JARED GRAVES – ENDURO WORLD SERIES #2
After a six week break since the first of the Enduro World Series in Punta Ala, it was time to head to Val d’Allos, France for the second round of the series. In Val d’Allos we knew we’d be seeing totally different terrain and a totally different race format and a steep learning curve for the weekend. The Format was fairly simple: six stages over two days with just one practice run allowed for each stage. The one-look format is something I have tried to prepare for a little over the past few months, by basically just trying to ride as fast as I can first run down any new place I rode. Oddly, this something that I felt pretty comfortable with, so that gave me a little added confidence coming into this round of the series.
One thing I knew was going to be difficult was trying to keep up with the French at their own game on their home turf. Not that it would be a huge advantage, but the French riders have raced here a number of years over basically the same courses and with the same format. I was a little worried how the racing was going to play out, and if foreigners would even be able to be on the same level as the Frenchies. Also going from a total of 20 minutes of timed stages in Punta Ala, and now having over an hour of timed stages for the second round, was going to be tough.
On Friday we were allowed to get up on the hill and walk any section we wanted to see, basically just to get an idea of the terrain around. With six stages and approximately a kilometer of vertical drop (3,000 feet more-or-less) per stage, it was going to be impossible to walk everything without completely blowing myself out. I walked up about 2/3 of the first stage and then walked down a chunk of Stage 5. That took almost three hours and was about all the hiking I could handle if I wanted to stay fresh for racing. So I cut it short and called it a day. It was really good to walk with one of my best riding buddies ever, former teammate, and all-round good guy Justin Leov. He was doing his first EWS race, and was pretty excited to get after it.
I woke up feeling mentally really good and ready, but I was a little surprised that my legs felt completely blown up from hiking the day before. My muscles were definitely not used to that amount of walking/hiking. We had our only practice run at 8:15 in the morning. The early run was a total struggle for me, my body and mind just did not want to ride flat out down alpine trails at that hour. Once I was up and about though, it proved to be a good way to wake myself up; the view from up top was amazing, and definitely made me feel very lucky and grateful to be where I was. The track was fairly long and a mix of flowy and fast up top, and natural, grassy and steep at the bottom. A good all-round run. I felt solid up top and my run was going well until I had one of those stupid crashes left me stuck under my bike, struggling to get out from under it. Definitely not an ideal start to the race. The bottom natural stuff was tough to ride fast, especially with no idea where I was going. Ultimately, I didn’t lose too much time and could only imagine how things would’ve gone if I’d have started the day on equal footing with the locals.
Had the same top half as Stage 1, so that was perfect. The route then peeled off into some nice steep traverses and amazing flowing sections. Just a short, 45 second long fire road section to get the legs burning and then more flowy fast singletrack to the finish. Fully awake for this stage, my run was pretty much perfect and I posted the best time by four seconds and got myself back to within six seconds of the overall lead. All of which got me pretty amped up for the final stage of the day–Stage 3
Came back to the pits from my practice run with a smile from ear to ear, hands down my favorite track of the whole weekend. This stage proved to be a good mix of everything: no climbs, but a fair few short punchy sprints and just so much fun to ride. I knew it would be a good track for me. This was also the run that turned the race on its head a little bit. Fabian Barel was one of the strong pre-race favorites, but he flatted on the top of the course. On my run, I could see I was catching Jerome Clementz who started just ahead of me. By the mid-way point I knew I was on a good run and could sense that I was getting closer and closer to Jerome. Suddenly I closed down the gap quickly and it was obvious he had some mechanical trouble (which turned out to be a flat tire.)
I went flat out to the finish and was very happy with my run. I took the stage win again with Greg Minnaar finding his enduro feet, finishing just half a second back and Nico Vouilloz over 11-seconds back in third spot. Stage 3 proved to be an unlucky stage for some, but was a great stage for me. Playing it safe in a few sections was a smart move and something that doesn’t really come naturally as a racer; normally I just want to go flat out everywhere, but that isn’t always the best tactic in Enduro. By the end of the day and at the half way point of the race I found myself with a 6-second lead in the overall, and a lot of confidence leading into Sunday’s last three stages.
Another early start, up on the top of the hill at 8:15AM for our practice run. It turned out that Stages 4 and 5 were run over the same course. Totally natural terrain, very physical, with two short, but tough climbs, and a long flat fire road which felt like it would never end followed by a batch of steep, tight and awkward stuff. My lead was a nice little gap, but anyone could lose or gain a lot of time on either stage. At the end of my practice run I had a big crash, flipping the bars and landing on a pile of rocks at high speed. I got up slowly, feeling pretty sore with a good chunk of skin missing from my left palm, which was going to make hauling on in the fast and rough stuff pretty difficult for the rest of the day.
This is the point where Enduro racing becomes tough, staying mentally strong when you have three more brutal stages of racing and your body is sore from top to bottom. It would prove to be a good test of mental strength for sure.
I had a near perfect first half I was extending my overall lead, the pain in my hand wasn’t bothering me at all and I was feeling good. Then, at almost exactly the same as spot as my practice run, I found myself sliding down the hillside wrapped in course tape. Trying to unwrap my bike and untwist my bars I knew I was losing a good chunk of time…I was just gutted! I pushed on as hard as I could to the finish and I felt good about where thought I’d end up. In the end, I lost just a few seconds off my lead, but I was completely frustrated that I had thrown away a lot of time.
Stage 5 was going to be the make-or-break stage. I was still in the overall lead by 3-seconds and felt like it was my race to lose. Again, I rode a good first half, then it all went a bit pear shaped. I clipped a rock with my foot on a short rocky climb and fell over. I got going again fairly quickly, but that was a few seconds gone. Off my rhythm a little, I crashed again on the exact same corner as the previous run. The worst part of it being that I landed again on my skinned palm. So for the rest of the stage my left hand was too weak to hold onto the bars properly. I had to hang on extra hard with my right arm, resulting in some heavy arm pump in my right arm. I wanted to win and just had to keep pushing as hard as I could. I knew I was losing time through every fast section as I had to back off or I would blow a hand off the bars and crash. At the end of stage the damage was done: I was now out of the lead and dropped to second overall by 9 seconds.
Enduro can give such up-and-down feelings, I was happy that I was secure in second overall with just one, non-technical stage to go, but I had thrown away the lead with a few stupid crashes. I might have been able to ride fast and avoid mechanical issues, but you can’t crash four times in five stage and expect to win. Having a sense of that, I was a bit gutted.
Just a short, five minute stage, this one was just an easy, flowy, DH track really. I was nine seconds back but about 25-seconds ahead of Greg Minnaar who had ridden steadily and had moved up to third overall. I decided I’d attack and try to pull back some time on the last run. But there’s just no way that Nico Vouilloz, a 10 time DH world champion was going to give back a nine second lead. So I backed off and just rode a safe and conservative stage to make sure I didn’t throw away second overall. It was a tough choice to make as I really wanted to push flat out and give it everything the win, I also knew the second place overall would give me the overall series lead.
So that was that. My first French enduro had definitely lived up to its reputation as being the most physical and toughest around. Racing the course focused on just seeing what’s coming around the next corner it’s possible to forget something completely basic, like breathing! The trails were amazing though and I’m already looking forward to coming back next year!
Frame – Yeti SB66 Carbon, medium
Fork – Fox R.A.D 34, 95psi
Rear Shock – Fox Float X – 175psi
Seat Post – Fox DOSS
Brakes – Shimano XTR race levers, Saint brake Calipers
Wheels – DT Swiss, EX500 rims 26″, DT 240 hubs, DT Competition double butted spokes.
Tires – Maxxis Minion F 2.5, front and rear, EXO, 27psi F, 30psi R. Ghetto/split tube tubeless.
Cranks – Shimano XTR 170mm with Stages Power meter
Chainring – Shimano Saint 38t
Cassette – Shimano XTR 11-36
Pedals – Shimano XTR trail
Rear Derailleur – Shimano XTR, shadow plus
Bars and Stem – Renthal Fatbar lite, 20mm rise – Duo stem, 50mm
All parts 100% stock and available to purchase, except forks which will be 2014 Production.