Disclaimer – I’m now 2 full days behind in updates, so to avoid confusion (and oh fucking yes it can lead to all sorts of confusion), this is Tuesday’s ride report.
I think I first heard it about 5am… To start with I didn’t want to believe it… I was probably hearing things, so just ignore it and enjoy the 9.30am start time for the day 3 ride. After all, this is hallowed ENDURO territory, it wouldn’t rain in Finale Ligura surely? Not on my first day shredding in Italy, after all, I was here to complete my ENDUROfication and in my mind, that meant it needed to continue to be boner dry. Turns out, I wasn’t dreaming…
This doesn’t happen on tour, unless I’m in Rotorua of course, but seriously, how often does it actually rain on these trips? Like fucking never… As such, this was confusing to say the least. For a couple of seconds the thought flicked through my brain to perhaps just stay in the hotel and swerve this day completely. But, what sort of a post would that make for? What then, change my name to Dry Clean Nomad? Doesn’t have the same ring to it really, so it was time to make like a cougar at a 21st and embrace the soaking.
So, what’s the big deal about Finale Ligura any way and how the fuck did I end up here? Well, with pretty much all the bike parks in Europe closed until late June/early July, alternative venues were required to build up for TP and as luck would have it, Finale popped up on the Dirty RADar thanks to the EWS of course.
Yes, the last few years Finale has hosted the EWS Finale, home of the final round, the last show down of the season, its the place where titles are won and lost, in some cases coming down to the final stage of the final day of the season. How could I NOT come here?! Like an ENDURO Pilgrim I have come to pay homage and sample some of the awesomeness that is reportedly in them there hills. Let’s see how it rolls…
Part 1 – The morning sesh
I’ll jump right in and start to rave about the only way to see all of Finale’s goodies – By being guided. Same rules apply to rolling with Davide, tap into that local knowledge and logistics and remove the opportunity cost of not only missing the best trails, but also having to ride everywhere trying to hit them. I had hooked up with ‘Just Ride Finale’, who were golden at accommodating my vague requirements.
I was slotted in with another group that had already booked in, which is always high risk as you have no idea if you’re going to turn up to find a bunch of fuckbags or GC’s. Luckily for me I got the latter, with a couple of English shredders and some Welsh lads, which was handy as we could compare notes on sheep and Rugby and I got to boast about knowing the REAL Prince of Wales.
So, initial meet & greet done, bike sniffing sorted and we were off and rolling in the rain with local boy Lorenzo the guide.
Sweet baby Hesus in the rain, the day had fucking climbing in it… Whilst I was pleased to completely validate my new 30 x 42 gearing ratio (an absolute fucking win FYI), I was starting to wonder if this set-up was going to be a little bit of a downer. Let’s face it, after the dry Sospel shredfest the day before, any follow up act was going to be up against it to get the froth meter moving. Earning turns suddenly felt overrated…
With one of the boys snapping a chain on the climb, the Grind fully on, the rain persisting and not a trail worth shredding in sight, it was time to stay calm and espresso on, which was pretty easy to organise given its Italy and all. Yes, in the most unlikely places you can rock up and get an unreasonably smooth and delicious espresso shot for 1 EURO. And fuck, I don’t even like that shit, so that’s saying something…
Lorenzo knew what time it was though – He was leading us to the hallowed grounds after all, the day one zone of the EWS action, where they hold stages 1-4 if I listened correctly (so highly dubious fact that), but fuck the facts, after a solid transfer and climb it was time to get down to business… Lorenzo let his Spanish Avanti fly and I was right after him, wanting to get my teeth into Finale in the same manner as when you lose track of how much pressure is too much on that shoulder biting… I’m sorry, it was just too exciting:
It didn’t take long to work out conditions had changed a lot from day 1 of riding, but this is about embracing variety, riding as fast as possible blind on new terrain and having a shit load of fun. Talk about ticking box mania then, it was all being done here…
And then WHOOP WHOOP, there it was: busting out onto the ridgeline, the terrain seen on videos, in EWS photos and pretty much as I had expected it to be appeared before me, with some coast line thrown in for good measure. Got to love it when the marketing material comes to life and invites you in to indulge.
Loose as fuck trail – Check. Riding better than I had expected to be going – Check. Super tight vista’s to stop and take too many photos of – Check. How deeply satisfying is that feeling of nailing so many items on the EURO ‘to do list’?
This was a great opening trail, fast and flowy, it then started to get blown out and more technical the further down we went, a symptom of being so open, but also as you can imagine the traffic in these parts has been on a steady rise the last few years for very good reason. One of my favourite things in the whole world is when 29ers can’t go around corners, which I’m pleased to say is still a phenomenon afflicting riders all over the world.
Given the conditions, it was limited Go PRO footage from the morning session, as after a lot of eye burning research of said files, this was one of the rare semi clean photos that I managed to pick up. The second run on the coast was quite different – Crazy old paths, super rocky, slippery and alternated between being fucking fast to fucking narrow, a combo that led to more than a few “Fuck yeah” moments on the way down. I was on my game enough to be able to stick to Lorenzo’s lines, always a bonus when you can actually follow the guide for a change:
I always find it fucking cool to shred down a crazy steep and rocky trail and pop out of a bowl of pasta almost back in town, the whole summit-trail-village scenario a feature around these parts. Initially I thought it was a full pedal day, but as we regrouped, the magical words that any ENDUROphile loves to hear rung out from Lorenzo’s lips… Shuttle time!
I think that if the day had ended at that point, it would have been banked as a pretty golden sesh on the bike… But, little did I know, we were only scratching the rad surface. As it turns out, we hadn’t even really started…
Part 2 – Prepare my shuttle
Have you ever had one of those nights where you were sitting around at home in your track pants thinking “fuck this, not going out tonight, can’t be fucked eh“, but then you’ve gone out to have one with a friend… And then someone else turns up… Then you run into someone else and next thing you know you’re either having a banger of a night or swinging in a harness totally open to whatever happens next.
Well, that’s a pretty apt summary for how the afternoon took shape and ended up panning out. First step in that process? Getting off the couch and up the mountain. The Transit van the best thing Ford have ever done.
The afternoon change up in zone also meant a change in guide, taking over was Louise, the Swedish shredder, the owner of the guiding company and winner of the Italian cup race on Sunday. Also worth noting that she came 13th when the EWS round was on here last year in the PRO category, so fair to say sharp then? Couple that with 8 years shredding in Finale and we were about to tap into the KNOWLEDGE!
The one thing I had heard about constantly with Finale was the ‘NATO Base‘ reference, home of both a decommissioned NATO base, but also the entrance to some of the raddest trails in town. I will say this, its a pretty random and secluded place to have a military base/interrogation HQ…
Yup, definitely had that CIA Black site feel about it and you could almost smell the fact that a lot of probing of cunts went down here at some stage. Either that or this is where Jason Bourne finished his training. In its new state however it fully had the feel about it that its now moved on to being a Emo hang out zone.
Pointing out the obvious here – The views and terrain were a stark contrast to the morning session, which is a constant theme of Finale. No chance to get bored here, the variety is massive and something that was about to become a lot more obvious if I could just tear myself away from taking yet more scenery shots that look a lot like the other 478 I’ve taken recently…
Shuttles, climbs, NATO bases and scenery… All well and good and almost sounds like a hiking trip, but fuck all that, we were here to savour the experience of bigger game, so lets get down to business:
EWS Stage 5
Hardest thing in a group trip of course is trying to stop everyone admiring the Nomad all the time… I understand it of course, but it does slow the whole day down quite a bit.
I will preface this by saying that the Go PRO footage doesn’t really do this trail justice as it couldn’t cope with the low light conditions well, but fuck this is a phenomenal piece of track. So, whilst it was completely different from day one (the forest a slight giveaway there), the fact that it didn’t have the same gnar factor or steepness was irrelevant. The top was super fast and flowing, begging you to smash it as fast as you possibly could manage.
But it was the second half where my brain struggled to process how insanely awesome this trail was… I mean, its rare to ride something THIS good. Yes, I was following the Louise Line, but as an aside, I can’t remember the last time I was riding this well, I don’t want to jinx myself, but the bike was sticking to the ground like it had glue on the tires and I was riding the way I always fantasise about riding my mountain bike.
I would hate to think how fast the PRO’s go down here, but this trail is unique in terms of the perfect flow it has… It not only forces you into holding speed with its sensual lines, it then tickles you into blowing it all into rad compressions and corners that taunt you to go faster than you imagined possible, case in point:
I got to the bottom of 5 in awe of its goodness… I’m a full gusher right now yes, but THIS trail is the reason you own a mountain bike… Actually, that’s an understatement… This is why you get fit, this is why you hone your skills, this is why you upgrade your kit to go faster and this is why you travel – In the hope that you find a trail like this and get to ride it full gas at the peak of your shredding powers.
You could ride this trail every day and never get bored, ever. As soon as I was down and had finished saying fuck a LOT and dishing out fist pumps irrespective of whether the rest of the group wanted them or not, I was already dreaming about coming back to hit it again.
But as Louise pointed out, there was more to come, so onwards to stage 6. But not before a flat tire, which of course allowed me to slip it to my usual role of standing around taking photos whilst keeping my terrible tech assistance skills out of the way.
It was one of those days when you end up covering a lot more terrain than you initially expected to… And there is always one more climb that your legs and mind weren’t quite expecting. Having said that, a pleasant surprise that the fitness is holding up ok and let’s face it, when that unexpected final climb looks like this, no one is really in a position to grumble, this was one seriously beautiful place to be rolling, how’s this for trail porn:
EWS Stage 6
So – Imagine this as the last stage of the final EWS race of the year and the championship… Would be nice if it was a bit of a surf down through the trees and say about 3 to 4 mins long wouldn’t it? Seems that the Italian ENDURO gods have a different view on what a Finale Finale stage should look like though, as this beast would be anything but relaxing as a final stage.
Lets start with the fact that the winning PRO time last year was 14.41… YUP, almost 15 minutes. Thats at PRO racing speed obviously, so extrapolate that out for the semi/wannabe PRO’s and it all adds up to being a seriously long run. But its not just the length that you need to try and accommodate, its the variety as well… Like a Gnar gang bang this thing has a long queue of different terrain and challenges lining up to have a crack at you.
Like a cruel racing mistress, the top is fast, but demands that you stand up and pedal like fuck to maximise, just so you can get over your threshold heart rate in the first 30 seconds or so:
The variety is sensational again on this trail, in fact, you get to the bottom thinking that you’ve been on three or four completely different trails as opposed to one linked together for a racing stage. How about some rocks and roots after all that high speed smooth forest?
And then into some steep stuff to change it up?
NOT a bike park, but may as well throw in some jumps for good measure… Is this place real or am I in the middle of a Dirty MTB Wet dream, only to find myself waking up with my Fox shorts sticking to me?
And then it got REALLY fast… Like, hold on and just pin the fuck out of it fast… Luckily for me I was A) riding the best I have ridden in a VERY long time and B) had the luxury of following Louise’s lines, which while it took a lot of trust given this was all blind riding, I figured she had ridden down here a million times so wasn’t going to lead me astray. She also happened to be world class fast, which was infectious:
It just went on and on… Sure, given we were in a group ride scenario there was a bit of regrouping at key turns etc, but I found myself constantly asking “Is this still stage 6?!“, and yes it was… It did occur to me that racing this would not only be epic, but rather fucking hard. Not withstanding the little gut buster climb in the middle which makes you ride looking like you’re a dolphin trying to fuck a beach ball covered in oil, it also has the effect of removing all the air from your lungs… Handy when the next part is flat out with some golden drop offs:
It went on and on… It got narrow, it got fast, it got twisty, it made you have involuntary smiles, it demanding the use of pretty much every skill you have as a mountain biker but above all, it made you love this sport more than you thought possible.
Its not very often you get to ride a trail this fun, with this much variety and in form that you find hard to explain how well you’re going. Taking that all into account, I would have to say it was an amazing afternoon on the bike and whilst I would love to back up a dump truck laden with superlatives and dump it all over the top of that, I think you get the picture… No one needs more of my froth spat in there face as I rave on about “fuck man, that was so insanely awesome!!! How rad is that trail?!“.
As I have sore fingers from this giant monolith post, how about we jump to the bullet points where some people have already scrolled straight to for a summary:
- Croissant count – 3… Well, it sort of seemed like a croissant, except it was filled with what I hope was custard. Worth adding to the cumulative tally
- Cunt of the day (COTD) – Believe it or not, totally cunt free. What on earth is going on?
- Gear of the day award – Nothing stood out today and that’s because everything was working in a beautiful shredding symphony, if ever there was a case for investing in good quality gear, the way everything on the bike and me worked today was it… A massive enabler of FUN and good times
- DN Tech Tip – This is a bit lazy, but continuing yesterdays theme, the super soft Nomad suspension set-up got a good test on different terrain on day one in Finale and I was very surprised how good it still felt. The bike stuck to the ground in a way I haven’t experienced before and I’m sure a contributing factor in making me feel like I was absolutely nailing it all day
- Trail of the day – Fuck this is a hard call… Stage 5 & 6 from the NATO base are so good its ridiculous to try and pick a clear winner. I’m sure any parent will understand that… But fuck this place is world class and those two are a must do when here for sure.
What… a… Massively… Awesome… Day! Finale exceeded expectations and more importantly a valuable lesson was bestowed upon me:
Never judge a day by its morning weather
If I hadn’t gone out, I would have missed out on a life experience that I will always remember. One where I get to bottle up not only how good the trails were, but also how well I felt I was riding so that I can always look back and savour it. Finale has moved straight into the Dirty MUST RIDE list, so watch this space on more to come from the second day of riding here.
A massive thanks to Louise and the ‘Just Ride Finale‘ crew and all the boys for a legend day out.