With Mark Scott and Iago Garay focused on the task at hand, master Whip-Off contender and Santa Cruz-SRAM team's most dedicated on-the-spot supporter, Sports Marketing Manager Allan Cooke hit us with a rundown of the EWS action from the island of Madeira. Keep reading for the full report.
Madeira is a small Island in the Atlantic between mainland Europe and Africa, it sits between Portugal and Morocco. The Island was colonized by the Portuguese in the 1400’s and has been ruled by them ever since. The landscape in Madeira is like nothing else I have ever seen, the volcanic mountains rise out of the sea steep, tall and are covered with lush jungle forests. It was one of the best locations ever to bring the worlds best Mountain Bike riders to test their skills, fitness and equipment.
The race in Madeira would be host to the third EWS race of the 2017 season, everyone had the same thing on their mind heading to the race and that was what conditions the steep, rocky, rooty technical trails on the island would be. After two extremely wet races in Rotorua, NZ and Tasmania, AUS all the racers and teams had their fingers crossed for sun. The weather on the island of Madeira is very unpredictable with more microclimates than I could count, around every bend of the coast line or mountain top we shuttled up to the weather was drastically different.
The forecast for the week was all over the place and there was no guarantee what weather was ahead, sure enough on practice day one stage one the rain came and it came hard. The joke in the team shuttle was that the EWS now stood for the “Enduro Wet Series”, the heavy rains made the conditions like nothing else that I had ever ridden. Sure wet roots and rocks are going to be slippery every time but add the red volcanic clay and over 300 riders to the equation it feels like the ground is 80% Crisco. During practice there was no tire choice better than the next, for me it was a bit of survival but Iago and Mark were loving it. The skills the top riders have and the ability to adapt to ever changing conditions blows me away, Mark and Iago are some of the best at this and always have a positive attitude when others are complaining and making excuses they stay focused on fun and the task at hand, riding their bikes fast. The conditions leveled out the field, there was no local advantage in conditions like this, the most consistent and best rider would be the winner of this two day 9 stage race.
On day 2 of practice the sun came out and the forecast for the rest of the race cleared up but the previous days rain did the damage and the tracks were going to be very technical and slippery. However it was a relief for the riders to not have to deal with pouring rain during the race for a third time in a row.
On day one there were 4 stages with the most physical of the race back to back to start the day, Iago was the first team rider out on track and had some issues right from the start. After a mediocre placing in the mid 50’s on stage one things got worse on stage two when he clipped a rock with his chain ring breaking a tooth off causing his chain to come off. Not realizing his chain had come off when he put the power down out of the next corner his weight went forward and he shot off the trail into the bushes down a steep cliff, it took a while to get through the thick brush and back on the trail losing nearly a minute to the winner of the stage. As always Iago came into the pit at the end of the day with a smile but shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head, momentum was halted after the off track excursion and the best finish of the day would only be a 35th putting him in 58th overall on day one. Not where he wanted to be but he stayed positive and kept saying, “Its not over, tomorrow is another day and I’m really looking forward to the stages ahead.”
Mark had a bit of a different attitude all through practice, he was joking and messing around with everyone a little bit more than usual. At first I thought it was because his Birthday was on practice day one but as we rolled into the second day of practice it continued and even increased. It became clear that this extra swagger was because he was super confidant and comfortable ready to send it once the clock started counting down on track. I felt it in the air, Mark was going to have a great race and prove to everyone and himself that he is capable of a podium at an EWS.
Stage one would prove there was some truth to this premonition when he placed 5th on a very physical stage one, last season Mark struggled on stage one either not going hard enough or pushing it too hard resulting in a crash or mechanical having to fight his way back the rest of the race. With a 5th on stage one Mark was able to focus on his plan and send it, day one wasn’t perfect for Mark as he had a few little crashes and mistakes but his confidence was running high landing in 9th place after day one even with the crashes. Even though the sun was out the tracks were still very slick causing most of the riders to have at least a few mishaps throughout the day.
Iago came into day two of the race with a fresh mindset wiping away the setbacks and average results of day one, the sun was shining and the forecast was looking good so he was excited to see what the days stages would be like. The first stage of the day was stage five, the most physical of the day with a few climbs and flat traversing sections. Stage five was pretty high up and in the thick clouds causing the moisture from the storms earlier in the week to stay around and keep the track very slick, Iago stayed clean and had his best finish of the race so far with a respectable 19th in the stage. Keep in mind there were 197 riders in the open men’s classification, a top 20 is very respectable. Iago followed up his top 20th place stage finish with a 22nd in stage six heading into the stage he was looking forward to the most, stage seven.
Stage seven had rock gardens and a ton of off camber switchbacks littered with slippery roots, Iago charged with his smooth style to a 15th in the stage only 6.3 sec off the winning time. That shows you what Iago is capable of and just how close the racing is at the top level of EWS racing. Iago rode out the day keeping it upright and was able to crawl his way back from 58th on day one to 43rd overall, its not where he wants to be but he is taking the momentum from day 2 on to the next stop of the EWS in Ireland just 10 days away. “I don’t know why I was ridding so shit, after that crash on stage two I was so pissed, I was riding angry but the best I have all season. I carried this into day to and rode with more aggression, on stage seven (His Best of the Season) I was pushing it and making mistakes but the time was fast so I learned something there.”
Day two would start even better than day one for Mark killing stage five the first of day two with a 4th place, he followed it up with an 8th place in stage six putting him in 5th overall heading into stage seven, one of the roughest and most technical stages of the race. On the top third of the track there was a high speed section that went right by the road turning left and straight into a heavy rock garden, Mark sucked up the bike to glide over a rock and caught the rear wheel cutting the tire on the sharp rock. Mark stayed on the gas charging the rest of the stage with a flat tire. At the bottom of the stage he quickly put a tube in and booted the tire with a gel shot wrapper, he ended up 89th in the stage but was still in 10th overall for the race and his wheel was intact. With the cut in the tire bulging a bit and the boot exposed to the elements Mark was forced to finish the final 2 stages conservatively placing 23rd and 36th in the final 2 stages of the race. This landed him in 13th overall for the week, not bad considering the situation but the initial feeling was disappointment, 5th overall after stage six but 13th at the end of the day isn’t what anyone was hoping for but hey, that’s racing isn’t it anything can happen.
When looking ahead to the next race there was a silver lining, the tough conditions of Madeira affected many top 20 riders in the series overall point standings. With Marks ability and smart approach when faced with the cut tire he was able to nurse the bike back for a 13th on the day but that bumped him up from 11th in the overall to 7th in the point standings.
When taking a step back from what was lost we all realized what was gained in Madeira and are heading to stop #4 in Ireland with our heads held high, nothing is over, the season isn’t even half way done. We saw what could happen in one stage alone, there is still so much racing between now and the end of the season in Finale, Italy.