In only its fifth year of existence, any discussion of traditions and the Enduro World Series (EWS) may seem premature, but the history of mountain bike racing in Finale Ligure extends beyond that of the EWS, and for a race season that began in Rotorua, New Zealand back in March the long journey to reach this final event on the Italian Riviera is at the very least a tradition in the making.
One of the most cherished of the burgeoning traditions in Finale is for the friends and family of the riders to attend the season’s closing event. With stretches of six weeks or more on the road, events as remote as Tasmania, and the rigors of training this is a rare opportunity for the riders to reconnect with loved ones and to share in the experience. Consequently, Finale holds a special place in the hearts of the EWS competitors.
So it was for the Ibis Cycles Enduro Racing Team in Finale with parents, friends, girlfriends and boyfriends on hand to witness ‘the little team that could’ try and secure the EWS team championship. Heading into this last race the Ibis team held a slim lead over the crew from Rocky Mountain, who had been gaining on Ibis since round 4 in Ireland. With only 41 points separating the two teams it was almost assured that the team that came out ahead on the weekend would win the series title.
Things were not looking good after stage 1 on Saturday. The 8.6 Km Karma trail meant nearly twenty minutes of racing and a myriad of opportunities for disaster. Fate struck first for Zakarias Johansen, who after clipping a pedal, hit the ground hard, resulting in a broken finger and a broken scapula, and putting an abrupt end to his race. Team leader, Robin Wallner, didn’t fare much better with two crashes and a flat tire, leaving him in 23rd place and almost a minute behind the leader. That left it to the ever consistent Gehrig sisters, Anita and Carolin, who finished the stage 4th and 6th respectively.
Zakarias Blom Johansen - “After the crash left me with a fractured shoulder blade and a broken finger there was no way I could continue the race. So a few weeks off the bike and then I will be back and start training and preparing for 2018!! Super happy to be a part of the best team in the world.—Zakarias Blom Johansen
The Rocky Mountain team was down to three riders themselves after injuries sidelined two of their riders ahead of the race, but with Rémi Gauvin and Florian Nicolai lying just outside the top ten after stage 1, the Rocky Mountain team was still a threat. Stage 2 went a little better for Robin Wallner with a 9th place finish on the track they call “Bric Tampa”, but still not up to the standard that saw him finish 4th overall in Whistler the previous month. Combined with a 3rd place finish for Anita Gehrig on stage 2, and a 5th place for Carolin gave the team a little breathing room. The X-Men track on stage 3 made for tight results with only 12 seconds separating the top 20 men. Appropriately enough Robin and Rémi Gauvin finished in the same second in 17th and 15th place respectively. Anita and Carolin stayed strong in with 4th and 6th on the stage and at the end of day 1 nothing had been decided.
Day two had four stages on tap and the last day of racing for the year. Starting with a pedally 2 Km on the Dalman trail for stage 4. Robin delivered a solid - if not spectacular - 13th, but like the competition over the course of the season, the Rocky Mountain boys started putting on the pressure by coming in 3rd and 7th. Not to be outdone, Anita and Carolin stepped it up as well coming through in 3rd and 4th on the stage.
Stage 5 - Val Nava, is one that Robin Wallner would rather forget, but enduro racing rewards perseverance, and the best that can be said is that he didn’t throw in the towel. Once again, the Twins staked their places at the sharp end of the race. With Anita sitting in 4th overall after stage 5.
Finale is such a great place to round out the season - with great crowds, atmosphere and trails.
I went into the weekend with high hopes of ending season on a high note, but already after the first stage I had my work cut out for me if I even wanted to score some points. So I have to admit I got a bit stressed out and made some mistakes, which led to even more stressed riding. I lost count on the number of crashes I had this weekend, but I was mega pumped riding through the crowds at the bottom of the last stage. And I had a good feeling on my bike even if my race wasn't going well.
Luckily, I was able to score some points for our team overall, and I think we are all beyond stoked to win the team championship! World’s best team is not a small achievement! Can't thank everyone involved enough, my teammates, mechanic, all our sponsors, friends and family that supported and believed in us all the way! See you next year! Ciao—Robin Wallner
The Briga Right track on stage 6 brought out the best in Anita Gehrig, as she won the first stage of her career - putting almost 17 seconds into Katy Winton, and leapfrogging her into 3rd for the race. Carolin Gehrig added to her solid race - coming in 6th, but the stage brought more pain for Robin Wallner with another crash and a finish in the mid-50’s. At this point, the Rocky Mountain team had two riders in the top ten of the men’s field and they were threatening to take the team title as well.
On Sunday I probably had my strongest race day ever and made up so much of the time that I had lost in the first day of racing. Having so many of our friends here to cheer us on surely gave me wings! That it all came down to the millisecond at the end speaks for the high level of competition in the women’s field, but I just wished the numbers were on my side for once. I am entirely stoked that we could win the team overall, everyone worked hard towards this and to actually bring it home is huge!—Anita Gehrig
The final stage of the race and the year is the DH Uomini (Men). A classic setting with the trail seeming to cascade over the edge of a cliff into the Mediterranean and the screaming Tifosi standing two or three deep on either side of the course. With her father furiously waving the Swiss flag along with the throngs of spectators it was Carolin Gehrig’s turn to show her best, as she put in a blistering performance to finish 2nd on the stage. Anita was a solid 5th on the stage but slipped behind Katy for the final podium spot by a mere .05 of a second. With the team title in the balance, a battered and bruised Robin Wallner was able to do just enough on this final stage, coming in 23rd, to save the championship.
Finale is always a super special race for us, it’s the closest EWS event to our home, on amazing technical trails, great atmosphere and half of our friends and family are here to cheer for us! Especially the last stage "DH Uomini" was just so sick, I was completely in the zone. The hundreds of frantic fans carried me through the last and wildest part of the track. Really, it was just the best feeling ever - when you are fully committed to your run and can bring it home!—Carolin Gehrig
Privateer François Bailly-maître made his return from his own scapula fracture in Whistler to finish 32nd on the weekend.
An enduro racer’s life is one of fleeting victories and constant setbacks. Most of these stories are unknown to all but the close community that forms this traveling circus. And while contested as individuals there is a camaraderie among the riders that is shown by their abiding respect and support of one another. It is in this context that the team title is so meaningful. It is reward for the shared struggle and the giving of one’s self for the benefit of the whole. Whether that’s as simple a preparing a fresh pot of coffee in the morning, or keeping a teammate company in a foreign hospital. We couldn’t be prouder of this accomplishment and we wouldn’t trade this block of wood for anything in the world.
As always, a special thanks to all the people and the companies that support us: Mats Pettersson, Ibis Cycles, POC clothing & protection, Maxxis tires, Fox suspension, Shimano components, LizardSkins, Feedback Sports, Honey Stinger Nutrition, Joystick Components, Industry Nine, and FiveTen shoes