enduro des nations race, Sauze D’Oulx, Italy

This post is WAY overdue, but  I've been too busy riding my bike in the sunshine (finally) to sit down in front of the computer, better late than never, so here goes: I needed to get away, I needed fresh air to clear my head, and I needed to go and ride my bike, to have a fun weekend surrounded by beautiful mountains and villages, so I headed out to Sauze D’Oulx in a completely jam- packed little Fiat Panda rental on another solo mission to participate in the Enduro Trophy of Nations race. Needless to say, I couldn’t muster up a South African team, nor an American team, so I decided to compete in the solo category and represent myself.

The last few weeks of life have been pretty hectic, with everything happening at once: moving, flying back & forth, driving, life, work, immigration and so on – absolutely everything except riding bikes, so I haven’t really had much time in the saddle since the MegAvalanche - I was a tad bit nervous of what my fitness level would be like for the actual racing part, but as long as I was out there having fun and riding my bike, I’d be happy (a little sunshine wouldn’t hurt either).

I wanted to approach this race with a very casual attitude. I didn’t want to take it too seriously. I tend to do that if I really want to do well, and I get too caught up with trying to do everything the right way like at the Mega, and then it all just goes to shit when you experience a mechanical and you end up beating yourself up for weeks on end about an event that was really just supposed to be fun in the first place. So, for this race, I just wanted to go and ride my bike like I knew how to ride my bike. I didn’t want to get there too early, I didn’t want to practice too much, and I didn’t want to be too prepared. I managed to achieve all of the above goals, and ended up being just a bit underprepared when it came to how this SuperEnduro format of racing actually works.

The Super Enduro racing format requires that you pedal back up to the start of every race run. At this particular venue, we took a chair lift to a midway station, and then we had to climb roughly 400m back up to the top of the start gate, which was still a hell of a climb after every race.  The race would descend roughly 3800m and 38km on Saturday and about 1900m and 20km on Sunday.

The first obvious rule that I wasn’t aware of was the fact that you had to wear a helmet at all times. If caught without a helmet, you would be disqualified and they had marshals checking for that on the climbs up. So that explained my confusion of seeing everyone practicing with their full-face helmets and carrying their xc lids in their hydration packs.  I thought it was just some Italian way of doing things. Needless to say, I had to do all the climbing with my full- face helmet and as you can imagine, it was rather hot and claustrophobic.

The second rule that I was unaware of was that you were not allowed to swap out wheel sets, and our wheels were marked with stickers to make sure that no one switches out their wheels to suit different tracks, or to have some spikes ready for when the heavens opened up. (Good thing I wasn’t prepared for this race – usually I would have mounted some spikes on my other wheelset – ready to go).

The third rule that I was unaware of was the fact that you only had a certain amount of time to get back to the top. This meant that there was no time to catch your breath after a race run. You would literally sprint through the finish line, pop up your hydrolic seatpost and start pedaling back up the hill to get to the top in time for your next timed race run. You couldn’t have a leisurely, recovery ride, you had to really pedal hard to get back up there in time. I saw people get up to the top and roll right into their race run with no time to spare or even put on goggles. The top men were struggling to get back up there in time to catch their breath.

We all had a specific time when we had to go and physically check in down in the village square. Everyone had two check inn times throughout the day and this would be the only time that we would get a few minutes to grab some food and tend to any mechanicals. Once checked in, the whole routine would start over again, until the end of the day when we all raced and completed 5 races.

Besides all these rules, which all make perfect sense once you are aware of them, the trails were amazing. I cannot even begin to describe how beautiful the trail network of Sauze D’Oulx is. It is the perfect trail network for enduro type bikes. It is fast, flowy, long and technical and requires some fitness, but you’re not going to get some 29er riding, xc dude winning this enduro race. Loamy hero dirt cut into what looks like perfectly green mowed lawn and grass – I mean it is so perfect and so pretty. It doesn’t look real. I for one am used to pine forests with pine needles on the ground, not manicured, soft green grasses. The trail crew had marked the entirety of every single racetrack from top to bottom with tape – their main goal to prevent any kind of course cutting or cheating. It was unreal. They used over 1000 wooden pickets and about 40km of tape to mark out all the racetracks (Once again I favored from this amazing tape job– being underprepared and only getting there late on Friday afternoon, I didn’t get to practice all the tracks, but they were so well marked, there was no way of ever getting lost).

Thank God we were all given a massive sticker printout that we had to stick on our top tubes with all our times for everything.  Our race times, check in times, lift times – it was quite a logistical nightmare in my eyes, but the SuperEnduro crew pulled it off absolutely flawless. I never started a race run even 1 second later than what my sticker time was. Unbelievable timing and coordination, I have never experienced such perfection at any event ever before.  We had 5 different races on Saturday on 3 different tracks of which 2 of them were very short, and the other 3 were pretty long 15+ minutes long. On Sunday we had 2 races on 2 different tracks and then the grand finale of the mass start in the afternoon.  Saturday ended up being a perfect day for racing, dry all day with the rain barely holding off, but making the climbs in my full -face helmet a bit more bearable. Of course we woke up to pouring rain on Sunday morning and I had to replace my precious morning coffee time with putting or rather trying to put full spikes onto my wheels (nothing new this summer). We were in for a long, wet, slippery day of racing, but once out on the hill, it was so much fun – well everyone with spikes were having fun, the others, not so much.

I ended up winning the Women’s race after 7 tough, but super fun races, and I was stoked. I did what I wanted to do this weekend, and that was to have fun on my bike and to ride like I knew how to ride. No expectations, no pressure, no seriousness. It was the most enjoyable enduro race that I have ever raced. I think it has to do with the warm, passionate personalities of the amazing Italian people and organizers.  Even though there was zero communication between us, I was welcomed, embraced and included into the Italian community for the weekend. A wonderful weekend, shared with an amazing group of people that are passionate about bikes, trails, their culture, food (lots of it) and enduro racing.

There was one last rule that I didn’t know about. When you go onto the podium at a SuperEnduro race, you get to take your bike up with you and park it on the stage for everyone to check out. Unfortunately mine was in a million little pieces (to fit into the smallest rental car in the world – the Fiat Panda) and parked down at the hotel, so unfortunately my bike missed out on it’s first bike podium.

Thanks to Enrico & the SuperEnduro crew for putting on an amazing event - the best enduro race that I have ever done - I can't wait to race more of these! Huge big thanks also goes out to SRAM and all their support - especially to Simon & Julian who was always there to help, and of course to the Le' Assiette restaurant for feeding us like kings & queens every evening.

Loads of posts to follow soon - Val di Sole, Italy, sunshine & shreddage in Lago di Garda & World Champs in Champery, Switzerland.

Peace out

Anka x