The skillset needed to win an Enduro World Series race is a heady concoction of all round bike handling ability, supreme fitness and almightily cool race tactic. With multiple stages over a weekend, it could be both easy and dangerous for a leading rider to slip into a lull of security while leading out the pack. Enduro is such a wildly different game to downhill racing and even for Nicolas Vouilloz – the ten time DH World Champion – it has taken his time to come round to the patterns needed to conquer one of these things. But things seemed to click for the Frenchman this weekend in Samoens, suddenly the ‘Alien’s’ unearthly talent had its chance to shine in the big mountains of the French Alps. But sometimes when the finish line is in sight competitors let down their guard and in an instant victory slips from their grasp.
Contrary to Nico, young Richie Rude – previous Junior DH World Champion – has been rapid in finding his groove in a discipline that fell upon him perhaps not entirely by his own volition. The American has rocketed to the top of the results sheets in a corner of mountain biking that is otherwise reserved for those of greater experience.
If there’s one thing that can’t be doubted, it’s the two riders’ unfaltering thirst for victory, both keen to prove they can take occasional enduro greatness and add to it the consistency that it takes to gain an overall win at one of these events. They were on it from the very outset, and with an initially fast Jerome Clementz losing his lead after Stage 1 and making mistakes from thereon in, the two main players were left to edge each other on. To prove how a smart, not just all out fast, race is absolutely vital in this discipline, even Fabien Barel’s trio of stage wins in 3, 4 and 5 couldn’t bring him back in line with the leaders. By the time racing made its final crest high above the Giffre valley, poised and ready for a final plunge through the dense forest, these two were within a gnat’s hair of one another. Vouilloz held the lead, but a fatal error of judgement heading into vicious rocks too fast bent his crank, disintegrated the underneath of his bike and the Frenchman was left to limp home into the runner’s up spot.
A classic tortoise and hare race, except of course that Rude was blindingly fast all weekend too, but he didn’t need to take a single stage victory to secure the overall. He just kept his cool, rode clever and crossed the line to an emphatic first ever EWS victory. Vouilloz was left dazed and confused, his bike in pieces, to wonder what could have been.
Vouilloz and Rude taking it to the next level simultaneously made for some fantastic drama here in Samoens. A fight right to the line with a storybook outcome. Going into the final stage it was the closest we’ve seen EWS racing. But by stark contrast, the Tracy Moseley-Anne Caroline Chausson rivalry that has pushed the limits of both legends of the sport in the women’s class was torn into two this weekend as the latter was forced to retire from the event after only one stage due to unstated illness. This left the door wide open for Moseley to essentially put in a two-day lap of honour in a discipline in which she and her main rival are heads and shoulders above the rest. T-MO was over a minute and a half up on the remaining competition by the end of Day 1, and she played a clever game to cruise home to a victory only slightly larger by the end of the race.
To see the sport’s gods throwing heavy punches at a younger generation reiterates the sheer diversity – not only in riding terms but also those who take part – of mountain biking. Enduro brings this spread into a live melting pot of excitement and epic battle.