And just like that the 2016 season has come to a close. Every year it feels like the lead-in takes quite sometime and then once the season hits, it all flashes by. For the third year in a row I travelled over to Finale Ligure, Italy to attend the final Enduro World Series race for my final race of the year. With school classes not starting until November it was the first time I didn’t have to be doing homework and handing in projects or essays early on race mornings in a cafe – phew!
The day before I attended a fundraiser event for the Okanagan Rail Trail initiative. This group has been created to help speed up the process and help fund the rail trail corridor from Kelowna to Vernon. This is a massive opportunity for showcasing more of the Okanagan’s beauty. Tree Brewing hosted the event and we walked part of the already paved sections in downtown before heading back to enjoy beer, pizza and fundraise!
I met up with Squamish ripper and current mens Eliminator national champ – Rhys Verner – and his buddy Arnau in Finale. The first day we cruised some some ancient olive growing terraces turned bike trails. The pavement mountain roads and views in Finale are incredible. We enjoyed the trails before heading down to the beach for an evening swim.
Day two was the first day of practice where Arnau graciously shuttled Rhys and I up to the top of the ~2 hr start climb so we could save the energy to ride it on race day and get in two laps on each of the stages. Day one practice included two laps of stages 1-3. In the evening we did a bonus ocean front cruise over the sunset. With this not being a focus discipline I’ll do a little extra sightseeing and riding to soak it all in. That said, I’m still there to do the best I can and I had high expectations.
Day three was more practice and another 4 hours on the bike pedalling. This enduro practice is hard and tiring!
Day four was race day 1 that saw us ride 4 hours with three major climbs – the first taking 2 hours. As a kid I grew reading magazines and loving DH racing. Reading about Greg Minnaar and Steve Peat was regular as they are legends of the DH world. This weekend I was seated right near them, Loic Bruni (2015 world champ) and Sam Dale (world cup racer). I can’t explain how amazing it was to ride with them all weekend in-between race stages. They great, genuine lads and made my weekend one to remember. We relied on each other to joke around and help speed up the time while we climbed some tough mountains in the transfers.
On the racing side it was a poor day. My worst Enduro racing day actually. I have one rule in mountain biking: don’t crash. It’s very simple and it’s very important. In my opinion most crashes stem from yourself. You rode off line, outside of your ability, or misread the terrain or the trail. Sometimes it’s not totally your fault though, but in this racing most of the time it is. I hate crashing, it hurts physically and I find it embarrassing. On stages 1 and 2 I crashed. The first two stages were brutal, steep, loose, dusty, blowout, and tough on the body. I misread a corner on stage 1 and when exciting the berm that used to be there was blown out from so many riders skidding through and also blowing the turn. I then blew the turn, skidded the front wheel out and went over the edge onto my head and hit my neck on a tree while flipping over the bars. Very, very lucky to get back on quick and keep going. One of those situations when it’s happening you think “oh $hit I’m in trouble” but once I stood up it was surprising that nothing hurt and everything moved. Just a stiff neck.
Stage 2 crash was just dumb. Rhys actually texted me some updates throughout the day as he was ahead and said it was very rutted out. I tried to stay inside of a rut through a turn and just slid into with my front wheel and turned my bars, went down in slow motion where my feet were still clipped in and it took a while to unclip while laying on my side. Back up and luckily everything was good again. Pushed on and loved the rest. Felt like the first two stages were great except for the crashes. It left me in 55th for the day. Long out of my worst @ 35th on a day 1.
Day five was race day 2. The body was tired but in a good way. I was pissed from the day before and pulled it back together. All stages were in the top-32. Back to where I belong and feel capable of. I had a big goal of going in for a top-20 at this race. Day two was solid on all stages except for the most pedally stage all weekend where I overcooked a corner and had the bike sliding on the edge of a bank and saved it with one foot but came to a stop in a fast section. Could have been worse but in this racing seconds count and you can’t afford a mess up, especially after all the ones yesterday. Last year I dabbed my foot once all weekend and ended in 25th.
I pulled back time and moved up to 39th overall. Decent but not what I know I’m capable of. The season ended on a good note though as the second day was a lot better and the last burly DH called I pulled off a 23rd on it. Best of the weekend on a tough trail.
The weekend was filled with fun, laughs, amazing riding, in one of the best places I’ve ever been for a race. Year after year the EWS puts on an incredible event here. The organization is top-notch. That makes it very easy and enjoyable for us racers.
Riding with Minnaar, Peat, Bruni, and Dale all weekend was unforgettable. Friendships were created and the smack talk flowed. The afterparty in the centre square once again was very fun.
For one of the first times in my life I added two days onto the trip to stay in Nice and explore. Usually we’re in and out so quick that being a tourist never happens. Now that the season was done it meant two bike-free days of being a full tourist. Seeing the old town, eating baguettes and swimming on the mediterranian coast was just the perfect time. The following day I rented a scooter and spent the day driving the coast up to Monaco and Monte Carlo to see all the beauty and ridiculous amounts of money there.
Once again I am writing the last race report of the year while flying across the Atlantic. I’m looking forward to spending the next month at home and catching up on things. November I’ll head down to my pal Mckay Vezina’s in California to start training for 2017.
Thank you to everyone who followed, supported, and helped me this year. It’s been a damn good one and next year is going to be big.