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E-EWS — let’s add some electricity! The organisers of the Enduro World Series (EWS) have aspirations for an electrified version of the event that’s worthy of the same ‘World Series’ name. The new concept has been tried for the first time with a test race in Finale Ligure. We were there with the Cube Action Team and gave it our all as we rode almost impassable uphills and blazing fast descents. Read on to find out more.
E-EWS — what’s the concept behind the race?
The EWS is THE premier enduro race. It was launched in 2012 by Chris Ball and this legendary race picks out the best of the best riders. The series travels around the world and attracts large crowds of fans wherever it goes. Next year, for the first time ever there will be a race with E-Mountainbikes too. Finale Ligure will play host and the test we attended was a dry run, getting everything ready for the first E-EWS race to set new benchmarks.
It’s interesting that there are more and more E-Mountainbike races popping up. Since 2014, Enduro One offers an E-Bike category, WES was introduced in Monaco, the UCI is even planning on offering rainbow jerseys and world champion titles. Of course the organisers of the EWS are thinking seriously about creating a professional E-Bike event too. Chris Ball (a former downhill World Cup racer too) and Enrico Guala (an erstwhile trial’s rider, promoter and host of a multitude of enduro races) created a guest list of EWS pros, industry veterans and two editors for a one time test event in Finale Ligure. The new concept was to be presented and followed up directly with some real-world testing, along with a chance to discuss feedback and improvements afterwards. A great way of doing things we think, rather than the event just trying to go its “own way”.
“People, these uphills have to hard! This is for the pros of the EWS, not some amateurs” says Enrico Guala, an Italian who organises lots of different Enduro races and has lots to say about the potential track for the E-EWS.
The total route takes in 44km and more than 1600 metres ascending. To begin with, an extra loop was intended to take in the famous men’s downhill in Finale as well, but the complete route would have ended up being too long. It’s possible that some modification may add it back in for the 2019 race, but in all honesty, we were a bit thankful that we didn’t have to ride it!
5 stages for the pros
Together with Gusti Wildhaber, Zakarias Johansen and Claus Wachsmann from the Cube Action Team, we had the chance to try the 5 stages of the E-EWS for ourselves. The concept is interesting, with around 70% of the race downhill and 30% downhill. Tricky descents are followed by trials-esque ascents, making any illegally tuned motors worthless. That worked very well, making the route a true test of riders’ abilities.
“Cube Action Team has followed Enduro racing worldwide since the inception of the EWS and has been a successful participant. The experience we gain feeds back into our product development to improve the performance of our range (with or without a motor) and give our customers the best ride possible.
We’ll continue to follow that philosophy for E-MTB racing as well. Our e-bikes will be pushed to the limit allowing us to improve performance and capabilities and to showcase that development for our customers” say Claus Waschmann, team manager of Cube Action Team.
On the route we get to the sign posts that announce we’ve reached the first stage. We had all received a start time before setting off and this determined when we would be allowed to ride down. The initial section isn’t actually timed — you can find your flow before reaching the large arrows to the left and right of the trail that mark the start. That is intended to level the differences between different motor systems on flat sections. The timed sections starts where technicality of the trail will focus more on riding ability than motor power.
I start riding at 10:07 and need to arrive at the first stage for 10:44. I already know, thanks to the earlier preview ride, that the transfer up to the start is extremely difficult. I torture my way up the narrow uphill, fight through ruts and heave my E-MTB up to the start.
“Gosh, I’ll thank my lucky stars when I get to the top” I think to myself as I gasp for air.
Directly after the start the trail heads through a choppy rock garden. We muster our strengths, but not everyone makes it through in one go. Luckily this part isn’t timed yet so we don’t need to keep an eye on the clock. I cruise along the smooth trail but catch a glimpse of the red arrows ahead of me: time to ride hard. I carve around two switchbacks and drop into the forest. The trail flows nicely, is technical but surmountable and is the perfect warmup for the rest of the day.
The second stage is something else entirely! Half of it consists of large loose rocks on a narrow trail with occasional rises. Fine so far — not easy but rideable. And then a tight switchback arrives and it all gets a lot harder. I’ll admit that switchbacks aren’t my speciality and I feel a little out of my depth for the rest of the stage. I succumb to the will of the trail and am relieved to reach the end in one piece.
“My god, this stage is a killer!” I say to the group waiting for me at the bottom.
On the way to the third stage the route covers several technical uphills over tricky, rocky limestone terrain before heading into the forest towards the start of the timed section. Right at the start I overtake someone maniacally rolling their E-Bike down the trail. At the bottom I found out that this is because of a cracked piston rod on their coil shock. That’s quite something! The stage flowed nicely and Fabien Barel took first place with a 2 minute 45 second time, 4 seconds ahead of Gusti Wildhaber. I lagged behind with a time just under 4 minutes.
After the third stage, a two hour break allowed us to charge E-MTB batteries, do repairs and for the riders to discuss their experiences. Those who brought a spare battery had one thing less to worry about, but, we have to admit that in our group only 4 had a spare with them.
In the afternoon we headed out to the last two stages of the day. Now the big reveal — both of these stages were more uphill than downhill. Stage 5 started on a tranquil meadow and we hoped some epic riding lay ahead. It was epic, but in a different sense, as an impenetrable wall reared up in front of us. We threaded our way up hanging on to our bikes for dear life. Soon after the timed section started and the numerous technical (uphill of course) sections made it obvious to us that we were starting to get tired. I was at a snail’s pace and ended up pushing some sections. Did I swear or get annoyed? Well, I’ll have to leave that up to your imagination.
Stage 6 wound its way above Finale, making a fitting end to the racing. This was the most extreme uphill riding you can imagine. There was the option to take either the blue, or black line though it didn’t really seem to matter which one you chose with each as hard as the other. I took the blue option, turned the first corner and stood in front of a never-ending rock garden. I’ll give you three guesses how I got up there. That’s right, I ended up pushing my way to the top in the setting sun, until the slope mellowed out a bit again. The last few meters, encouraged by onlookers, saw me back on the bike giving it my all. The riding was so hard that even among the pros, only Curtis Keene ‘trialled’ his way fluidly over the rocks. For us as spectators, an absolute treat to watch! Seeing how the pros rode, or even failed, the same track we had ridden was a great experience.
You can find the tracks for the E-EWS Testrace in Finale Ligure on our Strava account:
“The idea to create a pro-event that pushes the limits is right and important. It’s become clear that it’s easier to deal with motor tuning not just through improved controls, standards and technology, but also through the choice of route (either very steep up or very steep down). That’s resulted in quite a change in perception and even the UCI wants to hand out a rainbow jersey next year. Unfortunately their concept doesn’t sound quite complete yet.
In contrast I think the EWS concept is very good. I had thought that with 20% uphill and 80% downhill riding, the uphill portion was a little limited. The combinations on the stages were very well judged though. The uphill stage was — as is to be expected — very technical, extremely difficult and absolutely perfect for the pros.
I think that the eMTB will be recognised as a challenging discipline, because that’s how it is! I was completely knackered after my day out. The opinions of the others I have spoken to were also very encouraging and people like Fabien Barel bring a very positive attitude. In addition, the industry will gain new ideas which will help with the development of E-Bikes.
I would be very pleased if the EWS organisers stick with this!” says Stefan Schlie, Bosch ambassador, Trials World Champion and uphill king. As an aside: Stefan rode together with Enrico Guala, 30 years ago in trials competitions.
Motor tuning is doping and cheating! One suggestion to prevent illegal motor tuning sounds very effective to us. A special “Black Box” will connect with the motor and transmit real-time data to the judges. This could show at what speeds the motor is still powered or whether the rider is accelerating under their own steam.
We’re very happy that the EWS is switching on to electricity. The test race has shown EWS grounder Chris Ball and his team, that the concept is possible. This will be racing at the highest level, whilst remaining a fun event focussed on rider’s abilities rather than the power of their motor.
The extreme uphills around Finale Ligure are quite something. Where lesser riders might despair, the pros will battle it out in grand fashion.
We’ll be at the start of this race. Will you?
Would you back yourself to race this kind of event, or would you prefer to be a spectator?
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