Chris Ball is the promoter of the Enduro World Series (EWS). Marking the continued rapid growth of enduro racing, the EWS held its first season in 2013 and wrapped up last month in Italy. Cyclingnews spoke with the man behind the series about how the EWS came to be, its first year, the growth of the discipline and what to expect with enduro racing in years to come.
Part 1, below, the focuses on this year's EWS. Stay tuned for Part 2, which takes a look at UCI involvement in enduros and plans for next year's EWS.
Cyclingnews: How did you get into the enduro sub-discipline of mountain biking?
Chris Ball: I still ride a mountain bike a lot. After stopping competing in downhill, I found that although I was coaching downhill and working with the downhill World Cup, what I was doing in my spare time was riding my mid-travel bike a lot, and I started getting into racing enduros on my weekends off.
I realized there was a huge community there of mountain bikers who wanted to experience the outdoors and have a bit of adventure. I found myself over a number of years, although working in downhill, riding more and more on the enduro side. It absolutely captivated me. It's very much what I do on my own bike.
That's why it was proposed when I was working at the UCI. I felt like there was a huge area of gravity mountain biking that could develop in a wonderful way.
CN: The UCI decided not to go the enduro route at that time, and you started the EWS independently of the UCI. The first season of the EWS is now in the books. Do you feel like it was a success and if so, why?
CB: In many ways, we started blind. Nothing internationally had been done in enduro before. We hadn't even had a ranking with which to start our first-ever event. Many of the top riders had never raced each other in one event. We were going by the seat of our pants in a number of things from the start.
We just rolled with it and enjoyed the process, listened to loads of feedback from the riders and what they wanted to see in the series. Because we are such a small organization and are so focused, we were able to implement changes quickly.
Suddenly we had winner of first round, which meant it was very real. It seems like just a week later, we had a series champion in Finale [Ligure, Italy]. It's been a roller coaster, but a lot of fun.
CN: What do you think worked well in the first year?
CB: We listened from round one. Within seven rounds, we made some solid changes to the format, based on rider feedback, from small technicalities like start intervals to how the race flowed.
Riders responded well. They could see change, even if we weren't absolutely perfect. We're all striving and working toward that. It seemed like we had a lot of community support, which helped us achieve the goal of running a good first year.
CN: What are some more of the specific changes you made to the format during the first season?
CB: Some of the big changes surrounded the release of course maps and the amount of training [on the course] available to riders. When we started, we were open and we tested a lot of different things throughout the year - when riders knew trails, how much they could train, how many runs they would get, how much riding there was in each race. We quickly worked out what people like and what works on an international level.
We reduced the amount of time that each course was in publication [in advance of riders racing it - ed.]
We increased amount of course marking because the guys were pushing the level even more than we had anticipated. We had to step up to match the level of dedication the top of the field has.
CN: What did you think of the relative participation of riders who came from disciplines other than enduro? Was it what you expected? Did you find that any particular background, such as downhill or cross country, gave more of an advantage?
CB: We've been honored by the level of participation from such a wide cross section. If you look at Finale final, we had current cross country World Cup winners with racers who entered Rampage with downhill World Cup winners and world champions and four cross World champions and BMX world champions. It was fascinating to have a discipline that brought all those together.
There seemed to be a lot of mutual respect. A lot of the downhillers have been amazed at how technically able the enduro specialists are. It's eye opening for the downhillers to see how good the top-end cross country riders are when not limited by equipment or courses, like when you give them a long travel bike and a more technical track. They can hold their own. It's been fascinating to see that the riders who have been winning and succeeding do have the level of fitness to compete with a World Cup cross country racer and World Cup downhill racer.
The feedback we had from the top riders who dipped a toe in this is that they realized it takes a bit of everything. If they are going to succeed it this, it will take more dedication.
CN: Do you think the enduro specialists had an advantage?
CB: There is so much tactical knowledge. Enduro benefits the tacticians. People with enduro background have an understanding of pacing and rhythm. They know where to try hard, where to rest, where to take risks, where not to.
Some of the cross country riders and downhillers don't have that insight. Those who do understand that you need a high level of race craft have succeeded. Look at Jared Graves for example. He hadn't raced enduro before this year, but he analyzed it and he understood the long game. He understood where to try and how to pace himself. He broke it down and succeeded greatly from that.
The enduro guys have had that experience and have carried it through this year. Those that stepped in blindly had a bit of an eye opening. Those who understood that there is a whole different element to this form of mountain bike racing have risen to the top,
CN: Do you expect that the first-year EWS participants will be back next year?
CB: I certainly hope so, and it seems that way. The feedback has been great and I think most favorites will return.
Read Part 2 of this interview.