A wee bit of a stressful week led into the EWS Emerald Enduro.
Ed’s crash in Madeira had been diagnosed as a sprain with the advice to take it easy but ok to walk on it with no support or crutches. He promptly hit the gym and the pool to try and keep some condition. However he’d had no improvement over the week so I persuaded him to see a consultant – Well I booked him the appointment and drove him against his will! The consultant diagnosed torn ligaments between his tibia and fibula which would need strict immobilisation and possible surgery to heal. He put him into a moon boot and booked an MRI for the day before our departure for Ireland.
Ed getting carried off the course in Madeira
We headed to Ireland with the van fully loaded with enough bikes and equipment for the remaining 5 rounds of the season. Ireland would be a stepping stone on route to France.
We were met off the ferry by rolling fields of green and clear blue skies, unbelievably Ireland was having a heatwave, was EWS going to be dry and sunny for the third consecutive year?
Sharing the field with the locals at EWS HQ. Not a bad spot to park the bed.
After a couple of shakedown rides I had decided to give my new Fuji Rakan 29r its race debut in Ireland. A couple of back to back runs against the clock had been promising and I reckoned with some more setup and time on the bike it could become my weapon of choice
I was having so much fun I opted to pedal this stage twice in training
For Day 1 of practice the tracks were in prime condition and so much fun, this 300m hill always punches above its weight in delivering quality singletrack.
High speed sections in the dry- more fun!
I got back to the pits after practicing 4 great stages in beautiful sun. However Ed had just had news on his MRI- turns out his leg is broken- and he would require more x-rays to check for damage higher up before a plan was made on surgery. One ferry to France was cancelled and another back to Blighty booked with our spirits a little dampened.
As was the weather about to become…
So we had the fourth EWS in a row where the rain dramatically effected the trails. With 2 stages left to practice I opted to get stuck in and maximise afternoon recovery time.
Raining at EWS- now nicknamed Enduro Wet Series!
Stage 6 ‘carnage corner’ was pretty intimidating in the slime. I had two goes at it and managed to get through cleanly so just hoped I could do the same for race day.
Here on stage 1 the rocks were covered in anti grip!
The rain held off for race day but there was plenty of moisture in the dirt which was spread across the rock and root.
On stage 1 I was struggling to hit the lines from practice as the ground was so unpredictable, polished roots pin balling me off line. Being a bit too cautious, I lost my speed entering steep switch backs into a chute and the bike slid out. There was no way to stand in the slime and I sent the Rakan on the way to the bottom without me. Unfortunately it then got tangled in the tape at the bottom! What a disaster, not an ideal start to the day!
Coming into Stage 2, I thought ok don’t be so cautious, let go of the brakes! Next crash came pretty soon as the bike just drifted out from under me! Hmm I was struggling to find the balance here!
Stage 3 started straight into a rock trials section, surrounded by crowds. The first feature an awkward step up that was hard in the dry but now had mud covering the rocks and a rutted run in. I managed to get through with just a quick dab.
The 29er wheels rolling nicely over the rocky slabs
I felt like I had found the balance on this stage, managing to keep it upright for the whole stage.
Stage 4 featuring greasy flat turns in the lower section rolled us into a brief lunch stop back at the pits. Time for a quick re lube and straightening of my levers and saddle before back out to Stage 5.
This had suffered badly with the mud. Cresting the top of the hill I was churning through 4” deep slurry, barely making headway, then into a gravity fed rock gully- the rocks were so slick that I felt lucky to keep it upright here. Ines Thoma had a nasty spill gauging her helmet on the rocks but bravely continuing on to finish the race.
More super slick rock…
I made it safely to the bottom with no crashes– just one more stage to go! Stage 6 dropped straight into probably the gnarliest section of the race, carnage corner! I got around the corner but then slid out and landed onto a conveniently placed mattress. Again I think it was a case of not committing as my eyes bulged at the new holes that had formed between the rocks. I should have just gone with it- lesson learnt!
Another greasy chute in stage 6
I ended up in 14th place for the day, with super tight times between myself and back end of the top 10. I was happy enough with the results given how much time I spent on the floor. A bit more commitment needed, hopefully it will be there for the next one as I become more comfortable on the bike.
Back into the top 10 overall- happy!
Round 3 of EWS was held on Madeira, which is a Portuguese Island stuck out in the Atlantic, off the West African coast.
As you fly in you suddenly see towering cliffs emerging from the sea. And the airport itself is perched on the edge protruding into the sea.
Rugged coastline surrounds the entire island
At 800square km and taking around 4 hours to circumnavigate by car the terrain varies from open moorland tops to rainforest to sun drenched rock. The main industry on the island is tourism – classically catering for the ‘newly wed or nearly dead’ but over the last few years the biking on the island has been increasing at a rapid rate as old hiking trails are opened up and new lines built. It’s now a popular place for Euros to go for winter sun and riding.
Being a tourist taking pictures of waterfalls- this one was pretty epic though!
Arriving a few days early we took the opportunity to explore and ride in the West. This felt wild and windswept and had great riding in between the bracken, Eucalyptus and open tops. The soil ranged from hero dirt to ‘black ice’!
Here's a short edit from some of the tracks:
For the race we were based in Machico on the supposedly dry, South Eastern end, but as seems to be the theme of this years’ EWS we had rain soaked trails leading up to and including practice. This was not ideal as the clay heavy soil created conditions slick enough to put you on the deck before you knew what had happened. I, along with the majority of the field it seemed, found the conditions difficult. You know how some trails make you feel like you’re a hero? Well in the wet these were the complete opposite!
Getting muddy again at practice.
Also, most of the riders were practicing the same stage at the same time so there was a lot of carnage. On day two of practice I hit a bike that had slid onto the trail and was powerless to prevent a head on with a tree. It turned out not to be a major but it didn’t help my confidence.
Not only carnage on the tracks but carnage on the roads with all the shuttles!
Come race day the clouds which had been clinging to the mountain tops lifted briefly giving us stunning views of sheer cliffs and deep valleys running into the sea and to everyone’s relief the rain held off.
Stage 1 was physical. Approx 12mins of sustained efforts with a series of slick clay switchbacks to finish. There were a few innocuous jumps, one of which took my partner, Ed Kerly, out of the race. He was caught out by a patch of clay as he approached the take off and hit the ground just before going over the lip. He badly sprained his ankle and needed to be helped off the course.
Ed getting carried about by the local mountain rescue who were on hand for the race. (Sven Martin)
Here's the jump where Ed crashed with Richie Rude doing a very impressive dynamic save! Apparently it's not so innocuous!
Stage 1- 14th place on stage 1 of the day
Stage 2 was a shorter stage with some punchy peddling and the odd polished rock feature to navigate – one of which had claimed a friends’ collarbone in practice.
Stage 3 was epic- if you’ve ridden Nydia track in NZ the top half of the race run was similar to this, but with more gradient and slick clay dragged across the rocks. There were sections of decent exposure which caused controversy with a lot of racers arguing it was not safe to race. Fortunately no one fell off the cliff. The lower section opened out and became drier with some dirt you could actually lean on. By this point my arms were pumped and I was struggling to hold on, I knew if I could let the bike go it would become smoother but I really didn’t trust my grip to hang on. I pulled over as World Cup DH rider, Miranda Miller, stormed on by. I tried to follow and was pleased to keep her in sight for a few corners. By the last couple of turns I was blown and thankful to see the finish line!
We then had a 2hour transition including a lunch stop to the next stage. Traversing along a ‘levada’, which is a small waterway which litter the island- used for transporting the water from the wet to dry side. Then on up a steep road- which also seems to be a feature of the island!
Stage 4, final stage of the day. This was dry! However significantly blown out with multiple holes appearing since I’d practiced it. One hole claimed my front wheel and I was OTB and stuck under my bike still clipped in. Obviously a few other people had also had the same fate as I was surrounded by water bottles, headphones and other race apparel! I was slightly terrified I was going to get mowed down by Miranda as I floundered around under my bike.
Some drier loam on stage 4 (Sven Martin) crashing dropped me to 21st place for that stage.
I finished the day in 17th, my worst result to date but I was happy to get to the finish for the day and I enjoyed racing the tracks more than I had in practice.
Day 2, the sun stayed out for us. The first 3 stages were in the same general area of pine forest and conditions on the first runs remained slick. Stage 5 again was another physical start to the day and incredibly greasy so it was difficult to keep the flow.
Stage 6 featured the legendary “Champery chute”. I had had 2 attempts at this in practice with a 50% success rate. The key for us mortals was to drop in slow, as below the drop it was pretty much a no braking zone until the turn at the bottom. Come race run the rocks and roots and come through and I found myself careering towards the photographers and spectators at the bottom! The bodies dispersed as I drifted into the tape and somehow scrabbled my way back onto the track.
Entering the Champery Chute on stage 6 (Sven Martin)
Super slick antigrip in the lower part of the chute, concentrating hard! (Sven Martin)
Stage 7 started on the fast open moor top. Through some rocky jumps I lost my chain.
As it was a predominantly DH run I opted to try and Aaron Gwin to the bottom however it quickly folded on itself and jammed in the frame. After spending some time trackside with the bike upside down I was a wee bit fired up and actually started to get on top of the terrain. Not enough to stop Miranda catching me in the pinball rocks and roots in the lower section. My run was blown and I waited to let her pass on her way to the stage win. I picked my way down the small remainder to the finish feeling a little demotivated.
Crowds lining the rock gardens, upper stage 7 (Sven Martin)
With some lunch inside me I felt better and stage 8 turned out to be my favourite of the race. It was drier than in practice and was a hugely varied trail. Tight switchbacks in the rainforest ambience up top dropped us onto a pretty epic ridge.
Beautiful ridgeline riding, just don’t look over the edge! (Sven Martin)
Below this was a historic hiking trail lined with rocks. I felt my rim hit the rocks a few times and was lucky not to puncture.
At the top of stage 9 everyone was talking about what they were going to drink later- we sounded like a group of alcoholics! Poncha- the local speciality made with sugar cane rum, orange and lemon was high on the list.
Some dust appearing fro the final stage of the day! (Sven Martin)
Dropping into Machico (Sven Martin)
Stage 9 finished in open paddock scattered with sniper rocks and grassy turns on the fringe of a sun drenched Machico. And yes they gave us a poncha as we rolled into the finish - win!
What a tough 4 days of riding! These are the experiences that I’m looking for when I travel to make for memorable trips and I Know it will make me stronger.