The last race of the season and being back in Italy is always a great place to finish the series. The Italian atmosphere, top notch trails, summer like weather combined with the food and coffee really make it a riders favorite for sure.
Arriving a few days before practice kicked off we were able to walk a few of the stages and get an idea of the terrain for this years race. The quality of the stages was great, I have to credit the effort by the trail builders. The trails were freshly prepared and covering a lot of virgin terrain, it was going to be a technical and physical race with some good liaison climbing making it a real test. Pre race I also had the pleasure of meeting up with two winners of an adidas Sport eywear raffle, Mathias and Yves. They had won a trip to Finale to hang out, enjoy the sun, ride their bikes and watch the race.
Starting training I came in with a more DH style setup, the 180 fork once again and coil shock. What was evident straight away was the arm pump on Stage One. Steep, rough and some really long jarring sections blew the arms up, this meant holding the bars was going to be a challenge for a full race run. I changed out to a softer compound handlebar grip, which helped a small amount but the real focus was to be relaxed and keep off the brakes as much as possible on those rougher sections.
With autumn only just showing its presence by the changing leaves, Finale conditions were still dusty and hot. Keeping enough fluid in while practicing was something I was wary of. I have once suffered the effects of neglecting hydration here in Finale and with 1700 vertical meters climbing it is not something you would ever want to repeat. Electrolytes and recovery were super important and for that reason I made sure to be well prepared. A massage post training each day defiantly helped as well.
With the bike perfectly setup for the conditions and a good feeling in myself on the bike, it was up to pulling it off on the day. Unlike Valberg Day One I woke up feeling relaxed and ready to race. My plan was to start fast and really attack the courses. I didn't want to leave anything up there so that's how my race went until towards the bottom of the first stage. I heard the sound every racer has nightmares of... the sound of the air deflating out of your tire. I had cut it in the rocky gully section and my run was now done. With hope of making the finish line within the next minute I decided to keep the speed up the best I could. The consequence to that is you damage your rim a lot more and this stage was on a rocky finish. I finished the stage in 20th position but I would now have to use a tube as I had damaged the bead of the rim a small amount and my usual plug wasn't going to work to fix the tire.
Luckily I had enough time to put in a tube, get to start of Stage 2 and contemplate what pressure I needed to run on another rocky stage to keep air in. I don't think I have ridden a tube in a tire since my DH days so I didn't really know what was an ideal pressure. Bumping up to 34psi I figured it was safer to go high as we had a tech zone stop after this stage and I could try get it back to tubeless again there.
Starting the stage I was feeling good but there was a few corners up top where I was testing what the traction was feeling like. Thinking about this took my mind off the trail and one corner I missed the rut and down I fell. Back on the bike and now I just had to ride a smooth fast race to limit any more lost time. Crossing the line I was disappointed but more importantly wanted to get back to the pits as quick as possible to see if we could fix the rim a bit before Stage 3.
Unfortunately we couldn't reseal the rim and although we could easily bend the dent back we ran the risk of breaking the bead. The repairs needed to be done with time on our side so we decided to run the tube and fix it after the race.
Stage 3 was the physical stage of the day and you had to be ready and strong on the pedals to make time. With a strong start I had a good feeling, but coming out of the first switch back corners I had a derailleur issue and as a result was unable to pedal anymore. With a mid stage climb of around 30 seconds still to come, it meant I was out of the race. In my misjudgment I decided I would let the other racers have a clear track and I rolled down the fire road, which was beside the course. This would mean a DNF for the day. Unfortunately what I didn't realize is that by taking a DNF you can no longer continue racing, so by rolling the fire-road I was preventing myself from racing Day Two. I am grateful to Toni Ferreiro and Thomas Lapeyrie for pushing me back to the time check even though at the time I didn't know I would be out of the race. The Enduro community is a good bunch of people!
So with it all said and done I was left wondering what could have been with a clean day of racing. I had a good feeling with my bike, the terrain suited me this year and everything was looking great but racing is racing and you have to ride the wave of the ups and downs. It's been a really tough year for me on the whole, but when I think of what I've dealt with and overcome this season I feel like I have grown a lot stronger and that gives me more motivation to train for 2017. Going into the offseason healthy is already ahead of this same time last year. With round one in New Zealand in March it's going to be game on.
Thanks to everyone who supports me and stands by me. I appreciate the support and will keep on the charge to get back to where I feel I should be again. See you all back next year!
All Images: Sebastian Schieck