Ella Conolly joined the Bird Cycleworks race team after she won her category at 'Ard Rock enduro. She then posted the fastest overall female time at Tweedlove. Here's her story from her first Enduro World Series (EWS) race in Finale Ligure.
Three months ago I was on the start line of my last XC World Cup. Having decided that cross country wasn’t where I wanted to be, I made a late-season switch to enduro with the help of Tracy Moseley. After a few weeks of racing in the UK I was then given the opportunity to enter the final round of the 2017 Enduro World Series in Finale Ligure. Who could say no?! My goal for this trip was to keep it fun. Enjoy riding my bike, not put too much pressure on myself and to decide if enduro was something I’d like to pursue in 2018. The last thing I expected was to be coming home having won.
A week before practice was due to start I packed up my Bird Aeris 145 into a bike bag (with lots of padding to keep her safe during the flight) and started the journey. After a long drive, a taxi, a flight, a bus and two trains along with a lot of lugging bags around I arrived in Finale. This gave me a few days to get used to the loose, rocky, dusty trails (a huge contrast to the Scottish mud) and to fuel up on plenty of coffee, pizza and gelato. Once I was out there I met up with a couple of other British girls who have been racing enduro for a few years now; they gave me endless advice the whole trip and were so patient with my constant questions.
The race consisted of seven stages split over two days. Stages 1-3 were ridden the first day and stages 4-7 the second day. These included of some of the best trails I’ve ever ridden and often I found myself grinning ear to ear whilst still trying to concentrate on the stage. During the two days of practice, uplift is permitted on tarmac sections of transitions to help get to stages. On race day the 50 or so kilometres had to be ridden without uplift which, in the hot Italian sun, felt like a pretty epic day out on the bike with some of the transitions taking almost 2 hours. There was then the added pressure of having start times for each stage. This wasn’t something I’ve had to consider before and I completely misjudged the pace I needed to ride the transitions, going at more of an XC race pace rather than conserving my energy for the stage, which I’ve now discovered takes a toll after that distance!Race Day One:
Stage 1 was from the highest peak in the area and descended almost all of the way back to sea level. At 8.5km it was by far the longest stage I have ever raced and I found it really physically demanding. Over this distance there was real mixture of trail; tight corners, rocky river beds and some proper fast sections interspersed with the occasional uphill sprint. In practice we stopped regularly to look at especially technical sections as well as giving our bodies a rest. But come race day there was no stopping. By the time I was a couple of kilometres into the stage my body was really starting to complain. Hands, feet, legs and arms were all screaming and my primary concern became staying on the bike. After a couple of silly crashes up the top I settled into a bit of a rhythm and before I knew it I’d completed my first Enduro World Series stage.
Getting to the top of stage 2 meant a long pedal. With every corner turned we were presented with another long stretch of uphill fire road. Thankfully the rest of the stages were considerably shorter than the first, all coming in at under 3km. Stage 2 consisted of a lot more rocks and had the most vertical drop per kilometre. Oh my I’ve never had such bad arm pump in my life! I was so relieved to get to the bottom without stalling on any rocks. Stage 3 was the final stage of the first day and ended almost back in Finale. The top section was fast and flowy but this quickly turned into some seriously tight, dusty corners on a steep hill that got more and more washed out with every rider. Towards the bottom there was one awkward set of steps to navigate down before the final few loose, rocky flat corners.
We then had a short pedal along the road into Finale where we were given our times for the day. Much to my surprise, I was sitting in second only trailing by 9 seconds. Going into the second day of racing it was all still to play for. Race Day Two
Waking up on Sunday my body was tired from the two days of practice and one race day we had already completed but I couldn’t wait to get out and try and claw back those precious seconds. To get to the top of every stage on Sunday there was an alpine style climb up the road. Without fail, every transition that day had beautiful views of either mountains or sea as we snaked our way up into the mountains which distracted from the constant uphill gradient. Stage 4 picked up where the previous day had left off; more rocks! This time we were faced with some more rocky sections of trail, littered with boulders and mixed in with some smooth singletrack.
Stage 5 was probably my favourite stage of the event. It was fast and really required me to push my comfort zone in terms of how much I was prepared to let the brakes off. Every now and again the gradient of the trail changed sharply and we found ourselves sprinting up a hill. At the end of the stage there was an awkward corner that caused me a few problems as my bar clipped a tree and proceeded to tip me over the bars. The penultimate stage of the race was something I’d have expected to find in an XC race. Stage 6 started off on a downhill gradient with a few rocky sections but quickly flattened out and turned into a full-on pedal. I used the frequent uphills to my advantage, making full use of my fitness from the years of XC training, putting a fair amount of time into the other girls. At the end of the stage there was no time to recover - it was straight back on the bike to pedal up to the final stage of the day.
At the top of stage 7 there was a mix of different emotions. Some were obviously very relieved to only have one stage standing between them and a relax on the beach. But I didn’t want the day to end! The top of the final stage started with some corners on a fairly gentle gradient which required one final sprint before opening up into the last technical section of the day. Here we were rewarded with an amazing view of the glistening Gulf of Genoa. The crowds lining the final part were insane which certainly carried me down the steep track better than I thought I’d ever ride it. If you’ve ever seen photos from the EWS in Finale I can guarantee one would have been of this ‘iconic’ view of the last section of DH men with the sea in the background.
Having reached the bottom of the final stage I honestly had no idea if that day's efforts had been enough to secure my second place or move up into first. The ride along the coast to find out was nerve-racking. But, knowing I’d enjoyed every second of riding over the past few days, I had already achieved my primary goal. The sense of achievement in just completing an event like that is massive. Riding through mountains felt like a proper adventure which I absolutely loved. On handing in our timing chips I couldn’t quite believe it. My name was on the timing screen in first place. Later that evening I stood proudly on the podium. My bike took everything the EWS threw at it and I had 100% confidence in it all weekend.
I think it’s safe to say my first ever Enduro World Series was a success! I’m still absolutely buzzing and cannot wait to do more. Plans for the 2018 season are already in process…http://www.bird.bike