George Swift - European Racing Report

On May 16th I left NZ with my Mum and Dad and headed to the UK to start the 5-month self-supported tour of Europe for 5 rounds of the UCI Enduro World Series, luckily enough my Aunty and Uncle loaned us their camper van to travel in. We headed off from Nottingham to the Dover to  Calais Ferry on the 26th of May, which turned into the first drama of the trip. After the 5-hour drive to the ferry which you thought would have charged the battery on the camper van, it decided not  to start when we were told to board the boat. To avoid missing the ferry Mum and I got out and pushed it so Dad could bump start it onto the ferry. Once in France the next drama of no ones phone would work so I couldn’t access maps or the internet, I told Dad to keep driving and look for a McDonald’s for some free Wi-Fi to sort the phones and find an auto mechanic to fix the camper van.

After fixing the van and the phones we then made our way down to the stunning Finale Ligure on the Mediterranean coast for the 1st of the European races. With my first experience of racing the EDR (Enduro World Series) being in Tasmania in March this year, I was impressed with how well it was run but I can’t say the same for how the first race in Europe went, it all started from a week or two before when they decided to change the race venue from Finale Ligure to Pietra Ligure. 


Now if you have ever been to this region you know its definitely not made for big vehicle let alone a camper-van. Only being 10-minute drive apart it still meant that we now required to book a shuttle to get to the start of the event, luckily the campsite had a shuttle vehicle that could take us. The next drama was booking the practice shuttles, something I thought would be included in our race entry but nope I had that wrong. With little to no information about how practice was to run it was hard to know what shuttle option to book. 


I thought I’d book the 7.30 a.m. shuttle to get it over and done with before the heat of the day kicked in, I turned up at 7.30 a.m. boarded the shuttle and was luckily enough to meet Jess Stone a super fast UK rider who has been in the DH and Enduro scene for a few years, we got our shuttle up and with a quick pedal to the start of the stage we were there at 8 am to only be told by an official message that came through on our WhatsApp group that all tracks will not open till 9 am, so we waited for an hour before being able to practice that stage. The rest of the day dragged out and I didn’t get to finish early at all but I was excited to finish the day with a refreshing swim in the Mediterranean Sea. 

The tracks were super dry and dusty and pretty blown out, most were just one line so not much choice on lines it was just going to be who could let go of the brakes the most. Race day came and it was 30 degrees for the day so I made sure I kept super hydrated and stayed rubber side down all day to finish the day 21st overall. Very happy with my first result in Europe and a good stepping stone for my goal for the season to finish in the top 20 overall. We had a nice rest day on the beach before heading north towards Canazei in the Dolomites where the 3rd round was held,  but with a couple of weeks before the second round in Leogang, I thought I would take the opportunity to go ride the area and get the feel ahead of the race. 


It was an interesting few days there, I got to ride in snow ( which took me a bit to get used to ) and met Sean from South Africa who was just there in prep for a marathon race he was doing so he showed me around the trails.  Then set off to Leogang for the 2nd round, pure bike park-type trails which I definitely wasn’t used to but after a few days of riding I started to get the flow. Leogang was the first venue to host three different disciplines (Enduro, DH and Cross Country) so there was a lot happening with a lot of people around. Having the DH there meant that I could catch up with my flatmate Ben Oakeley ( Charlie Hatton’s Mechanic for the 2023 season and Nelson local ) and get a little help with making sure my bike was ready to race. A bit of confusion around where our enduro pits were going to be for race day, which last minute when we were told they were going to be on the other side of the hill a 45-minute drive away meant that we needed to somehow get my spares bag around the hill. In Finale we met Matt Stone from the Deviate Cycle team who allowed me to leave my spares under their tent, as a privateer I didn’t have a pit area and he was happy to help again in Leogang and take both my spare bag and Dad around to the pit area. 


Race day we got a few gondolas and chairlifts but it was still a physical day on the whole body as we had around 3000m descending, stoked to have claimed a 12th stage finish on stage 2 the longest most physical stage of the day and then finished up 18th overall. Rest day involved watching the DH races which were pretty cool to see trackside rather than just on the TV screen, we then headed back to Canazei for the 3rd race.

Our campsite was situated right in town right amongst the race village which was nice to be close to all the action. Wednesday I decided to walk some of the tracks, a big day hiking up some hills in the hot sun, unfortunately, I must have got ill off the local water at the refill station at the top of the hill and spent the next few days very unwell and not managing to eat much at all. The day before practice I needed to change my tyres which with cush core fitted you all know is no easy task on the best days let alone on a day that you not feeling well and rather weak. However on the bright side for me was that a storm was on its way so they split our practice day into two days which meant I had two small day practices rather than one big day so I could recover more. 


Come Sunday, race day I was a lot better but still not 100%, stage one was a long physical stage I managed to stay upright but in the last right-hand corner I smashed my derailleur on a rock and then realised on the next climb that my gears were not allowing me to use the top 3 easiest gears, which normally wouldn’t faze me too much apart from the fact  that stage 2 had the longest steepest pinch in the trail I could imagine and unable to fix the gears at the top of stage 2 I committed to running the pinch on the trail, even running it killed me but actually managed to put a decent time down on that stage so was happy. 


The rest of the stages went well keeping it rubber side down but I definitely felt fatigued all day which wasn’t just from the illness it was also due to the altitude, the base we started at was 1400m then we were peddling to 2200m with the lack of oxygen at that height definitely took its toll. But finished the day up 22nd overall. This race finished up the first racing block in Europe, with me currently sitting in 19th overall for the series so far and I was on track for my season goal. 


We headed back to the UK for a few months where I managed to find a local gym with the equipment I needed to train with so that Matt from MA Strength and Conditioning in Nelson could provide me with a training program to keep me in shape through the break. While in the UK I caught up with family who I hadn’t seen in 16 years and did a bit travelling around to see the place, up to Innerleithen and across to Wales. But also entered myself into the Ard Rock enduro which is the UK’s biggest MTB event with over 3,500 competitors across different classes, it was a mega event I’d never been to an event so big! 


Typical UK style it rained all weekend but I was in my element in the mud, we were only allowed to practice 3 out of the 7 stages so that meant we raced 4 stages blind. I have to say I was rather nervous about racing blind but afterwards I actually enjoyed it. With only the top riders from last year being seeded early in the morning I was left to start a bit later which meant I wasn’t with the faster riders, and that for the first two stages, I was having to overtake quite a few riders. Once I started to push on the liaisons to try to catch the faster riders and not have to deal with overtaking I managed to make some friends on the way to each stage and some who raced last year including the speedy local UK rider Joe Barnes who unfortunately had blown his wheel up in the first stage of the day so that had a quick visit to the pits to fix which pushed him back to be riding around the same time as me. 


On the way to each stage he was able to give me a quick run down of the blind trails ahead (they were the same trails as last year so hence why he knew what we were facing) this gave me a bit more confidence to just be able to send it. And sent it I did, putting myself into first place in my category by only 1 second and also taking the overall female for the weekend! Epic weekend on the bike and to take the overall win and not be a local was even better with no one knowing who I was haha. 


A few weeks later I headed south to Minehead for the final round of the British Enduro Series, an event someone had told me about while at Ard Rock, even with the event being sold out a quick add to the waiting list and a few hours later I had an entry ….. not sure if it was from my address being in NZ or whether they sore my name from the Ard Rock results I was glad to be able to give another race in the UK ago. Flatter trails there and once again the great British weather rolled in causing drama in the pits with everyone spinning and sliding and getting towed into the paddock. 


We were supposed to have practice on Saturday and then race the Pro stage in the afternoon to get our seeding times for Sunday’s main race but due to extremely high winds in the afternoon they had to cancel the Pro stage and we just raced on Sunday. Once again the wetter conditions fell into my favour and I claimed myself some more British gold to take home. 


Back to Nottingham for a few weeks to get the last training done and rebuild the Pivot Firebird ready to tackle the final two rounds of the EDR in France. We caught the ferry over on the 23rd of August and arrived in Calais to 30-degree heat, I was finally excited for summer since all it seemed to do in the UK was rain well at least everywhere I went it did. A day travelling down the coast of France we were greeted to thunderstorms and 11-degree highs for the day, this weather continued the whole way to Loudenvielle and for a few days at Loudenvielle. I remember messaging someone back in NZ saying I hope it rains in Loudenvielle cause I just saw heaps of photos of people riding dusty track and it seemed I got my wish. 


I went out for two days lapping the park to get a feel for the area and with the practice being set for Thursday I chose Wednesday to get the bike all set and checked over by my wonderful flatmate Ben and the super helpful Atherton team for allowing him to help me out as a privateer. I was lucky to get my suspension serviced, and the bike felt amazing. Nothing more relaxing than knowing that the bike is in working order and I can just focus on racing. 


While we were out practicing on Thursday a memo came through to say that we would now be racing Friday instead of Saturday due to an electrical storm heading our way. So finished practice, quickly washed off the bike and then a night watching GoPro videos and writing 

notes for race day while waiting for our race start times …… which eventually came through at 11 pm. Race day arrived and it was perfect weather, no rain and not too hot, trails were quite like  Nelson, steep and rooty with some tight turns, I didn’t keep an eye on the timing at all during the day as I knew all I could do was ride my best and knowing may have pushed me a bit far and crashed out. 


The day went very smoothly, staying on the bike and hitting most of the lines I had tried to remember, I crossed the finish line and was greeted by Sarah, (a Scottish lady I met in Tasmania) who was in tears yelling that I have finished in the top 10. It hadn’t quite sunk in that I could have done that but I sat down and started to look at the times. After I finished I had to wait about an hour for the top 12 pro women to finish the race, I sat at the finish line watching the big screen and one by one they came down and either finished in front or behind me leaving me finishing 7th overall. I was so proud of my best result ever for the year and having 4 out of the 5  stage results in the top 10! 


Jess went and bought us all a round of sangria and ghee that went straight to my head as I was probably dehydrated slightly and not a drinker haha then she said you will have won prize money so off to the tent I went and collected my 375 euros. I still don’t think it sunk in until the following morning when the body felt tired and I knew I had pushed myself. We then had two days of watching the DH before making our way to Les Gets to watch some more downhill action, all I can say is the best crowd is a French crowd. Spending a few days there with Kiwi friends Josh and Cami (who were over from NZ on holiday) and Tom and Cheryl (Cable Bay dig crew) was a nice relaxing weekend. Then we headed to Chatel for the final round of the EDR for the 2023 season.


Camped up in the carpark below the bike park with a nice few days lapping the bike park with a crew of boys I met at the UK races got me feeling ready to race again. Currently sitting on 15th overall for the series it’s a close battle between 15/16/17th.  The practice was split between Thursday (stages 4/5/6/7) and Saturday (stages 1/2/3) for us with racing happening on Sunday, we had rain on Tuesday night and a bit on Wednesday then a very heavy down pour on Friday evening so were excited to see what the trails would be like in the conditions. 


Stages 4 – 7 were quite a bike parky, hard packed with berms and jumps but also some technical sections. Stage 5 had to be my favourite out of them all, it was slick on practice day and  I felt I rode it well so I was confident with it. Stages 1-3 were the complete opposite, loamy trails with lots of off-camber roots and stage 3 was super slick. Race day arrived and it was a beautiful day with around the 28-degree heat so not too bad we headed off up the chairlift before starting the pedal to stage 1. 


Stage one was super dry and quite blown out and encountered a  cow in the middle of the track that we had to pedal around! I struggled to get the flow on and just wasn’t riding like my normal self. In stage 2 I felt better getting a flow on but come stage 3 I rode it like it was wet and it wasn’t it had dried heaps and a couple of stupid line choices cost me time. I pedalled back up to the pit area and refuelled before catching 3 gondolas to the start of stage 4, lots of bike park which was hard to ride after riding completely different trails in the morning but felt a lot better than the start of the day. 


Next up was my favourite track and managed to put a solid time down and secure a 9th place stage win, onto stage 6 and once again a close encounter with a cow but luckily the spectators managed to hold it back then a little further down the trail I nearly fell off a wooden bridge about 2 meters high but somehow grabbed hold of a tree and struggle my way back on. The final stage dropped up right into the finish village, the trail was rough and blown out but made it down to finish the day in 19th to take me to 16th overall for the 2023 season. 


Absolutely stoked with my results for this season, the goal was to top 20 and I achieved it! Lots of learning and now I know what I need to work on for the future. It has been an amazing experience over the last 5 months and I can’t thank all the people I have met along the way who have offered help/guidance. For all those back home in NZ, especially the Nelson and Dome Valley Crews it’s awesome to have you follow along and provide the support to get me here this year, I am keen to see what 2024 has in store and whether I will be able to make it back over to Europe to do it all again. 


See you all in a few weeks when I’m back in Nelson. 

Big mention to those that sponsored me to be able to complete the 2023 EDR season, I hope I’ve done you proud! 

– Pivot NZ  – The Bike Station  – Flow Tyres  – Cable Bay Adventure Park  – Cable Bay Dig Crew (haircuts) – Hynds NZ  – Tineli NZ  – Nelson Super D Scholarship/ Nelson MTBC  – MA Strength and Conditioning   – Clive Wood Brick and Block Layer – JMC Chiropractic   – Relief Point Physio