Cycling: Jared Graves clinched his first win of the season last weekend. The Valloire race was a real thriller. Due to many defects and punctures, there were a lot of place changes, especially among the men. Graves drove a solid and safe race despite some difficulties. Here's the race from the new leader's perspective:
What a brutal weekend. Where should I start? Valloire raised expectations from the outset. You just can't have a bad race when you're in the French Alps and I can tell you the race never disappointed.
As already mentioned, we had more negative altitude meters on the two days of the race than a whole downhill world cup season. Needless to say, my arms still feel a little shaky. As is so typical for French Enduro, we rode the stages almost blindly, apart from one training run. A lot of new trails were ridden that weekend, so after 300 practice descents they had very little to do with the trail you ridden on your practice run.
There were three stages per race day, with stage one being run once and stage 2/3 twice. The second day we went to a different part of the mountain, where we completed the same workload. I have to say that I really like this format. Setting a fast time on the first descent is really difficult, but attacking even more on the second descent is a whole different challenge. This brings a whole new aspect to enduro sport.
We arrived in Valloire earlier in the week and made ourselves comfortable. It rained most of the time and Richie and Rosara insisted on going to the heat in the mud. Richie caught a cold, but stopping the boy would take a little more than a bit of a headache and a runny nose. I also went out in the rain for a few short sessions and had a lot of fun on the trails. Luckily the sun came out on Friday and the conditions for the race weekend were perfect.
Some riders were already familiar with Saturday's trails from the French enduro series. For some of the drivers this was certainly a small advantage, but nothing to worry about. The trails were quite high up in the mountains and changed with each rider. They were pretty rough but a lot of fun.
Stage one - Probably the most fun stage of the whole weekend, with a good mix of high speed, some technical passages and good flowy forest sections. For me it was a really good mix of everything.
My timed run went really well but it also reminded me that racing is a little different here. With 15 minute stages, it's important to start slowly and build up the pace over the course of the run. I had caught up with the man in front, Florian Nicolai, on a long flat stretch of pedaling and really wanted to overtake him before the next piece of forest. But I wasted so much energy that I was flat over the bars for the remaining five minutes and felt like I screwed it up. But I finished second behind Francois Bailly-Maitre, which was a good confirmation of my current form and motivated me for the rest of the day.
Stage 2/3 were brutal. Without question the toughest trail I have ever ridden, especially for the arms. Steep, masses of stones and many G-Outs really got to you and after five minutes you already had arm pump. After that, all you had to do was hold on to the handlebars and give your arms a break every now and then. I knew the stage suited me and I wanted to take the lead with a good time. However, the plan didn't really work out.
Right after the start there was a steep and very soft snow field to cross. Getting through it was pure luck. If you got through clean you were super happy, if not you lost 20 seconds before the stage really started. You also needed momentum because there was a small climb after the snow. If you can't get through well, you could push up.
My plan was simple: Lean back and go full throttle. Everything was going perfectly until I hit a super soft hole and went over the handlebars. The stage couldn't have started worse. I rode the rest of the way solidly, but I didn't really recover from the fall. A disappointing stage, but it had to be ridden again.
It went much better this time. I chose a different line and got through the snow with no problems. After that everything went perfectly. I managed my power well, hit all my lines perfectly and felt great. After almost five minutes I noticed that my rear wheel was losing air. Even though I hadn't hit any big rocks or anything like that - so frustrating. From there my race strategy changed. I had to try to save the rear wheel to the finish without breaking it. You can't swap components in the Enduro World Series, so I'd get a five-minute time penalty if I broke it and had to swap it out.
Now it was time to drive safely. Meanwhile, Nico Lau and Martin Maes also had a puncture, and Francois also lost important time due to a defect.
When I crossed the finish line I hoped to be able to keep up at least halfway with my time. Surprisingly I was third, just 16 seconds behind Justin Leov in a XNUMX minute stage. So it could have been worse and I was third after day one. Justin led the field by a wide margin. He was the only one who didn't have any problems, but on this difficult terrain the lead can't be big enough. Sunday the ground should be even rockier.
Richie had a mixed day and was last after suffering a front tire flat on stage one. But he drove brilliantly on stages two and three and came back with a third and fifth place. It's only a matter of time before he gets through a weekend flawless and finishes on the podium.
Stage four had razor sharp rocks, slopes, grass sections and was extremely steep. Justin was way ahead so it wasn't worth attacking and hoping to catch up. I drove safely and knew that I would stay in the top 3 to take important points for the overall standings. While other drivers were attacking, I drove very conservatively and tried to cross the finish line without making any major mistakes. Nevertheless, I got myself a sneak, which I was able to save to the finish without losing much time. Although I placed outside of the top 10, Rene Wildhaber also had problems and so I slipped up to second place.
Stage five was a classic and had everything a good stage needs. Lots of steep inclines, high-speed sections, slow technical passages and a short climb. It was a nice stage but it demanded everything from the drivers.
And once again the race was turned upside down. Justin led by 38 seconds and rode without taking any major risks. Nevertheless, he got a flat tire. I've known him for a while and we're really good friends. It was such a shame to see that. He was definitely the fastest this weekend, even if the results say otherwise. Unfortunately, it's part of the sport and it's often happened to me that I've been slowed down by a defect. Fortunately, he took it like a champ.
My run went pretty well. After the fifth stage, Damien Oton was now second and Wildhaber third, but he gained a few seconds on me. Thus, the top 3 were only four seconds apart.
We had a big lead over Cedric Gracia who was fourth at the time and I went through all the possible scenarios. I was leading, but only just, and I really wanted to win. All other favorites for the EWS title had serious defects and so I had to take as many points as possible for the overall ranking and take the lead. I choose not to take big risks and take it as it comes. I drove safely in the upper rocky section and gave everything I had in the last four minutes, which were very pedal-heavy.
I knew I wasn't doing my best but I finished in one piece and that was important. I finished and had the same time as Rene, so I was at least second. Damien finished and had a similar time which meant I won! 1:20 hours of racing and I won by 3,5 seconds...my first win of the season. What a relief!
The weekend was very stressful, especially when I realized that I could get some important points for the general classification. The win was a great feeling. Having Chris Conroy and Steve Hoogendoorn, the two owners of Yeti, on hand was the crowning glory of the weekend. Yeti is like my second family and it was amazing to have them with me.
A big thank you to everyone at Yeti, especially Conroy and Hoog. In the evening we went out to dinner with the whole team and celebrated the victory with a few bottles of wine and good whiskey.
Frame: Yeti SB66c Medium
Fork: 2015 Fox Float 36, 78psi
Shock: Fox Float X, 175psi
Wheels: DT Swiss, 240s hubs, EX 471 rims
Tires: Front - Maxxis Shorty 2.3 EXO 3C Prototype 28psi
Rear – Maxxis Minion DHR2 3C EXO 33psi
Brakes: Shimano XTR, 180mm discs
Crank: Shimano XTR 170mm
Power meter: Stages XTR with Garmin Edge 500
Gears: Shimano XTR Shadow Plus
Pedals: Shimano XTR Trail
Chainring: Shimano Saint 36t
Chain guide: E13 TRS
Stem/Handlebar: Renthal FatBar Lite Carbon 740mm, Renthal Prototype Stem 60mm
Seat/Seatpost: WTB Devo Yeti Team Edition, Thomson Elite Dropper
Grips: ODI Troy Lee Designs
Headset: Chris King
Photos: Sebastian Schieck