Beautiful scenery and fresh tracks greeted racers as they took the steep hills of Madeira to kick off two days of practice in the runup to this weekend's EWS race. Super dry and dusty conditions are making both visibility and traction a difficult thing to come by, and with many sections being blown out after just one run, you can be sure things will be rough and wild by race day. With only a few stages revisited from the prior EWS here, all of which have been heavily modified, and a whole batch of new ones to keep riders on their toes, it feels like a completely new venue. Add in plenty of sunshine rather than the rain of 2017 and it's just about the polar opposite.
Once again Martin Maes and Isabeau Courdurier are the heavy favorites, but with a list of hungry and capable riders nipping at their heels, it is still very much anyone's race. Sam Hill is on a new 29'er, and Jesse Melamed is looking for redemption after nearly winning here in 2017. While in the women's race, Morgane Charre has proven she can win stages and compete for the overall each round while many of the remaining podium positions have been decided by just a few seconds at the first two rounds. Without doubt this has been the tightest season of racing we have ever seen at the EWS.
On Saturday races will tackle three stages while on Sunday they will head out for a very big day of stages to make eight in total. Being the first two-day event of the season, it will be interesting to see if riders who have been string over a single day of racing can carry the momentum and pressure through an entire weekend.
Check in here daily to find out.