Thomas Daddi is the owner of Puntala Camp and Resort, he’s someone you might not have heard much about but has been heavily involved in the Enduro scene. He hosted the first ever EWS back in 2013, rowed for the Italian National Team, played rugby in Australia but now spends his time between Florence and his resort in Punta Ala. He’s recently raced the Cape Epic and has been a regular at the Andes Pacifico, along with many races in-between.
We sat down to talk to him at last weekends Superenduro to find out a bit more about him, the EWS, and what goes into choosing trails for a race.
Before we sat down for the interview the guys at Superenduro gave me a fantastic metaphor, our race series is the restaurant and they will serve you a four-course meal, each venue is a different course, cooked by a different chef, they have their rules, each course has to flow from one another, but they want each chef to bring a different flavor and ideas to the course that they’re serving. Thomas has inspiration and ideas from so many different places I wanted to find out more…
Could you start by giving us a little bit of your background and your relationship with Punta Ala resort?Thomas:
It's been a family property, for over a century. An extensive pine woodland, with a whole dense underbrush of Mediterranean plants. It's very characteristic, very beautiful, very natural, and on the beach. It used to be hunting grounds when it was first bought by my great-grandfather. Over time things changed, tourism developed after the war, and in the late 60s, people started vacationing in coastal regions, and this was when camping became a natural destination of this specific area.
In 2000 I started to get more and more involved in the running of the resort, and by 2004 I was taking care of this place almost exclusively. I had developed an interest in the tourism industry and I started working on turning it into a bigger resort and a destination, over the years I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot, visiting many different resorts and areas which has allowed me to fine-tune Puntala into what it is today.
Where have bikes fitted into your life? Thomas:
Bicycle riding turned me into an active person, it came into my life in the United States. I was born there, and my mother is from the United States, but I lived in Italy. We used to visit Crested Butte, Colorado, and it just happened to be a center point for mountain biking in the 80s and growing up I spent all my summers in Crested Butte, Colorado. By the age of 13, I used to love the adventure, heading out on my own into the wilderness just with the essentials, an inner tube, pump and maybe a map. It seems crazy to me now, I guess my mother didn’t quite realise what I was up to.
I became a rower in my late teens, I put all my effort into that and became part of the Italian national team for three years, then I went onto Rugby which took me to Sydney, that sidelined my mountain biking for quite a few years.
When did mountain biking become a part of the resort here in Punta Ala?Thomas:
It was when my sister married a Swiss mountain biker, he's the one who brought mountain biking back into my life. We'd be riding around the hillsides near the resort, there was only a bit of mountain biking here at the time, but mainly cross-country. This was the moment I saw the potential in this place, it just reminded me so much of the trails I grew up riding in the Rockies. There's a lot of trails that are flowy, not too steep, and that is very similar to our countryside here. So I was like, "Oh, this really can adapt to mountain biking."
The mountain biking here in the area was mainly cross country riding, except for a little branch of downhillers that I slowly became friends with. These downhillers were known as Tronkamakkia, they were an important part of the development here, they went out and built loads of trails. The downhill scene slowly started disappearing and being substituted by Enduro bikes. Their group grew older, and the youth moved onto ‘Enduro’, but they did leave a strong trace here in the area, a few of that group now work for me at the resort, we even used one of their trails at the race last weekend, stage four, Kriminale.
When I really started to develop the area was after I met Enrico Guala (The pope of Enduro)
, and his colleagues at the time Franco Monchiero and Marzio Bardi. This is when I began developing the resort as a trail center, which now has plenty of facilities including a shuttle service, a bike shop, trail map and guided rides.
Then things developed to the point you hosted the first ever EWS in 2013?Thomas:
So once again this was through Enrico Guala and Franco Monchiero. Enrico was already running one of the most successful Enduro Series, the Superenduro. Which was based upon Franco’s format of Enduro, he was from the motorcycle Enduro scene, and the rally scene, so he had a specific idea of how the format should be run.
Enrico Guala was very good at marketing this concept to the rest of the world. And thanks to his capacity of marketing this concept he got the French and Canadian organizer interested, they teamed up and they came up with the concept of an international standard, and that's how the Enduro World Series popped up.
They needed a location for the first event, and at the time I had already organized some Enduro races for the Italian series, they had all been very successful, each time there had been a different mix of trails and different challenges. So he approached me and asked me if I wanted to take on this challenge. Fundamentally because I think he was guaranteed he would have a result here.
I saw an opportunity, a successful race would put us on the world map, and I was also aware that the series would develop into something too big for a small single resort like us to organise in the future. Unless in the future there will be more approachable ways of organizing international events.
You're the one who chooses the course for the Superenduro here. How do you go about that?Thomas:
I've been inspired both by the Andes Pacifico and the Cape Epic, both races that I've attended more times over the past six, seven years. The Andes Pacifico is the idea of a trip, of traveling from point A to point B, without returning to the same spots again. The Cape Epic, on the other hand, is a longer event, and they spend two days, two nights in the same spot before moving to the next one. It’s still a journey but they are loops. And they’re long loops.
So, the parameter of let's say of organizing a race in the Enduro scene moved away from shorter regional standards, to longer, international standards. I was looking at taking the riders as far as possible away from the resort and then have them ride trails all the way back to the resort. But that concept would have required shuttling or finding a good way of transferring outside of asphalt roads to the furthest point, which is about 30 kilometers away and then just riding trails back in. That concept is still there in the drawer, I'll come back to it in the future.
For this race I created a loop, I picked a route that would never return to the same spot and tried to stay away from asphalt roads, aiming for singletrack riding as much as possible. I wanted it to still be technically demanding as well, so we’ve got some technically challenging stages. We wanted to use a track that still has the Roman Etruscan rocks set down it, but in the wet, at speed, it is super dangerous, so, unfortunately, we had to cut it from the race, but instead, we have used it as one of the climbs. I like to incorporate history and culture into the courses I pick too.
That’s one of the concepts, which is very similar to what we had in the Cape Epic when we transferred from Oak Valley to Stellenbosch over Gantouw Pass. We had been sent over a track that had been used by the Huguenots to escape from the Brits, who had taken over the Cape.
Is there any asphalt road in the race?Thomas:
There's a B asphalt road for the last 7K's when you drop down from the hill, it's the bottom of the valley, it's at the end of the race, so just a light transfer back. But for the rest, it's all off-road.
Was this the only route option you had scoped out?Thomas:
Well, actually the loop we're doing tomorrow for the race is option number 27. Option number 1 had been a 65K loop with 2,000 meters of climbing, which I understood was a bit too much for this race. At the time I was telling myself, "Well, it's half of an average day on the Cape Epic, anybody can do it." But it was still a bit excessive for an enduro race. That would have required us using a shuttle to make it possible, and shuttling brings a whole lot of complications. So that was canned. I’m pretty happy with the course we ended on, and it offers many of the elements I was looking for.
Have you got anything else in the pipeline?Thomas:
In the future I'd love to bring on a multi-day event stage race. I've been visiting several multi-day stage races, be it Enduro, cross-country, or marathon, and I've been trying to work out how to manage a big group of riders on a, four to seven-day time frame.
So I'd be ideally aiming at something like that, but at the same time, I do understand that I'd have to involve many trail areas and I'd have to overcome the lack of trust that third parties would have towards an organizer and businessman coming into their areas.
I’d also love to put on a relay event, it could be something like a triathlon, but with individual riders or athletes in each sports discipline. I wouldn't be using the triathlon sports concept, I really like the ski to sea event that takes place in Bellingham, in the United States. If you ever have a chance to check that event out you should, it’s called Ski to Sea. They have eight different disciplines that bring the athletes from the ski slopes all the way to the sea. That could be something fun that I could concentrate on here to showcase the various activities that one could do in our region.