Enduro2 report - the most fun you can have on an enduro bike?
Racing in the Alps with your best mate
Enduro 2 is a race with a difference - you have to do it with a mate. We sent along ex pro DH racer Aidan Bishop, who took along James Alway, and here are his thoughts
Words: Aidan Bishop Photos: Mick Kirkman
Last year was the inaugural year for the Enduro 2 race. HQ based in the alpine town of Bourg St Maurice and racing trails in and around the resort of Les Arcs, teams of two race together with one person carrying the timing chip and pairs start and finish together. I saw the event advertised last year and thought it looked like good fun, so this year I signed up! I roped in James Allaway my team mate on Cannondale, local riding buddies Paul ‘Gummy’ May and Simon Adams signed up also so the battle was lined up for the event.
The three day event consists of 14 stages of racing, five stages on Saturday, six on Sunday and three on the Monday. Mostly lift accessed trails with only a couple of transitions that had climbs in, so while it is an enduro race the emphasis is on enjoying the trails with friends rather than slogging around the mountainside to get to the next stage on time, as within reason you could set off when you wanted to.
On arrival Friday at the event, a lot of people were shuttling to the trails (many people were returning from last year so knew where to go) and getting some riding time in before the race kicked off the next day, on first impressions the trail I rode was bloody good fun and exactly what I came out to the Alps to ride- 10mins, mixture of wooded single track, double track and tight switchback turns - awesome!
Saturday Day One
Fortunately James and I were pre-seeded for the event and so got into the first funicular train to midway stage up the mountain, we opted to keep towards the front of the field so we would get the stages ridden early. We ended riding with Woody and Daniel Hole of Hope Technology, which set up our battle for the event, riding, racing and battling with each other, no matter where we may finish in the overall results.
The pairs format also took the edge off of the race, while it is still a race, riding with a team mate means your result is only as good as the last rider to cross the line, plus the fact you are riding trails without practising them, meant it is a very social format of racing with a little less pressure as anything could happen over the three days.
After the funicular and onto a chairlift we reached the top, a roll along and we could see the first stage’s taping ahead. Turned out to be 3-4 mins of non-groomed bike park trail, however the start of it was a pedal effort and at altitude meant you were exhausted and still had most of the trail to go. But with plenty of jumps, berms and rolling trail it was a good opener.
A really fun transition to stage two and we lined up for our next timed stage. a long one at over 10mins and hands cramping up was a common complaint at the finish. A mix of wooded, double track and single track made for a rewarding stage.
A fairly short pedal back into HQ in town to catch the funicular back up, this event was getting better…..lift up, ride great trails back down!
Up the chairlift and the clouds were rolling in, we were still with the Hope boys and at the front of the field, we opted to get cracking incase the heavens opened. We did this but into extremely poor visibility as we were in thick cloud, we couldn’t see more than 20 metres in front of us and had a fast fire track start sprint.
This was horrendous, you were telling yourself you needed to be sprinting and going fast but instead we were rolling at a leisurely pace as you just had no clue what was coming up! The stage turned out to be over eight mins on a semi bike park trail and with a couple of minutes left to ride and a storm unleashed on us. I nearly choked on a hail stone, and the wind and rain and thunder was full on for 20-30mins and it rained for another 20 whilst half the field took shelter under a metal roof and toilet block, proper Alpine experience!
Fortunately the rain was replaced by blue skies and we headed for stage four of the day... absolutely shivering to our core on the way down the road! Over 10 mins, this trail was ridden by many in the bone dry on Friday, this time round it was wet and sloppy but still pretty fun, the earlier parts of the trail were the muddiest as they seemed fresh and less ridden.
Back at race HQ we picked up on some horror stories from the day where another British group were racing stage two in the storm, it was so severe that it blew over several trees, knocking one of them off his bike and another guy a tree actually came down on his hand and snapped his handlebars in half, apparently he was lucky only to catch his hand otherwise the outcome could have been a lot more serious. With this factor and the fallen trees that blocked the trail, the organisation crew had no option but to cancel stage two results from the day in the end.
We started to dry out in the warm sun and grabbed any spare kit we had for the last stage of the day. On the train again and then a ride/hike up and along to the start. This stage was brutal! The rain had meant anywhere you could carry some speed the trail was littered with roots and rocks that could easily flick you off the side of the trail and down the steep hillside. These sections were broken up by steep very rocky sections that were more like trials sections than flowing trail.
For us survival was the name of the game, but with no crashes and we managed to catch Hole junior and survived the stage intact… and the day for that matter! With a large UK presence right across the field at this event, it was the Shucksmith brothers fairing the best in 2nd place overall and Hope Technology pairing of Ian Austermuhle and friend James in 4th place.
We were sitting around 11th overnight with Woody and Dan from Hope Technology right behind us only four seconds back in 12th. We were also winning our local battle against Gummy and Simon too, however a big compression on the first transition stretched Simon’s ankle ligaments meaning stage five was near impossible to complete and so they lost time in the process.
Sunday Day 2
A BIG day on the bikes, six stages to complete and this time we didn’t have the luxury of passing HQ and our van at all, so our packs were laden with extra food an drink to see us through. Up early in the queue to ride at the front again, up the funicular and chairlift, then some slight confusion with wind blown course tape meant a large pack of riders getting to stage one at the same time, not before we got to warm up by rolling through the bike park stage one from yesterday that is (this was way more fun without being against the clock!).
So stage one and the talk was of the trail having a technical climb near the beginning, soon riders started moving and it transpired that the start of the stage would be after the climb, having ridden up it everyone was glad of that fact! Woody and Dan again set off ahead of us, we set off in hot pursuit. By now all pairs had their plans worked out, where the rider with the timing chip was allowed up to 10 secs max to catch their partner ahead, either the second was faster or had more strength to hold on for the long tracks, but your time wasn’t stopped until both riders were together at the finish.
I set off in hot pursuit of James, the trail was really good, natural single track with roots and rocks and plenty of turns in and out of the woods and crossing a ski piste or two also. About halfway I had managed to catch up to James, another advantage of following was that you could see how fast to ride sections by how the rider in front was riding, especially tight corners.
Here i caught glimpses of Dan and Woody in front of us, we were on it or something had happened to them. They let us past and me and James misjudged a corner each, meaning the rider behind got it right so it evened out nicely, we finished the stage and saw the pain on Dan’s face, he had saved a big high side but then got thrown into a tree and into the ground hard.
An afternoon in hospital getting checked out and he had dislocated his shoulder but it went back in, damaging a nerve in the process but should be fine in a few weeks, heal up Dan! Woody re-appeared after lunch as he had seen Dan to hospital and then carried on as a single rider, clocking his times but won’t get a final result now.
Up the chairlift and roll down to stage two. A big mix of trail here, mostly the same nice natural single track, into some switchback turns in a deep rutted grass field then drop onto a road thinking it was the finish only to be told by a marshall to go the other way, which turned out to be a two minute tarmac road climb, being the fitter of the two of us I set the pace for James to keep with here and I could hear how hard he was breathing and so nearing the top I backed off and put true teamwork to practice by giving him a push over the top. Once atop the climb, with lungs in your mouth, you dropped into more rutted turns before finally getting to the finish.
Stage three and after the only real climbing on a transition (which wasn’t too bad) it was a relatively short trail down by a stream at the bottom of the valley, mostly flowing and quite fast with a little stream crossing to get over then some super tight switchback again before the run into the finish which was down an overgrown grassy little trail that you were unsure if there rocks in there to catch you out or not.
Stage four we arrived early for the lunch break and so opted to go up and get another stage in the bag. turned out to be over eight mins of bike park trail, so flowed well with some really nice turns in the woods and in the open along with rolling jumps as well. Again a fun trail to ride but very physical to race.
Stage five, after lunch with everyone we then got in the chairlift queue to stay riding at the front of the field. This stage was another great one, nearly 10 mins of steep switchback turns. The first third was wooded single track that flowed and got pretty steep, followed by some open grassy meadow track, then down loads of steep switchback turns that got more and more rocky towards the bottom, again 10 mins of excellent trail….not so much fun if you suffer from arm pump though!
Stage six and last stage of a big day started in what appeared to be someone’s front garden! Some tight turns to start before speeding along some double rocky tracks, then some high speed open track that routed you between fields and gardens, some brilliant switchback turns that seemed absolutely symmetrical meaning it was turn to turn to turn, dropping onto some tarmac and i thought it was over but saw arrows pointing over a wooden stile which we squeezed past on the right and pedalled along some flat trail, thinking I may have gone wrong but finally saw the finish marshall and beeped my transponder to finish the day.
So after around 50 mins of gravity fed trail racing James and I were stoked to have survived the day without crashing or suffering punctures or mechanicals, the first goal of the event for us. For the Brits, the Shucksmith's had dominated, setting the fastest stage times on five of the six stages, only losing out due to Sam puncturing about halfway and riding it out, they still held 2nd place overnight. Ian Austermuhle’s team representing Hope missed some tapes and had a few spills but were still holding 6th, we had stayed consistent and meant we were up to 9th, one second behind the team in front….the final day was on!
Monday Day Three
The weather was a pleasant surprise Saturday as rain was on the cards, but the sun shone most of the day and the same occurred Monday for the final three stages of the event. Up the funicular and chairlift and it was straight back down one of Les Arcs DH trails, halfway cut across the piste and resort (which was interesting as a large excavator was in action here and had to raise his bucket for us to go under!) to join bike park trail to finish up, lengthening the track out to over seven mins.
A fun transition trail (we were worried it was the actual stage) and some roads to get to stage two ‘Granny’s Garden’, named so due to the fact you ride through a small group of houses and down some steps in someone’s gardens! The start marshall warned us of fallen trees, so one we had to prepare to dismount to get under, another ‘should’ be able to hop over. The stage was a lot of fun, fast double track with plenty of loose rocks on to start, under and over the fallen trees no issues, through the village down the steps then some great switchbacks that seemed to be a perfect shape, a bit more wet and rocky sections and over some bigger fallen trees that did need to be scrambled over and finish.
No more pedalling now as it was one last trip up the funicular and roll down the road to ‘Black 8’, a stage we raced Saturday straight after the storm, hence this time we went a minute faster! Conditions were awesome, dry roots and rocks and dirt with some of it tacky and rutted ready to rail and let the bike go, for us nine and a half minutes of blasting to the line even if we both took a small tumble, but that just meant we swapped the lead to the line and didn’t lose much time as a result.
So that was the event over by lunchtime, time to swap stories in the sun at the HQ cafe bar area, tag in your timing chip and check your printout to see your times. So, the Brits (of which half the field seemed to be made up of) faired well in the end with Phil and Sam Shucksmith holding 2nd place, Ian and James for Hope Technology keeping 6th, James and I bagged 8th for Cannondale UK, we would have been content with finishing without punctures and mechanicals so to do that and finish with a top ten we were really happy and had a great time in the process.
This event and format of racing should be one to tick off for most mountain bikers, the great trails, lifts to the top (mostly), racing with a friend, set off when you wanted to, it really is a great event that is well worth the trip. I mean, we raced for 1hr 49mins in the end which is about the equivalent of 2 seasons of UK enduro races in 3 days!
Thanks to the Trail Addiction Crew for a great event and to all the riders who made the event what it was.