Today, April 24, the trails for the first round of the Enduro World Series hosted by Superenduro in Punta Ala
, Italy, were announced. The race isn't for nearly a month yet, but the race course is now marked out for riders to come and practice. This has reopened a debate among riders about how enduro races should be run and, more specifically, what practice should be allowed.
The first enduro races were run by Fred Glo in France in 2003. His rule on practice was clear: there was none. Riders faced the courses blind, putting the focus of the racing on your ability to read the terrain. In all of mountain biking there arguably isn't a purer, wilder or cleaner form of racing. Hurtling down a slope at full-gas, reacting to whatever the mountain throws at you is unlike anything else; it is all down to your bike handling and your connection to the trail beneath you. It is possibly the truest test of any mountain biker.
Yet there is no question that this style of riding isn't for everyone. For many, it's a very intimidating prospect, not something to entice newcomers or inexperienced riders into the sport. Even Fred admits that maybe there is something special in southeastern France where this style of riding originated. In the same way that North Shore freeriding never really existed in quite the same way outside of the slopes overlooking Vancouver, the original enduro racing lives in the mountains, the culture and the people of that small corner of France.
As enduro began to spread there was an evolution, people took the format and adapted it to where they lived. The most noticeable one was to add pedal transfers, rather than using ski lifts like the early French races did. More quietly, alongside this, practice crept in. Most notably in Italy with their Superenduro series, who opened up the race courses well in advance of the races. Superenduro founders, Franco Monchiero and Enrico Guala, built their series on the business of tourism. Their races were a way for destinations to promote themselves as riding destinations. Opening up the courses before the race brought people into the towns, villages and resorts in the build up to the race and made the business model work.
There is another element to the argument for this kind of extended practice. It means more people have the chance to come and practice before the race. If you are unable to get the days running up to the race off work, you can come on the weekends before and fit your practice into the rest of your life. In a sport that is amateur at its heart, this is no small thing, in one sense it makes it more equitable.
However, this has created a debate about what enduro could and should be. While many of the discipline's top racers, like Jerome Clementz and Remy Absalon, have been pushing for practice, at the same time they do not want to see the sport become long-distance downhill races. Mountain biking already has downhill, the high-speed, total precision discipline. Enduro is supposed to be something more fun, mixing bike handling with endurance fitness and the discovery of new trails and riding locations. The idea of learning every root and rock for a small racing advantage is not one many within the sport are keen to embrace. Enduro is currently searching for the right balance between discovery and practice.
Professionalism sounded the death knell for high-level blind racing. Simple economics dictate as much. As money starts to come into the sport, people will begin to depend on it to do serious things like pay rent, turn on lights and even feed children. A good race result becomes a very big thing and the pressure to look for advantages, fair or unfair, becomes huge. If human history has taught us anything, it's that some people will eventually take the dishonest route, and blind racing, by its very nature, is open to abuse. Sooner or later chaos would follow.
So that brings us back to today, with the announcement of the Superenduro/Enduro World Series race course a month in advance. It's going to be the biggest enduro race anybody has ever seen, on many levels. The riders list is a who's who of mountain biking, packed with names like Nico Vouilloz, Steve Peat, Anne-Caroline Chausson, Fabien Barel, Greg Minnaar, Jerome Clementz, Remy Absalon... This is the first time all of these people will have been on a race track together. It will also be the biggest enduro race ever held as nearly 600 riders of all levels are signed up to compete - the pits are lining up to rival a World Cup. This is evidence of the growth of enduro as a real thing and not just a mythical creature lurking in internet forums and industry hype. Yet it comes at a cost, a literal cost: somebody needs to pay for all this to happen.
In this case, that somebody is Thomas Daddi, owner of the Punt Ala resort where the race will be held. He specifically requested that the courses be announced today. In the next month riders from across the world are booked to come and train on the trails that will become the race course on 18 and 19 May. It is that business coming into the resort that makes this race something real; it's a viable opportunity for him, not a vanity project. As much as most of us like the idea of doing things for the love, a solid financial base means it could happen again in the future.
None of this means we should lose the original, blind enduro that some of us still love so much. There are places you can find it. Slipping from the mainstream doesn't mean it's dead, it's just waiting for those of us who want to go looking for it. For enduro as a wider genre to grow we need big races; the Enduro World Series is pushing the sport on to a new level and that is nothing but a good thing. When riders come to Punt Ala, the trails will still be incredible, the area beautiful and the people welcoming, nothing will change that, and the racing looks set to be something very special indeed. If the price for all that is this kind of extended practice, it's one we should be willing to pay.www.superenduromtb.comwww.enduroworldseries.com