The Whistler EWS

I really liked hearing about the Winter Park race last week, because it seemed like everyone legitimately hated the tracks there. All of the coverage was saturated with complaints about the cross country courses that passed off as EWS race stages, and even this week talking to racers I haven’t heard one positive thing about Winter Park. Everyone hated it, and for me, that’s great to hear. I hate riding my bike about 90% of the time, due to a mix of hating the trails I’m riding, hating my bike for whatever reason, and most often due to hating myself, so hearing people get down on the Winter Park tracks was right in my wheelhouse. It’s the way the world is supposed to work. Everyone being pissed off and complaining feels a lot like downhill racing, which is the spiritual center of my bike world.

This weekend we’re up here in Whistler, and apparently everyone got together and had a meeting that I wasn’t invited to, where everyone agreed that no one was allowed to complain about the amount of climbing in the course, and everyone was required to use the words “steep,” “technical,” and “gnarly” to describe the stages. Fair enough, each of the stages had some steep, gnarly, and technical bits in them. But what no one in the entire world was allowed to mention was the fact that each of the courses had mega flat zero MPH rooty 90-degree-corner-laden old school techincal XC tracks in the middle of them… really long mega flat zero MPH rooty 90-degree-corner-laden old school techincal XC tracks.

Of the fifty some-odd minutes of racing, a solid 10 minutes of it was spent doing a mix of:

  • Pedaling flat or uphill gravel
  • Going half a mile per hour muscling the bike over flat or uphill roots and rocks laden with 90 degree corners
  • Climbing uphill out of a creek crossing
  • Pedaling through a completely straight, completely flat pile of rocks.
And nobody is talking about this. In all of the coverage you will see exactly zero photos, videos, or mention of all the flat or uphill pedalling on the stages, but if you were to watch a GoPro run of these stages you would fall asleep at your screen trying to watch the mind numbing pedaling sections in each of them. All weekend I was wondering if the horrible flat crummy zero MPH pedaling sections are par for the course at these EWS things, or if everyone just agreed not to talk about it.

It was like the enduro media gods got together after Winter Park and decided that the storyline going forward was “Winter Park sucked and didn’t qualify as ‘real’ enduro racing, but Whistler is different and represents what ‘real’ Enduro is supposed to be.” Any storyline that didn’t agree with that assessment was unholy and must be killed with fire. And by “enduro media gods” I pretty much mean Matt Wragg. And with that all objectivity went out the window. The marching orders were “no matter what happens in Whistler, tell everyone it’s awesome.”
If you complained about the 7000-8000 feet of transfer climbing, it’s because you were a pussy. If you complained about the race trails, it’s because you were a pussy. If you complained about being tired, it’s because you were a pussy. If you complained about anything, it’s because you’re a pussy.
Just to get the facts straight, I am a gigantic pussy, no denying that. Anyone who knows me can verify that. But the reason I’m complaining about the Whistler EWS isn’t because I’m a pussy. It’s because it sucked.
After three days of practice, this was my breakdown of the five stages of the Whistler EWS:
Have you ever gone through a season of drought, when you didn’t see a single legitimately hot chick for months? Crazy things happen inside your brain during a drought like that. You start going through the five stages of grief: shock, denial, bargaining, anger, and acceptance. Your brain starts playing tricks on you and you start questioning everything in the past. Were all those hot chicks just a figment of my imagination? Did I make them up? Or were they maybe not as hot as I remembered? Maybe I’m just being nostalgic. Maybe I have different tastes now? Then you start rationalizing and justifying the fives and sixes around you, and you start thinking they’re maybe eights or nines. Sure, they’re not tens, let’s be reasonable. But maybe they’re nines. They could be a nine, right?

Then, after months of pain, anguish, and confusion, you finally see a legitimately hot chick and everything snaps back into place. No brain, those fives weren’t nines. They were fives.

Saturday morning I watched the Windham World Cup live stream, and everything snapped back into place. The world was as it should be again. The mental fog passed, and it was all clear to me. Trails don’t have to suck. They don’t have to be slow and awkward. Trail builders don’t have to kill speed constantly. Bikes were meant to roll, not crawl.

I’ve created this graph to help illustrate why the Whistler Enduro course was less than I’d hoped:

I just don’t understand what this race was about. All weekend long when people asked me what I thought of the race, I told them I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why the course builders wanted it to be such a long day. I didn’t understand why each stage needed to be so pedally and flat and slow, even after us racers finished climbing so many hills. I didn’t understand what they were trying to accomplish with the course routing and all the climbing. And nothing was as hard or as gnarly as you diehard Whistler locals and various MTB media types made it sound.

The courses were super abusive, so I needed a big heavy bike with big heavy tires. But I also needed to climb 8000 feet on that same bike, and basically race a cross country race down the five race stages as well. I needed to wear a full face helmet according to the rules, but I also needed to wear a helmet in the 90 degree heat according to BC law. I needed to eat about 3000 calories and drink 12 bottles of water over the eight hours of “racing” and crawling up gravel roads, but according to the rules I needed to carry all of my own food, water, and tools on my person. If I stashed food, stopped by my car, or visited a store I would be disqualified.

Those conflicting interests put me on a 35 pound bike with front and rear downhill tires, carrying two helmets and a hot, sweaty bag on my back that weighed about 10 or so pounds. For eight hours. Oh, and by the way I’m supposed to race what amounts to a really technical XC course like that. But I’m supposed to think that it was awesome and super fun, because I don’t want anyone to think I’m a pussy.

One of the oddest moments was during the Friday riders meeting, when one of the Crankworx event promoters recoiled at the thought of someone hiking up to the top of a stage. In his words the transfer times were chosen “so that we didn’t see top guys hiking to the top again,” as if our life-risking and lung bursting efforts on the way down the hill weren’t enough to soothe this guy’s insecurities about the enduro discipline, we had to prove how hard we were on the way up, too, on chunky 20% pitch gravel roads. Because if someone takes a moment to collect themselves before racing blind for 15 minutes down death chutes and blown out corners, that’s not ‘real enough.’

If we’d taken a lift to the top of every stage, yesterday still would have been one of the hardest races I’ve ever done.

Why did we have to suffer so much yesterday? Plain and simple, we were there to appease the enduro gods. Everyone secretly knows that enduro kind of sucks, that it’s the shorter, more boring, less attractive younger sister of downhill racing, but no one is allowed to say that, because that might hurt her feelings. The more people try to talk around the obvious and defend enduro racing and the EWS, the more they confirm our suspicions. We call this behavior “Short Man Syndrome,” or “Ugly-Sister-Turned-Feminist Complex.” I like to call it “All of My Fellow Students at Lewis and Clark College Disorder.” I’m not even saying enduro racing is bad, or lame, or easy. That would ridiculous and unsubstantiated. I’m just saying that it’s obviously not as cool as downhill.

Our suffering yesterday was some form of penance to the enduro gods to prove that enduro racing is different, and thus better, than downhill racing. Sure it’s not as fast, thrilling, technical, exciting, or media friendly, but at least it can be physically harder. So the enduro gods decided that we must suffer to validate their new sport.

And suffer we did.

41 thoughts on “The Whistler EWS

  1. yep, 100% right on that one!
    Love riding some enduro then and now… well honestly I spend most of my time on my enduro bike, due to a lack of lift accessed trails in my area, but every time I get on my DH bike, it just blows my mind! It's just so much more intense!

  2. Remember 3 years ago when you won the last round of the NW Cup and got Mountain Dew sprayed all over you and it was an awesome weekend?

    Fuck enduro.

  3. They make interesting statements at the riders meeting in Whistler…. I liked the one last year about ratting people out if they were seeing shutting to the bottom of the 700m climb….

  4. Can we just call enduro supermoto? Seriously. Supermoto was a fad that combined two forms of racing so aging pros could seem sort of relative. Companies dumped a whole bunch of money into it to ride the marketing wave that crashed on the rocks of harsh reality. No one wants to watch the bastard child of xc and dh. It's the hand job of racing. It lasts longer than it should, doesn't feel right the whole time, and you're really only doing it because peer pressure makes you feel like you should be doing it. You're paying good money riding a compromise of a bike on a compromise of course to win a trophy in something no one cares about. How about you save your entry fee and pay gas for shuttles.

  5. I have always loved your bullshit ramblings, but this time I think you may have suffered heat stroke and not remembered what actually happened on sunday. I can recall my tires hitting gravel twice: once on the sprint in stage 2, and once at 100kmph in the garbonzo zone. If you want shorter, easier climbs, organize a Lost Lake enduro. If you don't want to pedal your bike, try the run bike category at Kidsworx. If you want steeper, sustained DH stages, stick to WC downhills… oh wait, I think that left hander out of the woods in Windham might require some 10kmph peddling across some grass… probably doesn't qualify as Fun in your rubric. If sunday wasn't “fast, thrilling, technical, exciting, or media friendly” for you, I think you may have ridden the wrong course, pussy.

  6. Enduro is already far bigger than DH, has more racers, more sponsors, more bike brands making enduro bikes and way more money behind it,… while DH is a dying sport … face the facts. And you are a pussy, if you don't like to peddle or race for more than 5 minutes don't enter an enduro duh! oh wait, how long was Windham? less than 3 minutes?

  7. Interesting Rant. Some courses are good and some are bad. Goes with all disciplines. Someone once asked me why i would pay to race on a tracks I can ride for free? Haven't done it since.
    Totally agree with your comment on the media muzzle – No original thoughts or criticism of anything. I know – I am one of them. I don't follow, I don't get banners and don't get a million groms discussing what pedals the riders are wearing in a picture either. Guess not enough people want the real news or real product reviews….got to sell ads/lift tickets right?

  8. “Enduro is already far bigger than DH, has more racers, more sponsors, more bike brands making enduro bikes and way more money behind it,…”

    Before it was robotically destroyed.

  9. You're just bummed cause you never found any of the secret shortcuts on stage 5. It pays to be a local, eh?

  10. can people just stop bitching. it appears status-quo to bitch unless you are on the top step of the podium. because if someone beats me it is obviously because the course suits some “gay” facet of riding that i suck at. it seems that ever since super D's and enduro started becoming more popular every racer has bitched exponentially more each year. sounds like folks need to stop racing and just go fucking ride for fun

  11. a downhill junkie that didn't train enough is complaining about an enduro race being hard? anything new? try racing more xc next year, can't wait to read about how shitty their courses are!

  12. the next big thing in mountain biking is…. mountain biking! see you at breck epic next year. we can quit early and go ride keystone tracks that are fun but so totally not DH for some reason i can't figure out.

  13. Unlike many of the Enduro haters, I think EWS is a welcomed addition to WC DH and XC. EWS rounds sure have been varied this year, both in terms of terrain and conditions/climate. I think that is a good thing. But I also think it's bullshit when an environment exists that pro riders can't express negative opinions about a race and be branded a “pussy”.

  14. ^^^

    “In the end, it will be a day I will never forget. It was mentally the hardest of my life, and one of the most physically tiring. In closing, I want to mention something that a lot of people have started talking about, and it certainly came up this week. I want to talk about this because it’s been building amongst riders all season, and I agree with a lot of concerns people have. And what’s the good of having a blog if you can’t share some honest opinions. This year there seems to be a fair number of race organizers pushing how far is too far within the sport. It seems like one race keeps trying to out-do the last, as far as making it difficult for the riders to race. Races like this one won’t do a whole lot to get people into the sport. Stages 1-4, while fun to ride, were a whole different ball game to race. Where was the flow…there was no real variety in any of Stages 1-4. We need to be tested and pushed, but these stages weren’t enjoyable to race. And that’s been happening more and more this year. The 2013 race in Whistler was tough, and it was almost doubled this year. Seems this course was picked without a thought of potential rain getting involved. If it had been muddy, a lot of sections of most stages would have been extremely dangerous, even borderline unrideable. I read Charlie Sponsel’s Team Robot blog, and I have to say I agree with a lot of what he says…not all of it, but a lot of it. Seems to be a lot of people drinking the Kool-Aid, worried they will be called (in Charlie’s words) “pussies” for saying they don’t like something about it and having a fear of being labeled as such. People have said to me that they don’t like the direction some races have taken, but then say the exact opposite to the organizers. Seems to me, the best direction for the sport to go is finding that happy middle ground between being pushed to our limit and keeping it fun. I don’t think you’re a “pussy” Charlie, in fact I commend you for saying it how you saw it. People don’t always share the same opinions, but if you have a concern that you feel strongly enough about, you should find an appropriate way to voice it.”

  15. Good work Charles, I like how even Jared Graves, while not agreeing with you on all points, was the only other voice that publicly said, this is stupid. Why must they suffer so much? What's wrong with a lil rest between stages of an 8 hour, 1 day, balls to the wall race? Nah, you gotta “earn your turns” pedaling up a hill with a helmet on in 90F. And carry a gallon of water and food. No thanks, if I'm gonna enduro, it's gonna be on a moto, at least then there is some fun to be had along with the suffering

  16. 8k up 10k down is a lot but there are a ton of folks that had an amazing weekend. if you don't like it why bother racing? hang it up and ride DH, then you won't have to waste your time making long blog posts. no one is forcing you or anybody else to race. makes no sense to me why people bitch and whine about enduro, yet the same people continue to show up to races every weekend. if you don't like climbing, or media hype, or fanny packs, just don't do it and do whatever makes you happy instead. i swear some of y'all thrive on being unhappy….what a way to live

  17. If you never rode 60 km in your life, then yes, a 60-km-long world class bicycle race will not be fun for you. Exploring past your own limits is rarely fun (until long after when you think about it – even now I bet you are suppressing hard all the great memories you have from Sunday).

    I frequently ride large rides on my mountain bike, thousands of meters climbed over 50-75-80-even 100 km rides. The 60 km and 2240 meters of this race were nowhere near my personal limits, therefore I enjoyed the entire event and found that my results truly and accurately represent my skills on a mountain bike.

    I'm sorry you didn't enjoy yourself. But it's not Whistler's, Crankworx's, Seb Kemp's, or God's fault. It's your own fault for racing something that exceeds your skills and then EXPECTING that it would be FUN! The organizers didn't promise you fun. They promised you an Enduro race.

    And sorry, flow has nothing to do with the trails. Flow is something a rider has. A good trials rider can flow a heap of boulders and dump truck tires. So your comment about the course not having flow is moot.

  18. Walked past you at the lift on Wednesday. Nice V10 rental. Gotta be a step up from the usual ride huh?

  19. @August 15, 2014 at 2:30 AM anonymous guy

    You can't make statements like that and not say who you are.

    There is a different branch of sport where you drag your body through the longest most ridiculous day possible and call it fun i.e. Ironman, running 100+ miles(160K)…, Enduro is not supposed to be one of these events.

  20. And even those events (ironman, Leadville 100, paris-roubaix) concede that participants are allowed either neutral support or transition areas where one might stage some tools, food or a bottle of fucking water.

  21. Sorry @Joseph I didn't think my comment needed substantiation. Didn't want to make my feedback sound like “I'm so rad this was a walk in the park for me so you clearly just suck pussy” comment towards Mr. Sponsel. He's fully entitled to not have enjoyed his time I just don't want whistler enduro to go down in history as having “sucked because it was hard”. It was awesome because it was hard IMO.

    I'm Matt Juhasz btw if that matters. Cheers!

  22. Maybe that Matt guy found the flow because he went 10 minutes slower than you Charlie? Everything's smoother at pedestrian pace.

  23. Main Entry: en·duro
    Pronunciation: \in-ˈdu̇r-(ˌ)ō, -ˈdyu̇r-\
    Function: noun
    Inflected Form(s): plural en·dur·os
    Etymology: endurance + -o (Italian or Spanish masculine noun ending)
    Date: 1935
    : a long race (as for automobiles or motorcycles) stressing endurance rather than speed

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