over:

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Time for the low BB test

I decided to pedal clip and stall my way through them instead, secretly wishing I had got coach Karim to spend a few hours/days focusing on high speed manuals and bunny hops. Good dirt though mind you, again, variety was the winner on the day:

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Only in Finale

Stage 6 wasn’t strictly XC though, day 2 had variety on tap and this was a good example, I would say the usual #steeperthanitlooks, but this actually looks pretty fucking steep when you look at the person standing at the bottom:

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Sorting out the Banditos from the rad cunts

It all went a bit up the shit in the jungle to be fair, again the downside of no second sneaky peak look in practice, I found myself falling back on the flat land sprint at the end to deliver me to the finish line with a legit set of clean heals:

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Trying to make it to the light literally like I was being chased by 175 predators

Bang – 3rd stage of the weekend where I didn’t suffer the burn of pulling off the track to allow others to stream past, and my third stage in a row inside the top 200. Day 2 was starting to feel pretty FUCKING rad right about now…

  • Coach Karim – 6.13 for 1st Masters
  • Shuttle commander Louise – 7.16 for 15th in Pro women
  • Dirty Nomad – 7.38 for 197th in Pro men

But of course, as rad as that felt, I knew the music was building to the BIG climax of the weekend… Of the race… And for the regulars, of the season.

Stage 7 – DH MEN: 2.5 Km – 340m Elevation Loss

When I first saw that DH Men was the final stage of the weekend, I plastered a big WTF all over it. Last year it was the end of the first day, which felt quite hard, but not impossible. But, this year it was not only hotter, but a significantly longer weekend overall. More climbing, more stages, more Gelato… Just straight up moreishness.

Let’s be straight up – Its a serious fucking stage. Ok, so not so much the top section, which has its own role to play to somewhat lull or seduce you into relaxed state before the lower half unleashes Gnarmageddon on you. Awesome, the last kilometre of the whole race… Arriving with a tired body, two days of climbing and hard racing beaten into your chassis… The last roll of the dice… The final test in Finale… I could wank on and on with ways to build it up, but in summary: I was somewhat shitting myself.

Add to all that, even the locals had commented on how blown out it was at the moment given how dry it had been. A run the weekend prior on arrival and one in practice confirmed the on the ground intel as being alarmingly accurate. If you ever wanted to finish a race with an iconic stage, then this was your motherfucker right here.

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PRO’s scatter during practice… No one wanted to get a rash from giving me CPR if this went sideways

I was surprised how I still felt physically semi ok heading up to the start of the final stage, a nod to the long days in Spain and France 3 weeks earlier. Having said that, with the high consequence nature of what was to come, I still rolled into the stage in a surprisingly conservative manner – Even alerting Dan that he would probably catch me before shit got real towards the end.

Of course, that opened the door to irony… The more I tried to be conservative, the faster I went and that cliche started to rear its head: Smooth is fast.

Before I knew it, I was (comparatively) flying, ripping into the first top section like I’d never broken any bones in my life. This wasn’t the game plan, what the FUCK was I doing? I flew past Seb who screamed out at me and only added to the insanity that was unfolding under my wheels. I nailed a set of turns in front of him that not only felt mega sweet, but also confirmed that I was completely drunk on pinning this gnar:

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Some PRO Gram banging going on in practice

You know when you’re drunk and you’re about to do something/one you shouldn’t do, and for a few seconds you sort of hesitate before giggling and doing it anyway? Yeah, fucking oath you’ve all been there and this is exactly where I was heading into the -40% sections of Mens DH. I was also alone and couldn’t hear any bikes behind me… which combined meant I just kept pushing on into what was becoming an out of body experience.

Much like doing dumb shit when drunk, the crowd was epic (obviously these shots from practice detract from the story), a massive notch up from last year given I was seeded in a later start group and they were all waiting for the PRO’s… and it encouraged even more loose shenanigans. Kudos to the Grandma halfway down screaming out “GO Kiwi!!!!” I have no fucking idea who that was or how my overloaded brain managed to pick that out, but it made me let go of the brake levers even more than I had wanted to…

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My line in practice – On race day, fuck knows?

The one thing about Mens DH is that every time I want to be on a particular line and when I arrive, my brain freezes and resorts to both looking at my front wheel, plus then randomly choosing any line that comes to mind at that very moment. That’s both utterly fucked and a recipe for disaster. Take the final straight as an example, as you can see in this shot, I’m so busy admiring the Med that I’m about the head down the right hand line: BAD.

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“Fuck, is that drunk maniac trying to ride down the right hand side?”

You need to definitely be on the left, a fact confirmed by watching every single PRO rider in video and in person killing it down here. On race day as I headed down the right hand side only semi in control of myself and my Santa Cruz wonder machine, it was reinforced to me that I was on the line of doom when my ears pin pointed out from the crazed roar of the rabid Romans someone scream “Oh NOOOOO, no no no no no!!!!

Well, oh fucking YES – I was on the wild/bizarre bucking bronco line and all I could do was let go of the brakes and try to ride it out. I lost count of how many times I almost went over the bars or looked like a drunk crash test dummy, but I somehow came out the other end alive. Sure, I fucked the final right hander, but I think at that stage I was just happy to be alive.

I say alive, but the whole thing was like an out of body experience to be honest… Had I died in the top section and this was just my inner Patrick Swayze heading towards the finish line without being caught and passed by anyone?

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Actually a billion ways to eat shit down here

Holy FUCK again… This was the moment all the coaching and prep had come together in a crescendo of radness and pure exhilaration. It was a case study in why one owns a mountain bike and why we yearn to ride better or faster – I had ridden sections in a way that I not only never done so before, but never even considered was possible. It didn’t even really feel like it was me doing it at times.

Even now while typing up this post with 15,000 words too many, I can still recall the feeling of flying in perfect unison through the middle sections, taking turns in a way I had never hit them before and having that legit feeling like I was in a race. Forget being a Narco, this is the only drug you need right here. Many Romans agreed:

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Photo Cred: EWS Team – Stage 7 and people are excited as Martin Maes is 30 seconds away from his first EWS win

Yes, I was fortunate enough to ride through the crowd above, possibly not quite at peak levels like in that shot, but pretty close… One of the few upsides of being seeded later in the day for a change. What an absolute fucking blast. As was finding that I had capped off my day with 4 out of 4 in the Top 200:

  • Coach Karim – 5.00 for 2nd Masters (Slow leak flat)
  • Shuttle commander Louise – 5.53 for 12th in Pro women
  • Dirty Nomad – 6.24 for 196th in Pro men

Awkward Dirty Confession – In my excitement I looked at Strava quickly and it communicated to my crazed brain that I was 2 minutes faster down stage 7 and Mens DH than 2015. Based on how I felt, this fitted nicely into my reality and I promptly told anyone who I could accost for the rest of the weekend of my feats. They all raised an eyebrow and gave you that look like “You loco mofo“, which I gladly dismissed. Two problems with my raving assertion:

  1. I compared the wrong stage times between 2015 and 2016
  2. The Strava segment finished further down and I had simply fucked off quicker this year than last from the finish area

If 2016 has taught us one thing, its that it always pays to Fact Check… So now that everyone thinks I’m a lunatic, lets wrap this up shall we? Overall GC Results for the weekend:

  • Coach Karim – 42.13 for 1st Masters
  • Shuttle commander Louise – 50.36 for 15th in Pro women
  • Dirty Nomad – 54.55 for 191st in Pro men
  • Martin Maes – 38.28 for his first EWS round win…

Ignoring the fact that I’m doing a different sport than Martin Maes obviously, to move from 220th in 2015 in Finale to 191st and my first top 200 in an EWS overall was a pretty cool way to cap off the weekend. More satisfying than the result however was the feeling that I had at last done the one thing I have been trying to do since I broke my neck a year ago: I was riding properly.

And how did everyone else get on?

Martin Maes – First round win ever, holy fuck can you believe he’s only 19? Feels like he should be 30

Adrien Dailly – U21 World Champ and posting stage times that would have put him in the top 3 overall?! Look out 2017…

Richie Rude – Took it ‘easy’ for the weekend to come 2nd overall for the round and the first EWS back to back world champion. Makes me almost want to buy a Yeti. Legend.

Holy shit… And FINALLY in this monster post, a massive Dirty thanks to a whole lot of #GCcrew units who made the whole trip an absolute banger:

  • The Swiss Missile for being a GC to roll with and tolerating lift/gelato/navigation antics. Kudos on getting through the weekend without rag dolling it bro
  • Coach Karim for going a long way to curing us of our cuntery and delivering us our daily radness
  • Louise and the whole ION Santa Cruz Team for the rad practice action
  • All the epic screaming euro fans on course
  • Mrs Dirty for following the live feed and screaming virtual support
  • Enrico and the whole Finale team, especially the trail builders for an awesome event
  • Jordi & Schmitty for the legendary Fox suspension support, especially that 475 pound spring
  • Sven & Dunc for screaming mid stage support from strategic squid locations
  • Dan Smith for not running me down when he did catch me. Full respect for making it through your first EWS Bro when literally every cunted up thing that could happen to you, actually did
  • Graham for giving me the entry at the last minute, chur bro and heal up ASAP!
  • Chris Ball, Lady Baller, Nathalie and the whole EWS team for once again putting on an amazing series and getting us to some of the coolest places to ride on the planet!

Retirement plans are official cancelled, the froth is high (in case you didn’t read between the lines) and plans are being made: Bring on 2017!

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