URGE

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 by 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. 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!

Round 3 & other bike shenanigans at Les2Alps.

Round three of the Enduro World Series was held in the bizarre ski town/resort of Les 2 Alps, France. A visually spectacular place when you look at the mountains and surrounding scenery, but quite a strange 80's style architecture clad ski town with a million kids roaming about that get shipped out here to ski and snowboard camp for a summer filled glacier action. Soooo many amazing mountains, spectacular scenery.

The tracks here are very downhill bike oriented as it's situated in-between two really steep valleys, so I've never been a huge fan of this mountain for trail bike riding, because of all the brake bumps except for their two amazing tracks that they use for the Mountain of Hell race every year. Due to loads of snow, most of the upper, good trails were still closed to us for this race, so they had to make use of the two very steep slopes on either side of the valley. Nothing was marked out until Friday (I love that), then we had all day Saturday to practice and figure out the 4 different race tracks - which turned into a pretty epic day of riding bikes as most of us did all the tracks twice which ended up taking all day, resulting in a pretty battered body on Sunday morning for race day.

Beautiful single track trails makes for one happy girl.

More pretty mountains.

Stage one:

Long, pedally, fast, dusty, raw, brand new, steep pinches, many traverses, more pedaling, fresh grassy off camber, heater buses, fire road, bike park berms, a mother F*&$@r of a tar road & gravel climb that never ended, followed by more uphill traversing and finally a fast as all hell, straightline downhill down to the next villiage. Did I mention all the climbing? It was brutal. Noodle legs, arm pump, passing, shouting, frustration & elation. The amount of emotions that happen within those 15 or whatever the stage time was, is pretty unreal. This shit is so mental and if you know how to deal with that, then you'll do well at these races. I ended up in 9th place, felt surprisingly good on the climb, then got stuck trying to pass 3 girls on the narrow single-track descent. Frustrating. That's racing.

Steep, off camber, fresh tracks on number 1. Primo.

Stage Two:

This was a strange one. Flat out fire road sprint into a gnarly rock garden section and back onto another long ass fire road sprint, spin out & tuck section around to the front side of the mountain and then into some super narrow singletrack trails to the finish line. It seemed so much more pedaly during the race, but it was good, just couldn't get into this stage, it felt a bit disjointed to me. 9th place on this stage.

Steep, technical rock sections on track number 2.

Stage Three:

After a long break we headed up for race number three. The best description would be awkward. Everything about this track was just awkward. Fine to ride, but a bit strange to race. It would definitely have been beneficial to be able to do nose wheelies on this track. I fumbled out of the start gate, all the way to the finish line. Just making every mistake in the book. O well, I had to settle with an 11th place here. On to the next one, and my favourite, number 4.

Les2Alps racing.

Stage Four:

This was my favourite track from the start. It was full pinned high speed down the mountain, off camber, grassy knolls, scary fast blind rises, brake bumps galore and then into this narrow singletrack section that wound all the way down to the valley floor. It was a proper trail. Steep & tricky and I loved it. I guess it helps when you enjoy a track as I got a 7th place on that stage behind a few World Champs - so that made my day & I was a happy girl.

High speed grassy racing.

These days the level is so high, that when you nail one or two stages and are happy with them, then you've managed to do well and you should be stoked. There is no such thing as a perfect run, they just don't happen, there are way too many variables involved for that to be possible. Tracy managed to take the win again which was so exciting & Jerome took the men's win. I couldn't be happier for these guys as they are both truly amazing bike riders and genuinely  passionate about riding their bikes and not just racing them. I managed to finish up in 9th place at the end of the day. Pretty happy with a top 10 these days, as the level out here is truly remarkable.

Happy happy birthday Jon! Fondue's & Raclette's are the best.

Cheers to another great weekend of racing & to everyone that managed to pull this off. It was different, not good or bad, just different which was great and it was hard, and that is how it should be and will hopefully remain to be. Next up - MegAvalanche & glaciers - ALARMA!!!!!!!!!

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I'm back in rural France at my sisters house now, knackered, battered & bruised after the Mega, but excited to see my dad, celebrate my sister's 40th birthday & to catch up with internet, life, laundry & loads of amazing vegetarian cooking from me mum (much needed after raclette & tartiflette overdose). Keep posted for some Mega updates coming soon!

peace out, Anka xxx