Continuing our series of first-person race reports, this time we turn to Bex Baraona to give us the lowdown on what went down at EWS Round 5 in La Thuile, Italy.
With only a small break after the last round in Austria/Slovenia, we barely had a chance to miss each other before the gang regrouped in LaThuile for Round 6.
The couple of weeks chillin' between rounds was well earned after the brutal test we endured in Slovenia. However, it turned out that Chris Ball and his band of executioners hadn’t finished the torture yet! La Thuile was another tough week, and our team - in particular - was hit hard!
To begin with, we were missing our ‘Race Dad’, Robin Wallner. He was sitting out this round due to the imminent birth of his first child, and without his horsepower and experience, we knew maintaining our rank in the team competition would be a challenge.
Oh, and to add to the mix, Lewis Buchanan arrived in LaThuile with two freshly mangled fingers and our favorite ginger, Dillon, was only two weeks removed from a separated shoulder. Pffffffff! Oh well, ‘spirit of enduro’ and all that.
That said, LaThuile lived up to its reputation and our initial recon showed the stages were going to be amazing! Honestly, some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever witnessed were to be had trackside.
We were up against 6 stages spread equally over two days, with 2 of them chairlift assisted - sounds easy, eh? We thought so too, but there wasn’t a stage under 10 minutes, and the final race time looked to be over an hour. La Thuile has some serious trails!
Practice - as usual - saw us all having a ball, and really enjoying the bone dry, fresh cut and rough trails. The team split up for practice and I was really lucky to have my home riding buddy, James Swinden of Cotic Bikes, to train with.
I find the best prep for a race or training on new trails is to just relax and enjoy it. And at least I managed to do that during practice!
As if on cue, a thunderstorm rolled in once training was done and completely blew up the fresh and already gnarly trails we just practised. Every rider has their own reaction when the weather goes bad, and I actually got quite excited.
Looking back though, I should have known better and realized how difficult the race was about to become. I remember Lewis took a very different view and was really concerned with how bad the trails were going to turn once 300+ riders went down in front of us. (note to self: listen to Lewis next time!!!)
I awoke on race day and to be completely honest, I could feel the fatigue from the past two training days. At the last round, where I was also fatigued from training, it had rained biblically before race day. I rode waaay outside of my ability, sending it with little concern for the conditions, resulting in a high level of fatigue. I needed to race smart this time!
Stage 1 presented us with a new definition of “anti-grip” that made trying to settle into the race impossible. It was followed immediately by a 2.5-hour liaison to Stage 2. That was quite possibly the most stressful 2.5 hours of my life. I knew making my start time was going to be hard and I spent the whole time panicking.
The last part was a push and I kid you not, I saw the rider 5 places in front of me riding down the trail as I was still hiking up! But I made it, with 60 seconds to spare! Completely cross-eyed and with my heart racing at 170 bpm, I dropped in and wobbled my way down to the finish. I’ll pass on experiencing that again, thank you very much!
Stage 3 was cancelled for the women due to a crash in the men’s field, but not before I took a big slam myself. That crash landed me an evening in the hospital, which is not what I had in mind for mid-race recovery. Luckily, all my bones were in one piece so the doctor gave me the OK for Day 2! The hospital was full of riders that night, but we were all in good spirits….Stage 3 was madness.
Already bruised and tired, Day 2 was about keeping it together! My aim was to finish the day, take some points and not cause any more injuries. Thankfully, it was a much drier day. The general vibe was better and the team had a better day.
Despite his broken fingers, Lewis was sitting in the top twenty on Day 1. On Day 2, mechanicals would set him back, but he persevered to the finish and pocketed some hard-earned points for the overall. He finished the race in 86th.
Representing for us all, the Ginger Chihuahua, Dillon Santos, was our fastest male rider of the weekend with a 67th! He’s loath to admit it but he was secretly pretty buzzing, and the team celebrated properly!
I finished the race in 11th. Our youngest athlete, Julie Duvert, finished in 15th. Despite the tough weekend for the team, both bikes and bodies, we managed to hold onto 2nd for the team competition! Thanks to Mats, Jesse, and all the folks from Fox and Shimano for helping us keep it together. On to Whistler!! Hopefully, we will have Papa Wallner back.
This year’s series has been so physical and demanding, I have really struggled with the cumulative fatigue. After all the work I’ve put in it isn't that is easy to accept, but gives me a motivation for 2019 offseason.
Thank you for reading! See you in Whistler,
- BexThe Ibis Cycles Enduro Race team is supported by POC, Maxxis, KS, Fox Factory, Shimano, Joystick, LizardSkins, Muc-Off, Feedback Sports, Industry Nine, Honey Stinger, One-Up, and The Athletic.