Focusing on Experience at EWS #7 in Ainsa, Spain

Sometimes I write my race recaps relatively close after the race in question. Other times, like this one, I don’t and I’m better for it. The EWS in Ainsa Spain ended up being my last race of the season, although I didn’t know it at the time, so now looking back I’m able to add some perspective. (Or, in other words, I’m extremely good at justifying my procrastination.)

We stayed in a castle. So that was cool.

We stayed in a castle. So that was cool.

Spain Zona Zero Edit (1 of 11)

My fourth EWS was a whirlwind of emotions, a sort of cataclysmic roller coaster of highs and lows, that, I’m happy to report, ended on a high. (Which, I suppose, is where the roller coaster metaphor fails us, as it usually preferable for roller coasters to end at ground level). This was my first race in Europe and it lived up the hype. And goodness knows there was plenty of hype. EWS races are really unlike any enduro in the US in terms of their ability to make a person overwhelmed. Case in point, after pre riding all the courses in Ainsa, I was feeling decidedly not-overwhelmed (aka the opposite of my reaction to pre-riding in Whistler and Rotorua), which meant it felt a lot like fate and cosmic injustice when we received an email with the following curveball — the event would start on Friday with an urban DH prologue, no pre-riding allowed.


“Don’t worry,” Macky said, “it says here it doesn’t count towards the overall time.”

I immediately began to worry. “Urban downhill” is a term I associate with this or, in other words, only a good idea if your end goal is to break your neck. I didn’t care if this prologue stage counted towards the overall or not. In fact, if I was going to risk breaking my neck, I would rather prefer it did count for something. When I finally did see the course, I was somewhat less alarmed as no massive gap jumps were required, but I still mounted some complaints — if I wanted to ride my bike on pavement and risk the inherent possibility of skin removal therein, I would ride a road bike. Also, there were a lot spectators and people might laugh at me. And I didn’t like the look of the miniature gap jump over a 1 ft tall chain, because what if the dirt was too soft and you just plowed into the chain? I mean, seriously, what if? Why had no one considered this possibility? What kind of idiot built this course?

Spain Zona Zero Edit (8 of 11)

You can probably see where this is going, but I made it down the urban DH just fine, and then felt a little bit embarrassed about the situation because I had turned something that was supposed to be fun into a reason to have a meltdown. Good going, well done, five stars for being a complete, as our British friends say, cockwomble (spelling unknown). However, surviving the prologue made the next two days seem less intimidating.

I wouldn’t exactly say I raced well this weekend. I clocked myself disgustingly hard on Stage 3, even though I thought I was playing it safe. I got caught by the girl who started a minute behind me on nearly every stage (I felt a little bit better about this when I found out she ended up 4th). I made a fair amount of stupid line choices, and felt like I was blowing up on nearly every little climb. And my lingering knee injury, that would eventually result in me pulling out of the race in Finale, was an unwelcome distraction.

So it wasn’t good perse, but it was a far better performance than I’ve put in at any other EWS so far this year, which, to be fair, isn’t saying a whole lot, but in my world at least, better is good. And it was *almost* fun. Or at the very least, I think I was able to glory in the experience of it all, and think of it as an adventure, rather than a race. This is something that has been difficult for me with EWS racing so far — maybe because the trails are so much harder than I’m used to, or having to make set start times is stressful, or just because the whole scene is so intense and intimidating, but I’ve generally been stressed and overwhelmed and sometimes it takes me a few weeks to find the humor and the adventure in these experiences. I did a better job here, partially because I loved the place so much, but also because I think I’ve loosened up some after doing four EWS races this year, and I just wasn’t quite as stressed out.

Spain Zona Zero Edit (5 of 11)

Spain Zona Zero Edit (6 of 11)

And did I mention that Ainsa and the Zona Zero trails are amazing? Ainsa is this awesome little medieval town with castles on every hilltop and cobblestone streets and little restaurants with streetside tables crowded with old men drinking red wine and smoking cigars. It’s very Spain, and I love Spain. I hadn’t been in Spain since 2009, and racing in Ainsa reminded me of how much I adore this country. The spectators were incredible, especially considering how far out some of the stages were from the town. Nearly every stage was crowded all the way down with people shouting and banging on things. “Ale ale ale!” “Venga guapita!” “Arriba arriba campeón!” On the road transitions, whenever you were passed by a car you could pretty much guarentee that someone would honk, or shout some encouragement out the window, or give you a high five, or try to give you a bag of Cheetos. It was awesome.


I think perhaps my personal highlight of the entire weekend was the last stage, the famed Stage 8. This wasn’t my favorite course in practice, but in the race the heavens opened up in a purely spectacular fashion about three minutes into my run. Hail. Wind. Rivers running down the trail. It was nuts. Just when it was starting to get really ridiculous, I was hailed down by a course marshall. And by “hailed down” I mean, he literally leapt out in front of me and I smashed into him, causing a minor pile up as the girl behind me was about to catch me. Shouting over the wind, he told us “the stage is cancelled! you can’t keep going!” Which was interesting, because we were standing on a narrow ridgeline and keeping going seemed like a much better alternative to staying put or, god forbid, hiking back up the trail. After some confusion, we were allowed to continue on foot, carrying our bikes, which seemed ridiculous until we turned a corner and saw what was going on. The trail was a narrow, maybe three foot wide swath, with a steep drop off on either side, and only a flimsy little fence standing between trail and precipice. In practice this had seemed NBD, but now that everything was sticky, peanut-butter mud, the tiniest mistake could send a person plummeting off the cliffside. The spectators (I told you they were awesome) had rallied to the occasion and formed a human chain, clinging along the fence at short intervals. A man at the top informed us in English “bike first, ass on floor.” And so, the entire pro women’s field made it off the cliffside, scooting our bikes down and then sliding from stranger to stranger. It was a ridiculous situation, hovering somewhere between terrifying and fucking hilarious.

Here’s a screenshot from the EWS video, so you have some idea of what was going on. Although this doesn’t really do the drop off justice:

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 11.40.37 AM

Once we did make it to the finish line, we saw why the stage had been cancelled as the finishing tent and timing system had been swept away in a flash flood. So, it turned out, had the return trail. Oops. Cue total chaos as spectators, mud-soaked racers, and panicked photographers all tried to flee the scene. Since the trail was gone, an impromptu pathway was cut through the brush up a steep embankment and another human chain was formed to ferry people up to the top. Major props to EWS promoter Chris Ball for being right in the middle of the fray, helping carry people up the hill. Macky and I spent some time helping with this, and then turned our attention to the parking lot which was arguably in a worse state than the race course. After helping push about 6 vehicles out of the mud, I started to exhibit all the symptoms of hypothermia so we headed back to the venue. Rumor has it that race organizers eventually brought in four tractors to extract the rest of the cars from the mud.

I wasn’t really in a position to be taking photos, but here is a photo of me after it was all said and done, looking soaked, but happy (because I have paella, yum!) and here’s a link to the official EWS video. If you go to about 13 minutes in, you can see some of the havoc that went down on Stage 8.

Spain Zona Zero Edit (10 of 11)

Spain Zona Zero Edit (11 of 11)

Ainsa was my best EWS result so far (26th) and I finally had the experience that I had expected to with EWS races — which is to say, I actually focused on the experience, not the stress of racing. All in all, it was a win. I traveled to an amazing place, I rode new trails, I stayed in a castle for god’s sake, and the race itself was challenging, ridiculous, hilarious and fun. And while I’m bummed to have not raced in Italy, this was a good one to end the season on, as it leaves me excited and hungry for next year’s racing (and more paella, because that was delicious).

Hasta luego, españa.

Hasta luego, españa.

Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

I write about bikes and life and trying to get better at both.

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