Racers have a daunting task ahead of them as they compete beneath the shadow of Mont Blanc this weekend at round four of the Enduro World Series, La Thuile Superenduro.
The steep and unforgiving terrain of the Aosta Valley awaits the 450 riders taking part, who'll face six tough stages over two days. And with the tightest points table of the series so far, this weekend's race is wide open.
In the women's race, current champion Trek rider Tracy Moseley retains the lead - but with just 50 points separating her and Ibis' Anne Caroline Chausson, there is a lot at stake for both women this weekend. The race between third, fourth and fifth is even tighter still with Cecile Ravanel of GT Pulse only 10 points ahead of Specialized's Anneke Beerten, and Isabeau Courduier of Rocky Mountain Urge BP also just 10 points behind.
In the men's race, Yeti/Fox Shox's Jared Graves leads Justin Leov of Trek by 130 points. But with just 30 points separating second to fifth place, expect an epic battle for the podium from Damien Oton (Devinci), Florian Nicolai (Rocky Mountain Urge BP) and Nico Lau (Cube Action Team) who sit in third, fourth and fifth respectively.
Freezing temperatures and the chance of snow and rain mean riders will need to race smart - especially as the race features the longest stage ever held on Italian soil. Superkappa, which forms stage 1 on Saturday and stage 4 on Sunday is around 20 minutes long and starts at an altitude of 2600 metres.
Enrico Guala of Superenduro thinks it's this sort of terrain that will mark La Thuile out as a classic enduro venue.
"For this stop of the EWS, we decided to provide riders with the best synthesis of the enduro format. There will be chairlift, pedalling and portage used in the liaisons - we feel this is a good reflection of what enduro is about.
"At the same time, we are challenging the riders on the longest stage we've ever had in Italy and what is likely to be one of the longest we'll see in this year's EWS calendar. The stage will travel from the high alpine peak of La Thuile to a small village in the woods - the terrain changes dramatically from stage to stage. At this round riders will get to not only enjoy the racing, but also the atmosphere of the village and some fine Italian cuisine."
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