Paired Enduro Racing: What I learned While Racing Enduro2, in Les Arcs, France

You can learn a lot about yourself and a friend while racing enduro alongside them. My partner and I recently raced Enduro2 in the French Alps, and have some ideas for anyone interested in the pairs racing format.

Our friends Danie Ternelli and Ty Dines sliding into the highest and wettest stage of day two. All photos courtesy of Enduro2.

Pairs, or two-person enduro racing, is a unique way to enjoy trails with a friend. You get to see each other endo, high-five at the end of every stage, and encourage each other to push the pace toward victory. It could be a relationship bonding or busting experience, depending on how you deal with the challenging bits. With the exception of local riders or folks who have done the race in years prior, each track is raced on-sight, meaning that every inch of track that you charge into is new and exciting. “Look up fiercely” becomes a mantra that you might carry through to your dreams.

A rare shot of me with a number plate flapping against my bars.

Enduro2 promoter, Ali Jamieson, has been throwing multi-day trail parties for quite some time now. His original pairs enduro race, Trans Savoie, consisted of 35 stages spread across six days of racing, in a point-to-point format that utilized as many ski lifts in the high French Alps as possible. Jamieson now has a series of races under the Enduro2 banner, including a 3-day event in Les Arcs, France, a similar event in Nelson, New Zealand, and a new European gathering in the Alps with pending date and location details. His races are well organized, fun-focused, and notably “harder than you think.”

The high-alpine views feel endless in Les Arcs.

My partner, Megan Chinburg, and I recently raced the Enduro2 in Les Arcs, and we learned that the duo format required a different method of riding when compared to a typical solo enduro race. Pairs of riders start each stage together, and the finish time for the stage is counted on the second rider to cross the line. The format raised pre-race questions like, “who should start first,” “who is better at each particular track style based on the description,” “who feels more confident with speed on unknown terrain today,” among others.

Some pairs of riders took fun to the max, racing in matching dress shirts or flower patterned blouses.

We decided to start with Megan leading the charge on stage 1, as all of the tracks were marked with yellow and black arrows that were hung from trees, rather than race tape, and her way-finding skills while racing are far superior to mine. She pared down her effort to about 70% of her maximum speed, knowing that the most common place to crash is on the first fast stretch when the “race brain” has yet to take over.

From there we traded off the leading position depending on the course description. About 30% of the trails in the race were machine-built park tracks, and while I am no berm master, Megan felt she would ride faster if I was in front. She liked having someone to chase, and felt better going into the jumps after seeing my good or bad line and landing.

Every morning began with a bus ride up to the chairlift, followed by hot coffee before the first sprints ensued.

On the steeper and more root/rock packed runs, we both felt reasonably confident and comfortable. While either of us could have led, it made more sense for her to take first position for a number of reasons. In addition to her ability to pay more attention to the yellow arrow cards hung from the trees, she is admittedly less likely to take the dumb line that “might work,” and in the end she is more likely to finish every stage without flying off the trail. This strategy turned out to be a solid one, as we finished the race with only a few small get-offs, and all but two were mine.

There was plenty of air to be caught on the park jumps, and on natural trails like this one.

Another important factor to consider when racing pairs is who is truly the faster rider, or as Megan puts it, “who has a higher tolerance for speed.” She suffered two compression fractures in her spine during an EWS race in La Thuile last season and is working to regain full confidence in her riding abilities. This leaves me in the “tolerance for speed” position at the moment. On tracks where I felt that I could safe-ish-ly ride at full throttle, I sometimes opted to stay in the back for a couple of reasons. First off, the race time is taken from the second rider’s timing chip, so why not shred with your friend and stoke their ride. Second, if anything goes wrong while the second rider is racing, and the faster rider is waiting several turns ahead, or at the finish, there is no way to help. If you stay together you can help one another get back on the trail after a crash, or speed up a flat tire repair.

Ali sharing all of the thanks for trail builders, volunteers, and fellow organizers.

Our good friends Holly Baird and Chris Shoe entered the Enduro2 together, as their first ever enduro race, on their first mountain bike trip to the Alps. Holly shared the following sentiment about the event.

The only MTB racing I’ve ever done was an XC buddy race and I chose it because I could do it with my friend. I still got to feel competitive, but did it more so for the atmosphere and fun. I’ve always felt intimidated by enduro racing and I think this buddy race made it feel less scary in my mind, or maybe it was nice to go through some of the scary stuff with a friend who was experiencing it the same way. We got to choose to race how we wanted, which was to see new trails, feel challenged, and have fun together. I’d absolutely do a buddy enduro race again, maybe someday I’ll try a solo enduro race too.

We raced the Enduro2 with four other pairs of friends, and everyone had positive experiences to report. We all took a little different approach each day of descending, with some of us truly racing, some just enjoying the trails together, and others trying to crash fewer times than our teammates.

The Enduro2 was a fantastic event, and I recommend it as a stellar competition, or a lovely mountain bike holiday with a friend. With competitors from over 30 countries involved, you are guaranteed to make some new friends over the three days. There are 150 team slots every year, and they fill up quickly, so keep an eye on the Enduro2 site for registration dates.

We earned the 3rd step on the mixed-pairs podium, so our strategy must have worked out okay.