I’m learning quickly that back to back EWS rounds when you’re sick and have a few bike issues can make for some interesting times! Initial plans called for getting to Italy and then macking out on some of the sweet single track in Finale before EWS practice. Well, hunt down and waterboard the optimist in me, as he was a total cock for thinking that was ever going to happen.
I’ve needed every hour to repair both the bike and myself this week, before a frantic practice day where we had to ram in all six race stages in a day before Stormageddon arrived to fuck over Finale big time. Having had just the tip of it yesterday, I’m A) well chuffed we don’t have to ride today and B) shitting myself if we have to race in the rain over the weekend.
Yes, being excited and shitting myself at the same time seems to be the default setting heading into one of these races, as the search for amateur mid-pack glory rolls on. And on that note, what does Finale hold in store for us? Its Preview time!
Bearing in mind we are in ENDURO Genesis territory around these parts, quite a bit as you’d expect. Two days of racing and get this: 116km’s of riding in store. I almost spat my cappuccino out when I saw that and having driven most of it yesterday, I can safely say its going to be a monster of a weekend. Must be time to de-robe it then, shall we?
Day 1 – Saturday
Four stages await us on Day 1 in Finale, once we climb out of town for the day, its going to be a huge day on the bike, with some long transfers and ripping stages. Without further faffery, lets get into the meat of this McGnar combo.
So, as a preview of what is to come pretty much all weekend, Stage 1 is an excellent scene setter. Like any good Italian, it seduces you at the start with its swooning lines and makes you feel relaxed, almost at ease. Stage 1 has a beautiful flow and natural speed to it up top… Whoop whoop even:
But then, once you feel comfortable and committed, shit gets really complicated, and fast. My Go PRO fucked out for some reason, so this is the only shot of the lower section, which doesn’t really do it justice:
Suddenly it gets tighter… and tighter… and steeper and steeper… And so on and so forth. Initially I was thinking “This is rad“, but after it started to feel never ending I began to run out of talent and arm strength just at the wrong time. I went from thinking that this may be the first time ever I have a clean Stage 1, to almost going over the bars. Stage 1 is the kind of trail you hope your local trail will grow up to be one day – A baller.
Race day tactic? Make sure I save something to hold on to the full on lower section. It is excellent, but you have to be ON it massively to go well and avoid disaster.
Can you hear that alarm going off? That shrill ringing in your ENDURO ears? That’s right… Its the Bandit alarm and its going full gas. To start with, whilst it may feel a bit flat, its still pretty cool with a bunch of little step downs to blast through, not to mention its in a beautiful wooded area. Thanks David Attenborough:
But then, it gets freaky… There’s a climb in it, just enough to make you spit ‘cunt’ into your full face helmet. surely thats the only one right? Well, pass me the Welsh Assassin, I thought the first climb was enough… But that was just the Bandito warm up, the second climb is the one that makes you go hmmmmm…
And trust me here, it goes on… and on… And then on some more. Would be really good on a Santa Cruz 5010 I suspect. The other trick? Yeah, its rocky, which was ok in the dry. Good times that the forecast is for rain on race day:
Stage 2 didn’t get a lot of high fives from anyone, apparently Julien Absalon quite liked it, but he said the climb should have been bigger. I know I’m supposed to be grateful and love everything here, as after all cunt, you’re in Italy riding your bike, but #champagneproblems, didn’t really dig on Stage 2 at all. I shall do my best to clumsily bandit my way through it, channeling the Welsh Assassin as I do. In a sweet twist of irony, the official name of the Stage 2 trail? The ‘Bondi Trail’. Naturally I assume that’s Italian for Bandit.
Its never good to compare or refer to Ex’s when you’re with your new squeeze, but in Spain I never really felt that nervous or that high consequences were around the next corner. It was user friendly shall we say? Its not quite the same buzz here in Finale and nothing reinforced that more than the narrow Stage 3. Totally different from 2 in every way, its fast and skinny like a greyhound on crack. Its forte is being littered with off camber rocky sections that appear to be dusted with looseness:
Or, it wants to help you replace your rear derailleur, with plenty of chances to have a go at that job:
But, excuse me if you’ve guessed this plot line already… The real punchline for stage 3 is the switchbacks at the end. I’m glad they put that wooden fence there, as it was excellent in helping me to stop as opposed to making the right hand turn there.
The perfectionist in me REALLY wants to be able to ride this section as clean as fuck and looking cool whilst doing it so that people cheer, take photos and I end up on the cover of a prominent MTB Magazine based on being a legend switchback dominator. None of those things will happen on race day. If i’m lucky someone may get a pic of the human tri pod half falling down here while yelling ‘cunt’ in front of families. Such an ambassador of the sport:
Stage 4 is a bit like going on a 3rd date with a nicely dressed and well spoken girl with a respectable job, who is particularly clean and even looks airbrushed. You share a pleasant evening of conversation on enlightened topics, with nothing too political or controversial… Polishing off a nice bottle of Pinot together as the aroma of her Bvlgari perfume stimulates the nostrils.
Then, when you retire to their residence for the evening, relaxed by the opening exchanges and general pleasantries, you suddenly find as a pool ball is inserted into your mouth that they’re a dominatrix with a penchant for pegging. As the saying goes: Its always the quiet ones.
Stage 4 is so quiet at the start, you could even bring beginners here on 29ers and they would have fun. You even have time to admire the costal views:
There’s even a little climb in the middle. But, you can feel a sense of foreboding as you start to get towards the coast. And then you pop over a crest and suddenly you realise all is not well. No, in fact its very sick. Holy fuck… That really escalated quickly is the theme here, passing through an intersection, you’re then on to the trail called the “Mens Downhill“. I suddenly regretted having my chest hair shaved when we arrived at this type of scenario:
Ok, so its really steep… and its really rough… And you have a lot of line choices… But I think the tricky part is that this seems to go on and on longer than your arms and brain wants it to.
So the key here is to not brake too much and keep the momentum. Or, as one Italian local said to me: “Just ah no front brake ah, and then point down and hope for the best“. Solid advice. The only downside with doing what you know you should do? Shit starts to go real fast… towards large rocks:
Ok, so I’m wanking on about the bottom of Stage 4 a bit, but I did manage to ride it ok, its just at the limit of shunt is all, both mentally and in terms of what my arms can manage. It sort of just wants to wear you out is all, you get through a hard part and then it has MORE for you. Does feel rad when you get it right. And no, I have no contingency plan on what to do here in the wet.
Right to the end Stage 4 keeps you under its whip as it lands blow after blow… This is in sight of the finish line and trust me, you want to make sure you keep your eyes up to get across on to the right hand line, not into the killing fields where the lemmings are standing. Guess where I ended up:
Day 2 – Sunday
Only two stages on Day 2? Pffffff… Easy bro. Well, aside from the fact they have giant liaisons and then themselves are giant stages, yeah, totally sweet.
As I ranted on when I was here in June, the top of stage 5 is absolutely and utterly brilliant. Its basically like making love with a trail, which yes, is as weird as it sounds. If every MTB trail was like the top of 5, I suspect I would sell my road bike. Hopefully I have overstated it enough now to convince you its GOOD:
Also turns out that stage 5 is the longest of the weekend, 6.6km’s with a 780m vert drop. Yes, that’s long, but its also excellent. There is plenty of this type of shenanigans going on as well:
The lower half is all new trail by the looks of things and I was wondering how it would link together. Didn’t take long to get an answer. And then out of nowhere, 5 has a proper climb. By proper, I mean one you’re probably not going to be able to sprint all the way up unless you’re Jerome Clementz or similar.
Make no mistake, this is a looooong stage. I have no idea how it will look after practice, as it was so new that a lot of the corners were getting blown out, plus add in a day of bad ass weather and its going to be a Kinder Surprise when we arrive here on Sunday after everyone else has raced down it.
But as we have seen so far, stage 5 is a copy cat. Yes, the gnar and steepness is lurking at the tail – In an ambush spot that coincides with you feeling pretty fingered from all the pedalling and loose turns you’ve already negotiated. It suddenly ramps down and throws in a whole shit load of rock. Hold on up there little T Rex arms:
Hmmmm…. Stage 6. Well, its kind of like that dude that turns up at a party and stands in the corner all night having a beer solo. No one really knows who invited him or why he’s there and if you did speak to him, you’d probably come away thinking “not very interesting“. I had to rewatch the Go PRO footage of 6 to work out how to write it up as it didn’t stick in my mind at all.
Maybe its suffering from poor cousin syndrome after the superb Stage 5? Not sure… Perhaps we are just trail snobs and spoilt ENDURO Brats after Spain, but the word ‘Anticlimactic’ has been used a bit in relation to Stage 6. That’s fine with me, after the week of mechanical and health drama I won’t be complaining with something that’s a tad mellow. Its not all yawn material though, the bottom section is cool:
So then, now to the big question… The weather! Yes, Friday was spent indoors or, like I did in Spain, fucking around stressfully with my bike. Practice was cancelled due to the impending storm and given I have failed to get my health right all week still, I wasn’t crying about having a day to chill. This meant drinking coffee to toxic levels.
So how will it roll if it pisses down this weekend? Well, I suspect its going to make it pretty tricky to be honest. Stage 4 in particular will be a head scratcher, I could slow it down in the dry, but in the wet it will be a different proposition. All we can do is hope that it fines up and doesn’t piss down like a German maid when we’re on course.
Adding to that, i’m now sporting a 125mm Reverb dropper post, in one of the oddities of the MTB world, apparently the 150mm model isn’t in production currently, so I’ve been converted to Bandit mode. Should help on Stage 2, but I suspect that’s about it. Time to find a box for my shorts I suspect.
Stay tuned for the Finals in Finale and the Dirty assault on the top 200…