September 25th, 2018 12:00am
After seven rounds over seven long months of racing, the 2018 Enduro World Series all comes down to the final race of the year in Italy this weekend following on a spectacular and warm Spain event.
The Bluegrass FinalEnduro powered by SRAM will once more host the last race of the year on Finale Ligure's iconic trails, where the series will crown in its new champions on the shore of Mediterranean.
And whilst it's the traditional end to the season, this year's event will take on a new format. For the first time, the race will take place over a single day and will also play host to an EWS Challenger event. A more relaxed version of the main EWS race, the Challenger will see riders tackle four stages on Saturday.
The Challenger course will give riders a feel for some of Finale's best known trails, including the most famous trail of them all, DH Men. In true Italian style the food will be exceptional, with feed stations lined up to serve regional delicacies along the way.
There's four big stages lined up for the EWS race on Sunday too, with riders heading to the Eastern part of the region for the first time. With two new stages in the mix and plenty of natural, off-road liaisons, Finale Outdoor Resort has lined up another incredible course. Once more following the mantra of riding from the mountains to the sea, riders could be forgiven for not stopping to take in the views this year, as they tackle 52km of riding and over 1700m of descent.
The stakes could not be higher for racers this weekend, as they have one last chance to show what they're made of. In the men's race Sam Hill (Chain Reaction Cycles Mavic) leads the standings and will be looking to take the Champion title for the second year in a row. There's only one man who can stop him, and that's GT Factory Racing's Martin Maes. Expect an intense battle between these two on race day
In the women's race Cecile Ravanel (Commencal Vallnord Enduro Team) has her championship bid all but assured - only a catastrophic day of racing could see second ranked Isabeau Courdurier (Intense-Mavic Collective) rob her of the crown. Katy Winton (Trek Factory Racing) lies third in the series, but that position could be in jeopardy with Noga Korem (GT Factory Racing) within touching distance of her in the points.
In the U21 Men Elliott Heap (Chain Reaction Cycles Mavic) leads the standings, but Hill's team mate can't afford to relax with both Nathan Secondi and Cole Lucas (Cube Action Team) within 110 points of him. Ella Conolly is the undisputed U21 Women's Champion, having won seven out of seven races this year - she'll still be charging hard come Sunday though as she looks to finish off the perfect season in style.
Reining Champion Karim Amour (Miranda Racing Team) is guaranteed the Master Men title after his win at round seven last weekend, with the real points battle taking place between Michael Broderick and Mike West, with Broderick just 20 points ahead of fellow American West. In the Master Women's category reigning champion Mary Mcconneloug has a battle on her hands to retain the title - Melissa Newell is just 30 points adrift and whoever finishes higher in Finale will be awarded the title.
In the team race it's Canyon Factory Enduro Team who are out front, with a commanding points lead over Ibis Racing Enduro Team in second and GT Factory Racing in third.
Chris Ball, Managing Director of the Enduro World Series, said: "Finale is always a special way to end the season, and this year is no exception. The new format and the addition of the Challenger race is going to make for a fantastic weekend of racing.
"It's been an incredible season and it's great to go into the final event of the year with such tight points battles across the categories, it's going to be such an intense finish to what has been another amazing season."
Ritchie Rude is fully healthy and back on pace. Rude took the top honors in Spain over a hard charging Martin Maes by just 7 seconds after 7 stages.
Photo Credits: Enduro World Series
Spains spectacular race setting and warm temps made for a real challenging weekend. Greg Callahan rips this burm on his way to a top 10 result for the weekend.
Photo Credits: Enduro World Series
No brakes when your throwin down and have the skill. Photo Credits: Enduro World Series
Cecile Ravanel railing turns to continue her perfect season. Photo Credits: Enduro World Series