No Cutting Corners with Chris Ball – Enduro World Series Founder
In 2012, after 5 years of working as the UCI’s technical delegate, Chris Ball created the Enduro World Series (EWS). He gave us time out of his busy schedule to talk about enduro, its future, and which of his business partners would win a show-down between them on the trails!
Give us a snapshot of who Chris Ball is. What’s your history with cycling? How did you get to where you are today?
I guess I’m someone who can’t stand still and likes to learn, be outside and as active as possible. I started riding a bike during my school years and ended up racing DH World Cups until 2007. After a knee injury, a graduation and a new found enjoyment in working with riders, I moved into coaching and then the UCI, as the man responsible for gravity racing. In the latter years of my work there, I had proposed and worked to include more of the gravity MTB community and when plans fell through in September 2012, I resigned and set up the Enduro World Series with the guys I’d been working to include in the UCI plans.
For those of us who are not mountain bikers or have been living under a rock for the past year, let’s start simple. Define Enduro.
Simple, it’s stage racing. Each stage is predominantly downhill and both technical and physical. So, you get to race down the good trails without having to race the climbs to get to them. Your result is your time combined on every stage, so it’s tactical too.
What makes the ideal Enduro rider?
Someone mature and smart, physically conditioned and technically excellent. The true all round mountain biker.
OK, so now that we’ve got a good handle on the discipline and participants, what is the Enduro World Series (EWS) and what makes its establishment so significant for the world of mountain biking?
I guess it’s significant because it’s come at a time when downhill and XCO are moving more towards television and less attainable to the everyday bike rider. At the same time, 140mm-160mm bike development has skyrocketed allowing us to now ride terrain we could never have done ten years ago. So really, without the modern day developments in suspension, dropper posts, carbon, transmission and efficient frame design, enduro wouldn’t have been able to exist. It’s a sport coming of age.
The EWS and the Enduro Mountain Bike Association (EMBA) are the brainchildren of Fred Glo, Enrico Guala, Darren Kinnaird, and you. What’s your history? What are your roles in each of these organizations?
Our aim is to listen and to develop enduro in the way the riders want it to go We all come from rider oriented organizations and we’re all riders ourselves. Our aim is to listen and to develop enduro in the way the riders want it to go. Of course we can’t please everyone all the time but we do understand what the riders like and want and we’re trying to implement that into our series.
How would you see an Enduro throw-down between the four of you playing out? Who would be the most likely to cut corners?
Haha. Darren would get too excited and crash on the first corner, Enrico would miss his start because he was talking to everyone, I would get a phone call half way through my run and have to stop and Fred would quietly lay down an unbeatable time when no one was looking.
Year one is in the bag and from our perspective everything went off without a hitch despite a very late start to the planning process. Looking back, what’s on your personal highlight reel?
Wow – there has almost been too many. I’d say the podium in Punta Ala and Finale were the real emotional highs. The first because we realized we had a winner of a race and that made it all real and in Finale, we had a series winner and that meant we’d made it happen. Somehow! But there’s countless other memories too. Like taping sections of course at sunrise in Les Deux Alpes, leading a bunch of journalists into a wasp’s nest on a stage in Finale, Dealing with snow in Val d’Isere and riding amazing trails in Colorado and Whistler.
And looking forward, where would you like to see this discipline in 5 years?
I think time will get closer, we’ll see more winners and a closer top ten. Riders and bikes will become more efficient, streamlined and specific. But I hope that we always have riders who have felt it was a great race.
Even in its first year, the EWS was truly a World Series. Can you take us through the process of selecting the venues/races?
We started with Fred, Enrico and Darren’s events and added the Colorado Freeride Festival as it has been the longest running enduro in the USA and a good one too.
For the 2014 season, you’ve added Chile and the UK to destination list. What can we expect at these venues?
Something different, something new to everyone and some very fast locals who won’t be known by the regulars. In the UK, it’ll be lower hills, tighter trees and classic UK trail riding. It could be wet, it’ll likely be slippy and as we don’t have mountain like the Alpes or Andes in the UK, it’ll be a physical race in rolling hills.
I’m tired; can I use the uplift between 3 and 4?
You can if the organiser lets you!
From Crankworx to Finale it seemed like each stage of the series was a different interpretation of the Enduro race format. Are you trying to standardize it or does that go against Enduro’s nature?
We’ve made it clear that it’s single start, all stages count and we have been working on standardizing training timesWe have standardized it to a point but we want variation to remain in the format to keep the riders guessing. We’ve made it clear that it’s single start, all stages count and we have been working on standardizing training times. Already people have a much clearer idea of enduro now than they did one year ago.
The technical side of Enduro, the bikes and equipment, is incredibly diverse and has played a huge role in great wheel size debate of 2013. Coming from your background as the UCI’s technical delegate, what are your thoughts on the standardization of gear?
Never. When I was at the UCI we always wanted to keep MTB open and without restrictions. Saddle angle, wheel size, tube profile and gearing restrictions are for the road. Enduro must remain the same. We should let the rider choose and the industry develop.
There’s a distinctly non-corporate feel to what you guys are doing. At the same time, riders are going crazy for anything branded “Enduro”. How are you handling sponsorship and the financial side of things?
It’s not easy. We are trying a crowd funded model whereby any brand can pay in a small amount to us to make it all happen. That way we can keep the sponsorship right open for each organiser and it gives us both flexibility to go where we like and allows everyone to be a part of it. Hopefully this will continue to work as we grow.
When you’re not plotting EWS world domination, what are you doing?
Riding my bike, ski touring, climbing or taking photographs.