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Enduro Race of the Year

The 2016 Enduro World Series season started on the shores of the Pacific in the tiny fishing village of Corral and finished on the shore of the Ligurian Sea in Finale Ligure. From never seen before venues on the edge of the world to some of the sport's most iconic locations, over seven rounds racers competed on a huge variety of terrain. From small coastal hills, to towering alps and the thin air of high Colorado, from brutal, natural downhill to physical, man-made ribbons of dirt, the series covered every kind of trail you could imagine. With that diversity of challenge it is fair to say that your 2016 champions, Richie Rude and Cecile Ravanel, are the most complete riders anywhere in mountain biking right now. It was a hell of ride getting there and this award looks at one thing that is maybe overlooked during the pressure and tension of a race weekend - fun. Which weekends did the riders and media enjoy most?

This award is decided by a popular vote among the sport's top riders, photographers and filmmakers who were there on track, or beside it, week-in, week-out. While those surveyed weren't asked to break down their decisions, there are always certain factors that come into play. There is the location - travelling to a far-flung mountain and riding trails unlike anything you have ever experienced before is an amazing feeling and is certainly a big factor in how memorable a weekend is. Then there are the tracks - in the earlier years of the EWS fun was maybe overlooked a little bit, yet this year more than any before it felt like race organisers had made an effort to put this to the fore - the race of the year is always one where the riders enjoyed every moment on course, that made any painful climbing feel worth the pain. Then there is everything off track - the organisation, the taping, the schedule, the crowd, the feeling in the town and in the pits. Here there are more factors than you could possibly count, but last year's winning race, Ireland, proved that this can turn a good race into a truly great one.

Cecile Ravanel was on fine form this weekend looking more aggresisve through the nasty rocks on stage seven than most of the male field.

In third place this year is Finale Ligure. Our 2013 winner of this award has had a mixed few years, with some definite missteps in terms of the direction of the race. 2015 was probably the low point, with several of the stages attracting the ire of the riders, with many feeling they had too much climbing to feature in an enduro race. Yet for 2016 the organisers took the feedback, regrouped and came out swinging, only narrowly missing out on the second place spot. This year the climbs were long, but not overly rushed, the trails found a nice balance between fun and challenge and, as always, who doesn't love finishing their season on the beach with a beer and a gelato?
Florian Nicolai had an ok day today - in sixth and 18 seconds off the lead he is not out of touch but he needs a big day tomorrow if he wants to be on the podium tomorrow evening.

Second place goes to a race that has been running since long before the EWS. The Enduro de Portes du Mercantour has been going since 2005, and for its 11th year things were really turned up to 11 as it hosted the EWS. The appeal of Valberg is simple: big mountains and big descents. Stage three had a monster 1,100m climb up to it, the longest of the season, possibly the longest single climb ever seen in the EWS. Yet this race showed once more that big climbs are no worry, providing they aren't rushed and there is a good descent after. And boy was that descent good. In fact, all the descents were good - enduro was born from this kind of riding and Valberg was a perfect example of why the sport became so popular in the first place.

So without further ado, the winner of the vote for this year's Pinkbike Enduro Race of the Year is: La Thuile, Italy. While second through to fourth were all close in the voting, with Wicklow, Ireland just getting edged out, La Thuile was head and shoulders clear of the competition this year. On its first inclusion in the EWS in 2014 it was very nearly the race of the year, only to be beaten by a truly exceptional race in Nevados de Chillan. For 2016 the local crew knew they had a winning formula and put in the hard hours to make this year even better than last time.

So what is it that made this race so special? In the words of Cecile Ravanel, "There was everything I love to ride: speed, steep sections, hard turns, rock gardens. There was a good balance between transfers with the lifts and pedalling, on top of all that, I love Italy!" This race had a little bit of everything that makes racing enduro fun, with the trails ranging from fun and flowing to steep, unforgiving trails that some top riders were comparing to World Cup DH tracks. The race organisation grew out of Superenduro, so it should be no surprise that they know how to put on a good race, with all the boxes ticked there. Mixed in with the chairlifts, this race also included the second-longest climb of the season, a 1,000m monster up to stage one, but with enough time for riders to complete it at a comfortable speed and one hell of a descent on the way down, it was a masterclass of how to run a race in the big mountains. And then there was the backdrop... Without doubt it was the most stunning destination of the year, arguably one of the most beautiful locations the EWS has ever visited.

Pinkbike’s Take:
bigquotesPerfetto, as the Italians say. This race had big trails, big views and clockwork organisation, everything the world's top riders could hope for when it comes time to go racing. - Matt Wragg


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