With a block of European racing behind us, the Enduro World Series headed stateside to kick off the final three rounds of the season. Winter Park in Colorado lies right at the heart of the Rocky Mountains and was familiar territory for the EWS having also been visited back in 2013.
After a rough time here last year, we’d learnt from our mistakes by flying over a week earlier to help combat the eight hour time difference, but most importantly to acclimatise to the altitude. Although the mountains around Winter Park don’t look much like the soaring peaks of the Alps, the fact that the base lift for Trestle Bike Park sits way up at 2800 m above sea level meant that we were actually far higher than at any point in Europe, and that was before we’d even got to the top. Coping with the thin air was therefore one of the major challenges everyone faced; even just sleeping at this height, your heart beats twice as fast than at sea level. This meant that the locals would definitely have a home advantage.
In contrast to previous rounds, this time we had three and a half days of racing with seven special stages ahead of us. Timed runs were held in the morning to avoid thunderstorms later on and the next day’s stages were only unveiled the afternoon before with practice allowed following the announcement. This made each day long and intense for riders and staff, but especially for our mechanics, Dougie and Marc.
Day one was spent lapping the bike park. Typically in the EWS, the riders aren’t so used to constantly hitting groomed doubles, berms and wallrides, and that was reflected in the results. While the big names were scattered throughout the field, the local riders, who could have ridden the course blind were filling out the top spots. Joe still had reason to be happy after the first test:“I was 30th in that first stage last year and coming in 17th this time is a step in the right direction. Stage was good, but my stomach was playing up a bit in the middle. Strange feelings... Coming to a big jump I hit it longer than I did in the training run. I landed hanging off the bike like a motocross racer, but it was perfect. I was really stoked riding down afterwards. It’s really tough out there.”
Day two promised more variety with a load of previously unknown and unridden hiking trails away from the resort. However, Ludo wasn’t loving the lack of flow offered by the terrain:“Stages 4 and 5 were really short, like even less than two minutes so that’s also what we’re not really used to racing. Those hiking trails are dusty and really tight at the top - not really made for riding. Through the trees it was really difficult not to catch your bars. It’s really flat, not what I prefer and it´s definitely not sexy, but I guess that’s just the American interpretation of Enduro.”
Coming in to the third day there was controversy after one of the local women came down hard on Stage 6, meaning the course had to be shut down. There’s never a good time for a big crash, but the accident happened after 10 men had already completed the stage. Chris Ball, who runs this whole show, had a tough decision to make and rightly decided that a re-run of the stage was the fairest way to continue the race, triggering protests from those who had already put times on the board.
Fortunately, the rider is in a stable condition having been airlifted to hospital in Denver. The fact that some riders had to tackle the most physically-challenging stage of the race twice may have affected the overall result, but we’ll never know. Stage 7 was back to the bike park bombing of the first day, with everyone able to get back on the gas again. When the results came in it showed a mixed weekend for the team. Joe kept up his good run of form to finish 7th and Ines had a solid race coming in 10th, while Ludo never got in the right groove, dropping down to 52nd.
Joe was satisfied with how the weekend turned out and another top-10 result:“This was actually quite a good race for me. Much better than last year and it went even better than I’d expected. It’s good to see that I can constantly cope with all the big boys out there and I came dead close to winning a stage again this weekend. I felt really good the whole weekend, therefore I´m really disappointed with the last stage on Sunday. My run was okay but then I saw my time and couldn´t believe it at first that I was so slow. I thought there must be a mistake, but the timing back-up was okay. I could have easily gained two places if I’d pushed it harder. But anyway it’s another solid top-ten. Let’s go to Whistler – Yeah Baeys!”
We’ve got one day to give bikes and bodies a rest before catching the flight to Vancouver and then next stop Whistler, where the riding Mecca awaits us. Catch the next entry of the Strive Diaries then in two weeks!