Le Thuile: Day of the Dead (forearms).*

Enduro zombies. Or Team Scandinavia. Or just Läderlappen!!!

Last year La Thuile hosted round 4 of the EWS. It won the race of the year accolade and was raved about by racers and press alike as “real” enduro (eh!?!) with thousands of meters of descent on rough and raw tracks. Val di Sole times a million as Team America might say.

I had a great time last year, but I got smashed. The long harsh trails were a reminder that I’m not too fit and my arms are a bit pathetic. Well not so much a reminder as a mugging down a dingy back alley, but you get the idea.

Todays "photography" is brought to you by a cheap smartphone. Soz.

So, fast forward a year and since the last race at La Thuile, I’ve broken both arms and wrists, spent almost 5 months with an arm in a brace to stop me using it, and a couple weeks ago decided to dislocate my right middle finger to balance up my pre-existing feebleness at holding onto the handlebars.

Seems like a good idea to go back to La Thuile and get some Superenduro action….

Ready to drop into Stage 3 with Team Scandinavia. (and Switzerland, and Scotland. So Team "S" really)

Fortunately for those of us making up the numbers, races are a great excuse to catch up with people and win at practice, which is pretty much how the weekend went. Lots of groups of riders from all over the world sitting about in the sunshine and riding some of the best trails on the planet.

Stage 1. One of the better trails on the planet, did you take the left or right line?

The Superenduro crew put on an amazing event, the key things were prioritised: Amazing venue, great trails, well taped, relaxed vibe. The less important things came second. How it should be really.

Only one stage was completely common to the EWS, this year’s first stage which was also last year’s fifth stage. Last year this was my worst stage, the relentless steepness and braking took its toll on my arms and by the end I was having to choose between 3 or 4 finger braking, which didn’t leave many fingers for holding onto the bars. So I was curious how it would go this year, just taking it nice ‘n’ easy and preserving my energy for the lower third. Answer? 30 seconds slower. Bit humiliating that really, though at least I was able use the brakes at the end this time.

The start of stage 1. Sure, it looks nice here. Give it 8 or 9 minutes and see how you feel....

The rest of the stages were shorter, but still steep, loose, dusty and fun. I’ve said it plenty times before, but if you own a #enduro bike, go to La Thuile, it is every bit as good as everyone says. Though mibbies a wee bit rougher than it was a few years ago.

Yeah, I know the image quality is terrible, but if you wanted a better idea why didn't you go yourself?

Mechanicals did seem to be a bit of an issue. About 350 riders signed on on Saturday morning. By the end of practice 12 had already had to pull out through mechanical or injury, by the end of Sundays racing another 40 were missing from the sheet. Racing the stages, the side of the track was littered with bikes missing a wheel whilst the rider tried to stuff a tube in as quick as possible. At the end of each stage other riders would be trying to fix cooked brakes, blown shocks, buckled wheels or even snapped bars. It’s going to sound like an advert for my Airdrop Edit, but it was pretty amazing to sail through all this without having to touch the bike all weekend other than to put some chain lube on after Saturday practice and tighten a solitary loose spoke after Sundays race. Oh, and stop about 30 seconds into stage 4 to switch the rear shock back from climb to descend mode, but I’m no sure I can blame the bike for that one.

My biggest mechanical issue of the weekend. Brushing the dust off the Edit.

So if I was such an also ran this year, why did I enjoy the racing so much? Usually I put the unrelated rant at the start of the writing then try and claw it back to some sort of bike relevance half way through. This time, it’s going the other way round. If you’re only here for the biking stuff, change the channel now, possibly to see what Ben Winder made of it all.

Some rocks, some trees, some dust, ok lots of dust. Easy this track description lark.

Dopamine. The neural transmitter that, according to the well known, peer reviewed, journal “The Sun” makes “cupcakes as addictive as cocaine” is responsible for all manner of stuff in the brain, but the best known bit is releasing reward chemicals into the heid and making you feel just smashing thanks.

Would riding this trigger a dopamine response in you? And would it be due to a "near miss"?
It might be a surprise to you, but it turns out dopamine is a little more complicated than The Sun makes out. As well as being released following success or something that makes you feel good (say, a really tasty cupcake for example) and making you feel good about yourself, hence wanting to repeat that behaviour (that was a really good cupcake, I shouldn’t, but just one more) it gets released following worrying, scary, near miss events too (holy crap, there’s a tarantula in my cupcake! I wonder if there’s one in the next cupcake?).

Does sprinting hard enough to cough a lung get you high? Seems to work for the fast folk.

Ah yes, racing long and tough courses with minimal practice. I had a clean weekend with no crashes and in control all the time, but you still spend plenty time going “eek” as whole sections of track you’d forgotten about appear, or sections you kinda remembered turned out to have changed somewhat since you rode them a few hundred riders ago. And if you’re really cracking on, you need to take some actual risks and get near your limits. That’s when the near misses (or near hits really) start to rack up and you hit full dopamine house. It’s addictive and you go back for more.

And racing in Italy being especially good? Well, what could possibly trump a cupcake other than good coffee and gelato?

Post race affogato. It is Italy after all.

Of course, the brain is way more complicated than that. All manner of other chemicals are complementing and countering the work of dopamine and messing with our emotions. But if you want to know more, perhaps consult some form of expert rather than an unqualified rant on the internet. Seriously, what’s wrong with you people.

*RIP George A Romero.