name likely wasn't at the top of most fan's list of potential EWS winners before the season kicked off, but the racer from the south of France has proven that he has the fitness and skills to take wins on the world stage. His second place in Valloire was followed up by a big win in La Thuile and, if his casual confidence in Whistler is anything to go by, he's feeling very much at home on the unimaginably steep course that he's racing down this weekend. His weapon is Devinci's new 160mm travel Spartan Carbon, a bike that we first showed you from the last stop at Winter Park in Colorado
, and that is actually a lighter, carbon fiber version on the machine designed for last season's World Championships in South Africa, although the EWS course in Whistler makes the South African downhill track look like a paved road in comparison. Damien's Spartan Carbon sports a number of interesting setup points to suit the near vertical sections of the Whistler EWS course.
Serious Sag, Super Slack
The Spartan Carbon's head angle can be adjusted via the flip-able hardware at the rearward shock mount, allowing Damien to run it with either a 66.4 or 65.8 degree head angle. Given how steep and Whistler EWS course is, it's no surprise that he's chosen to go with the slacker of the two options, but he also employs a trick from the downhill world to further dial-in the bike's handling: he's running a massive 40% sag out back for the first four stages of the day. This helps to lower the back of the bike and slacken out the head angle even further, and while that 40% number sounds a bit excessive, it's all about being comfortable enough on the many near vertical sections that make up the majority of the day's racing. Oton won't run the back of the bike that soft all day, however, with him using a shock pump to bump it down to a more conventional 30% sag figure for the final stage that begins on Whistler's famous Top of the World trail before heading down through the Garbonzo zone and onto the lower mountain.
The speeds during that final stage will be much higher than what the racers will be hitting during the previous timed sections, and the course won't be nearly as steep, meaning that a traditional setup makes more sense. It's also worth noting that Oton is running a Vivid Air R2C rather than the Monarch Plus RC3 that comes stock on the production bike, and he told Pinkbike that he prefers the more consistent damping of the Vivid over being able to take advantage of the Monarch Plus' pedal-assist lever. In fact, he feels that the bike pedals so well that he doesn't even turn the Vivid's low-speed compression dial inwards during transfer stages, preferring to just leave it as is instead. As for the front of the bike, Oton isn't making any drastic changes to his Pike's air pressure or damper settings, instead going with what he knows rather than running it any stiffer or with added low-speed compression. That said, the fork is sprung harder than what the average rider would feel comfortable with. A Race Day Build
The drastic change in suspension setup isn't the only alteration that Damien is making to his machine during the day's racing, with the Frenchman also swapping out his handlebar before the final stage. Yes, you read that right, he's changing his handlebar between stage four and five. Oton is a relatively small guy and therefore usually runs a 750mm Truvativ handlebar that better suits not only his stature but also the tight trees found in stages one, two, three and four. Anyone who's gone pinball'ing through a bunch of cedar trees knows what I'm talking about and, from a racer's perspective, having to slow down even the tiniest amount to thread through the tight spots isn't ideal. Move on to stage five, however, and you'll find wide open trail, eye watering speeds, and rough ground, which is why Oton will be fitting a 780mm wide Stevie Smith BlackBox handlebar before rolling in. While a cross-country or downhill racer using a different width handlebar for a specific course isn't unheard of, this is the first time we've seen an enduro racer making such a change between stages.
Oton has also spent his pre-race training in Whistler experimenting with the gearing on his Spartan Carbon, settling on a 36 tooth chain ring for race day. He used a 32 tooth for pre-riding the course, a choice that helped save his legs for the thousands and thousands of feet of climbing on race day, but prefers the taller gearing when it's time to get serious. Running such a large 'ring means that his chain will spend more time in the larger cogs, thereby increasing chain tension and lessening the chance of suffering a derailment, and he admitted that he'd likely be pushing any of the steeper climbing sections found on the transfer stages - remember, it only counts when the clock is running. There's another motive behind his tall gearing choice, though: ''"I ride with a lot of sag, so if I'm spinning an easy gear all the time I have a bigger chance of hitting my pedals
," Oton explained. That 40% sag figure that we talked about above means that his bottom bracket sits quite a bit lower than usual, helping to slacken out his bike for the steep sections but also moving his pedals closer to the ground.
Deciding what kind of rubber to run is often one of the most difficult setup choices of a race weekend, with rolling speed, traction, and reliability needing to be looked at much differently than if it was your usual downhill or cross-country race. After all, one flat is all it takes to kill the chance of an overall victory, but you also don't want to be turning over 1,200 gram downhill tires all day, do you? As it turns out, the Whistler EWS course is one where a lot of racers, including Oton, are running heavier duty tires than what they might use on a less challenging course. Schwalbe's Magic Mary Super Gravity tires will be mounted on both the front and back of Oton's Spartan Carbon come race day, but he says that he'll likely use a Hans Dampf out back for the final stage that sees rolling speed play a bigger role.