When it comes to firing a new year of international mountain bike racing into life you really need a venue that lives and breathes drama, it needs to understand the big stage and, most importantly, offer the kind of racing that inspires greatness. Enter the Finale Outdoor Region.
The small town on the Italian Riviera has a story that is intertwined through the very fabric of UCI Enduro World Cup racing. It almost single handedly showed the world what can happen when a small but passionate community of purists throws their collective weight behind a particular sport. For years it was the traditional curtain closer, but this year it’s the all-important curtain raiser.
Where is it?
Finale Outdoor Region nestles on the world famous Italian Riviera on the Mediterranean coast between Genoa to the south and Nice to the north. The island of Corsica lies out to sea and Finale’s beaches have long been tightly-congested affairs, attracting summer sun-seekers from all over Europe. But then something changed.
30 years ago, a small group of committed local mountain bikers and entrepreneurs convinced the local administration and businesses that they needed to look to the hills behind Finale Ligure and not just the beaches for the future of tourism. The network of trails that sprawled forth now takes in an area including more then 20 municipalities between Vado Ligure and Pietra Ligure. The Finale Outdoor Region is not just a European powerhouse when it comes to riding destinations, but a global one.
Has there been racing here before?
Finale Outdoor Region first hosted Cross-country Marathon races as a way to showcase its sizable trail network. Then, as the trails became rowdier and rowdier, enduro came to the fore. Finale Outdoor Region is the only venue to have featured on every Enduro World Series and then UCI Enduro World Cup schedule since the former's inception back in 2013.
Pietra Ligure and Finale Ligure have both been at the forefront of developing e-enduro racing over the last several seasons and as such frequently sees some of the best battery-assisted stages of the year.
What’s the course like?
Welcome to one of the big things that makes Finale Outdoor Region so great - such is the scope of trails to choose from that it’s impossible to tell just which of its chocolate box of classics will star. The local topography is manna for trail builders and with the area now being home to some of the world’s very best, it’s often the new stages you haven’t heard of that become the most talked about.
What else can we expect?
It will be hard on bikes and bodies alike. One of the things that makes a win in Finale Outdoor Region so coveted comes from the terrain itself. In an age where enduro race bikes are all but bulletproof, the exposed limestone, savage gradients and torturously high speeds of the trails here can still break machinery like nowhere else. Amongst the earliest of enduro skillsets was managing the attrition of your machine, that has ebbed over the last decade but in Finale, it’s still key.
The crowd here is also huge. It’s an ultra-passionate part of the world when it comes to just about everything and over the years stages like Men’s Downhill have routinely been lined by crowds four to five deep. The lure of the parties in the piazza is irresistible and when you add racing, the beach, the party and some of the best eateries in Europe into the mix it makes for a lively time, post-race...
Who are the favourites?
Last season's UCI Enduro World Cup overall title winner, Isabeau Courdurier has developed a bit of a bogey round when it comes to the race courses perched above this particular corner of the Med. Despite being the dominant force in modern enduro racing the Lapierre Zipp Collective rider has won there but ‘only’ as part of Team France’s Trophy of Nations winning team, never as an individual.
A factor in this has been the strength of one of her closest rivals, Morgane Charre (Pivot Factory Racing) can summon from the same rocks. Charre has won the same Trophy of Nations titles there, but also has a brace of individual victories to her name too. Charre calls the area ‘home’ and having narrowly missed out on the overall last season virtually on the final stage, will be keen to come out of the gates strongly.
Jesse Melamed (Canyon CLLCTV) won in Finale Outdoor Region last season and his experience will make him hard to stop there again this season. Reigning overall title holder Richie Rude (Yeti / Fox Racing Shox) will also be one to watch. With elite men’s enduro seeing almost a different winner at every round though, it’s a pretty tricky crystal ball to read.
In terms of e-enduro, Flo Espinera (Orbea Fox Enduro Team) was beaten in Finale Outdoor Region by Laura Charles (Miranda Factory Team) whilst Fabien Barel won the elite men’s race ahead of Antoine Rogge (Lapierre Zipp Collective). Can the French come back out on top this year?
The Finale Outdoor Region will be back in 2024 on the 10 - 12 May, you can find out more here.