With around 440 riders, the Enduro Sweden Series (ESS) didn’t only have a record-breaking amount of racers at the first round of 2019, they also absolutely smashed last year’s record of 350. With more race categories than ever - accommodating for both pro, youth and amateur riders - a renewed focus on flowy race tracks and some exceptional teamwork and dedication, the ESS seems to be onto a winning concept.
The 5-year explosion
In May 2014 the first ever ESS race was held in Flottsbro, Stockholm. Around 100 racers showed up. 5 years later, in April 2019, 440 excited racers lined up for the first stop if the ESS in Göteborg. That is a 400% increase in riders. Enduro has become one of the most popular MTB race disciplines in Sweden in a very short period of time. How?
“I think it’s all down to the concept - people seem to like the challenge that Enduro gives them. It draws people from all kinds of MTB disciplines and different skill levels”, Ingemar Gustavsson, ESS coordinator, explains. The concept of gravity-oriented stage racing with social liaisons in-between takes away much of the pressure associated with racing, making it into a fun day riding bikes with your mates.
In the past 5 years the team of people behind the ESS has worked hard in order to develop the series into something that most riders can enjoy - both pros and beginners. “I feel like we have managed to find a race format and organisation that puts Enduro racing at a good level - where it attracts a broad mix of riders”, Ingemar says.
We need to provide properly organised events with reliable timing and professional results. It is important for racers, sponsors and the credibility of the series.
“We want it to be a fun, social day out - that is why we don’t update stage times throughout the race for example, you only get your result once you’ve finished, as people would be too busy looking at their phones instead of talking and socialising with others.” But of course it is also important for the ESS that the riders, especially the elite racers, get a proper race out of it: “There has to be a level of professionalism on top of that good-feeling-atmosphere, of course. We need to provide properly organised events with reliable timing and professional results. It is important for racers, sponsors and the credibility of the series”, Ingemar says.
Pleasing both pros and amateurs
Getting the balance right between pros and amateurs hasn't always been easy, but it is something that the ESS is continuously working on. How do you please both riders wanting to take their racing career to the next level, youth riders wanting to get into the sport and amateurs just there to have a good time? Well, one way of doing it has been to create a shorter version of the race.
Ingemar explains: “By adding the category “Motion Kort” for example we can adapt and shorten the race course by removing some of the more difficult stages. That way we can open up our races to younger and less experienced riders and at the same time please the pros by still having technical, hard stages. The beginners just don’t race those stages.”
The categories “Motion” and “Motion Kort” is a way of racing the ESS without actually racing it. It requires no race licens or bike club association, you are still insured through the Swedish Bike Association (SCF) and you get timed results on each stage. You don’t, however, get an overall result.
The next generation
Not only appealing for beginner riders, this new concept of racing a shorter course means that the race organisers can add more youth categories to the series, allowing riders as young as 13 years of age to race. A very important step in the regrowth of the sport.
“We need to get rid of this notion of Enduro as a middle-aged person's race”, Ingemar sighs. “The sport needs more young riders and we need to be part of bringing up the next generation of racers. Hopefully, pushing for younger riders to race the ESS is a step in that direction”.
We need to get rid of this notion of Enduro as a middle-aged person's race.
Just like riders in “Motion Kort”, riders aged 13 to 14 race a shortened, and slightly easier version of the course. “That way we can take away the gnarliest stages”, Ingemar says and explains that at the 1st race of 2019 in Göteborg they removed the last two stages for the young guns, as they were technically very difficult. Unlike “Motion Kort”, the young rippers do need a race license as they get an overall result in the series.
Less up, more down
Whilst the courses have become easier for certain race categories, for others they have become more technical and challenging. A request from the riders themselves. A stage used in an ESS race today is very different from 5 years ago. Flow and speed are important, and they can’t be too slow and jerky.
“Over the years there has been a demand for more downhill-oriented stages with little or no climbing in them, and we try to accommodate for that as much as we can”, Ingemar says but points out that they are obviously restricted to what the Swedish terrain has to offer. “We have to link some trails up by using small hill climbs, there is no getting around that if we want longer stages to race.”
Not an EWS race
The Swedish terrain sets the tone for what the ESS and the race organisers can bring to the table. They want to utilise and show off places around the country, even if the elevation gain is far from that of an EWS race. “We do Enduro Swedish-style. We will never be an EWS race - we simply don’t have the terrain for it unless we race in one of the ski resorts like Åre or Gesunda. And an EWS style series would only be suitable for a small percentage of our racers”. And that has never been the goal.
The EWS is like Formula 1 and we are more like Go Cart.
That doesn’t mean that the series can’t accommodate for or help racers wanting to take their careers further. Even if the ESS is a much smaller series compared to the European Enduro Series and the EWS, it still provides a platform for riders to develop and grow. “The EWS is like Formula 1 and we are more like Go Cart. But all Formula 1 drivers started as Go Cart drivers. The same goes for Enduro racers - we all need to start somewhere. The ESS currently provides seven races a year where riders can do just that.”
Teamwork and future plans
It is fair to say that the ESS and its race organisers have done plenty to develop the sport and please the masses during its short lifetime. Getting a series together, all under one organisation and website, standardising registration and timing systems and giving the races professional media coverage. “Our main prio has always been the timing system because, well, without a result there is no race. We struggled a little at first, but quickly got it under control”, Ingemar says.
The work loads is divided between the members of the economical organisation that is the ESS - every venue wanting to host a race has to become part of the family. They meet online every 14th day to talk about ideas, events and future plans. An important part of keeping up to date and steering the ESS into the future.
If Ingemar gets to decide, the future involves getting even more racers attending their events. “The race in Göteborg showed that it’s possible to have over 440 participants. Yes, it is more organisational work involved for both us and the timing guys, but it makes for such a good race. And if we want Enduro to become a recognised sport, I believe that we need to have around 500 racers at each round”.
If we want Enduro to become a recognised sport, I believe that we need to have around 500 racers at each round.
Reaching the dream goal might not be too far-fetched after all. If the series keeps on growing the way it has - from 100-ish racers in 2014, to 350 in 2018, to a record-breaking 440 in April 2019 - the golden number might be just around the corner. Swedish Enduro is showing no sign of slowing down.
Want to know more about ESS or enter one of their races, get more info over on their website.