Three members of the Kona Global Enduro Team made the trip to South America for the first stop on the 2018 Enduro World Series calendar in Lo Barnechea, Chile this weekend. Squamish, BC pinner Rhys Verner (making his debut elite EWS appearance), ex Swedish World Cup DH rider Alexander Kangas and Flagstaff native Scott Countryman all arrived last week, just in time to acclimatize and get in a solid few days practice on the raw and dusty trails.
After the two days of practice, the three riders were nervous but excited about the two days of racing and the first real race of the season. “The tracks are super rowdy, and really long. I’m getting excited for some wild racing,” said Countryman. Hailing from Arizona, Countryman’s familiarity with the dry and loose conditions was a bit of a bonus. That said nothing truly prepares you for Chile’s famous anti-grip.
Rhys had this to say after the two days of practice: “Practice was great. I had to ease into things as the dirt and terrain is quite different than what I’m used to. The mountains here are monstrous so it’s only fitting to have monstrous stages as well. Stage two is the longest stage we have ever raced, with an insane elevation drop of 1800m (almost 6000ft). I’m getting more and more comfortable with the type of tracks here and I’m really enjoying how loose everything is. Consistency will be the name of the game, I’m ready for the challenge.”
The nervousness and massive trails took their toll on race day though, with all three riders finding it hard to find their “race feet” on the incredibly physical and taxing stages. Rhys’ 51st on the first stage was a positive sign though and he was quick to move up a few places in the massive second stage where he finished in 43rd. Unfortunately, two meters from the finish line Rhys took an awkward fall and landed on his wrist, breaking his scaphoid. He didn’t realize at the time and continued to ride the 1000m liaison to the start of stage three. It was there, in the start gate, that he realized holding on to his bike was not going to happen. It’s a disappointing early exit from the series for Rhys. He’ll miss round two, but he’s heading home to Canada to get surgery and hopes to be back on his bike for the remaining EWS races.
After Scott and Alexander’s first stages, both riders knew they were capable of more and stepped up around 20 places each on stage tw0. Alexander moved from 74th to 57th, while Scott moved up from 86th to 66th. Both riders had a stellar run on the final stage of day one with Alexander finishing stage three in 53rd while Scott crossed the line in 51st place. “Day one was ok for what it was,” Kangas said. “I struggled on stage one and two, but assumed everyone did. Hopefully, I can climb a few places from 51st on day two.” Scott’s sentiment after the first day echoed Alexander’s. “Day one of racing was a rude awakening to how much training I still need to do! I was stoked to be able to slide into the top 60, though, and I’m looking forward to one more day of racing to redeem myself.”
Stage four on day two wasn’t to be for Alexander, though. He suffered a flat tire two minutes into the 10 minute+ stage. He rolled the dice and rode the rim to the finish line of stage four, crossing the line in 103rd, not the ideal start to day two. Hungry to make up as much time as possible he laid down a burner on stage five and finished in 37th. The final stage of the day saw him finish in 55th, which put him in 49th overall after the six epic stages.
Scott’s final stages were not ones that he’s particularly stoked on, finishing the three stages in 64th, 69th and 72nd respectively. “It was a rough weekend but I’m stoked to make it through with only a few minor crashes and no mechanicals. It’s only March and those stages we’re the hardest tracks I’ve ever ridden so I can’t be too hard on myself. My hands have never hurt so bad. At least everything will seem easier the rest of the year!”