The World Enduro Series rolled into Whistler for round six of the eight round series and its sole North American stop for 2018 and only its second dry race of the season! Four of the previous five rounds have been wet, muddy and miserable events, for this round it was the reverse, with BC in a bit of heatwave the was no moisture, mind you, the lack of moisture didn’t mean there was going to be anymore traction, the dust-covered roots and rocks proving just as treacherous as slimy Austrian roots. With Rhys Verner still out with a healing scaphoid, it was up to Kona Global Enduro Team Riders Alexander Kangas and Scott Countryman to represent and fly the Kona flag. Kona Supreme Hannah Bergemann had made the trip up from Bellingham and young 18-year-old Sunshine Coast enduro ripper Lucy Schiek was also in attendance.
Last year Alex’s Whistler EWS ended as quickly as it started, two minutes into stage one, a mechanical stopped him in his tracks and ruined all hopes of even finishing the stage. He was hoping for the exact opposite this year. His season leading up to the event has been his best EWS so far, despite a rough start and a DNF at the last round due to a mechanical, he was starting this event just outside of the top 30 pro men in 36th place.
Thursday and Friday were practice days and Alex decided that knocking off the 20+ minute Top of the World stage was a good place to start. Unlike last years raw TOTW stage, this year used a ton of bike park trails which meant for more holes and braking bumps but a little more flow. Saturday he hit up the remaining stages one through four, some which were located outside of the bike park. These were shorter more technical stages but according to Alex “It was clear that the final stage was still gonna have a huge impact in the overall result for race day.”
Race day for Alex was real mixed bag “After the climb up to stage one I just felt so fatigued, I had absolutely zero energy going up.” Turns out though, even with a crash on the stage, he did have something in the tank, finishing the opening stage in 26th place. Stage two started after the same steep fire road climb as stage one and his result on that was not quite as good, crossing the line a few places back in 34th due to a small crash.
Stage three was a favorite for most of the field during practice, Alex included. His race run reflected this with another top 30 stage finish, this time in 26th place. He was now sitting in 28th after the first three stages. With no energy left, the flattish and pedal heavy stage four really took its toll and it was here that he slipped out of the 30’s and finished in 40th. With just the monster stage five remaining he set off towards the very top of Whistler. The jugling act of finishing with your bike in one piece, and not making silly mistakes meant the Alex would ride the final stage conservatively. “I just went to slow on that one, tried to conserve my energy which had me settle for 43rd on that stage and 37th overall. It was not the best race for me but seeing that I didn’t even finish last year it was still OK”
Scott Countryman, much like Alex, has been having a great season, mixed in with a couple of results marred by mechanicals. Fresh off a solid 6th place at the Aspen Big Mountain Enduro just over a week ago, Scott, a Whistler virgin, made the trek up from his base in Arizona and got straight into it spending his first day in paradise sampling some of Whistler Valleys subline single track.
Day one of practice was a bit of a wake-up call, he’s not a fan of bike parks and after his amazing first day outside of the park, the lower half of stage one was a rude awakening. “The trails in the park were extremely rough and blown out. When it came time to practice the Top Of The World stage I was feeling a little better about things but was quickly put down in the dirt. Going pretty fast, I came over a blind rise and found myself on the bad line in a rocky left turn. No big deal, just a few scrapes and sore spots, but I couldn’t get back on my game after that.”
Day two of practice had him feeling much better about things. With the two first stages being outside the bike park and being more of the raw natural terrain Scott prefers. “They are still extremely rough but I found a little bit of flow on them.”
On race day Scott’s first stage was going great until a few turns from the finish, he found a wet boggy section and ended up on the ground. Unsure how the crash even happened he was shaken. The second stage was probably the hardest of the weekend for Scott and the one he the struggled most on. There were bomb holes and ruts covering the entire course; many of which were not there in practice. “It took everything I had to stay on my bike and I succumbed to the trail eventually, blowing off the trail in a rough rooty turn ending up tangled in my bike.”
“Things started to smooth out on the third and fourth stages and found a little bit of flow but still couldn’t get up to pace. The last stage was the mother of all stages; 11km and 1500m of descending. I needed to pace myself to make it down smooth and clean but I went a bit too far and finished with more energy than I should have. My bike rode perfectly all day but I couldn’t match its performance.”
Scott would finish the day in 69th position.
18-year-old Lucy Shieck is a Grassroots Kona racer based on BC’s Sunshine Coast, she has been having an awesome season locally with a bunch of podium finishes. Coming into this, her first ever EWS event, her goal was to have as much fun as possible, and it looks like she certainly did that! “I felt fast on the bike and by the time I made it to the bottom of stage five all I wanted to do was go up and race it again I had so much fun. I was super stoked to take second at my first ever EWS and to share it with two other Canadians made it even better. Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me this season, it has been incredible!”