Pedro Burns, Hattie Harnden and Florian Nicolai explain why they're excited that EWS racing is finally here
“Previewing” the 2021 enduro season all but requires a crystal ball. The last full season was 2019, and nearly nine months have elapsed since the last Enduro World Series race in September. The sport hasn’t been in a proper rhythm for nearly two years. Any predictions are fuzzy notions of the past.
We can be certain that Trek Factory Racing will be a fascinating team, however. Florian Nicolai picked up two EWS silver medals in Pietra Ligure and Finale Ligure to close the 2020 season strong, but he is coming off a shoulder injury sustained in a training crash earlier this spring. Hattie Harnden, just 20 years old, is moving up to the elite category coming off a busy slate of XC and cyclocross races. And Pedro Burns is an upbeat mystery, having spent the offseason training in Chile and adding speed.
They are all in Italy now, preparing in Canazei for the opening EWS races of the year, a double dose of the Val di Fassa Trentino course on Wednesday and Saturday (with a prologue stage Friday). The combination of a beautiful setting and eager racers should create one of the most electric atmospheres that the burgeoning sport of enduro has ever seen.
The Trek Race Shop caught up with Flo, Hattie and Pedro to take a look at this week’s race, and to talk about their excitement coming off a way-too-long layoff.
Back in the groove
Nothing against XC and cyclocross, but Harnden is happy to finally be back on a Slash.
“[Riding a Slash] just always seems a lot more — this sounds so bad [laughs] — a lot more fun,” Harnden says. “I don’t feel like I’m actually racing. It just feels like I’m purely enjoying riding my bike which is — I mean, I love riding my cross country bike and cyclocross bike, but just bombing down a mountain, it gets me every time I go down.”
Harnden shined in her two XC World Cup races this spring. She entered the first event in Albstadt hoping for a top 20 finish, and ended up taking eighth in the U23 race. She followed that with a fifth place finish in Nové Město. The cross-discipline training should pay dividends in Canazei.
I love riding my cross country bike and cyclocross bike, but just bombing down a mountain, it gets me every time I go down.
- Hattie Harnden
“It just keeps things fresh,” Harnden says. “I think it helps with the fitness for enduro, which is really important. And I definitely like to keep myself as fit as possible, because there are always pedally bits here and there.
“But I definitely missed my enduro bike over the winter. I kind of put it away for five months and didn’t touch it, so that was kind of a scary thought when I came back to it in February.”
Unlike Harnden, Burns stayed relatively under the radar this winter. However, because of the amount of time he had to focus on training, he feels well-prepared to return to racing. And he really wants to race.
“It’s difficult when you are used to racing the whole time, the rhythm you’re used to,” Burns says. “But for me, it has been good because I have been able to prepare a little bit more.
“It’s a little bit strange, because racing is the moment that you train for. You can train really hard, and you can do chronos at home and stuff, but it’s never the same. So that’s the only uncertainty. But for me, it hasn’t been bad, to be honest. Like, I really want it now. My batteries are full of wanting to race.”
It's a little bit strange, because racing is the moment that you train for. You can train really hard, and you can do chronos at home and stuff, but it's never the same.
- Pedro Burns
Nicolai is grateful that racing is coming back, especially during an offseason when he has had to step away from training at times due to health issues. Val di Fassa will give him a chance to finally see where his form is.
“I’m not feeling really confident right now on the bike because the last three months I’ve been feeling in a bad mood,” Nicolais says. “I think after this week I will be better on the bike, and be better with everything. It will be a hard start.
“I’m excited too, because last year was a really strange season. And now it’s a new season with this team.”
It’s been a while, so here’s a quick refresher on how enduro works.
Each race consists of a series of timed downhill “stages” (four in the case of Val di Fassa). Whoever has the fastest accumulated time across all the stages, wins. Simple.
But there is one major twist: Every rider is responsible for getting themselves to each stage under their own power ahead of a designated start time. This leads to a lot of hard, uphill pedaling as they race against the clock. These “liaisons” between stages don’t contribute to riders’ overall time, but if they miss their starts, they could incur penalties.
Riders are also entirely responsible for their own repairs out on the course — no team cars trailing behind — and carry all their food and water with them for the day. So yeah, the endurance element of “enduro” is no joke.
And for Val di Fassa, riders will take on one of the prettiest and most varied courses of the season. Here’s how the stages break down for Wednesday:
Stage 1: Titans, 2.71 km, 636 m descending.
Stage 2: Ciasates, 1.24 km, 218 m descending.
Stage 3: Animal House, 3.41 km, 473 m descending.
Stage 4: Tutti Frutti, 6.55 km, 980 m descending.
Each of the four stages has a very different personality, from the steep Stage 1, to the short, technical and woodsy Stage 2, to a gauntlet Stage 4.
I think the race is not going to be too long in terms of liaisons, but I think the stages are going to be really hard technically and physically, because the stages are very steep.
- Pedro Burns
All the stages will be raced once on Wednesday and Saturday, but Tutti Frutti will be raced a third time Friday as a pros-only “prologue,” which means it is technically the first and fifth (and final) stage of the second race.
Sounds confusing? It is a bit. But the core goal of the event is simple: Test riders in every way possible on the terrain, and determine a winner. So how do the riders feel about it?
“I think the race is not going to be too long in terms of liaisons, but I think the stages are going to be really hard technically and physically, because the stages are very steep,” Burns says. “There’s many lines. There’s some really good lines, but it’s really hard to take them. There’s also a lot of pedaling on the stages, so it’s going to be hard work to do a good, clean race.”
Just because enduro has been on the shelf for a long time, doesn’t mean riders will get to ease into competition. Val di Fassa is a full gas butt kicker, and riders will have to take it on twice in a matter of days.
Sounds rough, but after such a long wait, even a grueling race is welcome.
“For me, in summary, Covid sucks,” Burns says. “It has been good to have this gap of time at home, to be able to relax a little bit — always being on the bike, but a little bit more just enjoying it. And then the last month, I’ve been really focused on training, because I had this little break. So I’m just looking forward to feeling better than ever, and I hope the results say the same.”
Enduro events are all-day affairs that are difficult to broadcast live, but you can follow along from the first to last riders taking off on Wednesday and Saturday through the Enduro World Series official website.