Back to Racing

Posted by Noel Buckley on

The Return to Racing

By Daniel Shaw

Photo credits: Andy Vathis

Before the first race

It feels way longer than two years since I raced against the clock. The Pandemic had a slower start in B.C., and it wasn’t clear if there was going to be any racing in 2020.  The delayed cancellations to the Canadian and the EWS races left me figuring out a training program that would keep me ready and inspired for future races. The theme for Spring 2020 quickly became doing as many all-day adventures as I could. I took up trail running both to see the forest in a new perspective and to test my physical ability. I tried a few ultra runs in the mountains and sought after some bigger lesser-known bike rides that would certainly be considered type 2 fun.

I hoped that tackling these new adventures would simulate the challenges of Enduro racing in terms of all day efforts while also minimizing the risk of pushing too fast. Most days left me recovering on the couch where my legs and hips experienced a new kind of soreness.

Once the green light was on to race in Italy this year, I was back at the gym training to get prepared for the upcoming Enduro races. Going into the World Enduro MTB races in Italy, I didn’t feel the same pressure on myself after the two year break and I was more excited than ever to compete.

I got my Covid paperwork to enter Europe and it was time to head off! I packed up my Chilcotin 167 along with extra wheels and small parts. 

 

The Val Di Fassa double header

I arrived in the town of Canazei, which is in the Val Di Fassa valley and was taken away by the beauty of the Dolomite mountains. The landscapes were tall, rugged and raw; the backdrop made the race feel extra special. The first two rounds of the EWS were 2 days apart on the exact same trails. Training started on Tuesday when we got one lap down each of the stages. After reviewing the GoPro footage to learn the lines, we raced the next day. 

I was excited and nervous dropping into the first stage. The dirt and roots felt a lot like home on the North Shore but were incredibly slick. I played it safe and got a result that was okay but I knew I could move up the results as the day went on. Stage two went smoothly with no mistakes but stage 3 started with a crash in the first corner. The dirt was way looser than I was anticipating and I ended oversteering into the left side of the trail. The stage was 8 minutes long but the spill cost me. Playing it safe for the rest of the day, I resulted in a 97th place finish. 

The next day was a rest day and we stayed off the bikes to get ready for the following two days. Friday was the beginning of the 2nd race with one “pro stage” down stage 1. As I was going up the gondola (thankfully not pedalling up), it started to downpour. There was thunder and lightning but Italy isn’t bothered by this! They don’t even stop the lifts during a storm. I dropped into my run as it was pouring and slid my way down. The corners were filled with peanut butter mud and the straights were dry and loamy; lots of it sticking to my bike!  By the time I got to the bottom, my goggles were completely covered with mud. I went straight over the bars 20 feet from the finish line and just ran with my bike to the end. It was far from the run I was hoping for but what can you do?!

My result from Friday was continued into the race on Saturday. The race coordinators were planning on racing stages 2,3,4 and took stage 1 out because the trail was too damaged. The sun was shining and the dirt was looking good! Some would call it “hero dirt.”  My day was clean, smooth and filled with smiles! I made up a few places as the day went on and finished 87th. I was healthy, strong and hungry as the next double header was only two weeks away! With a week of spending time in the bike park in Morzine, I hoped to gain more confidence on this Euro dirt! 

Morzine

After an 8-hour drive from Val di Fassa, we got to Morzine in the French alps. Morzine is a little ski town with a nice village in the center. The riding in Morzine is unlike anyplace I have been before. There are many common bike park trails but also the most insane loam trails which gives the place it’s reputation. We rode 5 days in a row and almost all were muddy. The slick mud is like riding a slip-n-slide but there is almost always a rut to catch you at the bottom. When it was dryer, the speed on the steeps was scary fun. The other cool thing about Morzine was the ability to access 5 different bike parks by only taking lifts to different valleys and all on the same lift ticket! It is mountain bike heaven.

LA Thuile EWS 2

La Thuile is in the Aosta Valley of Italy is only 2 hours from Morzine. From the bottom, there is one chairlift and it went straight up. The trails were a test for me. Every stage was filled with roots going in every direction. It didn’t feel like riding to me, it was more like reacting to which direction the bike was going to go.

Before practice even started, there was a torrential downpour and I immediately put a Maxxis Shorty on the front and an Assegai in the rear. Even still, it was a mud fest. I took a new approach to practice this round to go slow and “scout” lines instead of seeing how fast I can go blindly. I think this really worked for me as I came into the Thursday race with much more confidence.

Thursday's race started an hour early to try and avoid an afternoon storm for the whole field. The dirt was wet but the skies were clear. Halfway down the first stage, I slid out in a corner and got tangled in my bike. It was a tough start to the race. I decided to forget about it to take each stage as its own race. This strategy worked out and I was able to crawl from 130th to 90th position after the day. Not the result I was hoping for but a very big eye opener of how fast the riders were in this event. After my race, I hiked up and watched the pro men in the woods to see how they tackled the terrain so quickly. The short answer to that is 100% confidence in their riding. There were high lines and off camber roots which seemed impossible in the wet but they all rode like their wheels were locked on rails. 

After another rest day in between the double header, we raced on Saturday for the Pro Stage. One practice run and two hours later we raced. The run felt like a DH race other than a 30 second sprint halfway down. It was a clean run and I was pumped for the next day. 

It was the final race day of the trip and the weather was holding! Most stages were lift access up except for one. Basically all the stages went great but my pace was telling me differently. I finished each stage feeling like I had an awesome run but I ended up mid 90’s on each one. On the last stage I had a crash that turned my bars and brake levers, so I had to sort that out before continuing on. All in all, I raced to my best and ended up 88th. We got a weird gift basket in the end with rolls of bread and meat in some tin foil but had a laugh with the other North American riders as we congratulated each other on a rad day of racing.

After the races

This entire trip has been a dream come true from what I was expecting back in April 2020. Great racing coordination from the Enduro World Series and good times on the bike. I got to see old friends and meet new ones. I’m most stoked about how friendly everyone is in the biking community. Lots of riders helping riders😊

Now that I’m back in Canada, the racing spark is in full flames with more intent to ride my best! Unfortunately, there are no Canadian races until the end of August, so racing will have to wait. The biggest take away from the trip is to include more 10-minute descents into my training. I felt strong on the sprints and in the rough stuff but at the end of each stage, I was blown out.

Lastly, the support from my friends, family, and sponsors was incredible to make these races happen. It takes a lot of planning and waiting to travel internationally, and I was able to focus solely on the races when I needed to because of their support.

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