The third round of the EWS in Madeira provided some intense racing across some loose and dusty trails. Here are five things we noticed from the sidelines:1. The Queen Stages have helped push the series leaders to a massive early lead
Three for three. Martin Maes and Isabeau Courdurier are looking unstoppable this year with back to back wins at the first three rounds of the series. Sam Hill was dominant last year but was only ever able to get two wins in a row. Isabeau still has some way to go to match Cecile Ravanel's perfect season in 2018 though.
Martin and Isabeau currently sit on 14 stage wins each. In recent years, only Cecile Ravanel has reached this target in the first three races, getting 14 stage wins in the first three rounds in both 2018 and 2017. In the Elite Men, the closest rider to Maes current 14 stage wins in the three opening races was Richie Rude in 2016 who managed to rack up 10.
On top of this, Maes and Courdurier have amassed huge leads in the overall. Maes is 380 points clear while Isabeau's lead sits at 420 points. Last year saw both overall titles won by about 400 points so Martin and Isabeau are already in the ballpark. Their totals have been bolstered by clean sweeps of the Queen stages, giving both riders an extra 120 points each and means they're going to take some catching now, even with five rounds of racing still to go.
2. There are a lot of privateers charging up the women's rankings
After finishing 12th and 11th in Rotorua and Tasmania, Ella Conolly went on to achieve her first Elite stage win and podium in Madeira. Ella hasn't come from nowhere, she was Under 21 champion last year but, unable to pick up a team ride for this year, she embarked as a privateer.
Just behind Connolly was Morgane Charre, who is also running her own program, and Melanie Pugin also slipped into the top ten without factory support. Let's also not forget Rowena Fry who came third in Tasmania. There are plenty of fast women racing at the moment without the support they need, hopefully they will be picked up soon to help raise the bar for the women's competition even higher.
3. Sam Hill is inching closer and closer to Martin Maes
The current men's reigning champion hasn't had the start he hoped for coming into 2019 with his worst run of races since he switched codes to enduro. He placed 13th and 9th at the first two rounds and was 4.2% and 2.9% off the pace of Martin respectively each time - his third and fifth worst results in the EWS. Madeira would see him improve with a 5th place finish, just 2.5% back on Martin's winning time.
Sure he's on a new 29-inch-wheeled setup, but there were other factors at play as well, including that Sam was shaking off an illness at the first two rounds. Still, it's clear that last year's champion is starting to get his program in order and build up momentum as the season progresses.
There is now a long break before the next two rounds in Italy and France so we expect Sam Hill to be pushing even harder when the series returns.
4. Home soil advantages played a part in Madeira
The EWS will stay in Europe for the next two rounds and the return to home soil seems to have done the native racers some good. In both Tasmaina and Rotorua, Europeans made up 55% of the top 20 places in the men's field but in Madeira that rose to 70%. The Portugese did especially well, with Jose Borges and Emmanuel Pombo both earning personal best results in second and tenth respectively. On the women's side, 60% of the top ten in Tasmania were non-European, which fell to just 20% in Madeira (Korem and ALN).
Crowds, time zones, and familiarity with conditions all play into advantages for riders and it will be interesting to see if North American riders have their own surge in Whistler and Northstar later this year.
5. Adrien Dailly is tough as nails
Adrien Dailly has been down on his luck this year. He kicked off his season with a torn muscle in his elbow just before Rotorua but raced through the pain in rounds 1 and 2, earning respectable results on the way.
Dailly was supposed to be on the road to recovery in Madeira and seemed to be back to his normal self, until stage three when he hit a tree and opened up a hole in the same elbow through his elbow pad. He finished that stage in second then went straight to the medical tent for some stitches.
With a swellbow fresh from surgery he took to the start line on Sunday and was on track to finish second until he slid out on the last stage, which slipped back to fourth. Respect.
• Video: Full Highlights - EWS Madeira 2019
• Overall Standings: EWS Madeira 2019
• Final Results: EWS Madeira 2019
• Course Preview: Paradise Island - EWS Madeira 2019
• Practice Photo Report: Party at the Beach - EWS Madeira 2019
• Day One Photo Epic: Rough and Tough - EWS Madeira 2019
• Day Two Photo Epic: Three For Three - EWS Madeira 2019
• Video: Course Preview - EWS Madeira 2019