If the annual racing break started too early for you then the Sandokan Race on Madeira was a perfect opportunity to escape the cold, damp European autumn for a while. The island, which belongs to Portugal boasted pleasant temperatures last weekend and a ton of exceptional trails – the perfect framework for a fantastic two day race. The organisers, a local guiding business called Bikulture created 10 different stages and an exciting competition which Nico Vouilloz won. In the ladies race Ines Thoma was victorious.
The volcanic island of Madeira is mostly made up of steep slopes rising directly from the sea to a height of over 1000 metres, where they become a flat mountain plateau. The sparsely populated upper regions of the valleys offer numerous opportunities to build great trails. The organisers made impressive use of this situation, even during the pre-race training we were quickly amazed at the sheer variety of the descents. From pedal intensive, high plateau sections via flowy, gently dropping meadows to technically demanding rock gardens and steep, sunken roads the event had an extremely fun collection of stages.
Racers were also spoiled with the many breathtaking views as each valley opened up looking out to the rocky coast hundreds of meters below. The extremely nice team at Bikulture helped to keep participants in good spirits with their relaxed, quiet approach making a great atmosphere for the whole event. Shuttles took the racers to the morning start point whilst the rest of the transfers stages had to be managed under pedal power.
Training prior to the weekend racing was characterised by wet and foggy weather, but on the first race day the sun beamed down. Stages 1 and 2 were quite flat and pedal intensive across the high plateau, quickly giving many racers warm muscles and aching lungs. Stage 3 was more exciting as it was ridden blind with no training. The descent dropped down a grassy mountain spine, interspersed with small rock gardens and steep sections. With enough speed most of them could be jumped over but many of the landings were hidden until the very last second and also sometimes full of rocks, lightning fast decision making was the only way! With enough nerves invaluable seconds could be won but many participants overdid it and spectacular crashes were the result.
Stages 4 and 5 were familiar territory again and wound down a steep slope along a narrow trail. The corners facing up the mountain could be ridden as berms with enough forward weight whilst the down-side corners needed much more fine-feeling to avoid sliding down a steep, fern covered hillside. The lower parts dropped through intensely smelling Eucalyptus forests with the trail covered in a layer of slippery bark. Over zealous use of the front brake here quickly resulted in bike and pilot leaving the trail.
Day two awaited race participants with continuous rain. Slippery mud and polished rocks made the trails extremely tricky. Stage 6 was a repetition of yesterdays stage 4 whilst stage 7 took riders over a freshly cut trail. On each side two metre high bushes flanked the deep mud and slush. With many tight, slippery corners some riders were coated from head to foot with muck. Stage 8 was one for the downhillers. If you didn’t want to lose valuable seconds using easier chicken runs then you had to tackle numerous meter long gap jumps and manage a 2 metre deep road gap. In between these the brake bump filled berms gave riders sore arms.
Stage 9 started with a fast meadow section which dropped into a tunnel like rut. The clay covered trail and natural berms really felt like a bobsleigh run. If you hit the right lines and stayed off the brakes the tight rut was a highlight. For everyone else the extremely slippery surface made the affair into a vaguely controlled downhill slide which only remotely resembled some form of biking.
Those who still had energy left in their arms and legs could really use it on stage 10. Filled with energy sapping pedal sections the trail crossed rough berms and many steep sections dropping down the hill. Tight tree sections and one or two jumps still required full concentration.
At the end of the race the great prices at the local beach bar rewarded riders. Sword swinging world-cup riders duelled it out at the bar until deep into the night. After two days of racing competitors had completed 50 km, 1100 metres climbed and 2800 metres descended.
The quickest rider over the 10 stages was ten times downhill world champion Nico Vouilloz (France – Lapierre) closely followed by Nicolas Quéré (France – Commencal); third placed rider was local matador E. Pombo, both with just 8 seconds difference to the higher placed rider! In the ladies race the German Champion Ines Thomas (Germany – Canyon) held off Cross-Country-World Champion Tanja Zakelj (Slowenia – Trek) whilst Life Cycle racer Valentina Macheda (Slovenia) was third placed.
Find the complete results and some videos of the trails: bikulture.com/de/sandokan-enduro
Text: Tobias Döring Photos: Jana Dretnik / Hugo Silva
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