Thanks to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis the Enduro World Series is currently working on a thoroughly revised 2020 calendar. The season was due to kick off this weekend in South America and with both the Colombian and Chilean rounds now postponed we decided to take a wander down memory lane and relive the last time we visited the region back in 2018.
By the time the EWS touched down in Manizales, everyone and everything was a bit dusty. The opening round of the 2018 series took place amidst the famed ‘anti-grip’ of the High Andes, the urban sprawl of the Colombian coffee industry’s capital felt like sensory overload, in the best of senses.
Manizales was a world away from what had come before it at R1 in Chile.
Visitors can even take guided two-wheeled tours around the Manizales coffee plantations.
The opening two races of 2018 couldn’t have been much more different, barring certain aspects of their final results sheets. Where Chile had been run across high speed Andean moonscapes, Colombia featured an urban assault on the city of Manizales’ back streets before heading into dense jungle. There had been urban prologue stages run before in the EWS but the blast through Manizales was to be so much more - chunks of time were there for the taking for those willing to roll the dice and the light drizzle of beer.
Cecile Ravanel snaking her way through the huge crowds that lined the urban prologue stage
Thirty thousand people lined the stage which snaked its way down through a busy residential area before finishing on a football pitch. In the elite women’s race, Anneke Beerten snared Alchemy Bikes first (and as yet only) stage win whilst the home favourite Marcelo Guitierrez took top honours in the men’s. Gutierrez was a downhiller by trade at the time (he's since retired) and this was his backyard, the pressure was on.
There was somehow no way imaginable that Marcelo Gutierrez wouldn't take the win on S1 with 30,000 of his fans roaring him on.
Marcelo won the opener - it was a result which came with many question marks for the top tier of the elite men's field. Could Gutierrez be a force to be reckoned with once the stages turned to dirt rather than asphalt? Would local knowledge once again pay dividends?
That night, the heavens opened and turned the following days' stages into a quagmire. Rivers flowed down the hilly streets of Manizales as hoods were pulled up and umbrellas hunted out by the team staff. Colombia has famously got two seasons - dry and wet - this was the latter.
The stages of Manizales Bike Park were rendered treacherous by the combination of an overnight deluge and an increasingly warm morning.
What happens though when you soak dry earth and then immediately start to bake it again? The pine needle-covered stages turned to a peanut butter-like paste as soon as the rain stopped and the sun had risen the following morning. The stages that the racers had practiced earlier in the week now bore little resemblance to what they would have to race upon.
Josh Bryceland grabbed a second place on S5 and was clearly enjoying himself - happy as a rat in ruts!
Sam Hill, the winner of the previous round in Chile did what he does best and schooled the elite men's field on the second stage with a 25-second winning margin. The stage was deemed by many of the professional racers at its finish line to be amongst the hardest EWS stages they'd ever ridden. Hill danced his Nukeproof through the mud and piles of ejected bodies and broken bikes to a commanding lead.
Spectators lined the Colombian stages to see the world's best tackle the tricky conditions.
Isabeau Courdurier shone in Manizales with a second place behind Ceclie Ravanel proving that she was at home in all conditions.
Sam Hill (Chain Reaction Cycles) and Cecile Ravanel’s (Commencal Vallnord Enduro Race Team) class shone through amidst the axle-deep ruts. Hill would win by 47 seconds, Ravanel by comfortably over a minute. Isabeau Courdurier and Gutierrez came in in their respective second places. Damien Oton and Katy Winton (Trek Factory Racing) rounded out the podium in third.
The ruts were merciless, Sam Hill was unstoppable.
The Series’ first visit to Colombia was certainly one for the history books; huge crowds, biblical weather and some unbelievably intense racing amongst the tropical rainforests above Manizales. The party may have been delayed in 2020 - but we’ll be back in this incredible venue on the weekend of November 6-7th to race these legendary trails once more.