Enduro World Series x Crankworx | ROUND 3, LES DEUX ALPES, FRANCE
Storming into existence this year, the Enduro World Series (EWS) has swiftly moved into an exceedingly strong position of prominence...
What an incredibly diverse thing the bicycle is. Even narrowing the selection down to those with fat tyres still leaves a vast spectrum. The Crankworx festival has come to symbolise a certain echelon of the sport. Loud and excitable, outside of the World Cup series its presence is arguably only equalled by Red Bull Rampage. Now in its tenth year, the Whistler festival continues to go from strength to strength. Expanding across the pond a few years back there’s now also this European edition at Les Deux Alpes...
From Dirt Issue 139 - September 2013
Words by Richard Cunynghame. Photos by Sven Martin, Sebastian Schieck and Ben Winder.
Storming into existence this year, the Enduro World Series (EWS) has swiftly moved into an exceedingly strong position of prominence as well. In the first two rounds we’ve witnessed the collaborative set up of the EWS with the French and Super Enduro Series’. Round three brings an exciting prospect, the coming together for the first time of the effervescent Crankworx and the blossoming World Series. First at Les Deux Alpes and then five weeks later in Whistler (an event that will have been and gone by the time you read this).
Two of the leading men in this union are Chris Ball and Darren Kinnaird and they’re able to look at this situation and the relationship between these two strong mountain biking movements with great pedigree. Chris worked as the Technical Delegate for Gravity Sports at the UCI for nearly five years and Darren has been working on the Crankworx festival for a similar time and continues to do so. Along with Fred Glo of the French Enduro Series and Enrico Guala of Super Enduro, the four of them came together to create the Enduro World Series.>>
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At first glance Crankworx definitely has a very intense aura, the images of the baying crowds on Heckler’s Rock chugging back beer as if prohibition was once again imminent. The partying, the big trucks, and Slopestyle; the discipline that doesn’t so much attract people’s attention as pull spectators in by the balls. Whether the far more mild mannered enduro would fit into this atmosphere doesn’t seem to even be in consideration, Chris’ attitude towards being a part of Crankworx is nothing but enthusiastic, “It’s the biggest mountain bike festival in the world isn’t it? It’s the most famous location, being part of Whistler is a huge thing for any sport. They obviously have great riding terrain and they’ve just done a really good job of the lifestyle element around it. It’s not ever really been that much about racing which I think is a huge thing for Enduro; for it to be about more than just racing."
It’s incredible that these organisational bodies are popping up like they are. In a sport that has at the top end of competition been largely controlled by the UCI, it goes to show just how diverse riding a mountain bike can be and how much demand for the variations there is. The fact they’re both run by enthusiastic alliances of riders and people that truly care about the sport can only be a good thing. The freedom they allow is something Chris is very aware of, “I think Slopestyle’s been able to develop on its own terms and I think that’s led it to now being in the X Games and stuff. It’s really good for it, it’s such a progressive discipline, it needs to move with the times, fast, quickly and I think it’s been a big advantage for Slopestyle to develop the series in that sense. I kinda see Enduro the same really. We’re able to move pretty fast, we’re learning every race as organisers, so to be independent means we can adjust stuff as we go, which is much harder to do when you’re part of a larger organisation. I think we need to continue to define it, still loads of people have their opinions of what enduro is so we need to continue to define what we’re trying to do, what enduro racing is, what riders need to expect. You’ve got to have a vision but you’ve got to constantly check that it’s in line with what everyone wants. Making sure that the essence of that discipline is kept, so understanding the culture. When it’s early it can go in a million and one different directions, you’ve got to be very open to suggestion and listen. In the UCI the rules are always written and never tested; I think this year we’re testing a lot of different things in different areas and that will give us a much better handle on which direction to take because of the first hand experience of what's been good and bad."
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With Enduro taking place in so many varied locations, Chris is determined that, “the characteristics of the race should suit that of the environment you’re in. We are basically racing on the best trails in that area. If they’re flat and technical or if they’re steep and smooth, whatever it is. That’s trail riding in that area so the riders need to have everything in their tank to handle all those different factors."
This liberal attitude obviously runs risks, Chris seems perfectly aware of that. At the first round there was some criticism for the courses being marked weeks in advance and riders having varied amounts of practice. “Because it’s been predominantly amateur racing before," he explains, “amateurs who maybe couldn’t have taken the Saturday off work could have gone the weekend before or the weekend before that. It made perfect sense, but this year because there were so many guys there dedicated to it, it became a bit of a shit show all week and the week before. So we’ve started reducing the time between when the courses are released and the race itself. Depending on the loop, how big the race is, that’s been roughly one to two days training. Which means in most areas guys are getting one to three runs per course on average. And I think that’s working out pretty good. I think we have a good handle on it."
Chris knows about dealing with this kind of feedback after being on the front line for comments, sometimes not so pleasant, at the downhill World Cups for years. Darren’s also very aware of it, “Our advisory board is made up of three athletes and three industry members and I think people just find that really refreshing, that they have a voice. At Crankworx we’ve always tried to include the athletes in the decisions we make, particularly with Slopestyle."
With all the talk of sympathy within the racing format to the environment it’s in, it comes as no surprise that the tracks we saw in Les Deux Alpes were varied and the format different to previous rounds. Some argued that the lift access to every stage, with very little riding required to link them, was not Enduro, but as Chris says, this is the kind of trail riding most of us would do if we came here just to ride. The tracks as a result did lean in the direction of a downhill race especially with the relatively short lengths, winning times of around four, six, eight and fourteen minutes on the four stages. If Enduro is about getting out and riding what is there, it seems this series is doing exactly that; some sections of this track harked back to the fireroad riding of Mammoth mountain, others blasted through the open alpine meadows. There were definitely some technical lines thrown in and a lot of it did feel representative of wholesome wooded trail riding, if maybe more like what would be in the eyes of an ex–downhiller. There was some questioning about the sparse course taping, again this is surely something where lessons will be learnt.
Rider enjoyment is paramount, the chance to experience the whole resort is unique, but it’s certainly not taking away from the battles at the sharp end. The new breed of specialist enduro racer is already reaching incredible heights. These riders are hitting the tracks they’ve barely ridden on bikes that are not going to give much leeway. It’s impressive stuff.
There’s a liveliness to the town that is reminiscent of the original festival in Whistler and shows that the transition to European shores is looking likely to be a success. After watching the Whip contest Darren acknowledges it’s not quite as big yet, “In Whistler there’s 1500 people standing on the side of a hill watching people turn their bike sideways, but there was a good crowd up there today. Halfway through it, all of a sudden you started hearing air horns, I was like, uh, this is like Whistler!"
The excitement levels may be morphing and as Chris concludes, both are bringing something to the party, “Enduro is not the visual spectacle that Slopestyle is, the experience of enduro is getting out and doing it yourself and being part of it and riding the trails. I think it really brings a good angle to it. It suddenly takes the focus of the Crankworx festival outside of the bottom of the bike park, it brings a very different crowd, a slightly more mature crowd to the whole thing. It’s quite a subtle sport."
Subtle it may be, but it’s certainly making some waves at the moment. Not only through what the series and association is achieving but the way it is going about it. There’s a sense that it really is managing to walk the tough line of honestly representing the sport and riders whilst putting coherent events together. The joining of forces and meeting of minds is definitely making this sport multiply fast.