Riding the Enduro World Series Challenger in Ainsa, Zona Zero on a hardtail

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I never raced a lot on my mountain bike. I am not sure if it is because I am not competitive or because I am too competitive and I cannot stand loosing. But in 2018 the Enduro World Series came to town and I didn’t want to miss out on that opportunity. So I signed up for the EWS Challenger.

Since a couple of months the bikers in town were whispering about which trails would be used during the EWS. There were signs of mid summer trail cleaning so the guesses were pretty accurate when they released the EWS stages on the Monday before the race weekend.

I am a goal oriented person and this was a great one to pursue. I knew in order to complete and enjoy just one day of EWS racing I had to train for this. Not to win, just to enjoy. After a couple of months of more intense riding aka training the Enduro World Series circus arrived in town mid September. I was ready to race.

I didn’t ride the EWS Challenger alone, I rode with buddy Mark. It was great to ride with Mark Robinson from Skye MTB, a Scottish guy who I met during summer. He visits Ainsa four times a year with his girlfriend. Besides meeting Mark this summer I really discovered that Enduro racing is about companionship and meeting new people during race day and the party afterwards.

The Hardtail.

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Me and my hardtail (I broke the rear shock of my full suspension enduro bike) woke up on Friday morning, the day of the Challenger. I was the only guy on a hardtail and people asked me if I was crazy. I politely said yes haha! Over the last months I had ridden plenty of stages of the ‘old’ 2015 Enduro World Series on my Commencal AM HT, which convinced me I could do it. I just underestimated the difference between a casual ride and an enduro race.

The Race

 The EWS Challenger course map

The EWS Challenger course map

Stage 1 Cerro de la Coasta

The start was in the old town of Boltaña. After getting our sticker with the starting times on the toptube, we were sent of with all the 80 riders at once. Climbing La Coasta mountain opposite Boltaña. I had done that climb before and it is definitely not my favourite one. It is not very steep, but it is full of stones the size of your fist. Which makes climbing this pista (fire road) hard. Normally I stop a couple of times on this climb. Not today, it was race day and I trained to make it up in one go. After an hour of climbing I made it to the start of the first stage on top of Cerro de la Coasta. I felt I really pushed myself but I had plenty of time to rest before the 1st stage started.

The first stage was ‘just’ 2,6 km with a 450 meter drop. I can tell you now by experience, doing that on a hardtail is extremely hard. All the suspension has to come from your legs and this trail has a lot of rocks and rock slaps without much flow. Since it is a race you don’t stop. It was as if you are doing a 10 minute intense squat,while doing push ups at the same time. But I loved it. My wife Marce and friends were supporting me on the track which gave me just that little more energy to keep on pushing. At the bottom of the stage there were some refreshments. After Mark and I took of towards stage 2.

Stage 2 Coda Sartén

When you love to climbing stairs with your bike, then you love the climb towards the second stage. It is a very technical climb which I normally use as a descent. It is not very long, but in 30 degrees it was pretty intense. After roughly 30 minutes we arrived at the top of the second stage, the famous Coda Sartén. The stage ends with a very steep and exposed shoot down a badland and the approach is narrow and technical. I was my nemesis until training day on Thursday, when after 2 years I finally did the Coda Sartén shoot. It is probably the most famous trail section of the Zona Zero area. This stage was more physical involving lot’s pedalling, which was way more practical on the hardtail. I really enjoyed this stage, I could carry speed and flow and I really felt the Commencal AM HT was at home on this stage. At the bottom of the Coda Sarten Marce and my friends were cheering “Vamos Jeru!!!!” Which was amazing!

Stage 3 Urbano

It was a 15 minute ride back to the old town of Ainsa, where the final urban stage was waiting for us. Mark and I picked up two British guys Ben & Giles along the way and it was great fun riding with the four of us. We had to wait a while before lined up to start the Urbano from the wall of the castle. This final stage was great fun. Down from the castle wall through on of the gates. Crossing the plaza Mayor zigzagging through the little streets of the old town and riding through a house. To end the stage with all the stairs that wind down from the old town to the main streets in ‘modern’ Ainsa.

Done. I was exhausted, my body was sore, but I had one big smile on my face and I wanted more. I still want more. We celebrated a great day of racing with some local Tronzadora beers and pieces of the 1 km long sausage (longaniza de Graus) they made in the castle.

This definitely taste like more racing. I loved doing it on my hardtail and I was happy it stayed in one piece, but if I want to do more racing I really want to take a shot at it with a proper enduro bike. And yes I am pretty competitive, but I am fine with knowing I am not the fastest rider, I sure have the most of fun.

Author: Jeroen Spoelstra
Picture: Jeroen Spoelstra & Marcela Xirinachs
Video: Tony Slaughter (smartphone shots) & Jeroen Spoelstra (editing)

Enjoy the full recap of the Enduro World Series below


Did you like what you just read? Fancy a visit to Ainsa, Zona Zero? We are happy to guide you around in this magnificent place.