There's another Enduro World Series event this weekend in Val di Fassa
, Italy. It should be an exciting race - the level of talent is at an all-time high, the trails look challenging and fun, and it's anyone's guess as to who will end up on the podium by the end of the weekend. But you know what? I don't care as much as I probably should.
As fun as it is to compete
in an an enduro race – if you haven't tried one I highly recommend it – it's really hard to be a spectator, whether that's from an armchair or even at the race itself. Racers leave the start gate and return hours later, and if you've ever spent time with the EWS live results feed you'll know how frustrating that experience can be. It's nearly impossible to figure out who's actually leading the race, which is the whole point of trying to follow along in real time in the first place.
It seems like enduro racing gets put on a pedestal sometimes, as if it's some sort of magical race format. Maybe that's a holdover from the earlier days when the phrase 'the spirit of enduro' was continually bandied about, a term that still makes me cringe. That aura of mysticism needs to be left behind for good – enduro racing is a bunch of mountain bikers trying to go as fast as possible on technical trails that are mostly downhill, but not quite gnarly enough to warrant a full-on downhill bike. The concept makes a ton of sense, and there's a reason that the format has caught on around the world. There doesn't seem to be any issue attracting participants, but there's plenty of work to be done in order to make it an event that fans are actually excited about before, during, and after the race.
In 2021 the Enduro World Series added in a Pro Stage that takes place before the main event as a way to create at least one spectator-friendly portion of the race. The top five finishers in the men's category and the top three racers in the women's category are then reseeded to start last for the main race. I get what the organizers were trying to achieve, but why not take it a step further? Instead of a Pro Stage, how about implementing a qualifying run, where only the top 60 or so racers are able to compete in the big show. As it is, there are close to 150 men and 50 women zipping around on race day, a level of organized chaos that doesn't make it easy to figure out how the race is progressing.
The Enduro World Series races should be reserved for the absolute best of the best, and a smaller field would make it easier for fans to have favorite racers, and to track their progress over the course of a season. No offense to the riders battling it out for 86th place – you're still fast as hell – but most viewers only care about how the top 20 or so racers are doing - the level of interest declines significantly after that. Yes, this could potentially make it more difficult for riders with dreams of making it as a pro enduro racer, but the reality is that even with the current format unless you're really close to the front of the pack there simply isn't enough money in enduro racing to make it a viable full-time job.
Continuing on with my dream scenario, that smaller field would roll out of the start gate on race day with cameras in place to film the majority of each run. How many stages should there be? That's a tough one.
Imagine if there was only one single stage that was accessed via a chairlift. The track would be full of steep, natural sections leading into a higher speed portion with a few big jumps before the finish corral. Screaming fans would line the entire track, urging racers onwards. For the viewers at home, Freecaster-era Rob Warner would be the commentator for the live video feed, shouting out a profanity-laced blow-by-blow recap of the action... Just kidding. Mostly.
I don't actually want enduro racing to become downhill racing on little bikes – they're two distinct activities, and the big days and long, physical stages are part of what makes enduro interesting. Enduro racers don't put it all on the line for one run – they're forced to make smart choices in order to ensure they finish all of the stages with bike and body intact.
That doesn't mean there aren't lessons to be learned from the World Cup DH format. In continuing with this thought experiment, here's what I'd love to see implemented at EWS races. (I should also mention that I know it's incredibly difficult to organize and execute the EWS in its current form – this isn't meant to diminish the hard work that's gone into growing the series to where it is today).Reduce the number of racers.
I wasn't kidding about the idea of a qualifier instead of a Pro Stage. Trim the field significantly after one stage, and then focus the media attention on the riders who make the cut. For the riders who don't qualify, they can still race the EWS 100, gaining more race experience and the ability to ride the same course as the fastest riders.GPS trackers for all finalists.
The riders that do make the cut should be outfitted with GPS trackers that output the information to a website where fans can view the results in a format that makes sense. The overall leaderboard should be updated once all the racers have completed a stage, and the results site needs to make it easy to figure out who's doing well (and who's not) at a glance. GoPro livestreams from the top qualifiers.
Along with all of the racers having GPS trackers, giving the top 10 qualifiers GoPros that put out a livestream during their runs would make things even more engaging. It'll never be possible to have cameras on every inch of every track at an EWS, but being able to watch the POV of someone like Richie Rude or Isabeau Courdurier as they blast their way down a trail would would help make it more likely that fans will tune in during the even.
The challenges of making EWS racing more spectator and fan-friendly aren't impossible to overcome, and I know that there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes to figure it all out. Still, as someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes mountain biking it seems like something is a little amiss if the prospect of another race this weekend makes me shrug instead of smile with anticipation. That doesn't mean I won't look at the race results and peruse the post-race pictorial, it's just that the experience will be more of a footnote rather than the highlight that it could be.
Will you be trying to decipher the live results feed this weekend, or will you wait until the dust has settled to see who wins? What would your ideal EWS courses & coverage look like? Jumps over alligator pits? Stages comprised entirely of elevated skinnies? Mass starts, Mega Avalanche style? A drone following every rider? Let us know in the comments below.