I once referred to myself as the Jon Snow of Enduro. It’s not that I look anything like Kit Harrington in Game of Thrones; it’s because like Lord Eddard Stark’s bastard spawn I know nothing about Enduro.
But that’s in the past now. Last April 11, I finally got a taste of this relatively new mountain bike racing format that seems to be sweeping the worldwide MTB community lately. From Jon Snow, now I feel like this sport’s Tyrion Lanister–someone who is not exactly towering over the competition.
So what was it like? Enduro has generated so much hype that it’s sometimes impossible to disentangle an honest assessment from hyperbole. But this much I can say: Enduro is grueling. It is sometimes scary. It’s loads of fun! And it forced me to tap into a skill set I only vaguely knew I had. And now I just might need another dose.
But first, for those who are unfamiliar with this race format, here’s a short and snappy primer. Enduro is a little like cross country and a little like downhill racing. Like in XC, there’s a mass start. But unlike a proper XC race, participants stop at designated checkpoints where they line up and are then released one by one into the next stage–just like in downhill racing.
The uphill climbs and flat ground stages are called liaison stages or LS. XC racers may get dismayed on knowing that their climbing prowess matters little in enduro. This is because enduro is more about technical skills rather than fitness and power. Only the predominantly downhill sections called special stages or SS count. Using full-on downhill bikes is discouraged in enduros because they give an unfair advantage.
Enduro has been described as downhill racing on trail bikes. Unlike DH events however, enduro racers need to bring their bikes to the start of the special stages through their own power–you can’t get a motorcycle to tow you up. To sum it up: untimed uphill stages, timed downhill stages. If you need a history lesson, here’s Matt Wragg’s article. You can also visit The Enduro Network to get more info.
Biking on Mt. Isarog
Cam Sur is practically my second hometown, and Mt. Isarog is always a favorite mountain. I’ve always had a hunch that this mountain and its lush beautiful rainforest had something to offer mountain bikers besides the paved uphill, and short fire road going to Malabsay Falls. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.
Special Stage 1 was a blast. It reminded me of the more technical bits of Timberland’s Black Diamond. And then some. There was even a cool obstacle there that required you to stoop down really low to keep yourself from getting clotheslined. Fellow mountain bike blogger Francis Peña and I agreed that the trail was reminiscent of New Zealand’s Rotorua with its slick loamy singletrack and thick jungle foliage.
Special Stage 2 meanwhile was a speed demon’s wet dream. If you can handle speeding down loose freshly turned earth which transitions into a very rocky dirt road, you would have done well on this route. If you’re a Metro Manila biker who’s veteran of Balagbag’s infamous downhill, you can handle this.
There were a few semplangs on this stage, one of which seemed pretty serious. The guy faceplanted, but he got back on his bike and pedaled on. Unfortunately, he did it on some kind of autopilot and had no idea how managed to make it to the end of the stage. I just hope he’s OK now.
SS2 was originally supposed to include a short climb and then a scary stair descent. I was kinda disappointed that this was scrapped at the last minute because I practiced descending those stairs. The climb would have also allowed me to claw back a few precious seconds from the fullsus competitors. But all in all, SS2 was still a head-clearing shot of adrenalin into one’s pulsing shaking veins. Maybe “SS” should also stand for “stoke stage.”
The liaison stages leading to SS1 and SS2 were hardly worth mentioning. But the liaison stage leading to SS3 was a killer. It took me more than an hour of hike-a-biking to get to the starting point. I thought that I would be able to ride most of this stage, but it quickly became obvious that that would be impossible. The grade was just too long and steep, and the ground was just too loose and slippery. Think of Blue Zone’s “harder” exit after a rain shower and then multiply that by 3 or 5 times. Maybe “LS” should also stand for “lupaypay stage.”
But it was on this liaison stage where I got a glimpse of what makes Enduro riders different from racers in other disciplines. These guys were pretty laid back. In an XC race, bikers would be worried sick about losing time, and some may even curse you for blocking the way. Enduro riders meanwhile tried to help each other cross a bridge, make a difficult climb, and find the correct trail. Since the climb didn’t count, we were all just casually hiking, sharing a joke or two, eking out camaraderie from our collective suffering.
It felt great to finally reach the starting point for SS3. I didn’t know what to expect from this stage as I was not able to track read this section. This was supposed to be the longest timed stage of the race. I had very serious doubts that my steel hardtail and 100mm of XC suspension would be enough for the task. I told Francis, who was one rider behind me, that he would likely overtake me on this section.
SS3 turned out to be the highlight of the race. What we painstakingly climbed for over an hour, we descended in just a little over ten minutes. It was the most technical trail I had ever ridden. After five minutes of nonstop descent my calves and foot muscles were starting to burn. Apparently, minimalist shoes aren’t exactly the best foot gear for missions like these. I got passed around the midway point by another rider in a fullsus frame. The rider crashed a few moments after passing me, but then got back up and resumed leaving me in the dust.
When I finally reached the end of the stage. I felt like someone who was about to get TKO’d but barely managed to stay up to win by submission.Yeah.
The stoke (parang surfer ah!) lasted well into the grueling climb back to the staging area where the winners and participants got awarded.