When the EWS last visited La Thuile in 2016 it was voted the venue and race of the year almost unanimously by racers and support staff, and with the magic blend of mind-blowing views and even better trails that made it so popular being reinvented for the 2018 edition, you know you're in for an incredible event. While the race stats certainly look imposing with 5500 meters of total descending over six stages, it is the near perfect quality of the trails that makes all the difference. Yes, it will be long and rough, but talking to the riders it is clear that they are loving the use of terrain here, and the massive mountains will surely be a true test of both body and bike. The long stages and the steep terrain will be hard going, and whoever wins here will need to be a complete all-round racer and mountain biker, as any weakness will be savagely exploited on these high alpine slopes.
At a time when the World Cup circuit is becoming ever more TV-focused, there is an argument that some of the heart and soul of true mountain biking terrain is being lost, and it is ever-rarer to see loam or fresh-cut tracks being raced at the top level. Here in La Thuile, they are serving them up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Two of the stages are completely new and fresh top to bottom just for this race, and four others have been completely overhauled below tree line to incorporate plenty of dusty chutes and steep switchbacks. With riders only being allowed one training run per stage on constantly changing terrain, it will be impossible to memorize all the details and so it will be the rider who can constantly adapt on the fly who will certainly be fastest.
On their current form there are not too many people you would want to put your money on besides Sam Hill and Cecile Ravanel, but behind them are plenty of other hungry and capable riders. Isabeau Courdurier has won before and wants to taste victory again, while Katy Winton has proved she has the speed if she can keep it consistent and on two wheels. For the men, Richie Rude crushed everyone here in 2016 and with his form in the big mountains of Chile earlier this year and a win in France, you can be sure this venue plays to his strengths. And you can't count out Martin Maes who just barely missed out on the win last round, and has finished second more times than any other male rider on the circuit.
Right now things have been dry and dusty, but these are the biggest Alps of them all and the weather is anything but predictable. Can The Enduro Wet Series break its curse of rain, mud and slippery tracks this time around? Let's hope so.