When French moto-head Fréderic Glo decided to create a race that mimicked his fun weekend rides with friends, he had no idea that it would grow to greatly influence the entire mountain bike industry. Those weekend outings consisted of long chats with friends between full throttle competitive descents. The only missing piece was a timer and several thousand rolls of course tape.
That inaugural enduro event in 2003, titled Tribe 10,000, was staged deep in the Alps of southern France, in the quaint ski village of Val d’Allos. Over the next 16 years, the French-born discipline would become one of the most popular racing formats in the industry, and enduro-focused technology would permeate every last crevasse of modern mountain bike frame geometry, trail construction, and gear design, and would even influence riding styles. The equipment demands and trail-party culture of enduro have arguably made our sport better, largely by focusing on the core of what draws so many mountain bikers to the dirt: long days in the saddle, grinning with friends.
At the 16 year mark, enduro is nearly due for an early life memoir. That may come at some point in time, but for now we will stick to enduro’s major turning points.
History: From the countdown to the podium, in chronological-ish order
Apart from traditional downhill racing, 4X, and a few other events, gravity races in Europe have been designed around cramming as much descending as possible into a day. The Megavalanche and Maxiavalanche races are prime examples of that “plunging from sunup to sundown” ethos. The premier enduro race maintained an endurance-downhill paradigm and was named the Tribe 10,000 to denote the 10,000 meters of descending riders enjoyed throughout the weekend. One of the first stages was 25 minutes long, and competitors had to grind out four consecutive laps on that same track.
I remember the Enduro Series in Val d’allos (around 2008-2009), proper blind racing. Saturday was stages around the lift that were quite well ridden, but Sunday was always a fresh track made just for the event that you had to race 4 times. The fastest [rider] of Saturday was starting first with a 20-second gap, and you really had to go through the tall grass and find the way. So the challenge was to get 2nd or 3rd on Saturday and then have the advantage to have someone in sight for the 1st run. –Jerome Clementz
The testing and refinement phase for the first enduro events came swiftly and clearly. Half of the riders who brought heavy triple crown DH bikes didn’t have enough energy to finish the race, and nearly everyone was suffering more than smiling to make the finish. There was a bit of a disconnect between the long, endurance-descending event that Fred had envisioned, and the set of shorter DH races that the first year’s riders anticipated. He quickly adjusted the format, and the next season attendance numbers jumped from 100 participants in 2003 to roughly 300 in 2004.
For the sake of posterity, Fred dropped the names of some of the earliest enduro racers, including “Christian Taillefer, Alex and Willy Balaud, Nicolas Vouilloz, Karim Amour, Olivier Giodanengo, François Dola, Nadine Sapin, Greg Noce, Rémy Absalon, Jerome Clementz… and the first international riders to participate were, Mark Weir, then Wade Simmons, Brian Lopes, and Tracey Mosley.”
Enduro Tribe main contributor, Antione Hoffmann-Massé, was a junior gravity racer in the early days of enduro and remembers the battles fondly.
Before EWS, the ranking was different. Back in those days, Rémy Absalon was fighting, and mostly battling Jerome Clementz, but both were the second generation of enduro riders. There were French enduro ‘athletes’ that came before. I want to remember a few other riders that were at the very beginning. I’m talking about the Noce Brothers, Balaud Brothers, Bruni & Vergier’s fathers, François Dolas, and Laurent Meunier. Karim Amour and Nico Vouilloz were also already there. They were the pioneers of Enduro. Back in those days, I was riding in the junior category. I was 10 years younger than most of them. It was like my race family, and they were like my older riding brothers.
Those earliest racers mostly rode in the French Downhill cup, and switched to enduro because of the amount of riding time in a weekend. They grew tired of riding 3 minute tracks, and were looking for the biggest amount of riding time. From there, enduro was born. It was the challenge of adding the most riding time in a week-end or in a day.
It’s from that kind of effort, and the skills required, that the spirit of enduro came together. That challenge should be forever remembered: it’s all about the biggest amount of riding time in an area, and how it allows you to discover the mountains you’re riding on.
Several French bike parks and ski resorts saw the draw of Fred’s events and asked him to bring the enduro racing format to their slopes. He didn’t want to change the Tribe 10,000, and so decided to start an enduro series. Since there were no other enduro races at the time, the five events were simply placed under the moniker of Enduro Series. In 2010 the French Cycling Federation named the Enduro Series the French Cup, adding some well-deserved legitimacy to enduro in France. The same event series is scalding hot today, and hosts a round of the EWS European Continental Series and an EWS qualifier in 2019 in addition to two other races.
After some successful seasons running Enduro Series races in France, Fred saw a need to broaden the scope of enduro and added some international flavor by throwing the inaugural Trophy of Nations party in 2008. Riders like Mark Weir, Brian Lopes, and Tracey Mosley flew in from around the globe to race enduro in France, and they were spreading the stoke to their respective home nations. It was time to celebrate the growing international energy of the format.
Mark Weir was one of the riders who brought the spirit of French enduro back home to California.
People laughed at my adjustable seat post, single ring, and riding a 38 pound bike as my everyday. [This was] well before people thought 64 degree head tube angles were even rideable. 69° was the number in the USA. Like Rob Roskopp said to me, ‘It’s way too soon.’ Back then I got one-off bikes. I had slack angles since I was on Karpiel and for what I liked on sight and steep it was the only way to ride. We had VP before it was a wet dream in Santa Cruz’s shorts. Outland, AZonic, World Force, all considered VP.
It was the same when I came back from my first Tribe Enduro. The people just did not get it. ‘You just can’t win a XC or DH so you need a new way to win.’ Maybe so, but I like both, and I hate practice, and I crave new trails and riding them at my own limit. Racing back then, I got a chance to truly experience the place I was in, not worry about practice or that I missed something on track. It was a working class blue collar place. Well, maybe the French had the upper hand? But shit, they been doing it and I don’t speak French so what do I care? They would do the race meetings all in French and Fred would just say, ‘Its ok, follow the gates, keep your chin up, and ride your way.’
To me true Enduro is on sight, where you can show up on Friday and know it will be a fair fight. –Mark Weir
The 2008 season would prove to be a busy one for enduro racing, with Italy’s now famous Superenduro series sending riders into the Italian mountains for the first time. Superenduro promoter Enrico Guala said that he thinks of enduro as “racing your normal mountain bike ride” since the format mirrors the way he’s been riding with friends since the mid 1980s. Guala and Franco Monchiero started the Superenduro together, and the series continues to expand its range of locations and participation numbers every season. The compiled Superenduro race roster has occasionally stretched up to the 550 rider mark during popular events in Finale, Ligure.
From an early stage, the Superenduro partnered up with Italian mountain bike media and took on several sponsors, including Volkswagen and Marzocchi. Enrico and Franco made sure that every event had the best trail network possible, solid accommodations, and things for the riders’ families to enjoy, before publishing their annual race calendars. They wanted the events to be more than simply amazing racing. These fortuitous partnerships and focused efforts are part of what launched the series, and in some ways, the discipline of enduro, to the perch it sits on today.
The Italian version of enduro differed from the original Enduro Series in a few significant ways. Italy didn’t have countless ski resorts that were eager to become bike parks as soon as the snow melted like France did, so the Superenduro promoters had to rearrange the format. They borrowed the concept of transition stages from automotive rally racing in order to give riders a set amount of time to pedal to the next start line. This familiar format is used in nearly all enduro racing today.
Somewhere in the mix of it all Enrico and Fred started swapping ideas and beer tabs, and the pair partnered up to put on the next two Trophy of Nations (TON) events in their respective home countries during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The first set of TON races was held in Sauze D’Oulx, Italy, and Val D’Allos, France, and the second pair were in Sauze D’Oulx and Valloire, France.
Franco Monchiero pealed off from the Superenduro to work on other projects, and though he was originally reluctant to ride with battery power, he now runs a successful Italian e-Enduro series, with 7 events on the 2019 calendar. E-bike racing is a hot topic in the European enduro scene these days, and we can expect to see categories for electric bikes at more European races in the future.
Since those early races, the discipline of enduro has wrapped the globe in regional series, local events, and of course, the pinnacle of the discipline: the Enduro World Series. Along hillsides in western Canada, California, Colorado, New Zealand, and Australia, folks started organizing their own enduro races long before the EWS seeds germinated, and in other places still, the series provided a level of legitimacy that helped to kick things off.
Between January 9th and 11th of 2012, Chris Ball, who was working for the UCI at the time, called a meeting with Guala and other promoters to discuss incorporating enduro into the international federation’s list of mountain bike disciplines. It was clear that the venues, teams, bike brands, and promoters were ready to take enduro to the next level. The UCI announced that they would work to create a “World Series” for the new discipline. Unfortunately, various political issues within the UCI lead to a no vote for enduro inclusion at that time, and enduro’s grassroots continued to grow deeper.
Later that summer Ball resigned from his position at the UCI and continued discussions with a small group of race promoters about what the future of enduro without UCI backing might look like. That crew included Ball, Franco Monchiero, Fredric Glo, Enrico Guala, and Crankworks GM Darren Kinnaird. Four of the five heads in that think-tank came together at the final round of the 2012 Superenduro in Finale Ligure, and the result of that discussion was a fast and loose plan to start the Enduro World Series the following season. The crew met again at Roc D’Azur to scribble out logistics and solidify plans for their future series.
Four of those original gravity gurus, who make up the EWS board of directors to this day, invested €2,000 each to start the series themselves. Chris Ball would run the show, and they would incorporate several of their existing events into the series for the first season. I spoke with Enrico about the first EWS season while he was driving to Punta Ala, Italy, for this year’s Superenduro race, which is coincidentally the site of the first EWS race. I asked Enrico when he knew that enduro would catapult to its prominent place within mountain biking, and he gave the exact same reply as Ball, Kinnaird, and Glo. “Immediately.” All of the racers, along with nearly the entire mountain bike industry, were ready for the new enduro genre to take over.
That first season was comprised of seven races, stretched between Italy, France, Canada, and the US. Spectator and racer turnouts were as high as the stoke, and the riders and teams learned a lot about how to better prepare for enduro racing, and what bike geometry and component changes were needed to make their bikes faster.
Fred Glo mentioned a particular conversation that took place in the early days of enduro, between himself and some designers and business executives at a well known Canadian component brand. “I asked for a dropper seat post, and they said ‘Fred, only you need that, to play in your garden. We understand that you all are doing enduro racing, but we are running a real business over here’.” Those same engineers now call Fred and ask him what is new in enduro, and run ideas by him to make sure they are on track.
Another big difference I have in mind [between the early days and now] is the mechanics. Now we have very good bikes, versatile and reliable. 10 years before, when you raced an event like the Megavalanche, it was crazy, you were very lucky if you just crossed the finish line without any issue. –Rémy Absalon
|2013 EWS Results||Elite Women||Overall points|
|3||Anne Caroline Chausson||2560|
The first year of the EWS was amazing as it was so new and no one knew what to expect and had no expectations. There really was a big adventure feel as there was a mix of no practice / blind style racing at the French rounds or just one sighting run, and then other events where there were a couple of days to practice so I would ride for hours and hours on end getting a couple of runs in on each stage.
I was always a big time believer that you shouldn’t be allowed to shuttle to stages and the only uplift should be a chairlift or organized uplift that everyone could use and get the benefit from. I hated the private shuttling or limited shuttles as it just wasn’t a level playing field for everyone
I remember in Finale, in 2014 I think it was, I just wanted to be stubborn and prove you didn’t have to shuttle and spent 2 days riding all the stages by bike, doing them all twice clocking up some crazy miles each day…I had the ultimate satisfaction having done that when I still won the race!
Looking fiercely ahead
The future of enduro is still bright. Grassroots enduro racing is on the rise, the energy and popularity of multi-day backcountry racing is palpable, and the future of electric enduro events has reached the deep end of its testing phase.
The staff of the EWS has expanded their race offerings to bridge the gap between smaller grassroots events and their 8 elite-level races. With all of the qualifying events and continental series races tallied, the 2019 EWS calendar includes an impressive 76 races in 25 countries.
This year’s collaboration with the UCI marks a move toward legitimization and standardization for the racing genre that a lot of racers and promoters have been asking for since the beginning. Every year we see more pro riders starting their careers in enduro, rather than coming from other disciplines to test out the tracks, and they are stepping into a world that is every bit as well organized as a UCI World Cup weekend.
With all of this growth, expansion, and energy, where is enduro headed? Every promoter and racer named herein was presented with this question, and a few prominent themes rose from their responses. The first element that everyone agrees upon is that the sport will continue to gain legitimacy, backed by the industry and cycling governing bodies. Secondly, nearly everyone feels that the local grassroots races will continue to grow, despite enduro’s popularity waning slightly in some areas of the world.
Another widely agreed upon vision in the crystal enduro ball is that on-site racing will regain popularity and multi-day races that don’t allow riders to preview the course, like the Trans Provence or Trans BC events, will continue to see their numbers swell. Multi-day races are not only exciting and adventurous but they are a vacation as much as a race for a good number of competitors.
“Enduro grew very quickly when the Enduro World Series circuit arrived. But it is a good thing, I saw the level growing every year and it is now a real sport. Riders are now true enduro riders and not a DH or XC racer who wanna test the discipline. They train hard for it and nobody can come and win without any specific enduro preparation. It is really interesting to fight now at 100%, with a tight timing gap and no mistakes allowed.
Of course, some cool things in enduro have changed and sometimes I feel we lost a bit of the spirit I knew at the beginning. A sport cannot be more famous, more media-friendly, and more international without changing. That’s why I also like to do some other cool enduro races like Andes Pacifico and Mountain of Hell because this is the enduro I like. [It’s] the same as before. Crazy ride, cool and warm atmosphere, where you want to be the fastest but above all to have fun! This is enduro.” –Rémy Absalon
The teenaged enduro discipline has a shiny bright future, filled with secluded mountains to explore, format shifts to test out, and dedicated athletes to push themselves to the breaking point of traction and balance. Outside the tape, we can all thank enduro, and its associated pioneers, for our descent-ready-but-climb-worthy whips, tougher tires, wider bars, dropper posts, burlier brakes, and generally more fun trail toys.
If you have ever wondered if enduro might be a fun endeavor, zip a number plate on and give it a shot. If there isn’t a race series within driving distance of your home there may be soon, or you could plan a stellar vacation of racing in unknown mountains.