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Throwback Thursday: EWS #1, Punta Ala - A Decade Later

May 15, 2023 at 23:10
by Matt Wragg  
Anne-Caroline Chausson heads for the pits to start the day. Whiel she was to become one of the sport s frontrunners this first race ended in mechanical woe for her.
Anne-Caroline Chausson heads for the pits to start the day. While she was to become one of the sport's frontrunners, this first race ended in mechanical woe for her.

Words & Photography: Matt Wragg

Today marks a decade since the Enduro World Series held its first ever race in Punta Ala, Italy. Ten years ago, enduro was a very different to the global sport we see today - it is easy to take for granted all the things that needed to be figured out. We forget that as riders began arriving in the quiet Tuscan seaside resort, nobody knew if it would even work.

I had spent the previous year chasing Italy's Superenduro series, plus a few smaller races, so I had probably shot more enduro races than anybody I was shooting alongside that day. I had also been living in Punta Ala that winter, so I wanted to use my knowledge of the sport and the area to capture the story of the day, so I paid a friend's wife to drive me around on her scooter all day. That meant I could shoot every single stage that day and follow the front of the mens' race. The downside of that is that I missed everything else - the women, the privateers, the less serious side of the racing.

All eyes were on Jerome Clementz going into this first race. More than anybody else at the time he figured out how to race and win in enduro - the year before SRAM were actively introducing him to journalists so that when enduro made it big they knew who to follow.
All eyes were on Jerome Clementz going into this first race. More than anybody else at the time, he figured out how to race and win in enduro - the year before SRAM were actively introducing him to journalists, so that when enduro made it big, they knew who to follow.

While he presented himself to the world as a fun-loving easy-going kinda guy the fact was that at his heart Jerome was a pure racer and the details mattered to him. A final pre-flight check before the race.
While he presented himself to the world as a fun-loving, easy-going kinda guy, the fact was that at his heart, Jerome was a pure racer and the details mattered to him. A final pre-flight check before the race.

Literally the first podium in EWS history.
Literally the first podium in EWS history.

The first riders to head out onto an EWS race course - Cedric Gracia and defending Superednuro champion Davide Sottocornola.
The first riders to head out onto an EWS race course - Cedric Gracia and defending Superenduro champion Davide Sottocornola.

Jared Graves and Dan Atherton prepare to head out onto the course.
Jared Graves and Dan Atherton prepare to head out onto the course.

For some reason the organisers thought that pairing long-time DH rivals Nico Vouilloz and Steve Peat together for the race would be a good idea - I m not sure how close the pair ever when they were racing... That said I would love to know what those two were chatting about.
For some reason the organisers thought that pairing long-time DH rivals Nico Vouilloz and Steve Peat together for the race would be a good idea - I'm not sure how close the pair ever when they were racing... That said, I would love to know what those two were chatting about.

Steve Peat didn t get far from the start before his first puncture - I m not sure how he managed to flat on a road transfer but Greg Minnaar and Brian Lopes were there for moral support.
Steve Peat didn't get far from the start before his first puncture - I'm not sure how he managed to flat on a road transfer, but Greg Minnaar and Brian Lopes were there for moral support.

The climb up to the top of the Bandite trail area where the longer tracks of the race lay was a punishing fireroad grind.
The climb up to the top of the Bandite trail area where the longer tracks of the race lay was a punishing fireroad grind.

This photo actually got Fabien Barel in a trouble at the time - race rules stated that while on track riders must be wearing a helmet properly at all times. It may seem silly now but the dilemma was whether you sweat it out in a full-face helmet or risk carrying a second open-face lid. So for Fabien to lift his full-face like this to help him breathe more easily was not best received by some.
This photo actually got Fabien Barel in a trouble at the time - race rules stated that while on track riders must be wearing a helmet properly at all times. It may seem silly now, but the dilemma was whether you sweat it out in a full-face helmet or risk carrying a second open-face lid. So for Fabien to lift his full-face like this to help him breathe more easily was not received well by some.

With his riding buddy dealing with a flat further down the transition Nico Vouilloz tackles the climb solo.
With his riding buddy dealing with a flat further down the transition, Nico Vouilloz tackles the climb solo.

Sadly Davide Sottocornola was one of the riders who didn t ever quite make it when enduro moved to the global stage. The number one plate he is running here denotes that he was the 2012 Superenduro champion not to mention the sleeve. He was undoubtedly the fastest man in Italy at the time yet he struggled to reach the same heights at the EWS. A few years before Jerome has tried to sign him to his Cannondale programme but Davide preferred to stay on a smaller Italian team. It may not have worked out for results but he did get a tricolore Marzocchi fork to race...
Sadly, Davide Sottocornola was one of the riders who didn't ever quite make it when enduro moved to the global stage. The number one plate he is running here denotes that he was the 2012 Superenduro champion, not to mention the sleeve. He was undoubtedly the fastest man in Italy at the time, yet he struggled to reach the same heights at the EWS. A few years before, Jerome had tried to sign him to his Cannondale programme, but Davide preferred to stay on a smaller, Italian team. It may not have worked out for results, but he did get a tricolore Marzocchi fork to race...

Jared Graves was one of the big unknowns coming into the opening season. There is not question about his all-round talent as a bike racing monster he loomed over Clementz in the pits massively outsizing and out-bulking him. But for the first year it was the little guy who came out on top Jared took a little longer to figure out how to win at enduro and went on to take the 2014 series title.
Jared Graves was one of the big unknowns coming into the opening season. There is not question about his all-round talent as a bike racing monster, he loomed over Clementz in the pits, massively outsizing and out-bulking him. But for the first year, it was the little guy who came out on top, Jared took a little longer to figure out how to win at enduro and went on to take the 2014 series title.

How the race was won. There was a lot of talk about the spirit of enduro in these early days. The idea that enduro was friendly easier-going affair... Most people showed up on the race weekend practiced and raced. Fabien read the rules closely. Back in those days Superenduro made the courses public well ahead of the races so people to encourage more people to visit the location as they understood that driving tourism was the cornerstone to their business. After looking at the profile he realised that the race could be won on the longest stage Rock-Ok so came down before the race to learn that track by heart because the rules said that was allowed. The result Well that s Greg Minnaar in the background who he overtook on track.
How the race was won. There was a lot of talk about the spirit of enduro in these early days. The idea that enduro was friendly, easier-going affair... Most people showed up on the race weekend, practiced and raced. Fabien read the rules closely. Back in those days Superenduro made the courses public well ahead of the races so people to encourage more people to visit the location as they understood that driving tourism was the cornerstone to their business. After looking at the profile, he realised that the race could be won on the longest stage, Rock-Oh, so came down before the race to learn that track by heart, because the rules said that was allowed. The result? Well that's Greg Minnaar in the background who he overtook on track.

Nico Lau was one of the riders along with Jerome Clementz who was expected to do well at this new discipline. Sadly his first outing did not go to plan and a mechanical derailed his hopes.
Nico Lau was one of the riders, along with Jerome Clementz, who was expected to do well at this new discipline. Sadly his first outing did not go to plan and a mechanical derailed his hopes.

Jerome Clementz on the rocks of Rock-Oh.
Jerome Clementz on the rocks of Rock-Oh.

photo

Transferring between the pits and the two trail areas there we long kilometres of meadows to enjoy.
Transferring between the pits and the two trail areas, there we long kilometres of meadows to enjoy.

When we talk about Jerome knowing how to win it was in the detail where he really set himself apart. His dad was with him to work on his bike while he took his lunch and a give it a quick jetwash to make sure everything was clean and ready for the afternoon of racing.
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photo
When we talk about Jerome knowing how to win, it was in the detail where he really set himself apart. His dad was with him to work on his bike while he took his lunch, and a give it a quick jetwash to make sure everything was clean and ready for the afternoon of racing

In the days before live timing and apps riders would pass around the results sheet to see how they measured up to their competitors
In the days before live timing and apps, riders would pass around the results sheet to see how they measured up to their competitors,

Jerome gets ready to head back out onto course for the afternoon.
Jerome gets ready to head back out onto course for the afternoon.

Sam Blenkinsop came in with a reputation as one of the fittest downhillers out there - a sixth on the day way his reward the top result for anybody who did not go on to be a series regular.
Sam Blenkinsop came in with a reputation as one of the fittest downhillers out there - a sixth on the day was his reward, the top result for anybody who did not go on to be a series regular.

Dan Atherton looked like he was set to be one of the dominant forces in enduro racing but it never quite worked out. I hope Dan would forgive me for saying that he never seemed to enjoy enduro racing that much and he seems much happier with what he s doing now.
Dan Atherton looked like he was set to be one of the dominant forces in enduro racing, but it never quite worked out. I hope Dan would forgive me for saying that he never seemed to enjoy enduro racing that much and he seems much happier with what he's doing now.

Jerome Clementz concedes that race to Fabien Barel - I always thought this was an important image that right from the very beginning sportsmanship was a big part of enduro racing.
Jerome Clementz concedes that race to Fabien Barel - I always thought this was an important image, that right from the very beginning sportsmanship was a big part of enduro racing.

Jerome debriefs Jon Cancellier then head of SRAM s Blackbox programme on his racing.
Jerome debriefs Jon Cancellier, then head of SRAM's Blackbox programme, on his racing.

Steve Peat soaks in the post-race interview. Of all the downhillers it is a shame Steve never really got into racing enduro as the talk at the time was that he was scary fast as an on-sight racer and could do seriosuly well if he committed to it.
Steve Peat soaks in the post-race interview. Of all the downhillers, it is a shame Steve never really got into racing enduro, as the talk at the time was that he was scary fast as an on-sight racer and could do seriously well if he committed to it.

The womens podium for the day - Tracy Moseley Emmeline Ragot and Cecile Ravanel. If you re wondering why there are no photos of the womens race in here - the simple explanation is that as a lone photographer it was not possible to chase the front of the mens race and shoot the women too.
The womens' podium for the day - Tracy Moseley, Emmeline Ragot and Cecile Ravanel.

Fabien Barel takes his bow as one of the first-ever winners of an EWS race. In many ways his victory was an example of racing at its purest - he read the rules and pushed them to the limits in search of victory and it is his name that will be written in the history books as the first EWS mens winner. The tension at the time came from an idea that enduro racing was supposed to be something else but if we look at how the sport has developed maybe he just understood hwo the game needs to be played before anybody else.
Fabien Barel takes his bow as one of the first-ever winners of an EWS race. In many ways his victory was an example of racing at its purest - he read the rules and pushed them to the limits in search of victory and it is his name that will be written in the history books as the first EWS mens' winner. The tension at the time came from an idea that enduro racing was supposed to be something else, but if we look at how the sport has developed, maybe he just understood how the game was to be played before anybody else.


Author Info:
mattwragg avatar

Member since Oct 29, 2006
754 articles

45 Comments
  • 56 0
 Really can't believe this was 10 years ago, seems like yesterday. Such great memories from that weekend, great place and great trails. I knew this was going to be the start of something big! That pic of Nico and Peaty together sums up just how cool this was, 15 year old Jared was so pumped to see those 2 chatting like that.
  • 31 3
 Not a 29er in sight... And the old backpack and 2 helmet combo ! Been there done that !
  • 7 1
 I still rock the backpack and 2 helmets sometimes
  • 19 0
 errr isn't that a Remedy 29 under T-Mo for the women's W? awkward....

Source: www.instagram.com/p/Cbx7TNZo_bd
  • 3 1
 @norcalbike: your age is showing grandpa
  • 3 0
 Other than the 29er that Tracy Moseley won the womens race on? Admittedly there weren't many amongst the men, I remember Brian Lopes riding one and I have a feeling Curtis Keene might have had an Enduro 29 (although, if I remember, they didn't launch that until the Finale Ligure round that season).
  • 1 0
 front derailleurs on few bikes
  • 8 0
 and everyone wearing shorts, not yoga pants
  • 1 0
 @j-t-g: I believe you're right, I thinks it`s the very first one !
  • 17 0
 Great read to look back at that first race.
  • 9 0
 Pinkbike is posting a lot today! Keep it coming guys!!
  • 9 0
 It would be awesome to do bike checks from the 1st EWS race
  • 4 0
 Here is one from Martin Maes

And here one from Remi Absalon
  • 1 0
 Its pretty much 27.5 wheels with downcountry geometry.
  • 2 0
 @mattwragg: Man that was a wild mix of bikes back then. 29er trail bikes like the Santa Cruz Tallboy, 26" freeride bikes like that Kona and everything in between.
  • 3 0
 @Muscovir: You have to remember that nobody was sure what was going to be the right bike back then... the wildest, for my money, was Max Schumann's IBC-designed bike. I mean, would you trust the comments section to design a bike for you to race?
  • 1 0
 @mattwragg: Right, I vaguely remember the heated forum discussions about what bike would work best for enduro. Although, at the time I wasn't really concerned with any of that. Because by then, mountainbiking for me mostly meant riding an XC bike up the local hills on gravel paths, wearing my finest lycra kit. I really only came into contact with the gravity side of the sport in 2019, when the debate about wheelsizes, tire width, axle standards and geometry had mostly been settled. So I sometimes tend to forget that there where times when it would have been normal to see such a diverse selection of wildly different approaches lining up at the same starting line.

Would I trust a community designed bike? If it turns out anything like the Alutech Internet Community Bike 2.0, then probably yes. I'm an admin of MTB-News.de's geometry database and I recently stumbled upon the Alutech ICB 2.0 and honestly, I think they did a decent job back then. Long-ish front end, tall stack, slack headangle, not overly long top tube - the fundamentals of "modern geometry" are all in place. Sure, some things would be done differently today and things have certainly progressed, but for the time it was probably a pretty decent bike.

I really wonder what a community designed bike would look like today. Could be interesting to run some polls on that.
  • 1 0
 @mattwragg: Good lord, some of those bikes look haggard AF by today's standards! Look at the size of the xfusion shock on Lopes' ripley!

PS I wonder where all those dudes in the comments saying they'll never ride a 29er or even a 27.5 bike are today...
  • 1 0
 @mattwragg: Bro, that comment section lol... at least that has been consistent for 10 years Smile
  • 6 0
 That was the time when I got into mountainbiking more seriously. All the epic memories of looking up to Barel and co at that time, what a great throwback!
  • 5 2
 I simply cant imagine racing anything enduro on those xtr 2 pot brakes. I have a bike with them and they literally barely stop. So much technology has improved so we can all go faster.
  • 3 0
 Graves and others were known to run XTR levers on Saint calipers. Not sure if it was at this race yet, of course. So perhaps not as bad as you think. Also, look at some of the sketchy rear tires on some of these bikes!
  • 4 0
 Try replacing the Shimano pads with aftermarket ones. I swear Shimano pads can absorb oil from 100 metres away.
  • 1 0
 Brakes only slow you down
  • 1 0
 I really wanted to ride around there after watching the Superenduro series. So planned a 3 week Italy biking holiday and then broke my arm in Pila on day two. Still, the Lake Massa Maratima was nice to swim in with a beer….
  • 1 0
 Ah, Lago D'Accessa, a lovely spot.
  • 1 0
 @mattwragg: that’s the one! I remember many happy hours swimming there with one arm….
  • 3 0
 I feel like Barel was always pushing the limits of what was allowed - and going over sometimes if memory serves. Feel like he might be the origin of taking "French Lines."
  • 3 0
 Nope."French lines" pre-date this event by quite a way. One of the early instances was actually at the Tribe 10,000, the first mtb enduro race, a decade earlier... and I think it was a common phrase from WC DH too.
  • 1 0
 This is when I came into the sport. In contrast to downhill bikes which i would never see since I live over 1k miles from any mountains, enduro bikes were the ones I lusted after and the discipline seemed closer to the average rider than dh or even xc; the casual vibe helped a lot too.
  • 3 0
 This was great, and man the Troy Lee helmets were so far ahead of other full face lids at the time!
  • 1 0
 Good times when the fastest were happy. Frown
Is it just me? or the enduro racing had a lot more camaraderie than actually? The only ones who smiles normally are the podium racers.
  • 2 0
 And on that horrible double shock Jeckyl
  • 2 0
 this only had a single? Fox DYAD pull shock on those
  • 2 0
 Horrible? I rode one a little and they were pretty fun, to the extent that after riding one I spent quite a while chasing Cannondale to try and get my hands on one (ideally without the long-travel 32 they specced them with, admittedly).
  • 1 0
 Absolutely love this article and the photography — but I have to say, it badly needs a proofreading! Smile
  • 2 0
 Oh god, I now feel a million years old. Thanks!
  • 1 0
 This made me fall in love with the sport! Cant believe its been 10 years now! True definition of Mountain Biking right here
  • 2 1
 This event has so much meaning for me when I was at FOX.
  • 1 0
 Peaty looks so young. MTB sure has moved quickly in the last 10 years.
  • 1 0
 Those tracks look good. Think the venue would ever come back?
  • 2 0
 The organizer shelled out around 50k euro to sponsor the event. Most likely that price is much higher now.
  • 1 0
 Thanks for that. Nice walk down memory lane.







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