SuperEnduro series final – Finale Ligure, Italy. If Carlsberg made MTB events……….

What can I say? After 36 hours to properly recover, get my head straight and fully absorb the enormity of what is doubtless the hardest event I’ve ever done, I think I can sum up SuperEnduro in 5 simple words: “best enduro on the planet”.

Your average UK enduro race is 30km with timed DH stages of around 3 minutes. This was 50km, with average descents of 5-7 minutes and 40-50 minute climbs in between. Oh and don’t forget temperatures in the 30s!!! Dan Atherton finally cracked it after 4 attempts at SuperEnduro races and took the win, dominating with all 5 stage wins. He described Finale Ligure as “5 proper downhill races with a monster ride linking it up” – when someone of his calibre puts it like that, you know it’s a hard race…..

As many MTB sites and magazines have reported this year, the Italian SuperEnduro series run by Enrico Guala and his team has far and away set the standard for mountain biking’s newest and most exciting discipline. Incredible and brutal courses on natural trails, stunning scenery and the whole SuperEnduro circus taking over entire towns for a long weekend have seen an entirely new level of professionalism brought to mountain bike racing – not only good for the riders, but also great for spectators and selling our sport to the outside world.

The start arena – impressive stuff!

So – onto my race! I can honestly say that no event has ever stretched me in the way this one did – in terms of the technical level of the trails on the special stages, every single one would be graded a black run if it was at a UK trail centre – and the length of them meant that mental focus was key to staying the right way up. Rock size starts at head size, and progresses up to massive boulders, drops are steep, switchbacks are ridiculously tight and danger is constantly imminent. I’d wondered why the naturally “devil may care” Italians were so tight on safety gear (full face helmet, back protector, knee pads and elbows) – as soon as I got going, it was obvious.

Nico Vouilloz lines up for the night prologue
Dan Atherton lines up for the prologue – the only stage of the weekend that he didn’t win!

Stage one saw me drop the bike on the second of a series of rock drops – I carried a bit too much speed in due to the pressure of having James from the Dudes of Hazzard starting 20 seconds behind me – luckily it was just a small tumble into some bushes, but an early reminder that the course was not something to be careless with. Over the course of the day I saw so many crashes, injuries and smashed bikes it was unreal – something like 120 starters didn’t complete the race due to crashes or blowing up.

Stage 2 was my fastest and best stage – I caught and overtook the rider in front about halfway down, this was by far the stage where I felt most comfortable with good line of sight, and lots of speed so I could maximise on pedalling speed and braking late.

Stages 3 and 4 were both super technical with massive vertical rock drops, off camber bends and insanely tight switchbacks through rock gardens – these were responsible for a huge amount of the broken rear mechs I saw on my return to base. To say I was out of my comfort zone would be something of an understatement – both stages were very much a case of surviving and getting down in one piece! Luckily I made it down to the bottom safely with a couple of near misses on some of the more chewed up and looser corners – plenty didn’t though………

Stage 5 couldn’t come round quick enough – I was destroyed after nearly 50km of climbing and descending in 30c heat. I’d been cramping on the last climb despite over 8 litres of water consumed through the day and loads of gels and electrolytes – SuperEnduro had taken it’s toll and I got to the start 8 minutes after my allocated slot. Frustrating, but to have even got there was a result from what I started to hear from people at the stage start. I made the decision to put as much as possible in, but stay within the parameters of “safe” as I was so tired. This plan worked perfectly – until the insane off camber, sharp edged rock corner that was like one of those geology models you see at school, loads of inch wide layers of rock, at 45 degrees. Stupidly, I tried to take the fast and tight line I had seen Jerome Clementz take on videos from last year – what followed was a cruel reminder that I am neither as skilled, as fast or as strong as him, resulting in an artistically stunning over the bars and bundle down the slope with bike in hot pursuit. A smashed Garmin and a bit of grazing was all I had to show, so it was back on and time to gun it to try and recover some lost time – in my “race rage” I somehow managed to catch one of the guys who overtook me while I was down, and it was then a cruise into the town centre to finish up.

I can honestly say that not only was this the hardest and most insane race I’ve ever done – but it was also the most enjoyable. Technically and physically demanding, mentally taxing and emotionally sapping – it wasn’t just a test of what was in your legs and lungs, but also of how determined you were to complete.

Equipment wise, the bike was perfect – some final position tweaks after practicing on Saturday meant I could make the most of the Edison’s adjustable travel and geometry, and I hit full travel plenty of times over the course of the day. The fully slacked out downhill mode saved my skin several times on the steeper drops, and combined with my dropper post, meant the bike was manageable on sections that claimed plenty of scalps. 140 rear/160 front seemed to be the travel configuration of choice and the Edison has exactly that. At 30 lbs in the spec for all the races it’s done this year, I definitely think it’s the perfect bike for me. My new Zee brakes were spot on – coupled with 203mm Superstar rotors front and rear, it meant that I had tons of power on tap, could brake late and hard, but not have the problems of arm lock to do it. My uber-consistent WTB tyres (Moto front, Weirwolf rear, both run tubeless) did the trick beautifully as ever with tons of grip – and the sidewalls survived nicely although there are very obvious scuff marks on them, and the rear is now pretty worn after lots of very hard locked up skid turns to get round switchbacks on hugely grippy volcanic rock.

Ultra professional setup at SuperEnduro – tags on frame, forks and wheels to prevent outside assistance mid-race.
Officially SuperEnduro proof – saddle hardly even marked up after my big crash…
All new Zee rear mech – the short cage and Shadow Plus design kept it out of harm’s way, and the clutch definitely helped on the insanely rocky stages….

So the season’s over, I’ve completed the toughest race I’ve ever done, and somehow got through it in one piece. SuperEnduro has left me battered, bruised, shattered but very pleased with a perfect end to my race season – and it’s highlighted all the things I need to work on for 2013. If you do one foreign event next year, I really think this is the one to go for!

Incredible beach just seconds’ walk from the race start arena!

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