XCO MEETS ENDURO
Martina Berta, Luca Braidot and Max Marotte from the Santa Cruz FSA Team are used to competing at the elite level in cross-country (XC), but this year they were given the opportunity to try something a little bit out of their comfort zone. Competing in the Bluegrass Trophy of Nations in Finale Ligure under the banner of a special MET Helmets team, these three athletes threw themselves wholeheartedly into the challenge.
We caught up with the trio to find out what they thought of the switch-up.
When you are racing XC, you usually know the courses well.. how did you have to adapt your racing style to take on an unknown course like in enduro?
Martina: You try not to ride over your limit, while still keeping an eye on the track ahead. When you can, just go for it and try to survive! It worked out, so I suppose it was a good technique.
Max: We went on a training ride yesterday to look at the course and to try and remember key parts. But after the race today, we can safely say that we forgot almost everything. You think, “this corner I need to look at and this corner too,” but then you enter the stage and forget all the tricky parts. We went off the track once or twice because we couldn’t remember where to go!
I think this is where the enduro guys do really well. They remember the corners, where to pass, where to go. In the excitement of the race, I found I couldn’t remember anything. Maybe there wasn’t enough oxygen in my brain, who knows!
Luca: It’s really different from XC. There you use downhill to save a bit of energy. Here it’s the opposite, you push all-in in the downhill and we discovered that it takes a lot of effort.
Normally in XC do you have one line and try to keep to it, or do you change it up during the race? How does that compare with enduro?
Max: No in XC you have your line, and you keep it. You have a plan ‘B,’ but you stick to your line as much as possible. It’s different here because sometimes you have to deal with obstacles as you come across them. I think Luca has a quite a lot of talent to ride a bit blind. I saw in training yesterday that if he doesn’t know what’s coming up, he’s really good at reading the ground, how it could be and how and where to brake. He was so good at it. I found it was a nice experience too, to not be riding on a track we know for years.
The levels of intensity between the two disciplines are quite different, in XC it’s a constant effort for the whole race but over a shorter period, and in enduro it’s a long effort. Did you find yourself going flat out the whole time?
Luca: We were flat out all the time.
Marti: In the Downhill I reached 195 bpm, so I was pretty much on fire!
Max: On the uphill’s you can take them at your own pace and it doesn’t hurt so much. But when you are on the 15 minutes stages, the amount of energy you need to leave on track is immense. In terms of heart rate, breathing and everything, it was really high. Physically wise, it’s really demanding. If you are trained and have skills with smashing the pedals, like we have as XC riders, it’s definitively an advantage.
What have you found different between XC and enduro in terms of equipment?
Max: Climbing with an enduro bike is something different. Pretty much everything is different. With a full-face helmet, you feel less airflow and with the goggles in place you also feel less speed. Because you are more protected, you feel more calm. The bike is completely different. We got the bikes pretty late, actually I got the bike yesterday and it was not even in my size.
The tyres are stiffer, the feeling is different. You have to charge really hard to feel something. You know, if you don’t go really hard you don’t feel what’s happening under the front wheel. In XC, the casting of the tyre is really thin so you can feel everything.
Also, these bikes brake so hard because of those tyres and discs. You pull the lever and you just stop. You need time to adjust, learn the limit. I was learning the limit behind Luca, sometimes I thought that it would go wrong but it was ok. Luca is good at pushing the limit and disconnecting the brain.
Martina: Yeah, we all know that.
Physically, which part of the body hurts the most now after the race?
All: The arms!
Max: And the feet! I think the enduro guys set up the cleats in the middle to be more stable. But for us in term of biomechanics, we have to set up the cleats in the front in order to pedal efficiently. But when you go downhill it’s harder to stabilise yourselves. Only Martina rode enduro shoes, I couldn’t find mine. Same for Luca.
Do you think this experience in enduro will help you in XC?
All: Yes, sure!
Martina: It’s really useful because you get used to the speed. As Max said, yesterday in training, I was braking like if I had a XC bike. But in the race, you push more and more. It’s a good experience for sure and we will use it in XC.
Do you think you will have an enduro bike and ride more in enduro next season?
Martina: Yes, my program is to ride a bit more in enduro. But to also work on my XC skills this winter.
Anything to add about the experience? What did you enjoy or hate the most?
Martina: I really hated Luca when he was sprinting at the bottom of stage 2. But he paid for the focaccia for lunch, so it’s ok now.
Max: I enjoyed it as it’s a new experience and a new way to test yourself. Each stage we learned more and more. I think the first one is where we lost the most time. Then we got closer and closer to the lead. It’s all a learning process.
Claudio our mechanic had a lot of work to do and did a really good job on the bikes.
We did this race in a good condition with good materials and were well protected and that’s really important. With the knee pads, back protectors and enduro helmets, you have protection if you crash. We are not used to that, because in XC we have nothing. On the rocky trails like this if you go down, you suffer, and it can take weeks to get back. With this protection it helps you to feel confident to just release the brakes and to go.
The MET Helmets team adapted well to the new challenge, with Max, Luca and Martina securing fourth overall in the Industry Trophy, and an impressive first in the mixed team category.