While round one of the Superenduro PRO season was greeted with dark clouds and rain, as the series headed down to the endless Tuscan beaches of Punta Ala for round two, the sun decided to make an appearance. Well, more of a starring role than an appearance. Those few hundred kilometres south have meant incredible blue skies and temperatures getting well up into the high twenties (it's Europe so we work in centigrade here). If you're reading this from somewhere the summer hasn't reached yet, sorry, maybe it's better if you look away now?
Punta Ala is one of the spots that shows how far the enduro format has evolved from it's origins in the high alps. While those kind of big mountain events are incredible, few of us are lucky to have 1,000m+ of vertical on our doorsteps. Here in Punta Ala you can get up to a handful of hundred metres, but it's sitting on that line of whether or not they qualify as mountains. As mountain bikers, we all should know that you can find amazing trails anywhere, and with this kind of enduro format you can have a great gravity-based race somewhere like here. What's not to like about racing mountain bikes on great trails at a sun-drenched seaside resort?
| That sun, rising over the beautiful, Tuscan meadows... It's looking like it's going to be all-too-easy for these articles to turn in a junior art project of photos of sunsets and sunrises. But when it looks like this in the morning, can you blame me?|
| Even the transfer sections are stunning.|
| The top of stages three and four, this last section up is too-steep-to-pedal kinda brutal, but at least there's that view to think about.|
| As we headed down to Lidl to grab supplies (it ain't all glamour and sunrises), we spotted familiar-looking face by the side of the road...|
| As the pick-up free was for the afternoon, shuttles were the obvious choice. Unfortunately trail-builder Marco Tiberi got shotgun, so Dan Atherton and his mechanic, Rhys, were out riding on the back with the bikes.|
| Rhys found a friend on the way up.|
| That's what you wanted to see, right? Dan Atherton on the gas on an enduro race track. The big question now is, how is he going to fare against the more established Italian riders?|
| At the bottom of stage four you can sneak out to a perfect beach that you can't access by car, only foot or bike. Dan was busting out the catalogue modelling poses for the guys at I-MTB.|
| Just off the coast is the Isle of Monte Cristo, and yes, that's as in the Count. The rough translation of the name is the mountain of Christ.|
| The transfer to stage two is the longest of all, a good hour or so up, which makes it hard to get in the practice laps. As the pick-up was full already we improvied at little to help a couple more guys save their legs....|
| Every rider here this weekend should come and thank this man, Marco Tiberi. He's the man responsible for maintaing the trails here in Punta Ala and he's done a damned good job of it.|
| As we drove down from the stages towards the camp site and race control the sun began to lower over those meadows again.|
| Defending champion, Andrea Bruno, came down a few days early with his family, not just to practice, but to spend some time chilling with them on the amazing beaches that the resort sits on.|
The sun is down, it's now high time to find a bowl of pasta and, maybe, a bottle or two of wine. Tomorrow everything begins in earnest with the final practice and the prologue through the street of the medieval town, Castiglione della Pescaia, in the evening. We can start to think about questions like, will Davide Sottocornola make it two wins in a row? Will Alex Lupato, the definite favourite here, smash it home? What about Dan Atherton? Brit, Paul Aston came out of nowhere last time, was it luck or is he going to emerge as one of the top riders in the series? But they can wait for tomorrow, for now it's time to chill and take that second bottle of wine down to the beach with you...www.superenduromtb.com