The offseason may be long, but Hattie Harnden and Pedro Burns are staying VERY busy
The enduro racing offseason can feel interminable. Unlike the XC and downhill World Cups, which spread races across the calendar, the Enduro World Series tightly packs its events into summer and early fall. The result: An eight-month, two-day layoff between the last race of the 2021 season and the 2022 opener, both in Tweed Valley.
Trek Factory Racing’s Pedro Burns and Hattie Harnden have been spending their offseasons in very different ways. Burns continues to rehab from a bad ankle fracture during the 2021 season, and is getting closer to 100 percent every day. Harnden has kept on the bike, racing cyclocross and XC (and kicking ass!) to pass the time.
Still, 245 days is a long time between enduro races. Fortunately, there’s an oasis in the desert: Team camp, which took place in Apple Valley, Calif., this past March. Harnden and Burns saw each other and team staff for the first time in several months for 10 jam-packed days of equipment testing and camaraderie.
Team camp took place roughly three months before the EWS opener in June. It may seem strange to dial-in bike setup so far in advance of the first stage, but that proactive preparation is necessary to start the season well. One of the biggest logistical reasons is parts. Anyone who has ordered anything in the mail the last two years knows how bogged down the supply chain has become. According to Ely Woody, team mechanic for TFR Enduro, team camp allows the riders to get fresh gear directly.
“During that long, extended offseason, obviously the riders are going to go through chains, they’re going to go through tires and getting that product to them — we may have it at Service Course in Belgium, but getting it to Chile, or getting it to Hattie in the UK with Brexit, that’s been a bit of a mission,” Woody says. “At team camp, we can get them dialed in with what they need — fresh bike, fresh drive train, fresh tires — and then send them home with that and hopefully that holds them over until the first race when we can refresh everything.”
They're my second family. ... It's really good to get to see them, have fun, and go training all together.
- Pedro Burns
For a rider like Harnden, who will soon be swapping her Slash for a Supercaliber again for the back-to-back XC World Cup races in Albstadt and Nove Mesto, time spent honing bike fit and suspension now means she has less to worry about in the weeks and days before enduro racing starts.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re comfortable on your bike,” Harden says. “I put a lot of trust in my bike, and once the season gets going, you need to have that trust there. Otherwise, you’ll start doubting things. And that’s when things can go a little bit pear shaped.”
Testing during team camp is both an art and a science. It involves A LOT of laps on varied terrain to determine proper shock tunes and tire setups. Harnden and Burns also gave their feedback on new products that are still in development. Trek tire design engineer Jason Richmond came to camp to run tests on different tire compositions and compounds.
Team bonding is just as important as dialing in equipment. The squad will spend eight weeks with each other during the year, so it’s critical that they get along well. Fortunately, there are few people more easy-going than Harnden and Burns. They are entering their third season as teammates, and their bond has only gotten stronger in that period. Team camp is always a welcome time for catching up.
“They’re my second family,” Burns says. “It’s really good to get to see them, have fun, and go training all together. It’s a very cool opportunity, and it’s very useful. I think it’s very important to meet everyone and go ride and test and work before the season.”
Though it’s hard to believe given the success she had last season, Harnden hasn’t been racing enduro for very long. She credits Burns for helping her get acclimated to the sport.
“He’s kind of like a big brother to me,” Harnden says. “He’ll look after me, because I’m still relatively new to enduro and he’s a few years older than me. He guides me in the right direction.”
In a unique twist this year, both Harnden and Burns had a chance to pass along their wisdom to a new generation of riders. Woody also works as a coach for the Victory Valley Composite high school mountain bike team. He invited his kids, groups of boys and girls, to spend the day with two pro enduro racers.
“I figured it would be really cool to get the team out there for a day and maybe inspire some of the kids,” Woody says. “Especially the ladies having Hattie there, because there’s a few really fast girls on that team. It was just an opportunity to expose the kids to some elite level riders and maybe provide some inspiration.”
The kids tailed Harnden and Burns while the two pros showed them how they take on trail features and select lines. For both riders, the day was an opportunity to pay forward a lot of the mentorship they received when they were growing up in the sport. Both riders frequently ride with groups of younger riders back home.
“I remember how it felt when I was young, and I was on the bike, and I tried to do something technical and I couldn’t,” Burns says. “Now being the professional one, and to share some time with young riders, I really enjoy it because I feel like I understand what they are feeling. It’s something really special to me.”
Harnden was struck by how much progress the riders made over the course of a single day, particularly in terms of confidence.
We just did some riding and got over the little fears that everyone has. I have to admit, I always think they look a bit daunting when you first look at them.
- Hattie Harnden
“They had a good number of girls in the group, I was impressed,” Harnden says. “They had mentioned that there were a couple of bits that they found that they hadn’t done before, and they wanted to have a go at them. We went and walked and looked at a couple of bits first. And we just did some riding and got over the little fears that everyone has.
“I have to admit, I always think they look a bit daunting when you first look at them.”
It’s hard not to start buzzing alongside Harnden and Burns when they start discussing their ambitions. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
For Burns, the goal is to consistently finish in the top 20. He’s coming off a bad injury, but his offseason has been encouraging. He is still dealing with pain in his ankle, but he’s clear to race full gas, and he has surprised even himself with some excellent finishes in local events, especially Red Bull urban downhill events in Monserrate, where he finished fourth, and Valparaiso, where he finished 11th after losing time when had to brake for a dog that ran across his path.
Though it’s been a long journey back to full health — going on nine months now — Burns has never gotten down on himself. He had to wait two months before being able to get back on his bike, but he’s been dedicated to finding more speed ever since.
“I feel like I’m still there, like I’m still working. I go to the gym and I do a lot of work on mobility, on jumping,” Burns says. “It’s still not 100 percent, but it is ready now. I can go ride, I can do the Red Bull races, I can jump, I can ride my moto, I can run. So I’m really happy, man. Really, really happy.”
Harnden won’t catch any of her competitors off guard this year, not after winning two EWS events and finishing fourth overall in the series. She wants to win every race she enters, but one would hold particular significance to her.
“With EWS starting in Scotland, in the UK, I really want to try and win that one,” Harnden says. “It was so close last year, like ridiculously close. That’s a big goal of mine. And that’s quite special as well in itself, because then you’ll be leading the series.”
Harnden isn’t changing her approach for the 2022 season. She’s still giving herself a steady diet of XC races to stay fit and keep her skills sharp. The cross-discipline training — a little bit of XC here, a little bit of cyclocross there — has become a key component of her success. Above all, it keeps Harnden’s mind engaged.
“The other day I was talking to a friend, and I realized I need to take up a few more hobbies,” Harnden laughs. “But I actually realized that possibly the reason I don’t have loads and loads of other hobbies is because each discipline is almost like doing a different hobby. You think about it differently, and you’re in different kit on a different bike, riding different stuff. It just gets your brain thinking a bit differently, which I really like.”
Another important part of Harnden’s preparation has been her mechanic, Andy Lund. The two live two hours away from each other in the UK, and were able to meet up in December for additional testing, which helped Harnden get acclimated to a smaller bike frame that should give her better maneuverability when her body starts to wear down during the late stages of all-day EWS races.
You're in different kit on a different bike, riding different stuff. It just gets your brain thinking a bit differently, which I really like.
- Hattie Harnden
Harnden and Lund have been working together for nearly three years now. They’ve developed a strong relationship and level of communication that has paid major dividends on race days.
“You’re putting a lot of trust in them. They’re doing all this stuff to your bike. They’re almost the other half of me behind the scenes,” Harnden says. “We just get each other and it’s a really cool relationship to have. Andy has taught me a lot, and we just seem to mesh really well.”
As Harnden’s mechanic, Lund has special insight into what makes her flourish as a competitor.
“With Hattie, we always just have a big emphasis on keeping it fun, and enjoying what we do to be able to do that,” Lund says. “When we’ve done that, we’ve seen the results are really good. So even from last year, just having a couple of small sentences on her handlebar just to be like, “‘Have fun. Enjoy.'”
The wait for EWS racing to start may be agonizing, but take heart that we are nearing the end. As of when this story publishes, there are just 36 days until the start of the season. Also know that as much as you may be looking forward to the action, it pales in comparison to what Harnden and Burns are feeling. Both riders are anxious to show off their progress, at last, and soak up even more racing.
“I want to keep growing as a rider, step by step by step,” Burns says. “As I always have done it. Since I was young, I’ve felt like I have always been progressing. Like I’ve been getting better, better and better. I want to keep doing it. And one day I would like to be at the top. That’s my dream.”
You’d be hard pressed to find two more enthusiastic riders anywhere. We can’t wait to see them ride again, and soon we won’t have to.