Rowan Sorrell has just been out in France racing the mountainbike equivalent of the MX Des Nations, the similarly titled Enduro Des Nations. Here’s Rowan’s view on this tough event.
The 2010 Enduro Des Nations
Photos: Rowan Sorrell(?)
I first competed in this event 2 years ago at Les Deux Alpes as Team Wales with Ralph ‘Wrecking Ball’ Jones and Michael ‘Zeb’ Gray. It was a tough weekend with crashes, punctures and we all found it incredibly physical. It was an amazing format with so much quality riding packed into the weekend but we all said we would not do it again unless we were properly prepared both physically and with our bike set up and spares.
So I’m kind of kicking myself that just the other week when asked if I wanted to go over and race the 2010 Enduro des Nations with Duncan Ferris (DMR) and Martin Astley (Sunn) I said yes and we sped head first into the abyss with zilch preparation once again. By the end of the weekend we had worked up a pretty solid list of excuses, wrong tyres, too many clothes, not enough clothes, no gears, everyone else was cheating, too many pain au chocolates and of course that one that you can never hide behind; not fit enough. Martin’s (fresh from a 9th place finish at the Maxi Avalanche in Samoens)sponsor Sunn had asked him to race and put in a UK team and he asked me if I was keen to do it again, so I donned my rose tinted glasses and reminisced of a couple of days downhilling in the sun and dust against some of Europe’s fastest endurance downhillers. All great fun and pretty laid back, just downhill runs of between 10-15 mins right?
Well after run one on Saturday we were all sat there exhausted and a little shellshocked, it all started coming back to me, damn, I forgot just how tough this event was and we were suffering. Only 9 more runs to go!
So what’s the crack with this whole Enduro series format and how does it differ to say the mega avalanche?
Ten runs over two days, six on the Saturday and four on the Sunday. There were three courses on Saturday ( 2 runs on each) and one on the Sunday (3 runs on this then the final mass start run on one of the shorter courses from the previous day) in this resort it worked out that the fastest times on the Saturday were all around the 10 minute mark and on the Sunday it was just a touch under 20 minutes for the fastest rider Remy Absalon. Riders are set off at 20 second intervals like a downhill race but you inevitably pass people or get passed over such long runs. Your overall time for your final position is a combination of all of your race runs so a big crash or mechanical can ruin your overall result.
What’s really different about these events is the fact that the courses are largely natural, they will adopt parts of trails and then cut off down pistes, freshly dug sections and wide open entirely natural sections, with just pieces of tape dotted down the hillside to mark the route.
One off camber section on the Sunday was freshly cut across a steep hillside and barely 6” wide – it was pretty challenging! You have to think on the fly and try and plot your lines ahead, cutting corners and avoiding trouble in the form of holes, rocks, drops etc – kind of like downhill? – Well not really, as you are forbidden to ride the tracks beforehand. If you were prepared and get there a day or two early you could walk all the courses but bear in mind with one taking 20 minutes to ride on a bike that’s one hell of a lot of walking, so we, like many other punters were hitting these blind after a failed attempt to walk the courses on Friday put paid to by a big thunderstorm.
The whole riding tracks blind thing adds a whole extra dimension to the event, sure it’s easy enough to follow a worn in trail blind, but these largely natural and fresh tracks you have to hold back on as you are never really sure when you are going to overshoot a turn, drop down a bank or just catch a good old rock or stump in the undergrowth, or at least that’s what we assumed everyone did… Some of the Euros are so loose its crazy, they just plough through anything and everything at warp speed pedalling with no regard for what might happen – witnessing this at least gave us a kick up the arse and we settled into the rest of the runs.
Over the two days of racing at this event we covered 10,000 metres of downhill (with a few savage climbs!) let’s just put that into perspective, with the average decent sized UK downhill maxing out at about 300 metres vertical drop that’s the equivalent to doing 33 race runs of Rheola in 2 days, or 87 runs of the Dirt test track at the Forest of Dean. In fact Duncan made me laugh when he said ‘What’s the difference between a UK race and the Enduro des Nations? In the UK you are pissed off when you only get 5 or 6 runs in a weekend, at the Enduro des Nations you are massively relieved when they cancel a run!” (They had to cancel a run due to thunder and boy were we happy).
The turn out was good with only Team USA and Rene Wilhaber the obvious exceptions to a packed field. It was good to see Sabrina Jonnier taking time out to give her first Enduro Series round a go and she really enjoyed it, also Anne Caroline Chausson was there and fast as ever.
It was fairly eventful for us, due to weight restrictions flying out we didn’t have any spares, so no spare tyres for the wet after the storm, Duncan had chain problems and crucially did not have a adjustable seatpost (crucial for these events), I had derauilleur problems with my drop out threads stripped and the derailleur eventually falling off with no replacement, but overall we all lost out by not having the engine to keep pushing on through the runs, pedal out of corners, attack the downhills and sprint the climbs. We were simply wobbly tired passengers on our bikes rather than racers and also notably the only riders in the 300 or so entries on flat pedals.
This venue was a lot more trail oriented than the one I did in Les Deux Alpes which suited us as downhillers more, with lots of steep off-camber grassy turns, so we paid a heavier penalty here as we were not able to make much time back on the more technical sections. Anyone who has done the mega will have been impressed by the top 10’s bike skills and their strength and fitness and this event is no different, it is an elite level of skill and fitness!
It was Jerome Clementz and Remy Absalon who battled it out for the individual prize with Clementz having the edge on Saturday before Absalon made up the deficit to take the win and the overall on the Sunday.
In the Enduro des Nations France cleaned up with places one two and three, the number one team would really take some beating but I bet that there are some UK riders who could push them.
The Enduro series runs throughout France and it all follows this format, 2 years ago there were no other Brits racing this year Rob Hamilton-Smith and a few of his friends were competing and loving the weekend but still I’m amazed that more Brits do not take part, it’s a great weekend, you get to ride some amazing big mountain terrain, do more riding than you can shake a stick at and the whole thing is super slickly organised by the tribe sport guys, the super cool Jerome’ and Fred Glo. If you want an event to go to and have fun with your friends, then along with the mega I really can’t think of anything better, if you want to go and compete seriously then you had better be racking up those road miles as it’s a real challenge. Writing this before the rose tinted lenses kick in again, I would say that you need to drive out there, carry spare tyres and mechs, brake pads, derailleur’s etc, ride clipped in if you can, have trained pretty hard and give yourself time to walk the tracks that way, you’ll have an amazing time.
Headcam of the final mass start run for the Enduro Des Nations (it’s just the teams that get to do the mass start not the 300+ individuals) Duncan Ferris finished this run in 6th place.
For next year I’d love to see a proper UK team – perhaps Peaty, Dan and Gee I think with their strength and fitness they would give team France a run for their money…
And why or why haven’t we got a race series like this in the UK, the Kielder avalanche and Kona Mash up are both held on trail centres and are poor cousins in comparison as not much skill is required, we need a natural trails downhill enduro event in the UK – Steve Parr are you listening..? ; )
Go check out: www.tribesportgroup.com/enduro/
Or there is a similar series in Italy: www.superenduromtb.com
Right, I’m off to find some stockists of E.P.O