Tomorrow, I fly back to New Mexico after my first trip to Europe in 12 years. I’ve spent the last four weeks traveling between France and Italy, eating great food, meeting great people and racing some of the biggest enduro races of the season. It has been busy, awesome and exhausting.
The lead up to my trip was similarly crazy. From the Big Mountain Enduro series finals in Moab, Syd (who finished fifth overall in the series), Sean and I (fourth overall in the series) headed back to Taos. We spent a day emptying and cleaning the Sprinter van then Sean headed to Tennessee, and Syd and I started packing.
Three days later we loaded up the Rockmelon (my little orange car) and headed to Crested Butte. After five hard days of racing at the Crested Butte Ultra Enduro (I finished sixth and Syd finished eighth), we drove to Durango and the next morning flew to Las Vegas for Interbike. After five days of having (good) wrenches thrown into our sponsorship plans for next year (more on that when things are finalized) we headed back to Taos. Then we had another four days to pack before I flew to France to race and Syd flew to Italy for the Breadloaf writer’s conference.
My first race of the trip was the Trans-Provence. This is the best-known multi-day enduro stage race in the world and it did not disappoint. Over the course of the six-day race we climbed over 7,700 meters (25,000 feet) and descended over 13,700 (44,500 feet) and rode more than 250 kilometers (150 miles). The trails destroyed equipment and left many racers, myself included, with cuts and bruises. It was a true backcountry enduro race and, excluding the racers who had raced it in the past, everyone was racing it blind (without pre-riding). This meant that I had to balance racing against riding cautiously because a mistake could mean anything from a shredded tire to a helicopter evacuation.
In addition to the lack of pre-riding, the trails in Provence are steeper, rockier and slower than most of the trails in the US and it’s clear to me that these things are weaknesses in my riding. I struggled to carry speed through the tight, steep switchbacks and regularly chose poor lines through the rocky sections, which resulted in numerous mechanicals and crashes. These issues cost me over 30 minutes and destroyed any chance of a top-10 finish (which was what I was shooting for). The first day I had a bad crash on the last stage of the day and pulled my hamstring. I was able to finish the stage but the injury bothered me for the next five days and subsequent crashes further aggravated it. I also had a number of mechanicals, during both timed and transfer stages, and eventually finished 33rd overall, despite some top-10 finishes on individual stages.
From Trans-Provence I headed to Finale Ligure, Italy for the Enduro World Series finals. The trails in Finale were also technical but in a very different way. There were some tight switchbacks but the dirt wasn’t as loose and most of the trails weren’t as rocky. Instead we had to thread our way through tight trees and try to find the fastest line through (or over) large rock features. The race was comprised of six stages spread over two days and unlike the other EWS races I raced this year, there were no assisted transfers (shuttles or chairlifts) so we pedaled over 90 kilometers (55 miles) carrying everything we needed to compete.
The first day started off well. I finished the first three stages without any major issues and finished 104th, 76th and 87th. I was close to 10% behind the leaders (fairly standard for me at the EWS races) on all three and went into the fourth stage ranked 90th out of the 250 or so pro men.
Unfortunately I took an EXTREMELY poor line on the fourth stage and crashed, burping about half the air out of my front tire in the process. I hopped back on my bike and continued to race but eventually rolled the tire because of the low pressure, crashed again and was forced to run the rest of the stage. This put me in 217th for the stage and lost me multiple minutes, putting me comfortably outside of a good result. The next day I had two solid runs and finished 98th and 86th. Once the total times were calculated, I was surprised to learn that I still finished 122nd, just within the top half, despite my multiple-minute error.
While in Finale, I stayed at the Ciapin Mountain Bike Lodge. It’s a cool little lodge located about 15 minutes from Finale Ligure with riding just outside the gate and five sheep roaming the property as the living lawnmowers. There’s a wood-fired pizza over (which I obviously took advantage of) and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a bike-related vacation in that part of the world.
Next I headed back to France (after a quick stop in Bergamo to visit 3T and Vittoria tires) for the Roc d’Azur. This is the French equivalent of the Sea Otter Classic only ENORMOUS. Something like 18,000 people show up to race and the exhibitor space is close to the size of Interbike. I spent four days at the show, helping at the Vittoria tires and Mohawk Cycles (the French Pivot distributor) booths and would have raced the EnduRoc (Roc enduro) but it was sold out. I also ran into fellow Cyclingnews bloggers, Mike and Mary, who had both competed in the Roc Marathon race.
I’m looking forward to being back in the US for a couple of months now while Syd, Sean and I finalize things for next year. Then we’re headed back to New Zealand to work on our steep technical switchbacks and prepare for the first round of the Enduro World Series in Rotorua in March 2015.