Two Races, One Weekend - Dakine Trailfox & European Enduro Series
Paul Aston made the somewhat questionable decision to enter two races in one weekend, but it made for a great story...
Dakine Trailfox & European Enduro Series
Words: Paul Aston
Photos: Philipp Rugli
The Dakine Trailfox is an infamous event in Swiss mountain bike community, now in its 10th year held across the stunning Flims/Laax area in the Graubunden region. This year the second round of the European Enduro Series also came to town.
I arrived towards midnight on Thursday after 3 days riding downhill at the Scott Gambler and Voltage launch in Chatel and Morgins, then spent all of Thursday in a shopping centre waiting for my van to get checked over by some expensive looking Swiss mechanics wearing Gucci in the workshop. Between 7.30am and 3pm they managed to look at it, point at it, but not fix it. So I reclaimed the keys and nursed the old girl along the Valais and over the 2439m Furkapass. I checked the schedule upon arrival in the Rocksresort and started to realise that I might have bitten off more than I can chew by entering both events.
Sign on at 7am, followed by practice for the Enduro that was taking place on Saturday. Stage 1 took me by surprise after having the luxury of a race-prepped DH bike earlier in the week, feeling like I was on an XC race bike in comparison, knocking my confidence a little and putting me on the back foot. It was an old walking trail through meadow, steep and loose with plenty of pedal and rotor grabbers lining the rut. Stage 2 and 3 was a long trail cut in to two, pretty short at around 2 mins each considering the vastness of mountains in this area. Stage 4 was a beauty on the Trek Runcatrail. It somewhat reminded me of Whistler, corner after corner around pea gravel berms, rock rolls, jumps, and wooden sections, maybe too much wood but it had a great flow and feel. Stage 5 seemed like a bit of an afterthought, a short section along a ridge-line and then a long fireroad pedal, under 2 minutes.
Check out the gallery from the races below...
There was a good show of talent from across Europe, many riders looking to get up to race pace ahead of the EWS in La Thuile this coming weekend. Only a minority signed up for both events though. After practice for the Enduro, there was an evening prolog, around some sketchy hairpins then through the vast underground car park of the Rocksresort, past a piste-basher and up a hill to the finish. 1min 21s for Rene Wildhaber showing great form that would continue the next day. Prolog was followed by training for the first event of the Trailfox, the Night Trail. This was the same as the end of Stage 4 in the EES. There was a riders briefing at 9.45pm, my race run was around midnight, the wooden features, jumps and crests were tough to negotiate in the dark, and the drizzle that had been hanging around all evening was soaking in to the wooden gangways. I thought I'd had a solid run but it seemed like a lot of the DH bikes were doing well on the short stage. Ludo May was the fastest enduro rider in 6th.
Dragging myself out of bed to catch the 7.50am gondola for the start of the EES, dark clouds were looming. There was some confusing start order, which meant my number 30 race plate was the first down the mountain. The rain overnight had a big effect on the trail, the granite grip was long gone and keeping speed down to negotiate the tight switchbacks was tough. Rene Wildhaber put himself way ahead of the pack on this four minute trail.
Stages two and three were greasy too, but being more mellow and flowy grip was ok. Rob Williams had a big smile on his face at the end of these two and was confident of a good result. After a short, steep climb to stage 4, the water still in the clouds this trail had dried a little and grip was spot on. A few people picked up some problems on this one. Rob Williams was hauling and caught one of the fast Germans in front of him and lost some time, I had a slow puncture and was nursing the back wheel through the berms trying not to completely roll the tyre off the rim, and Rene Wildhaber was seen running to the finish carrying his bike with a mechanical issue. Stage 5 was so short it seemed like a formality at this point in the day, about 40 seconds pinned across a sharp wooded ridge-line then a minute on the pedals along a fireroad to the finish.
At the end of racing Wildhaber completely destroyed the field by 39 seconds! A rise in confidence after his 2nd at Valloire, or local advantage? He's a machine either way, he's won the Trailfox eight times but concentrated on the EES this time. Verbier local Ludo May finished 2nd, and his Norco team mate from last year, Lukas Anrig finished 3rd. The Kiwis rounded off the podium with Hayden Lee finishing 4th despite still living in a transit van, and Hutchinson Polygon pilot Jamie Nicoll in 5th. Most of the Brits put on a good show apart from me! Sam Shucksmith, James Shirley, Chris Keeble-Smith and Rob Williams took 7th to 10th places.
In the girls, nobody could bet against the Specialized backed Gehrig twins in their home town? Maybe the fatigue of the NightTrail got to them though as Ines Thoma took the top step and Kiwi Meggie Bichard split the twins by coming 3rd. Anita Gehrig was 2nd and Caro was 4th.
So the day was over for most people and there was a cool atmosphere in the paddock centered in the Rock Resort with bars, restaurants and trade stands. But for the Trailfoxers it was time to get back on the lift. I did two practice runs of the High Noon Trail which uses the 'Never End Trail'. To be honest I was getting pretty tired by now, and I was put off by the wild speed straight down the grass piste mixed with the likelhood of getting wiped out in the mass start a week before La Thuile. I then read heard a rumour floating around about Italian DH champ Lorenzo Suding who had been in a serious car accident and is in a critical condition. I've known 'SloKenSlo' for years and he is one of my favourite guys in the mtb scene. This turned my stomach and ruined my day, I was over it so took my raceplate back and called it a day.
Stage two of the Trailfox was up next, the Sunset trail. This is on a wild Freehucking track littered with north shore drops and berms but only a minute long. A big crowd had gathered with beers in hand, heckling and cheering the riders, but mainly warming up for the Nineties themed party. Scott/Gstaad rider Noel Niederberger took the win with Ludo May in 2nd. Anita and Caro taking the top spots in the women.
The party ended up getting wild, but 90's styles were few and far between. The Kiwis got pretty loose as normal, allegedly Joe Nation was removed from the bar trying to hold up his piss stained shorts, James Hampton disappeared until morning, Hayden Lee's gunshow combined with 4th place obviously impressed some girl and I think she got a tour of the Transit. James Shirley was surrounded by girls all night and the infamous Kev 'ya bastad' Duckworth was throwing some wild 60s moves from his youth around the dance floor. I left without Rob Williams, not realising his phone, van keys and wallet were in my hotel room. Ingeniously he made it through the locked doors and key card systems back to my room. One highlight of the night was watching some Swiss dude rolling a spliff on the bar top, carrying what looked like an entire plant in his bag?
Sunday morning was the 'High Noon Trail' mass start, the 3rd and final stage of the Dakine Trailfox. Anita Gehrig arrived first followed by Caro, taking 1st and 2nd overall. Ludo May took a convincing win and the overall for 1000CHF. Local hero Amin Beeli was in second place for most of the race until losing his chain somewhere but he still managed to pump his DH bike in to 4th.
To summarise, it was a quality event. If you want to get out to Europe for a good time and a load of riding, this seems like one of the best if you choose to tackle both events. The Trailfox is a more laid back event focusing on having a good time, drinking beer and riding. The EES is a more serious event, but I felt it was short, lacking in physical effort and riding time considering the fact that it's a stepping stone onto the Enduro World series? But combine both events and you will have an unforgettable weekend.
Thanks to Racement, European Enduro Series and Dakine Trailfox for the events and hospitality, and Rocksresort for the superb accommodation.