Current CES Pro Women leader weighs in on her first ever Enduro World Series (EWS) race

Words by Essence Florie • Photos by Kasey Carames / California Enduro Series

Florie taking on the dusty, technical course at Northstar.

What can one expect to experience during their first Enduro World Series (EWS) race? Probably a constant voice in their head saying “I’m not so sure about this … ” But that’s a good thing. It’s healthy to be afraid of dying … I mean gnarly trails. Is there really anything that makes you feel more alive than hurling your body down a mountain as fast as you possibly can through rocks, trees, and dust?

The California Enduro Series (CES) has been my personal home as a racer for the past three years, and I must say, they did a great job preparing me mentally and emotionally for my first EWS race at NorCal’s favorite bike park. Northstar California Resort near Lake Tahoe proudly hosted the first EWS race to take place in California since the world-renowned biking circuit began in 2013. And for those who are local to that area, what better place to “send the Gnar” than Northstar?!

The race weekend began on Thursday with a friendly course walk. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be there because I was doing my usual juggling act between my dancer performing life and competitive athlete life. So, I, like many others, spent my day traveling just to get to Tahoe. I was told that you were able to walk all the courses except the all-new stage four. Only those who sponsored the making of the trail or were racers of those sponsors were allowed to walk stage 4, which was especially built for this race. (Shout out to Ride Concepts for helping build one of the gnarliest trails of the race!) Some racers chose to sit out the walk day to save their legs for practice. With six stages to go over it was going to be a long day on Friday.

If you haven’t raced an EWS before, which until this point I hadn’t, they give you allotted times for each stage and you only get to practice each stage once. Yep, that’s right, one practice run on each stage. So, you better have your GoPro running and hiking boots strapped tight if you want to be able to pick out some good lines on the gnarliest sections. EWS and EWS100* racers were all allowed to practice stages 1, 2 3, 5, and 6 on Friday, leaving out the mysterious stage 4. EWS80* participants got to practice all four of their stages on Friday, prior to their race day Saturday.

To be honest, I was kind of relieved that everyone got to practice each stage only once. As an athlete I always feel I have to practice more, work harder, try it one more time than the other racers to be able to make it to the top step. Can I get an Amen? But in this case, everyone got the same opportunity. For the first time, in a long time, while practicing for a race I felt like I could breathe knowing that everyone could only do as much as I could do. With practice being one run on each stage, the heart of enduro was kept alive by not allowing people to over-rehearse any lines.

Mid-mountain expo.

Saturday. Race day! Oh, wait we still need to practice stage 4 … Luckily, we had only two stages to race that day and chairlifts up to both of them. Woot woot! It was over in a flash. As long as it takes you to read this sentence, was how long it felt to do the race on Saturday.

The awesome part about EWS race day is that you get to be introduced! Just like the EWS racers, the EWS80 and the EWS100 riders get to roll their bike on stage, give their name and where they are from, with a little sendoff comedy before the start of your race. Hopefully this helps you forget about the death stage you’re about to ride down. After your five minutes of fame are over, you are sent off to the lifts where your chariot awaits to take you to the top … to begin the adventure that is enduro racing.

Once I got to the top of the lift it felt like I almost didn’t have enough time to shift into my proper gear before I was sent barreling down the mountain as fast as I could. Talk about not wasting any time! These EWS people are efficient! Stage 1 was one of the most intimidating stages for me not only because it was first, but also because it had a completely new, freshly cut track that was basically like skiing down the mountain without poles. It even had a special section called Vietnam. Vietnam was like it sounds, a war zone. With plenty of rock waterfalls and babyheads to spare, the lines were endless. Stage 2 was Sinuous to Karpiel, a nice berm sandwich of a trail. We started off with some flowy berms into some nice fast rocky sections and finished off with some more flowy berms.

Sunday. Race day number two! This was the big one. The nerve wrecking part of race day number one was the anxiety build up leading up to the race. EWS100 (my race) riders had practice for stage 4 at 8am but did not get to start racing until 11am. So, by the time the women were allowed to go it was 12:45pm. The Pro EWS crew didn’t even get to start until 2pm! Talk about a really late race start when you’re used to having a riders meeting at 7:30am and being sent to pedal up to the top of the mountain by 8am. As many butterflies migrated up to Oregon from the Gulf of Mexico were as the amount of butterflies in my stomach all morning.

But I digress! Back to the race … we had four stages to do on that second day, and we had to start off the day with stage 3, the Queen stage. If you’re like me and don’t know what a Queen stage is, it basically means the longest stage of the race. It’s the one you can expect to be anaerobic for ten minutes instead of the usual four. Pedaling on this stage really tested whether you had been doing your endurance sprints.

The beloved stage 4 was next. Pure carnage was had on this stage, mostly because of the fact that everyone started on a big rock and were sent full speed ahead into, you guessed it, lots more rocks. If you haven’t checked out the carnage videos of this stage on the CES Instagram, you definitely need to stop reading this article right now and go check that out instead (but then come back and hang out with me because there is so much more to share!). One unlucky fellow was sent full speed ahead with his chest crashing directly into a boulder. I’m still left wondering if he broke any ribs … My husband, Nathan, rode up to watch me on this stage and even though I didn’t make it clean down this run originally in practice, I got it in race run! I think it’s all because he was there to help me feel peaceful and relaxed before the stage. (Pro tip: find someone who helps you feel peaceful and bring them with you to all the gnarly stages.)

After I made it down that section, I felt like the rest of the race went by in a flash. Stage 5 was Dog Bone, which broke many bones this weekend. Shout out to Paul Serra breaking both his hands and his right elbow on this stage. Heal up soon bud! Stage 6 was Boondocks, an oldie but a goodie.

Florie sending a chunky drop in fine form.

Once the race was over, you could feel the atmosphere become instantly more relaxed. Everyone was getting their drinks and food from mid-mountain and sitting with their friends and family until it was time for awards. A new kind of fun was finally allowed to be had.

Many proud faces went up on to that stage claiming their prizes. But the true prize was really just finishing the race in one piece. Whether you were an EWS or EWS100 racer, you were proud of the hours of hard work you put in to get to where you were. What was even more beautiful was seeing the select few racers who stayed around to cheer on their fellow competitors, even though they themselves didn’t win. Standing on that stage to take my first place I didn’t smile just because I won, but also for all the people who were there as well to do this crazy thing called mountain bike racing. Because ultimately, win or lose, we wouldn’t be where we are without each other.

EWS100 Women’s Podium: 1st Essence Florie / 2nd Sara Schneider / 3rd Cindy Abbott (absent).

* Editor’s Note: While registration for the Northstar EWS main event was restricted to competitors with sufficient global rank points, alternate races — EWS100 (which ran on 100% of the EWS course) and EWS80 (which ran on 80% of the EWS course) — were open on a first come basis, with no pre-qualification requirements. The rules for these sold-out events were more relaxed than the main EWS race … but the course was all BUT relaxed, boasting the rowdy and physical challenges that “Gnarstar” is renowned for.

Essence Florie did her first pro enduro race at the 2015 China Peak Enduro, a stop on the California Enduro Series China Peak schedule. It was love at first race. She immediately felt that enduro was the perfect sport for her, combining both her fitness and technical downhill riding abilities. She began officially racing pro the year after in 2017 focusing mainly on CES. In addition to racing, Florie is also a dancer, choreographer, teacher, has her Bachelors in Exercise Science, and Masters in Education.

Florie is grateful for the team support she has received from Ibis in the 2018 racing season as well as their their continued support into the 2019 season. She is also sponsored by Fox, DVO suspension, G-Form, Kenda, Industry nine, Langtown Racing, and Praxxis. Photo: Ian Hylands.