Who can beat Ravanel?
Ravanel VS Ravanel
What does the world's top female trail rider do for a weekend vacation? Cecile Ravanel races World Cup downhills. Ravanel earned a fifth place podium spot, on what many call the toughest track on the World Cup DH circuit last week. Is the French enduro phenom testing the waters for a career switch? With four straight EWS wins this year, Ravanel appears to be unchallenged for a second overall title in the series. Many of us can only dream of racing World Cup Downhill, but Ravanel? I won't discount the possibility that she's using mountain biking's most prestigious gravity venue as a means to sharpen her trail riding skillset. Ravanel is living an impressive life.
Far from over, the EWS series is only at the half-way point as racers prepare for six big stages at La Thuile, Italy. Isabeau Courdurier, whose four consecutive second-place finishes have kept the Intense rider only 200 points short of the number one plate, will be riding in the shadow of Commencal's reigning Queen of Enduro, but with 400 points on the line for a win, there's still the possibility for an order reshuffle this weekend. That said, most bets at La Thuile are on a part-time World Cup DH pro and a phenomenally talented enduro racer by the same name.
Sam Blenkinsop VS Sam Hill
Can Sam B Beat Sam H?
Sam Hill and Sam Blenkinsop have been rivals in downhill and enduro. Of course, there's Schladming in 2008 where Sam B beat Sam H, but more recently since the beginning of 2014, the two have raced against each other 24 times
, with Sam B coming out ahead in 12 of the races, and Sam H coming out ahead in 12 races. Of those races, Sam B has beaten Sam H twice in enduro races, once at the EWS in Whistler, and once at the Crankworx Enduro. In a few days, the two will face off on La Thuile's EWS tracks. Both riders have historically done their best on steep and technical downhill courses.
Downhill is won or lost in a single race on a well-practiced course in just a few short minutes. Enduro stages are often comprised of similar durations, but practice time is minimal and the complication of racing multiple stages back to back puts a greater emphasis on concentration, creative thinking, and high fitness levels. It took Sam Hill a number of races to get his EWS game on before the Godfather of Flat Pedals returned to his winning ways. With a few promising results this year and athlete conditioning wizard Todd Shumlick running his team, Blenkinsop could also be ramping up.
Those close to Blenki speak in hushed tones about the New Zealander's trail skills, and there is speculation that enduro's extended format will help him find his flow and he'll start laying down some scorching stages. This weekend, all eyes will be on Sam H for the overall, but don't count Sam B out for one or two stage wins. It's Italy - anything can happen here.
Will Weather be a Factor?
Thor VS Italy
Weather could be a big factor in the outcome, as the top some stages are at or close to 8000 feet and electrical storms are predicted Saturday
that may coincide with stage two. Saturday's stages are the steepest and at best, inclement conditions will move the best bike-handlers to the front. If all goes wrong, however, unplanned alterations to affected stages (or a dropped stage) could alter the outcome of the race - especially for anyone who suffers a mechanical and is hoping to make up lost time.
Wet weather is expected to continue through Sunday, but by then, the race should be settled. The fresh-cut sections, however, might be treacherous - with the once powdery soil becoming lubricated fun zones for fans, and treacherous time suckers for competitors. If La Thuile is an indicator of how the second half of the EWS will play out, then fasten your seat belts - it's going to rage until the fat lady sings