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.