Enduro World Series round 4, Samoens

EWS 4 Samoens. Watch out for the smiley rocks.

Aye, so, err….World series enduro racing. Just round the valley from home. Couldn’t really not enter.

Turn up on Friday for registration, stupidly assuming it would be in the same virtually purpose built structure as last years Coupe du France registration. Obviously it’s not and spend 30 minutes randomly riding about till I find the small hall it’s now in. Nina was chatting away to Joe Barnes in the queue so I shamelessly skip in.

Five stickers, free mudguard and a signature later, you're ready to race.

After tracking down some more water and joking about the mudguard in the goodie bag we chat to Isa and Enrico, then with the stage map being released (not that any of us ever got to see it mind, which begs the question, how did people know where the stage was?) we headed over to walk Saturdays stage 3 behind the full rocky mountain team. By the top it seemed every name I’d ever read about or watch videos of was kicking about. And speaking to Nina. The name dropping getting too much for you yet? I’ve not finished.

We get down and go for ice cream.

It’s too hot for northern Europeans.

Ice cream!

Saturday. With a race number of 190 I’m safely in the nobodies again. A mix of British, Kiwi, Irish, French and German around me. With English crossed with French being the main language it’s a bit less work for me to communicate than inflicting my franglais on folks at the Coupe du France.

Course walkin' Look, there, hashtagenduro cut line.

We reccy the stage, race the stage, and repeat until about 5000m of descent is clocked up. Or that’s the plan. As I arrive (late, the loading system for the gondola leaves a little to be desired with about 350 riders on the start list) for my reccy there’s a few drops of rain in the air. Twenty minutes later I’ve finished my reccy and am droochit, though the ground which hasn’t felt rain for about 4 weeks is soaking it up, begging for more and not getting too muddy. The thunderstorm stops after 30 minutes.

Later riders aren’t so lucky. Chamonix rider Dave Hughes finds another rider on the ground with his handlebar through his thigh. He tourniquets with a tube and the helicopter evacuates. The course is on hold for 1 hour.

The chiefs. I think Fred only organises these so he can rag about on the gasgas.

I’m not going to describe the stages beyond stage 1 had the most pedalling, stage 2 the most bike park, stage 3 the shortest, stage 4 the most brutal on the upper body and stage 5 just the most, one of the best trails out there.
Stage 1 passed, seemed ok, no terrible mistakes. Spencer who was back on mechanic duties (Formula 1 pit ain’t got nothing on him for tubeless tyre changes) meets me at the pits and says the second run on stage 2 is cancelled due to the time delays so I kick about waiting to see if it’s going to stop getting hot and sunny and return to rain.

It rained roughly this much on Saturday morning.

It doesn’t. Then the stage times go up. I’ve landed in 73rd place on the 1st stage. This is something of a surprise. Heading up for stage 2 I’m no longer relaxed and just having fun with no stress of trying to do well (because obviously there’s no way I’d do well at an EWS). Instead I’m now worrying I have to try hard and take “good” lines.

The day was still fun, but by the end I was riding so cautiously I’m surprised I’m not still up there. The plus side of this was that the bike didn’t need fixed overnight.

Multiple DH world champion Nico Voulliouz chilling out and not worrying about his lines.

Sunday morning and we get re-seeded according to our Saturday finish. I ended the day 83rd. Instead of the relaxed piss taking of Saturday’s riders I’m now surrounded by riders with their name on their jersey and bike. Presumably this is as they change sponsor every year so it’s hard to remember which bike is theirs. Also, instead of wondering how many riders I’ll overtake, I have Phil Shucksmith 15sec behind me, Eddie Masters 30, and Chris Kilmurray 45 . There’s still plenty piss taking, but I really don’t feel I belong here with the “real” riders. At least I’ve got my good riding top without any holes in it saved for the race runs.

Turns out clipping a rock and bending frame, cranks and pedal will put a damper on your day.

Blowing straight through the tape on the practice run for the last stage (not the first to do so, the marshal is already pulling fresh tape off the roll as I career past him) I walk back to the trail to meet Eddie Masters doing the same. Me and the 3 riders behind me are now in a train of 4 whooping and whipping our way down one of the best trails in the alps. It’s not what racing is about, but it’s a lot of fun, and the only time I relax on the bike all day.

Jerome recovering from illness is faster than pretty much anyone healthy.

Racing over, the Dude’s of Hazzard suggest swimming in the Giffre. This seems like a good idea until I put my feet in the river and decide I’ll just paddle. Nina does the same. Spencer decides even that looks too cold. It’s left to the rest to go swimming. James Shirly goes one better and has his post race wash. 100% commitment to the van life. A stone skimming contest then starts to get a little out of hand.

So was that a race weekend? I mostly seemed to be chatting to random folk with a common interest in bikes. Some I’d never met, some I knew only as the stars of the sport, some had been at the same races as me in the past. Then there were the friends who’d headed over to see just how good the best of the best are get some riding in when the racing moved on (cheers for the cheers everyone, apologies if I was a bit distracted and didn’t say hello on the course!)

Finish line Stage 5 Sunday.It's all over bar the swimming.

Cheers to Luke Jarmey Photography for bumping up the standard of photography, Spencer for standing about a carpark in the rain and sun giving encouragement and everyone who cheered for me and chatted away over the weekend.