Jerome Clementz is quite simply Mr Enduro. Crowned the first Enduro World Champion with one race to spare last year, Jerome is the man everybody will be looking to beat this year. Of all the riders fighting for the spots at the sharp end of things, he has the most experience and the most years perfecting his technique and fitness for this kind of racing. Throw in the fact that he is without question one of the most naturally gifted bike handlers in the sport and you it's not going be an easy job to wrestle that crown away from him.
The man, the machine. Olympian, World Champion and one of the most complete competitors on two wheels ever. While the headlines from last year are impressive, with second in the EWS and third at the DH World Champs on a trail bike, you can bet he is more focused on the things that didn't go right. Being new to enduro racing last year, he had problems training at Punta Ala, mechanicals in race runs and was slightly off the pace in places. These are the things that will likely have filled his thoughts during the off-season and with his approach to training you can bet he's been working hard to fix them. With his determination, he is going to be hard to beat this year.
2013 didn't really go to plan for Nico Lau. It was his first year as a professional rider and he says himself that his winter training wasn't good enough. As the season progressed he raced himself fit though. In September he won the Trans-Provence from Jerome by a single second, which while not a big margin, means he could keep pace with the fastest man in enduro over an entire week, no small feat. In the last round of the EWS in Finale Ligure he was on incredible form, you could see it on track in the way he could attacked everything and until he picked up an unlucky time penalty for a missed time check he had a commanding lead over both Jerome and Jared. This winter he has gone away to put right the problems with his training, leaving the frozen hills of Northern France for the warmer climes of the Mediterranean. Many eyes are on Jerome and Jared for the crown this year as they are the known entities, but we'll be watching Nico closely because if he gets his fitness right, we reckon few can touch his raw pace.
There's nobody who caused as much discussion in the Enduro World Series in 2013 as DH legend, Fabien Barel. Whether it was his scarily fast run down stage one in Punta Ala, or the shuttling controversy in Whistler, there were more than a few times when he was the centre for discussion. Amidst all that, what has been overlooked somewhat is that he finished third overall, despite having two races that he may as well have stayed at home for for various reasons. You can never count out Barel, there is virtually nobody in mountain biking more determined. If he decides that he is hungry for the title next year, it's hard to bet against him.
What is there to say about Martin Maes? The teenager who destroys grown men in a sport that usually favours older riders with more endurance fitness. Being in the junior category, he wasn't eligible for a ranking in the senior competition, but if the rules were different he would have been standing right there on the podium when the dust settled more than once last season. He is fearless and aggressive on the bike, throwing wild trail hucks and chancing lines that the older riders pass by. Those wild lines don't always quite pay off though, it's part of being a teenager - you're supposed to go big and crash hard. That's how you learn. We expect to see him putting in times that would win in the senior field on stages and maybe even races, but to take the series you need to be calm and measured every step of the way and, in honesty, we'd be a little bit disappointed if he was just yet. If he carries on with his current trajectory, the question of Martin becoming Enduro World Champion is a matter of when, not if, but for now we enjoy watching his youthful aggression on track.
Ben Cruz is another rider who didn't have the 2013 season he was hoping for. He started strong - his sixth place in the opening round at Punta Ala was probably the only time we got to see what he's capable of. Gary Forrest, who started ahead of Ben at Colorado last year, set off 30 seconds ahead and heard Ben come flying towards his back wheel mid-stage. Ben was 20 seconds off the lead time at that point... Unfortunately a mechanical meant he never put the overtake on Gary, but the maths are plain to see. That and his ugly, ugly slam at the top of Val D'Allos kinda sum up Ben's season, to the point where he flew home to the US before the final round in Finale Ligure as he was bursing a broken rib and out of the running for the top spots. A long off-season can make all the difference though, and he's retreated back to California for the winter to put the work in. He rides angry and with so much fuel for the fire from 2013, expect him to come out swinging this year. Don't be surprised to see Ben at the sharp end of things when the racing starts.
Before enduro emerged as an international discipline there were two names who dominated the French enduro scene - Jerome Clementz and Remy Absalon. While Jerome was sweeping all before him last year, Remy was keeping it steady. His consistency netted him fourth overall, but that must feel like a world away from his old adversary. This winter he has switched programmes, leaving his bulletproof Commencal for a lighter, more nimble Scott Genius LT that he feels will suit his racing style better. So the question for 2014 is, will he able to fight his way back to the top step of that podium?
The unofficial privateer of the year in 2013, Jamie Nicholl stormed in from more-or-less nowhere and scared many more established riders. The Kiwi missed the first round, then proceeded to put in solid performances for the rest of the season, netting him eighth overall, ahead of many fully-supported factory riders. This year he has signed for the Hutchinson-United Ride team and it's going to be exciting to see how far he can go no he has turned pro.
The area just North-East of Nice in France has produced some of the greatest riders gravity racing has ever seen. Just a few square miles of hillside have given birth to Nico Vouilloz, Fabien Barel and Loic Bruni, so there probably is something in the water. Something has changed in France though, in the last few years many fast, young riders have started choosing to race enduro rather than downhill. Living a stone's throw away from Fabien Barel, Florian Nicolai is at the spearhead of that generation, with the added weight of expectation on his shoulder. Last year he took a solid (if unlucky) thirteenth overall and signed to the newly-formed Urge-Rocky Mountain team, he would be one of our outside bets for taking podiums this year. Can he uphold the traditions of his valley?
Josh Carlson was one of the biggest surprises at round one in Punta Ala. The amiable, Aussie ex-motocross rider showed up more or less out of nowhere (do people even hold enduro races in Austrlia?) and lightning fired his way into the top 10 at the season opener. He started strongly at round two, but suffered a nightmare season-ending crash on the first day of racing and we didn't see him again in 2013. This means he's another rider who has had a lot of time to take a flying leap at the 2014 season and if he's had time to build on the glimpse of form we've already seen, he could just surprise a lot of the more established names in the sport.
Internationally, we'd say Manuel Ducci has never quite shown his full potential. At home in Italy he won the Superenduro series on 2013, but on the world stage he was what can only be described as a fair way off the pace. Manuel is focused though, with Superenduro he went from a fast lower-top ten pace to series champion on three years. He came to the races, saw what needed to be done and bent his body and mind to doing it. So sure, he wasn't at the front of things last year, but he had never raced outside Italy much before or against those kind of riders. We'd put a quiet bet aside that took his time to understood what the winners were doing that he wasn't and has gone away and worked on it with utter determination.
Greg Callaghan is a rider that quietly, and steadily, improved last year. At the start of the year he was somewhere around the top 40. By the end of the season he was placing top 15 stage times. That didn't go unnoticed at home in Ireland as Nukeproof snapped him up for their enduro team. With that kind of backing, we'd bet his development is just going to increase. His speed is there - at the first round of the Irish DH National series this year, he grabbed third riding his enduro bike. Whether it's going to be this season that he really breaks through, or maybe in a season or two is hard to say, but he's a young lad and, if he keeps up that progression, we reckon he's a name we'll see at the sharp end of things before too long.
In France he's known as "Crazy" Yoann Barelli and anybody who has watched one of his edits will know why. He makes some of the funniest videos in enduro, not taking himself at all seriously, something that a lot of riders could learn from. He also knows which way to point a bicycle, narrowly missing out on a top ten ranking in 2013. This winter he's been given the jump up from the Giant national team to the Factory team, so the question is now how far up results sheet he can go with that kind of backing?
Tracey won her first mountain bike race 20 years ago, the Malvern Dual Descender. Since then she has won DH World Championships, the World Cup DH series title and multiple national DH championships. She was always going to be a strong contender for to become Enduro World Champion, but what is most impressive about the title she won last year is how she did it. Not once did she take a shuttle to practice, but pedalled out for her practice runs on the races without chairlifts. When she picked up unfortunate penalties, she accepted them with grace, not taking to social media to whine and complain as many did. That's without talking about her pace, by the end of the season she was simply the dominant force in women's enduro. And she did all this, more-or-less, as a privateer last year. This year she has factory support and a year more of experience. It's hard to bet against her holding onto her title.
Anne-Caroline didn't get off to a good start last season, crashing hard in Punta Ala, ruling her out of the next few rounds. When she came back, she wasn't quite on the pace. She took a couple of rounds, but by the end of the season she couldn't quite keep up with Tracy. Anne-Caroline has won more World Championship titles than anybody else on two wheels, ever. Anything short of victory is not what she's there for and with a winter to re-group and prepare, you can bet she will be pushing hard all the way this year, hungry for the title.
Cécile Ravanel was the big surprise in the women's races last year. While Tracy and Anne-Caroline were well-known, Cecile was not talked about much outside France. Coming from an XC background she rode consistently all year to grab a fantastic second overall in the series. Yet she never reached the top step, Tracy and Anne-Caroline always seemed to have that bit more pace on the technical sections to hold her off.
The former queen of 4X has turned her attention firmly to enduro in the last couple of years. 2013 was a learning year for her, showing good pace, but only reaching the podium twice. Now, with a solid understanding of the what it takes to win these races and a winter to put the miles in, can she turned the determination that won her a 4X World Championship into gold in enduro?
With the Germans seriously under-represented in the upper reaches of the mens competition, Ines Thoma has been flying the German flag solo at the EWS on 2013. Backed by the Canyon Factory team she was consistent throughout the season, never far from the podium, but never quite making the step up onto the box. But she has age on her side, she has a good few years in hand on the women ahead of her, so if she can build on her 2013 season, she's set to be a woman to watch in the coming years.
What she lacks in height, Isabeau Courdurier makes up for in talent. Formerly a French national XC racer, she turned her focus to enduro a few years ago and has been racking up enough solid results to land herself a spot on the Urge Rocky Mountain team. Last year she was a little way of the pace, but on a bigger team, she is pushing hard for this year. In the first local enduro in Provence this winter, she held to within just a couple of seconds of Anne-Caroline Chausson over a ten minute stage. Still only in he twenties, we reckon she's one to watch as a rising star.
2013 was a solid season for Lorraine Truong. Riding for the Norco team she put in a string of solid results and is tipped by Tracy Moseley as one of the young riders to watch for the future. Yet, as things stand, she's still struggling to find the support to go racing this year. While people may joke that people are handing out deals for riders who are "going enduro" left, right and centre, the reality is that, especially in the women's race, talented, young riders are struggling to get the support they need to go racing. Hopefully by the time you read this Lorraine will have landed a deal and packed her bags for the first round in Chile. Hopefully.www.enduroworldseries.com