The entire mountain bike circus is in town and things are shaping up for what looks set to be a truly memorable season ender at the Enduro World Series (EWS) finals here in Finale Ligure, Italy.
As we tend to the first-degree burns induced by today’s Italian sunshine, a reminder of the intensification of the 2014 series for its closing round, with almost 100km of riding over two days and some of the most challenging terrain of the year, we are reflecting on what has been a monumentally arduous season of racing across seven rounds (including this one) in six different countries and with as many race formats.
We are here – along with a huge proportion of the mountain bike industry and many hundreds of riders – to witness the closure of this second year of racing, and of course to enjoy a little Italian culture and sunshine while at it. That’s the beauty of these events – there are pros, amateurs and industry types alike all keen to give it a shot and put themselves to the test against what is going to be a truly tough two days of racing this weekend coming. With four stages on Saturday and two stages on Sunday, plus a lot of pedalling between them, this is going to be a test for each and every competitor.
Today riders were out on course – many with van-assisted shuttling – testing out some of Finale’s very best, and what a course the organisers have set. While some lower-down trails contain loose, unforgivingly sharp stone, those high up in the hills are flowing dreams. By all accounts, Stage 6, the crux stage of the race, is one of the best trails of the season. British racer Phil Shucksmith described it as “the best… just the best” to us earlier, and with its seemingly endless turns, fresh dirt, huge elevation drop and little in the way of pedalling we can hardly disagree.
Elsewhere on the course there is punishment to be doled out in great proportions. Intensely technical, sometimes to the point of borderline ridiculous, there is enough to test the skills of any seasoned pro rider here. And on that note we will mention the heavyweights present: Fabien Barel, who has recovered from his serious back injury, and Jerome Clementz, 100% healed after a nasty collarbone break, are back on the scene and will be gunning to upset the apple cart, who knows how they could affect the overall results.
On that note, looking at the overall in the men’s category, it is certainly all still to play for, with Aussie Jared Graves leading out France’s Damien Oton by 2,690 points to 2,400. Kiwi Justin Leov is only 90 points further back in third overall and Nico Lau has 2250, with Rene Wildhaber and Florian Nicolai not far behind with 2240 and 2160 points respectively. With 500 points up for grabs for the win, the race is definitely still on.
Tracy Moseley seemed to have things wrapped up with her dominating performances at rounds two, three and four, but round one winner Anne-Caroline Chausson has pulled it back in her favour and the two now sit at 2250 and 2170 points respectively. With 400 points up for grabs for a women’s category win, Round 6 winner Cécile Ravanel isn’t completely out of the mix in third place overall with 1950 points.
It’s going to be a long weekend for everyone, whether that means learning the many kilometres of timed stages as a racer, ensuring the smooth running of such an important and prestigious event as part of the EWS crew, or surviving the carnage as a spectator/reporter… Town is buzzing and expectations are high for what looks to be another classic Finale event.