It’s been a few weeks since the EWS opener and the gong show that was Zermatt and the Kona Gravity Team have spent the last week holed up in an apartment in Finale Ligure. Eating cold meats and trying to ride as many trails in the local Finale network has been on the cards. This past weekend, the team traveled to the nearby town of Pietra Ligure for the second round of the 2020 EWS season, and as you can probably guess the inclement weather followed.
Rhys Verner has had some amazing results on the Italian coast, in fact, he won in Finale as an EWS junior a few years back with a time that would have had him 14th in the elites. The Pietra Ligure race was solid day out on the bike, 2000m of climbing and 54km or riding, but the trails here suit him as did the massive day on the bike.

“The day certainly was pretty massive, but I wouldn’t say it was too much. I prefer enduro’s where we have to do some serious climbing, and I find when it’s all chairlift or shuttle access it feels a bit too similar to DH. The main problem here was the heat we had for the practice day was a bit over the top, and especially with COVID regulations, we don’t have any feed zones. Fortunately for us, on race day we had some overcast and cooler weather, and even some rain. So that helped a lot with making the day a bit easier.

Although a 2000m day of climbing is big for anyone, it’s not something I’m super unfamiliar with, and I found I still had pretty good legs even at the end of the day. With racing being put on hold in the spring I did a lot of massive rides and just felt like I could get through the day without any issues.”

After two opening top twenty stage results, Rhys was sitting with striking distance of a top ten finish as he dropped into the longest stage of the day, the Queen’s stage. With a bonus 50 points up for grabs and the rain beginning to fall Rhys attacked the long stage and had a mistake-free run. His XC legs and DH skills would carry him to his first-ever elite EWS stage win.

“Stage one and two were still pretty solid stages for me, but they were pretty short. I really like the longer stages and stage three was my favorite stage in practice as well. I didn’t really do anything spectacular on stage three, but we got caught in a ton of rain right before dropping in so it made things pretty sketchy. I just didn’t really make any mistakes and carried good speed everywhere. I knew I had had a good stage but I didn’t really expect to win it. I think the rain might have continued to deteriorate the track, and maybe the top guys had it a little worse than I did. It’s not like I had the stage in mint condition either though, so I’m not discrediting the result too much.”

“After stage three we got to go to the pits and our Team Manager informed me how I had done on stage three and how I was doing overall. I was in fifth going into the final two stages. That was by far the best I had ever been doing in a race, so what was on my mind was more so to try and not throw anything away. I rode stage four super conservative because it was pretty sketchy, but ended up losing a bunch of time. I was kind of okay with it though, because if I had crashed I may have thrown away any chance at a good result, and 11th is still good for me. I would have loved to maintain a top 10 result, but I was less than a second off that, and I’m still happy with how I rode on the day. I honestly don’t really like racing or riding in conditions like that so I’m pumped.”

Miranda Miller’s day wasn’t quite as memorable as Rhys’ though. After the night’s rain, the Pietra dirt turned out to be better than it was in the dry, but the rocks were a different story. Unlike Squamish where the water often increases traction on the rocks, in Italy it made them terrifyingly slippery. the loss of traction caught many people out including Miranda who suffered a couple of crashes and a flat tire due to their unpredictability.

“It was a battle for me from the start to finish! Unfortunately, a couple of crashes and a flat tire ended my day but not before I finished the 2000m of climbing. I was really stoked on all the tracks, although not overly technical there was good terrain and speed on most of them. The insane rainstorm added some drama to the day but I sort of liked how crazy it was. Super exciting to see Rhys win the Queen Stage and have a killer day overall! Local Kona Spanish rider Carlos Laangelan had a couple of awesome results on Stage one and three he’s moving on up in the right direction.”

With COVID restrictions in place and many riders not traveling to races, it was great to see Spanish Kona Ambassador Carlos Langelaan show up on the startline in Pietra. Carlos isn’t a household name, but he’s on his way, the multi-talented rider is just as at home riding Spain’s famous La Poma dirt jumps as he is landing on an Enduro or qualifying for a World Cup Downhill. Although the weekend didn’t go entirely his way, he did rack up a 26th and a 32nd stage finish against many top-level pros. We are excited to see what he brings to this weekend in Finale.

“My race did not go to plan really, I was a little too excited and I guess that was the reason for my mistakes. The first stage was decent but in the second one I had a stupid crash where my bike flew into the bushes and my shoe came off, I lost almost a minute there. The race was over for me at that point but I still wanted to see where my level was in the pro field. I Rode stage three well and then it started to rain harder and I crashed hard on the fourth stage hurting my knee, I decided to take it really easy on the last stage to make sure I could race next weekend in Finale”