Enduro Racing Strategy: Risk and Reward
Pride and Preservation
How do you draw the line between risk and reward? At the fourth round of the Enduro World Series, I found myself questioning how far I was willing to push myself. This would be my first race in Europe and my first experience racing in such arduous conditions. I wanted to give it 110%. My body was ready and willing to take up the challenge; my mind on the other hand, struggled to keep the positive mentality that’s so necessary at this level of racing.
The locals were surprised by the unseasonable wet weather that was lingering in the valleys during the weeks leading up to the race. This weather saw the trails transform to a new level of technicality. Polished roots that were comparable to black ice, greasy mud, countless river crossings, gnarly rock chutes with sharp exits. What more could you want out of a race?
Day 1 was by far the most daunting. Stage 1 calmed the nerves and steadied the adrenaline. It was the least technical stage of the day. Almost giving you a false sense of security for what was to come on the following stages of the day. Stage 2 made the strong look weak, the fast look slow. I felt like a beginner learning to ride for the first time. The top half of the trail was fun, pushing to find the flow without wasting precious energy. Punching loamy corners and floating over the small roots. All good things must come to an end however and the trail turned fierce and the elevation dropped quickly. The dirt fell away to expose all the fingers of the tree roots reaching out to flick away any tyre that dared roll by. My confidence fell to the ground as my front wheel slipped out countlessly along each section. While the crowd cheered on in delight, the mental battle was lost.
One good thing about the transfers between stages, it gives you the time to process, reflect, recollect, reevaluate, and hopefully find your composure. 14 kilometers between stage 2 and 3 to get my mind back in the game, to focus. Stage 3 was not going to be a ride in the park. 6.05km distance with over a 1,000m elevation drop. I had already been out on the bike for over 5 hours. My legs were burning, back tightening with each pedal stroke, hands weakening, and my mind fogging. Quitting was not an option, but I was worried my fatigue would get the better of me.
Stage 3 was over 19 minutes of an emotional rollercoaster. I was feeling very nervous at the start line. I had not been able to ride the whole trail successfully in practice and knew a crash or two was inevitable. Not long into the stage my hands were giving up. I couldn’t feel. Was I braking? I had no idea. I tried to pace myself. ‘Don’t go too hard at the start or you’ll be useless for the rest’. I cleaned the top section of the trail and felt confident coming into the section I had crashed on in practice. As I came into the turn, a rider is on trail picking up their bike from a crash. I panic, I have nowhere to go and I can’t stop. And I’m crashing. Out the front door I go. Thank my lucky stars I am fine, my bike is fine, although my bars are twisted and my levers are all wonky. There was little to no finesse to the rest of the stage, it was all about just making it to the finish line safely.
What a day! 52 kilometers over 6 hours. I was so happy that I had made it. The hardest part was behind me and I knew I would be able to do better on Day 2. Now to refuel and stretch out the tired muscles and hope that I wake up in the morning feeling renewed.
I was excited heading out for day 2. The trails were more fun but the course would see the riders covering a longer distance. Getting to the top of Stage 4 was a bit of a mission. Hiking up a downhill trail for 20 mins to reach the start is not an ideal way to start off your day. Stage 4 was the trail I knew the least. I hadn’t had the opportunity to walk this trail before practice so my memory from the one training run wasn’t too good. I knew the stage had a number of climbs but couldn’t remember any important features. I choose to play it smart and keep it safe. I couldn’t afford to lose time with stupid crashes. This would be the first stage of the race where I caught the rider in front of me. This pumped up my spirits and my confidence.
For the transfer to Stage 5, we enter into the 6 kilometer underground mining tunnel, set up with torches so we can find our way. This was fantastic! So much easier than climbing up and over the mountain, we get to pass straight through the middle. Once out of the tunnel we had another lengthy hike a bike. My calves were on fire but I was feeling energetic. Stage 5 would have to be my favourite for the whole weekend. Not only was it the shortest of the stages, it was also the flowiest of them all and, therefore, the most fun.
The last long transfer of the weekend brought us back to Petzen resort and to upload the gondola for the last time. Stage 6, Thriller, is a long one. Surprisingly it would be my best stage of the weekend. I knew from Stage 3 on Saturday that I might have issues again with hand strength and stamina over the long stage. I decided that keeping it smooth would be better than trying to go as fast as possible. Within a few minutes of the trail, I had the rider in front of me in my sights. And without thinking, my body responded by kicking it up a gear. The thrill of the chase changes your mentality. I felt great, my body was responsive, my hands were working, and my legs felt strong, my bike was kickin ass and I was riding with confidence. I passed the rider, then another, then another, and another. All the puzzle pieces fell into place on the last stage. I was loving it! The lower the trail went, the drier the dirt, the harder I pushed. What a feeling to finish the race on.
Crossing the finish line had never felt so rewarding. High fives all round, my smile couldn’t be any bigger. I had not only finished a race that I was concerned I couldn’t complete, but I had done well. While there is always room for improvement, I can feel proud that I did the best I could, given the trying conditions and technicality of trail.
Leonie Picton is a professional enduro racer who currently lives in Whistler, BC, Canada. She finished the race outlined above with a respectable 21st place against the fastest women in the world. Her EWS journey continues in La Thuile, Italy followed by her hometown race in Whistler. Get to know Leonie better by checking out her profile HERE>
Get another perspective from EWS #4, Austria/Slovenia by reading Rae Morrison’s race report HERE>
All photos by Sven Martin Photography.