Rich Thomas Goes Full Enduro in Madeira!

Team Wideopenmag’s Rich T flew out to, you guessed it, Madeira, to race his first enduro in half a decade. Racing the Entrudo Enduro aboard his Nukeproof Mega 27.5, Rich finished 8th amongst some EWS regulars.

But was the Enduro a piece of cake for a World Cup veteran …?

words by Rich Thomas / photos by Jacob Gibbins

made possible by Freeride Madeira

Rich Thomas Medeira 2016 Nukeproof Mega

Our most seasoned downhill veteran, Rich Thomas was out in Madeira for some winter sun, and somehow got roped into an enduro while over there. Some seriously unseasonal weather cut the race short, but it was still a good battle, with Rich calling on all his race experience to battle the Enduro World Series pinners like Greg Callaghan and Joe Barnes.

Take it away Rich…

Rich Thomas Madeira Enduro (4 of 13)

I think it was around December when I got a call from Jacob Gibbins asking if I was free at the end of February. He wasn’t sure on the exact plan but it would be in Madeira and on trail bikes and there was an enduro race on the Sunday. I thought “mint”, I haven’t done one of those for maybe 5 years so yeah, I was in. It sounded like it would be awesome.

Rich Thomas Madeira Enduro (2 of 13)

The weeks flew by with work, riding and training for the upcoming 2016 downhill season. Before I knew it we met at Bristol’s departure lounge ready for the trip. Andrew Titley and the rest of the Bad Ass Bikes crew plus Rowan Sorrell were coming for the trip and race too which was rad. However, at this point I was told that this wasn’t “just a few days riding and exploring the island”! It would be a two day 80km enduro epic with real teams turning up for EWS practice. That was a bit of a surprise! At this point I got a little apprehensive about the race! I didn’t grumble too much though – I secretly like a challenge and was excited to try real enduro!

“It would be a two day 80km enduro epic”

So, as far I saw it, we had 4 1/2 days of awesome weather and riding ahead and a new experience at the end. So we arrived late morning, got the bikes built and headed up the mountain for our first taste of Madeira. It was amazing; the Freeride Madeira crew are super-efficient and got us riding straight away. It was an awesome first afternoon. Starting at the top of the mountain we slowly worked our way down to the coast riding awesome tracks and linking back up with other tracks using the uplifts and pedalling some bits. It was rad! I think we were out for 4 hours!

Rich Thomas Madeira Enduro (9 of 13)

Rich Thomas Madeira Enduro (12 of 13)

“The weather was deteriorating rapidly.”

It was that night we got news that some bad weather was due to hit the island that could affect the race. Over the course of our day’s riding and shooting we rode a variety of tracks, all natural with beautiful scenery and terrain. However, the weather was deteriorating rapidly.

Madeira as an island experiences different climates and weather depending on what coast your riding on or how high in the mountains you are. You can ride from sun-baked barren hillsides to lush green tropical Eucalyptus forests with 20ft high ferns! It is awesome! The highlight was an ancient trail, used to cross from the North East to the North West of the island, a 12km descent! Personally, riding this in the pissing rain and high winds was a highlight of my trip, a real privilege to ride this ancient trail with a load of top guys and then sit in the warm, eat good food and get drunk on the traditional drink of Madeira, Poncha – once in a life time stuff.

Rich Thomas Madeira Enduro (7 of 13)

Practice started Saturday morning and we were hit with rain, high winds and snow. Madeira hadn’t seen snow for two years, what are the chances?! With what we’d ridden earlier in the week you’d get 2 runs if you were lucky per track, some had more, some had less. Despite the weather, the Freeride Madeira crew had managed to get the race together and linked up 5 of the best stages for a one day event over 40-50 km and around 30 minutes of total racing stages.

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For me, as a bit of an enduro virgin it was a long day, but for the pros it was simply a good day on the bikes in prep for the EWS. Almost a blessing that it wasn’t the full 80km and over two days!

Rich Thomas Madeira Enduro (6 of 13)

The race:

STAGE 1 – By far the hardest 9-10 minutes of my life. Some great turns and fun sections but not far off non-stop sprinting through bogs on the flat and uphill. A real true test of the riders’ ability to sustain pace and tech skill at above-threshold heart rate.

STAGE 2 – The shortest, most fun stage, fast, not much pedalling and very British. A few steep sections but nothing too wild. Besides for Rowan Sorrell who had an awkward crash on some rocks cutting his arm badly and having to retire from the race.

STAGE 3 – Another long physical stage and north-facing so was taking the brunt of some serious weather on race day really slowing down the top corners and making it even tougher. This stage had an incredible bottom section, the end of Maderia’s best downhill race track. But again, a battle like stage one as the top was really taking it out of the riders ready to wobble down the bottom section which was gnarly.

STAGE 4 – An epic stage, this is the stage that runs along a 500ft high cliff edge and was the greasiest track I think I’ve ever ridden. Another long and physical track with small uphills and awkward slow rocky sections. But fun, loads of overtaking went down on this stage!

STAGE 5 – In my opinion the best stage of the race, long fast and dry taking you down to the finish at sea level. Very rocky but not much pedalling so made for some arm pump but a huge relief to end the day and on a high!

Rich Thomas Madeira Enduro (3 of 13)

Rich Thomas Madeira Enduro (11 of 13)

Rich Thomas Madeira Enduro (13 of 13)

“it was a brutal day and a huge learning curve”

To end the day I think we’d ridden about 40km and raced for 30 minutes in total. For me it was a brutal day and a huge learning curve. For sure I now have even more respect for what the EWS guys do and a greater understanding of what works for me whilst racing these types of events.

I finished in 8th, a few minutes back from Greg Callaghan, a result that I’m proud of due to the caliber of riders there but frustrated as well as I made some bad decisions throughout the day and had some stupid crashes but that’s all part of it I suppose. Maybe in 5 years I’ll do another one!

Rich Thomas Madeira Enduro (10 of 13)

So to Matt, Rich, Titley, James, Mike, Milky, Rowan, Josh, Max, Steve, Payner, Katy, the Cube and Canyon crew, Pedro, Phillipe and finally Jon and the rest of Freeride Madeira crew, thanks for a truly rad few days of sick riding, good food and poncha. These are days that won’t be forgotten.

And on last mention – my bike for the weekend. The new Nukeproof Mega 27.5. This bike did almost 5 solid days, easily 3-4 hours or so of solid descending and didn’t need one bolt tightening, not one puncture, zero problems. I think that is amazing – what a piece of kit! Thanks to Nath at Indybikeco in Weston-super-Mare for prepping up this weapon.

Rich Thomas Madeira Enduro (1 of 1)