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super enduro finale ligure-8

The Super Enduro is a six–event Italian race series that concluded its fourth season late last year. 2011 ended on a high with the biggest turn out for a single race yet, as 450 riders descended on the town of Finale Ligure in northern Italy to do battle on one of the most demanding courses to date. With a stacked field, industry support and a UCI presence, the event not only completed a great year for Enduro racing, but also marked the beginning of the next chapter for the format; the world stage... 

From Dirt Issue 120 - February 2012

Words by James McKnight. Photos by Christoph Laue.

DOWN BY THE MED

The stunning Mediterranean town of Finale Ligure is synonymous with European cycling, attracting nearly 15,000 mountain bike tourists per year alone and providing some of the best year–round singletrack riding in the continent. Epic forests spread back from the coastal hills and disappear into the Maritime Alps, hiding in their midst a huge and ever–expanding network of top quality technical riding.

For the Super Enduro finals the organisation made a special effort to end the season on a good note and went out of their way to provide top–notch facilities and a challenging course. The series’ format puts official practise on Saturday and the five timed stages on Sunday; with no uplifts available competitors must ride between each stage. A selection of rocky, unforgiving seaside trails and smooth forest singletracks were used to demonstrate the huge variety of riding around the town and its hills, resulting in long transfer stages (the connecting roads/climbs in–between timed stages) that made the entire ride length over 50km’s.

With practise on Saturday, riders had a big task on their hands; to make it around the entire circuit without blowing their energy for the following day. The way that many riders chose to attend to this issue was to practise in the week leading up to the event – some were uplifting the stages daily! Whether this is a good format I cannot say – perhaps a little difficult for the competitors who have to work in the week or travel from abroad, but open for all so therefore ‘fair’ in the rules.>>

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super enduro finale ligure-22

The field was stacked to the brim with not only big name riders and industry folk, but also several hundred amateur racers and weekend warriors keen not only to try their hand against the brutal course and the pro riders, but also to enjoy a long weekend of quality mountain biking.

THE EVENT

Events run by Enrico Guala (the Super Enduro series founder) and his team are perhaps the most seamlessly executed examples of how racing should be done that I can think of, and the race in Finale was no exception. The town square, which opens onto the perfect sand and shimmering blue sea of the Med, was taken over for the weekend by the event’s teams, organisation and facilities, with an impressive looking collection of awnings and stands giving a professional image that grabbed the attention of all passers–by. The amount of effort that goes into making these events look the part and to attract spectators, riders and sponsors is unprecedented.

Race proceedings kicked off on Saturday night with the ‘Prologue’ stage, which was essentially a sub one minute sprint around the streets of Finale and a regular feature of the Super Enduro series. Fans lined the course – some of whom knew the sport and some who didn’t – and every rider was presented on the large stage before having their go at out–sprinting the field and attempting not to crash on the one hairpin. The track was no revolution in course design but it really did do the job of creating a friendly atmosphere and bringing the whole event right into the town – something that all race series and disciplines should take note of. After the Prologue, most riders opted to sample the selection of bars and to test the beers on offer (a mission that several pro racers and the SRAM staff took into their hands with the utmost dedication) before calling it a night and preparing body and mind for the big day. The vibe was relaxed and enthusiastic.

Race day at an Enduro event is never going to be easy; testing body and equipment is part of the attraction of the discipline after all. With the Italian sunshine and the many kilometres of tarmac to be tackled, this was truly an event set to test. To say that the course was taxing would be an ever–so–slight understatement, in fact some riders did not make it to the finish line and even several high–profile entrants suffered cramping and exhaustion, but the organiser’s choice of route could not be faulted by anyone. A long day of bike riding this certainly was, with the overall times (the five stages added together) ranging from just over 27 minutes for winner Remy Absalon to around an hour for the slower riders (without major technical issues), and that’s forgetting the many hours of pedalling in–between. Yet as each rider made their final appearance on the central stage, finalising their epic day, every single one of them raised a smile and was happy with the ride.

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super enduro finale ligure-28

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super enduro finale ligure-14

Everyone wants a bit of Enduro racing; Cross country racers, downhillers, freeriders and weekend warriors. The discipline appeals to all simply because it is a true mountain bike event. This is what our bikes were conceived to be able to do – to pedal up and tear down mountains, to adventure a little and to access every mountain – we finally have a format that encompasses all that makes the sport great. It’s not brash, nor is it shiny, just an enjoyable weekend of racing in the hills and enjoying the sport for what it is. The event in Finale marked a turning point for the discipline; a landmark meeting of the industry, riders and the UCI and thankfully Enrico Guala and his team did a fantastic job of showcasing Enduro’s endless potential.

AND NOW PRESENTING…THE FUTURE

The race in Finale was only one event out of a long and competitive season for the sport’s newest and fastest growing discipline and the Super Enduro is only one from many series’ now being staged across the globe.

Finale’s race was a sign of the future; there were not only high–profile downhill and cross country racers in attendance, but also race organisers from abroad (including UK Gravity Enduro head man Steve Parr), the UCI (in the shape of technical delegate Chris Ball and newly appointed Will Ockelton) and many members of the MTB industry – surely everyone was testing the water for a future expansion of the Enduro format?

Chris Ball is a man with the aspirations and potential to move the discipline to a global level. I asked him for his views and ideas for the growth of Enduro racing:

What was your impression of the event in Finale – the organisation, course and venue itself? Was the race too tough?

Chris: Finale was a great event. The atmosphere in the town square, the proximity of the beach, the relaxed nature of the whole thing – it was really special. I wouldn’t have said it was too tough. Yes of course it was hard terrain and there were some monster climbs but I doubt anyone would have turned up expecting anything less. As long as there is a spectrum, with easier events available for people to try and harder ones that push the sport forward, there’s no need to dampen things down. The 450+ riders I saw seemed to be enjoying the trails anyway.

I wish I could have stayed longer but from the short time I was in Finale, I didn’t see a single person who didn’t have a smile on their face. The fact that everyone got the same attention at the start made it seem special for everyone – whether they were novice 40 year olds or young professional bike riders. The centralised start ramp really set the tone for what people were about to undertake.

Why were you there...? UCI business? Holiday? I couldn't tell (only joking). From a UCI point of view what was your role there? Or were you simply giving Enrico (Guala – the face of Super Enduro) and co. some pointers?

After some contact with Enrico regarding Enduro and its future direction, I was invited to come out to Finale and meet them along with Tribe Event (the French Enduro series) organisers and the UK Gravity Enduro guys. We discussed the discipline’s past, how it currently works for each organiser and where they’d like it to go. Their opinions and experience are invaluable. I also wanted to get a feel for the event and to see what was going on. I packed my bike too – I had to ‘research’ the trails of course.

Would the UCI potentially use one current organiser, such as Enrico, to present a future global Enduro series or a whole new organisational team? There are clearly differences between different series racing formats so surely something would have to be arranged amongst the various countries/organisers?

If you look at how any UCI event is run, it’s very uncommon to see one organising team take on a series. You’re right, there are some fundamental differences between how enduro events are run in different countries but in my opinion, that’s the appeal.

Maintaining the creativity and individualism of different events is central to how I would like to develop things. Of course some basics will have to be discussed and some fundamental parameters will have to be worked out but that won’t happen without the involvement and input from key individuals currently in the Enduro discipline.

When do you think that we will see an international series, and how do you think that event organisers around the world will/could benefit from UCI affiliation?

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super enduro finale ligure-2

I think it’s important to note that I wouldn’t like to see Enduro tied up in rules and manifest into a World Cup style format, whereby each round is run exactly the same way. That works for downhill but I would like to see Enduro developed for the riders and for mass participation in exciting, relaxed and creative races.

As long as we can define Enduro clearly so that the basics of the format remain the same throughout I’d like to leave the rest to the organisers and riders. The details of how the calendar will look is currently up for discussion but I would like to see as many events as possible all registered in one place – making it easy for riders to find events that are at a certain standard. A world series would also then allow riders to amass a world ranking across different events, linking it all together. Ultimately, an annual World Championships would be my ambition but that must come later, after the basics have been worked out and the roots of the sport have been planted. That approach will secure its development long term.

The addition of enduro to the UCI rulebook will also allow Commissaires to be trained, standards to be set and national federations to recognise it should they choose to.

Anything interesting to note?

I have formed an enduro working group including key organisers and riders that will sit down together for the first time early in 2012 in Aigle, Switzerland. That’s when the real work will begin!