Excitement and Apprehension: Finale Ligure Enduro World Series 2014 Practice Day 2
There’s a mix of emotions here in Finale Ligure, Italy, on the second official day of practice since the course map was announced. The excitement comes from a varied and at times incredibly testing set of stages – six in total over the two days of racing – while the apprehension surfaces when the overall course layout is approached.
There is no doubting the challenge and difficulty of the terrain here: Stage 1’s tight and tricky turns are proving beyond the grasp of some riders, while Stage 4’s loose, unforgiving surface is likely to claim many victims when riders attempt to hit it at race pace. But the real subject of debate here is the length of the transfers – the pedalling on tarmac between timed stages. If you look at the course map (view it in our event preview here.), you’ll notice a lot of blue – that’s the riding to get to the riding… While the descents are up there with the best, the pedalling is certainly a point of contention. Having said that, the feeling isn’t particularly negative, more that riders are wondering whether they will survive the weekend! It is going to be a test of fitness to make it through, that is for sure.
So what is going to produce a winner here in Finale? Previous races here have proved that those who tend to do well when it comes to reading the terrain excel here. Six of the top 10 in 2013 were French – perhaps the nation’s style of enduro racing, with little-to-no practice prior to the event helping with Finale’s ever-changing trail surface. The ground under wheel takes shape with each and every rider, its dust and plentiful loose rocks morphing as more tyres roll through. Even for those who have seemingly reaped the benefits of an open shuttle policy (uphills here are almost entirely on public roads, so there is little option for the race organisers to disallow shuttling during practice), the constantly shifting trail surface is going to call for razor reactions and pinpoint skills.
Nico Lau would have won here in 2013 if it hadn’t been for a simple human error in missing his midday check-in that gave him an unfortunate one-minute time penalty. The Frenchman has had an up and down 2014 season, but there is no denying his ability to read terrain and he must be the favourite for the win here, a victory that would back up his win at Round 2 in Scotland. Jerome Clementz and Fabien Barel, who finished first and fourth respectively in Finale in 2013, have both come back from injury and will be looking to do themselves proud – one last blast for the year. While Damien Oton was somewhat of an underdog last time round, even though he finished in a seriously respectable eighth place, his win at Round 4 in La Thuile this year, along with his current second-place standing in the overall, must pit him against the sport’s heavyweights for a claim at the win and the title? Jared Graves and Justin Leov, the two superstars sandwiching Oton in the overall with their first and third places, are both well accustomed to the pressure of competing at the highest level, and while it would take a disaster to knock Graves off the top spot (he only needs to finish in the top 23 to win the series title according to EWS), Leov has everything to gain. We wouldn’t like to make a guess at the outcome of the women’s race, as we will be unashamedly supporting Tracy Moseley in her quest to secure the second Enduro World Series title for Britain after winning so convincingly in 2013. Her arch rival (in a friendly way) Anne-Caroline Chausson is nipping at her heels in second place: may the best win.
We are biting our nails, there is a big weekend ahead and with 50km of riding tomorrow and 45 on Sunday, absolutely anything could happen. Enjoy the photos, check out our DirtTV event preview here (those boys have it tough), and look out for our Saturday round up once the dust settles on day one.