single digits & the grand finale.

By now, everybody must be so sick and tired of hearing about Finale, and about how amazing that place and the final race of the season was, with all the epic photo's with the shimmering blue sea in the background, well, yes, it was pretty freaking amazing. In fact, in all of my years of racing in really cool places, this little sea- side town on the Italian riviera, has managed to jump to the top of my favorites list, it has found a special place in my heart and I'll definitely be back for more next year. It was our first time over there this year, never being able to wait out 3 more weeks after the end of the season to go to this race, I mean at that stage of the season and year, it's just another bloody bike race isn't it? Jon Cancellier has always been the one singing love songs about Finale, about the amazing tracks and the amazing place that it is and he's always tried to get us out there, so when it became the final race of the enduro world series, we had no more excuses. Finale it was. Now, I can fully understand Jon's love relationship with this little town. The place, the people, the food, the sea, the amazing colors (pantone's that just don't exist in the new world), the old people that are an integral part of the community, the cobblestone's and church processions, the old walled medieval city that you ride your carbon bike through whilst window shopping the most exquisite leather boots & hand bags on route to the special stages - absolutely everything about this place is awesome. This is the kind of place that English people relocate to and write books about.

Anyhow, back to the racing. We all knew we were in for a big weekend, being known as one of the toughest enduro races on the Superenduro circuit, as far as technical tracks go, but also as far as the liaison stages go. Big days, pedaling everything on the bike. The stages were released two days prior to the race, so we had some time to find & check out the different special stages, which is not so simple to find your way around tiny little medieval villages and roads. Most of us were able to get about 2 or 3 runs down each track before racing, which was great as the tracks were pretty full on. They were mentally & physically pretty draining. I'd say the most technical and demanding of all the races we've had this season, so it was great to practice the very precise tech sections before having to race them - especially when you're all jelly legged from pedaling the liaisons & all the pedally bits in the stages! (Hat's off to Tracy Moseley who pedaled the entire loop, both days & didn't do one shuttle run during practice and still managed to win - you bloody legend! That my friends, is "the spirit of enduro").

We had 4 special stages on Saturday with 45km of liaison stages & 2 special stages on Sunday with about 30km of liaison stages, so we had to be prepared for a big day out on the bikes. Luckily the cloud cover on both days made it just bareable to pedal up & around the mountains in full face helmets & back plates without shriveling up from dehydration. Of course we had to do the most technical stage twice, which also happened to have a nasty, rocky, uphill section in it right before the scary descent - perfect when you're seeing little white spots. Our day was cut a bit shorter after stage 3 as they cancelled the last stage due to a big accident earlier in the day. I was looking forward to that stage, as it was a flat out, fast, loose downhill stage, but I was pretty happy to head back to Finale and eat some gelato. Well, the gelato had to wait, due to Sven & the media crew racing down stage 4 after hearing the news that it was cancelled with Sven charging ahead only to stop dead on one of the many rocks (due to the heavy camera bag apparantly), flying over the bars & smacking himself silly and sampling some of the very rocky terrain with his hands & elbows. So it was off to the Italian hospital to check out his head and to get some stitches in his elbow. Too many team Dark Cloud members around this weekend... Thanks to everyone for looking after him - cheers!

Happy that he was OK, we sampled some more of the delicious red wine - which is perfect post concussion medicine and ate some more delicious ligurian pesto pasta made in heaven, I swear, followed by the gelato I never got to eat earlier and the most decadent cappuccino's that we're not supposed to drink after 11am in the morning - for no apparent reason, you just don't, but we ignored that rule and consumed as many proper cappuccino's as possible. The racing on Sunday was great, the whole weekend was amazing, the vibe was good. Everyone was of course racing as usual, but there was more of a relaxed atmosphere amongst all the competitors. We all wanted to do our best, but as far as racing, things were pretty set for the overall, a few points here and there, with the general feeling of everyone just wanting to enjoy & savor this last weekend of fun on our bikes. I did come to this last race with a mini goal, besides savoring this last race - I wanted to become a single digit. I was sitting in 10th place for the overall series results, which I was content with, but I really, really wanted to become a single digit, so that was my final goal in Finale, which I managed to achieve, while having an absolute blast. I ended up in 8th place for the weekend (with a massive crash near the finish line of the last stage of the season), and that managed to put me into 9th position for the series overall. Happy girl. (It must have been my spiffy new sombrio outfit that Aaron sent over to me for the last race - thank you Aaron!).

Sven & I were asked to design the first ever enduro world series trophy this year, with Simon Muir creating and making all our ideas come to life. This was such a huge honor & such a huge responsibility, but in the end they turned out beautiful and we couldn't have imagined anything better to present to these talented, amazing bike riders to remember their & this special year.

Below is a little description behind the meaning of the trophy:

"Close-up on the trophy, designed by Anka Martin and Sven Martin and built byΒ Woodguards' Simon Muir: eight tiny compartments each contain a relic from one of the race destinations - soil from Punta Ala, alpine rock from Val d’Allos, a bottle of Genepe from Les 2 Alpes, bark and aspen leaves from Winter Park, old man’s beard moss from Whistler, white organic linen from Val d’Isere, to symbolize the white-out conditions, and fresh chestnuts and sand from the beach of Finale Ligure. (A final compartment remains as an empty invitation for the champions to add a personal memento from their year of racing. Wonder what that will be?)."

Of course the weekend and the season couldn't just wrap up, it had to end with a bang, or more like a massive thunder & lightning storm with torrential rain flooding the pits, cutting out the electricity and leaving everyone soaking wet and shivering. Perfect. The thunder cracked so loud in these little narrow cobblestone streets and the lightning lit up all the nooks & crannies with shutters slamming, bells's chiming, rain pelting and pantone colors popping against the black skies. Nothing could dull the vibe & excitement that was present, this was the grand finale. SRAM organized a big party for Jerome, with champagne & a big cake to celebrate his victory - which we happily celebrated with him & everyone else who shared his excitement, until the wee hours of the morning.Β What a fitting place to end the season which started on the beaches of Punta Ala, Italy, then stretched into the big, scary, snow capped glacier filled mountains and now back to the beaches of Finale Ligure, Italy, where bike checks are done on the beach and the pits struggle to keep the sand out of the seals. O, and where parking tickets apparently don't mean much & tow trucks don't exist - or as Italian, Simon Cittati from SRAM puts it: "It is merely an invitation to pay". We were invited to pay quite a few times over the course of the week...

The season was over, we made it, sort of, we're going home, we had fun, we made new friends, good friends, we bonded - again, I rode well, I am happy, I'm content, I am relieved, our van survived, I LOVE my bike, I love my new big - well sort of big wheels, I loved our new adventures. Now it's time to chill, time to reflect, time to reconnect & to start making plans & plotting adventures for next year. Ciao!

Thank you to everyone that supported me this season: Will, Rob & Mary-Anne from Juliana Bicycles, Jon Cancellier (for the sickest bike ever & keeping it in tip top shape all year), Keeton, Marty, Todd, Dani, Simon, Evan, Dawson & the whole SRAM family, Aaron from Sombrio clothing, Fred & Fabien from URGE helmets, Tyler from SDG, Michael from Schwalbe, Stikman at Troy Lee Design, Jo Jo from G-Form protection, Blick & Dani at Oakley, Kevin at Camelbak, Andy at Crankbrothers, and so many others for various things & of course to Sven for all his support along the way & all the pretty sic shots he got of me ;) A huge shout out to everyone involved with the EWS - you guys killed it and made it happen. Bikes are rad. You guys rock!