Three weeks have passed since the last EWS round in Valloire. While we’re still in the Alps, we’re in Italy for Round 4 in La Thuile. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how things were going to go in La Thuile. I’d had a bit of a rough couple of weeks with some kind of sickness straight after Valloire and a week away from training. But the body had just started to feel 100% again for this weekend, and I felt pretty lucky with the timing of it all.
La Thuile was another typical Alps location with scenic views for days…the kind you can never get sick of. In contrast to Valloire, we pretty much didn’t see the sun the entire time. Rain was threatening all week and delivered some storms and showers pretty much every day at some point.
Thursday was the first of two practice days, with six stages in total and five different stages (Stages 1 and 4 were the same course). With the average stage time well over 10 minutes, it meant a lot of descending and some fatigue management…for the arms and the legs.
The most important stage of the weekend was definitely Stage(s) 1/4. It involved pedalling up to almost 2600m from the top lift, and a descent right down to the town. It was like two totally different landscapes. Up top it was snowing on Thursday, making practice almost impossible and definitely pointless. You couldn’t see any course tape and the ground was covered in snow. And it was absolutely freezing! I did a run or two on the other stages on Thursday to check them out and was having a great time. The courses were a good all around mix of technical, flowing, high speed, slow speed…pretty much anything you could think of was somewhere on the mountain. Something for everyone.
On Friday I tried again to get a look at the top of Stage(s) 1/4 and some of the snow had melted. But this time around, the super thick fog was more the issue and I couldn’t see 10 meters in front of me. It was good to get an idea of what the terrain was like, but as far as having any idea of where I was going…well, I would be doing a high level of winging it come the weekend’s racing. Heading up again later to check it out might have been a good plan, but I still had four other stages to learn and it was still positively freezing up there. I didn’t want to make myself sick again just when I was getting on top of everything.Day 1:
On to racing, and up for Stage 1. It was much warmer at the very top this time. The snow had all gone and the wind was down, but it was still a bit foggy and misting rain and making the course very greasy and slippery. My run was pretty bad up top and I spent more time looking for where the course was heading rather than focusing on riding fast. The physical nature of the stage and the length meant that if you went out too hard, that you would pay the price down farther. The course went into some very muddy boggy sections where maintaining speed was vital, followed by a short steep fire road climb, before dropping into the last 5 minutes of flowing single track. The course would make you pay the price if you were too tired to pay attention to where you were putting your wheels. All in all, a very tough stage.
It went okay, but “okay” is not good enough when you want to win these races. I had a bit of a crash, which wasn’t ideal. But I was more bummed that I took it too easy and tried to take it too easy and play the safe game like in Valloire. I was still 9th for the stage but I lost a good amount of time to Damien Oton who went fastest. I was pretty annoyed at myself for then having to play catch up all weekend.
Stage 2 was just plain good fun. It started with a solid one-hour climb to the top followed by nothing but fun corners the whole way down. It wasn’t too physical and not a stage you could win the weekend on, but a stage where you could definitely lose it. There was a lot of steep hillside trail that could see you falling down the side of a very steep embankment if you overcooked a turn. And about 20 minute before we started the rain started up…jus
t enough to make the fresh cut grass super slick and wet down the roots. It actually made the stage more fun and a fair amount of sideways back wheel time was had. I rode well and much more aggressive than Stage 1, and was second fastest and moved up a little overall. It was a good little confidence boost heading to the final stage for the first day.
Stage 3 was super fun. The rain had made the top open stuff very slippery and unpredictable, while conditions under the trees remained dry and grippy. I was feeling really good, but it seemed to take me about 5 minutes of the stage to adjust to the grip levels after the rain and learn that the roots were wet but not really slippery. I came in 5th for the stage…a little disappointed, but not too bad. Rene Wildhaber put in a killer stage and won and was leading at the end of the day. I was back in 7th and knew my Valloire safe game plan wasn’t going to work here, and a new game plan had to be formulated for Sunday. I got a good feed in the belly, watched a movie and went to bed ready for a good second day.Day 2:
My body felt really good today and everything felt nicely opened up from yesterday and I was ready to go for it.
Stage 4 (same as Stage 1) was a lot wetter and rougher today, and made it even more physical and harder to ride fast. The top rocky open stuff was super slippery and almost impossible to find a good groove. I rode it much better than yesterday, but encountered a small problem at the end of the run when my chain bounced off the 11t rear cog and jammed up between the 11t and the swing arm. It was kind of a freak thing, but it shows just how rough these stages are. I was still much closer to the fastest time than I was yesterday, and only a handful of seconds from top-3 for the stage. I definitely had some speed to pick up on the technical muddy stuff. But with that stage involving most of my weak points, I was content and looking forward to my favorite two stages of the weekend.
Stage 5 was just fun top to bottom with awesome flow, technical, and some super fast sections. It was classic alpine riding. I was on a good run with everything going spot on; when suddenly in the very last part of the stage some random person was taking a run of their own down the course. I was screaming as loud as I could that I was coming but they stayed right in the middle of the race line. I’m sorry if I was a bit rude to whoever it was if you’re reading this, but when you’re in a race stage of a world series race and you’re stuck behind someone who shouldn’t be on course and they are costing you seconds…well, things got a bit heated. I was 2nd fastest for the stage just behind Martin Maes, and I moved up to 5th overall heading into the final stage.
Stage 6 was another awesome stage with fun sections the whole way down. There were some good pedaling sections, mud and dry, and just an all around balance of everything. It was a perfect stage for what I think Enduro should be. La Thuile nailed it with this one!
My run went really well. I was being a little cautious to not pick up a mechanical to ruin my weekend, but still pushing 100% where it was safe. I had to fight so hard to get back to 5th overall and I didn’t want to ruin that. I needed to keep the series points ticking over. I ended with a stage win by a good amount of seconds, and was really happy with that. I didn’t manage to make up enough time to jump up in the overall for the weekend, but I was happy to get away from here with 5th. A big Congrats to Damien Oton for the win! He’s another guy who hasn’t put a wheel wrong all year and has been gaining momentum…a well deserved win.
So, I’ve been struggling a little to find my groove at some of the races this year. I’m not sure what that’s all about. Maybe it’s a little pressure on myself, but I really don’t get nervous much. I’m feeling better at every race, and I feel like a lot of the stages have played against my real strengths this year while a lot of tricky conditions have been thrown at us. People ask me if I’m disappointed with how some things have gone this year. Actually, I’m really happy with how things have gone the past two races. It’s a constant learning process and it’s been a really rewarding challenge. Sure, it’s been a little frustrating at times, but that’s all part of what makes the good days feel so good! We’re past the halfway point of the season, and I’m on a plane right now with the Enduro World Series points lead and heading back to the USA to get some burritos in me. We now have the three venues I’ve been most looking forward to all year as the last three rounds of the series. I’m as happy as a pig in mud!
Frame: YETI SB66c medium
Forks: FOX 36 Float 2015, 15mm axle, 160mm, 77psi
Shock: FOX Float X, 175psi
Wheels: DT Swiss 240 straight pull hubs, aerolite spokes, EX471 rims
Tires: Front and Rear Maxxis 2.5 EXO 3C Minion DHF, 26 psi/29 psi, tubeless ready, with Ghetto Split tube tubeless. (People always ask about ghetto tubeless. Even with tubeless ready tires and rims, we still use the split tube an extra buffer of protection to reduce the risk of pinching the tire by the bead on rocks, and the ghetto setup helps seal small cuts around the bead of the tire from pinching.
Cranks: Shimano XTR 170mm w/stages power meter
Brakes: Shimano XTR M987 levers, Saint Calipers, 180mm Freeza Rotors
Derailleur: Shimano XTR Shadow Plus
Shifter: Shimano XTR
Pedals: Shimano XTR Trail
Cassette: Shimano XTR 11-36
Bar/Stem: Renthal Fatbar Lite Carbon, 30mm rise, 740mm/Renthal Apex 60mm
Seatpost: Thomson Elite Dropper, and Thomson seat clamp
Chainguide: E-13 Carbon LG1
Chainring E-13 narrow wide guide ring 36t
Seat: WTB Devo
Headset: Chris King
Grips: ODI TLDText by
: Jared GravesPhotos by
: Sebastian Schieckyeticycles.com