The Enduro World Series kicked off its 2021 season this week in northern Italy with a double-header event. The world's premiere enduro race series had to shorten its calendar last year, but this season the best enduro racers are back to racing a seven-race schedule based in Europe.
The long-awaited racing action returned on Wednesday, with Richie Rude and Isabeau Courdurier taking hard-fought victories over the course of four timed stages.
Courdurier solidified her victory on stages one and four, both of which the Frenchwoman won. It was a great day for French riders, as the country swept the top-three spots in the women's race with Morgane Charre in second and Melanie Pugin in third.
While Courdurier won by 14 seconds, Pugin won Stage 2 and the British Harriet Harnden won Stage 3, showing that there are multiple women at the pointy end of the race.
Courdurier won the 2019 EWS overall title but has come into the 2021 season shortly after the death of her father, and the rider has been open about her mental struggles.
"The next race is the first race of my life where I consider being on the start line a small victory," Courdurier wrote on Instagram ahead of the race. "I was not sure about lining up but I know racing will help me."
The victory will help build momentum heading into the next race this weekend and the rest of the season.
"No words can describe how this one feels," she posted in an Instagram story after the race. "That one is for you papa."
Harnden swept the three-race 2020 series in the u21 category, earning the overall title. A stage win in Italy proves that she can match the speed of the top women in the elite category.
The men's race was incredibly close, with Rude taking victory by just under five-tenths of a second over Jack Moir. Rude won the first two stages but slipped back on the third before again winning on Stage 4.
Stage 3 saw tenth place finisher Charles Murray take the win. The top-three was rounded out by Canadian and former EWS race winner Jesse Melamed.
This is Rude's first EWS victory since he won in Northstar, California, in 2019. The American did not participate in any EWS races last year but has seen strong results in US-based races.
Second place finisher Moir will continue to threaten the podium at the second round this weekend. The Australian took sixth at the 2020 UCI Downhill World Championships and has brought this pace to enduro, showing he is a match to Rude over multiple stages.
Melamed will be looking to step up to the top of the podium again after winning two out of the three rounds last season.
"Besides one decent mistake, I am more than happy with my riding today," Melamed wrote on Instagram. "All the off-season work was put to work as I wasn’t feeling super fast on the bike this week."
The next round will take place on the same four stages this Saturday. On Friday, racers will race a prologue stage on the Stage 4 course, which will count towards Saturday's results.