Five grown men “yeooing” like kids and high fives all round. The German onlookers waiting on their uplift looked confused by this outburst of emotion. If you asked each of us what we enjoyed down that run, you would likely get five different answers, but one things for sure mountain biking is what we love and that feeling at the bottom of a trail is something that unites us.
Finale Ligure, I hadn’t even heard of the place until the EWS rolled into town some years ago. In our last trip to Scotland Ian planted the seed “Next trip Finale”. I don’t think any of us took it seriously, but it ate away at us all and by Christmas the plans were in place. 1 week in the land that helped forge the Enduro race scene. Davy let the side down. He came back from a winter in New Zealand a changed man and didn’t want to associate with us “riff raff”.
We arrived at our apartment on Saturday afternoon. An absolute cracker, secure bike area, washing facilities, pool and to top it off the apartment looked brand new. First things first get the bikes built and make sure the baggage handlers had been kind.
Our uplift wasn’t until 10:30 on Sunday so we took our time getting ready, already starting to embrace the Italian way. No one really knew what to expect, bar Ian who had been here before, so an air of anticipation hung over us. The NATO Base was to be the starting point. This place was eerie. An old telecommunications base for the US Army back in the day. A concrete outpost overlooking the sea miles from any civilisation. It is now the centre of a mecca for mountain biking. Off we headed down “Madre Natura” and as soon as the wheels hit that first dusty corner, I knew this week was to be epic. Halfway down and the Ian’s trusty 29er had suffered a flat. His Huck Norris either saved his rim or failed to anything, you decide. An hour and a half later we were on our way. Brian with some words of wisdom, “stop fecking about fixing tyres and stick a tube in”. We ended the day absolutely buzzing and psyched for the rest of the week.
Monday resulted in me being the most bored I have ever been on a bike. Long descents = long climbs. We climbed from the bottom of “New Rollercoaster” back to the top. An hour of spinning the legs up a moderate gradient, for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how people enjoy road cycling. Ian’s fitness was his downfall on this. I came to the top to see him huddled and shivering with the cold waiting on the stragglers. The boredom was soon forgotten and I soon realised it was more than worth it. Dropping into the trails and this time trying “Kill Bill” and “Madonna del a Guardia”. The views halfway down from the chapel were absolutely incredible. Madonna was a cracker. Lulling you into a false sense of security before breaking off with a tight left hander into rocky chutes and some epic corners. We all came into the hardest section at full lick, a long rocky, steppy section. With a bit of a look this section would likely be easy but coming in hot it was a case of pick a line and commit. To make matters worse we had an audience, some poor soul who had decided to walk this section. To his dismay we all passed him hollering with excitement (more likely relief) for getting through.
Tuesday was to be a full day guiding with Finale Freeride. Our guide loaded his Intense M16 onto the trailer, we knew it was going to be a day of epic descents! Toboggan was our first stop and my god does it live up to its name. I was on Ian’s tail down this. He would gain on me through some corners and I would get him in others, every time he stalled in a turn I made sure to remind him that it was the 29ers fault! This was a trail to find your flow, coming out of a corner, wheels planted, body shape perfect, head up looking to the next and nailing it is a feeling like no other. This was going to be a good day, or so we thought. Next stop Rollercoaster. Matti our guide sent us on. We knew this trail and he knew to just let us at it. I lead us down the bottom section of Kill Bill and got to the bottom buzzing. A few seconds passed, Ian had been on my tail for most of it. I was in the zone and didn’t notice losing him. Had I taken a wrong turn? As the moments passed I started to worry, someone was down. Brian rolled down and broke the news, Ian had binned it and hadn’t just jumped back up like usual. Eventually he rolled down. He was in a lot of pain but keeping a strong face. Matti and one of our fellow group members got to it and started patching him up. It wasn’t the cuts that were the problem, his shoulder was in a bad way. Ian, our leader, the one person who had probably taught me more about biking than any other was out of the game. This was a not so subtle reminder that we weren’t invincible and mountain biking is a dangerous game. It took a while to get back into it. The atmosphere was a bit shit in the afternoon. It turns out me leading the way is not a good idea. Eddie binned it over a small rise into a corner whilst on my tail. His thumb was mangled! Disaster. Back at the apartment we regrouped. Ian was out for the week and potentially longer. Eddie had a gammy thumb but with ample strapping he might make it out another day.
Wednesday was an enforced rest day. It rained all day so uplifts were cancelled to preserve the trails. Cabin fever soon set in. A trip for Gelato was the highlight of the day, but this Gelato is like no other. The best ice cream you will ever experience.
Myself, Andrew and Brian rocked up to the uplift centre on Thursday for one of two uplifts. Eddie and Ian left behind licking their wounds. Unfortunately, uplifts were cancelled again. Mountain biking has become a huge industry for Finale, so a sustainable attitude towards the trails is to be respected, but you couldn’t help but be frustrated. Time was running out and all we wanted to do was ride our bikes! Plan B was to pedal somewhere. We reviewed the map and made for the San Bernardino area. This was a surreal area. Riding through ancient terraces on a hillside, it was epic. The steep hillside also resulted in the hardest trail I have ever tried to ride. “Pianarella”, steep rocky switchbacks. A couple of Hail Mary moments all round, but we made it down in one piece, albeit battered and bruised!
Friday, where did that week go. Eddie got the strapping out, he was going to get one more day in. We started with an uplift from Finale. We had planned another pick up at 12:00 from further up the valley so everything had to go to plan. A Swiss man had other ideas, he took it upon himself to join the uplift without a booking. Half an hour late we rolled out. We were late to the top. No time for messing about. The rain over the last couple of days left the trails in amazing condition. The dust was now mostly hard pack and there was so much more grip. A new trail to was on the list “Mini Champery”. It lived up to its name. A masterclass in trail building with epic corners. We rolled into Feligno at 12 on the button, perfection. We finished the week on one of the favourite trails “Ingegnere” the perfect end to the best weeks biking I’ve ever had and potentially the best holiday I’ve had.
It wasn’t just the biking. The food, the people and the ice cream made this week one to remember. The craic was 90 all week despite the injuries. Barry Scott helping to ease the tensions. Everyone in Finale was happy to see you. They’ve embraced mountain biking and are prospering off the back of it. Every uplift van and trailer was full. The pubs and cafes in the town were full of bikers. They’ve turned this place into an absolute mecca and I can’t wait to get back.