While Justin Leov is sitting pretty atop the Enduro World Series table, another Kiwi is doing it a bit harder at the other end of the field, self-funded and living out of a van but having a blast anyway. Michael Hayward gives us the craic on his EWS Ireland experience.

I had a pretty naive view of the Enduro World Series before I completed one. The plan was to turn up, get wild down some sweet gnarly tracks, have a yarn with quality humans and maybe crack a safety beer at the top of the last stage – nothing too serious. The reality is very different.

EWS has a unique vibe because anyone can enter if they’re quick enough on the keyboard. This means the fastest racers in the world are stanchion to stanchion with those aiming only to finish still breathing. It’s a top level event though, and therefore strictly regulated throughout. There’s no playing silly buggers. After very few minutes of being on site it became clear that pre-run safety beers weren’t going to fly. In that environment it’s easy to become all business. The mince pies, shuttle runs and compulsory post-ride beverages from my summer at home suddenly seemed like poor (but delicious) decision making.

Ireland is a spectacular place to visit – especially Wicklow county. Known as the garden of Ireland, there is no shortage of greenery. The hill the event was held on, optimistically named Carrick Mountain, is not an imposing one. However the course squeezed every bit of vertical out if it with loads of pedalling to boot, creating some amazing physical and varied runs.

Racing an EWS round will take up all of your time for almost a week. You should do at least two days practice before the race. These will be full days: you’ll get up, eat, ride your bike, eat, ride your bike, eat, clean your bike, repair your bike, eat and then sleep. If you’re lucky you won’t be living out of a van so you can add a shower to the mix. If you’re unsponsored and from halfway around the world it’s likely you won’t.

Race day itself is almost a relief. The transfers between stages were good in Ireland: a competent pedal masher could make it to the start of the stage with about ten minutes to spare if they worked steadily at it. This was enough time to prepare yourself for your run but not so long you got cold or bored. Ireland’s 7 stages gave a total of 1763m climbing and around 6 hours on the bike. This is a solid but not overwhelming day (if you don’t think that, maybe throw in a couple of training rides first). However with race pace descents it becomes a big effort. I had to bury myself to make the last couple of transfers comfortably. 

A big part of doing well at these races is having your head right. You have to be able to deal with the pressure and the overwhelming situation you are in. It doesn’t matter if you are a great bike rider – you have to have your race craft dialled as well. I found it was this I struggled with the most. It’s a great opportunity to learn from the best in the world though.

The event itself was seamless. The organisation was impeccable. Little things really made a difference: parking was ample and on site, camping was allowed and there were showers available locally. Organising a race of this magnitude must be a huge undertaking and it was nice to see the little things done well. A huge thanks to everyone who was involved in making it work so well.

The locals were universally friendly and welcoming. Best of all were the spectators: the hill completely packed out with some of the rowdiest supporters I have ever seen at a mountain bike race. It was surreal to hit the most technical sections of the course at race pace with a wall of screaming spectators two deep on both sides of the track. Of course the post race guinness tastes better than any beer you’ve ever had.

As an average rider funding yourself, racing an EWS is a long and stressful week. It’s also immensely rewarding. You meet loads of incredible people, ride brilliant trails in great locations, and have the chance to push yourself physically and mentally. While you may not enjoy every minute at the time, you will be glad that you did it. Give it a go if you get the chance.

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