If in 2016 an event can be marred by terrible weather so bad that the course has to be altered and much of it is unrideable, but everyone describes it as great fun and comes back for another year, then you know it’s got to be good. When it’s pro and sponsored riders from the EWS circuit telling you that, then you know it must be really good. And so it is with the Jura Enduro By Julbo, a weekend of enduro racing that takes place around the 10th of June each year. We were lucky enough to be invited out to this year’s event – here’s what we found.
Organised by Ibis Cycles pro rider and Jura local Francois Bailly-Maitre, this year’s race took place under a baking hot sun. Luckily for riders taking part, many of the trails descend through the shade of trees, on routes that snake their way down the precipitous sides of the gorges around the small French town of Saint-Claude.
This is not a race for beginners – the riding is very technical, with long and extremely steep descents that will test the arms of any rider. You’ll barely touch the saddle apart from on the transfers, and the slippery limestone rocks and outcrops will require you to stay focussed even in the driest of conditions. Those with the fitness for the climbs and the talent for the descents will be rewarded with spectacular views and miles of narrow singletrack. While many of the trails are pre-existing hiking trails, Francois and his team of volunteers have spent many hours working on new sections and making existing ones more rideable. The result is super natural feeling trails, a world away from the compressed hardcore of trail centres.
The effort put in to preparing the trails is impressive – there’s even a bridge built specially for the race, half way up the side of a steep gorge with no vehicle access nearby. The commitment to providing the best possible routes is clear, but if you have any doubts about how tricky this point is to get to consider this: one competitor fell while carrying their broken bike down the trail just above this point. They dislocated their shoulder and had to be winched off the hillside by helicopter, such is the difficulty of access here.
It’s not just the trails that are carefully prepared – all the logistics for the event are taken care of: once you register on the Friday night you’ll be allocated a room. If you’ve come to the event on your own, you may well find yourself sharing with a rider from the EWS circuit. After that, meals, uplifts, and feed stations are provided by an industrious team of volunteers. On the Saturday evening there is entertainment, beer and wine, all laid on.
It’s a relaxed atmosphere and you’ll find yourself chatting to riders from all over the world, although many are from France and Switzerland – so be warned: they’re probably a lot better at riding these trails than you are!
With Julbo as the main sponsor, you’ll find their sponsored athletes such as Jerome Clementz, Antoine Caron and Mason Bond on the start line, but there are plenty of other pros and semi pros there, attracted by the opportunity to race top trails in such a relaxed atmosphere. There are no time slots or seeding positions to comply with, so there’s plenty of chat and breather opportunity in transitions and before stages. In between timed stages it’s all high fives and chat about crazy lines, thrills, spills, mechanicals and close shaves. Everyone chats to everyone, so don’t get starstruck if you find yourself talking to Remy Absalon or Anita and Caro Gehrig. The feed zone provides a great opportunity to spot unusual bikes, chat about tech, or share tales of favourite ride spots. Most people do speak english, but if you know a little french or german it will probably help you get more out of the social side of the event. All the rider briefings are provided in both french and english.
The Saturday evening features entertainment. This year the main feature was a relay race of pro riders taking on an obstacle course on children’s bikes. Quite something to behold – and their handling skills show why they are the ones being paid to rides their bikes. You can also see the competitive edge take hold, even when beer and a pink bike with a dolly seat are involved. There was also a presentation of photos and video from the day – there are photographers on the trails and this year every competitor was given one free image from each day to share on their social media etc. Don’t go wild at the meal and drinks afterwards though – remember there’s still a second day of racing on the Sunday to get through.
As you’ll be told on the start line, if you see a crash you need to stop and check if they’re OK – ‘This is the spirit of Enduro’ says Francois. While there are some tumbles requiring attention, generally the technicality of the trails renders the crashes fairly slow speed and all but a very few make it through all the stages.
If you are in need of assistance there are plenty of marshals plus two sweepers on the course, however you should be prepared to provide your own trailside fixes. There are plenty of sharp limestone rocks to snag your tyres, so tubes, tubeless plugs and tyre boots may well come in handy. Whether you risk gas canisters or opt for the failsafe pump option is up to you, but bear in mind most airlines have some kind of restriction on how many, if any, gas canisters you can carry. With narrow trails and mech grabbing rocks, you may also want to pack a rear mech if you’re really keen to complete the race no matter what – we witnessed quite a few ruined mechs while there this year. If you can bodge your way to the end of the stage, the feed station has a mechanic provided by Kona and Pedros to help get you on your way again.
Full face helmets, full finger gloves, knee pads and spine protection are all mandatory, and you may well find yourself grateful for elbow pads. This year most riders were clipped in, although there were still flats riders. Some of the climbs are likely to defeat even the strongest of riders, so you should expect to be walking on occasion – we did spot someone in some stiff cross country shoes, but you will probably prefer more comfortable options. With such steep climbs, and in heat like this year, you may well be grateful for one of the new breed of enduro helmets with a removable chin piece. If your budget doesn’t stretch to that, you can carry a light trail helmet to swap into for the transitions, but you must put the full face back on for the timed stages.
Coming from the UK, it was very noticeable that there was absolutely not trail litter aside from a couple of bounced bottles. Perhaps this is down to simple good manners, but may well have been assisted by the lack of ‘technical’ foods. There were no gels, energy bars or hydration fluids on offer, and if you feel you need supplies of those sort you should take them with you – there is nowhere to buy any such products either.
Is It For You?
If you’re fit and have raced enduro races before, then maybe. You’ll want to be comfortable with steep descents, tight switchbacks, rocky outcrops, and all three combined at once! The rock is limestone which can be slippery even in dry conditions. The woodland routes combine limestone with tree roots, so again be prepared for slip-sliding, and even more so if it it wet. There are quite a few precipitous edges, so vertigo sufferers beware. You will want a bike that works, and unless you are A Legend then you’ll want full suspension. While this year’s course didn’t contain much that wasn’t rollable if you’re skilled, a bigger travel bike with slacker angles will give you more confidence and fun – it’s definitely aggressive trail bike territory.
Having been out to ride in the event, we can definitely say it is challenging terrain, especially to those of us from the UK who are not used to such long descents (the longest descent was 780m!). As well as being a handy rider with the skills outlined above, we’d recommend you’ve had at least one big mountain trip to Europe before you enter this race. While the organisers were kind enough to accommodate our lack of talent for our trip, it really isn’t an event for the have-a-go hero, and a group of unfit or unskilled riders would be likely to disrupt the race or do themselves an injury.
If you think you can tick the skills and fitness boxes, you’ll be rewarded with a real treat of an event. The trails are sublime, the atmosphere is brilliant, and how often do you get the chance to relax with the pros in their downtime?
The race headquarters is an hour’s drive from Geneva airport. The roads to get there are good, but they are of the winding mountain pass variety that feature in the Tour de France and Top Gear – worth bearing in mind if there is a group of you and someone is going to be going green in the back.
The course varies each year as Francois develops the trails, and in case of bad weather there is a wet weather alternative stage. This year’s route gave 77km of riding, 2086m of climb, and 5359m of descent, of which 27km were timed stages.
Buses and bike transport are laid on between stages where needed, and the bikes are carefully stowed with blankets to protect them on these transfers. Overnight storage of bikes was in a locked room in the hotel. You should expect to find yourself in quite basic accommodation in shared rooms – there is definitely no space for bikes in the rooms.
If you don’t fancy the race, but like the sound of the trails, at present it is not possible to ride these trails at any other time. However, the local authorities are very supportive of the race and riding in the area, and Francois is working with them to bring waymarked trails to the area. It would be well worth keeping an eye out for any progress on this, as the area is stunning and still very quiet. Of course, you won’t get all the uplift and route planning laid on for you if you don’t opt for the race entry.
The race costs €240, which includes all you’ll need from the Friday night through to the Sunday afternoon. The team is very organised, and the many returning competitors is testament to the fact that this race is a real winner. You’ll need spending money if you want to buy extra beers on the Friday night after dinner. You also get a goody bag – this year that included a choice of event branded mudguards from sponsor Slicy, a bottle of beer, a carton of matcha tea, and a pair of Julbo sunglasses.
To enter the race, you will need to provide a medical certificate from your GP confirming you are fit to take part, and you will also need to know your blood group to complete the registration form – these are common requirements for French races and if you’re thinking of entering it will be worth getting this information ready before entries open.
Entries for the 2018 edition will open in mid February 2018, follow the Facebook page to keep track of developments. Bear in mind that places are strictly limited to 110 riders, and some places will be taken by invited professionals and sponsored riders. There is also a high number of returning racers, who will certainly be quick off the mark to get their entries in, so if you’ve decided you’ve got what it takes, don’t hang around deliberating.