Chris Ball Interview: The team behind the Enduro World Series
Enduro is currently enjoying a global boost in popularity, and there is a very real chance of enduro becoming ‘the’ participant sport in mountain biking. What enduro needs now is careful steering to ensure that the events match the media hype!
A huge name in DH racing, Chris Ball has been one of the driving voices behind the growth of enduro. He has recently moved on from the UCI he has joined forces with some of the biggest names in enduro to form the Enduro Mountain Bike Association (EMBA), each sharing a clear vision and passion for the future of the sport. Chris takes a moment out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his involvement in the new Enduro World Series (EWS) and the Enduro Mountain Bike Association (EMBA).
“Chris Ball, a man with a vision for the future of enduro.”
Enduro: Hi Chris, could you tell us more about the EMBA
CB: There are 4 of us that have formed the EMBA together, myself, Enrico Guala, Fred Glo and Darren Kinnaird from Crankworx. Both Enrico and Fred have a huge amount of experience and a strong vision and passion for the spirit of enduro, being the founders of the discipline. Fred’s history and experience in motorbike enduro and the Paris Dakar Rally, back when it was exploratory and adventurous, allowed him to take the format and introduce it to mountain biking. Enrico and Franco Monchiero embraced the format and tweaked it for the SuperEnduro series, maintaining that relaxed adventurous spirit. Darren took enduro into Crankworx last year and it was hugely successful. Our combined vision is to define enduro, steer development and look after it, helping riders professionalise within the sport.
Enduro: How will the EMBA work with established events?
CB: Your sport is really only as healthy as your events, to succeed you need solid competition structure, good participation, a high level of professionalism and events need to be free to raise money via entry fees and sponsorship. We have set up the EWS so that the events still own pretty much all the rights, allowing them to develop and grow themselves, and most importantly keep an element of creativity. In contrast to say the DH world cup, the EWS will be run as a collaboration, allowing each event to maintain a unique feel.
Enduro: How is the EMBA going to be funded?
CB: Rather than having one exclusive sponsor, we hope to gain financial backing from within the industry itself, much like our aims for the riders, if we can help the industry feel more included through small donations adding up to one larger investment, then we can better support the sport.
Enduro: So without one headline sponsor how will you raise enough to support the series?
CB: We are going to open up membership and support packages, so as a brand you could become an official supporter though a small investment. We hope that by including as many people as possible, investment into the sport will go directly towards the development of enduro. For the EMBA it will mean that motivation is very different. Conventionally governing bodies are government funded, regardless of how well or poorly they perform, they still exist, and there is not always the integral motivation to connect with their teams and riders. With the EMBA, if we are entirely funded by the industry and we are not doing a good job, we will cease to exist, so our motivation centres entirely on delivering a format that works well for everybody. Let’s just hope they all support us, as without any money we will not be able to achieve anything.
Enduro: Enduro has historically championed variety, how does this fit with the EWS model?
CB: Variation is of fundamental importance to enduro, but for the sport to grow there needs to be variation within defined boundaries. The number of stages and terrain may vary from event to event, but there needs to be some similarities for competing riders to understand how to prepare. enduro is an adaptable format that can be applied anywhere, racing in a UK trail centre is always going to feel different from an alpine event, but there should be some similarities. A lot of brand interest started after it became publicly known that the UCI were looking at enduro, with many relationships and collaborations developing from a brand and events perspective. One of the aims of the EWS is to avoid enduro becoming too fragmented with many series operating independently. We hope that with some direction we can ensure that professional teams can enter events in the knowledge that they will be racing against the best in the sport. When you turn up to a DH world cup you know that you are going to race against the world’s best, and that’s what we want from the EWS. This will help pro riders build their careers, and encourage brands to invest more in teams and structure, giving everyone something to work for.
Enduro: What will the EMBA do to improve enduro racing outside of the EWS?
CB: We really hope that by putting control in the organisers hands, developing and leading from the front in a looser fashion than traditionally adopted, we can demonstrate through good example the way that successful events are run. We will offer an open source rulebook and hopefully the format will be adopted by other interested organisers. I am sure there will be some tough decision further down the road as it gets more professional, but at the moment we will start small and move with the times
Enduro: You mention a rule book, will you be adopting a particular timing method?
CB: To begin with the timing will remain under each events control, but long term we want to develop more cohesion with the timing. The chip in chip out system is fantastic for participation, but we do not really see it happening at world cup level where podiums are separated by seconds. Dibbing has its place for sure at a participation level, but higher up the tiers in the World Series we need to aim for specific start times. We need a system that is robust enough to support riders who are prepared to take chances on hard lines to shave off vital seconds. Within the EWS, transfers will be an important part the race, you do need that physical element, it’s not a cross country race but you have to get round and it will be tough.
Enduro: So will the EWS be a championship format with points allocated through the series?
CB: We will offer two formats, we will have the Enduro World Series, accruing points through the season with a winner decided in Finale Ligure. Secondly we are working on a slightly developed format of the Enduro Des Nations to make it a one off iconic event where you compete as a team for your nation.
Enduro: With so much buzz surrounding Enduro at the moment, do you think it will overshadow XC and DH?
CB: I think DH and XC will always pioneer the televisual side of the industry, enduro does not lend itself well to full live coverage. I don’t think enduro is going to take over; rather it will sit nicely alongside both. There is no other medium where XC guys and DH guys can compete against each other. For enduro to develop and mature it needs DH and XC to exist, it is all about the coming together of everyone, maintaining the spirit of adventure and experience at its heart.
Enduro: Enduro is still relatively new in the UK, what do you think it can learn from the more established series?
CB: I think that what the French and Italian series do very well is not simply put on races, but events, with the entire town embracing the sport for the weekend. If you look at our calendar, moving so fast we had to keep the events within the group for the first year, but we have focused on the big festival style events. If you turn up you know you are going to be part of a festival atmosphere, which for participation is really important. Enduro is still new in the UK, but with bigger events, more buzz and a wider reaching audience, it looks set to grow!
Enduro: What does the next 6 months involve for you?
CB: We were lucky to have a running start with all the big events fully established, but in pulling it all together, finding finance, and getting teams and the industry on board, we still have a massive amount of work to do.
Enduro: Will there be a UK event in 2014?
CB: I really hope so, the first year will focus on testing the model then in 2014 we are going to aim to develop more events and structure, we need to look at the southern hemisphere too and not forgetting Spain, Norway, Germany and Switzerland, long term we hope to work with everyone!
“Chris still finds time to race as many events as possible, and is no stranger to a podium.”
Interview by: Trev Worsey Photos by: Ian Linton Photography