Immediately following the UCI World Cup series finale, Norco Factory Team athletes Haley Smith, Andrew L’Esperance and Peter Disera headed overseas to take on the Midgal Epic Israel.
The grueling two-rider team stage race is spread across 4 days and takes riders hundreds of kilometers over every kind of terrain the Israel landscape can throw at them. Naturally, Factory Team teammates L’Esperance and Disera looked to each other to take on the Elite Men.
Race breakdown by Andrew L’Esperance:
The courses took us over some incredible terrain, very raw, rough but also beautiful if you could manage to tilt your head up from the wheel. We raced over every imaginable terrain, through banana plantations, through rows of new avocado trees, on a boardwalk at the border of Lebanon and through a ticket booth, paved roads, dirt roads, gravel trails, dusty corners, singletack, it really had it all. Then there was the heat, we started each day at 7 am to ensure we missed the hottest part of the day, but we were still finishing in 30+ degrees daily.
The race started off really well with a 5th place performance in the prologue. We were happy with our performance and looking forward to the long days where the big gaps would open and the real racing would unfold. Stage 1 started off great, but we experienced some bad luck that lost us time. We had 2 flats, one caused by a broken spoke that required a tube to get rolling again and another that was just a small puncture with fixed with a tire plug. Knowing that, we were quite happy with our "moving" performance and took that into the next day.
Stage 2 started with tired legs but strong wills looking to make our mark on this race. We were well positioned at a decisive climb and managed to sneak away with the race leaders, the German team of Max and George. After riding together for 20 minutes, we took control of the pace on a rough descent and unfortunately the Germans suffered a sliced sidewall. They would have to get the other German team to give up their wheel to ensure they could race on. We took this opportunity and enjoyed being in the race lead and figuring out how we could take it all the way to the finish. We both know it was a possibility and we fought until the very end to make it happen. After a final push to hold on to the lead we were eventually caught by the charging German team. We would cede the stage win on that day, but we took back a lot of time and moved up to 5th on GC. Amazing day on the bike!
Going into the final day we approached it the same at the others, but we had a bit of extra fire given that we were so close to the win the previous day and also that we were only 2 min off the final overall podium. We took all our opportunities and tried to use them to our advantage. This is the super fun part of racing, I absolutely love it! In the end we forced the final split by a 1-2 punch by Peter and I. We were now alone with the Germans. With 13 km to go the Germans had a mechanical issue and we went for it. Peter and I were all-in and we were going for the stage and time for the overall. It was an amazing finish to the race, Peter and I were riding super well together and going really frigging fast, absolutely pinned. When we reached the finish line it was raw emotion, so proud of what we had done. It was an incredible way to finish 4 very hard, challenging days of racing.
The race was a very well-organized event with a very strong international presence and a solid field. It is the biggest mountain bike race in Israel and the community really gets behind it. There were huge cheering sections scattered throughout the course. Although some of these details are a blur since we experience them while racing very hard, I remember a huge army group cheering on one stage with a band to help out with the noise.
Our Revolver FS and all our equipment handled all this daily abuse super well. The only issues we had were flats on stage 1 and I did not adjust anything on my bike the entire time other than a bolt check. That is a huge testament to the quality of our equipment from SRAM, Kenda, WTB and DT Swiss because the courses and the race was very hard on bikes!
On the women’s side, Haley Smith joined forces with fellow Canadian XC race Catharine Pendrel. The two had participated together in stage races previously and used that experience to take the overall in win the Women’s Elite.
Stage racing is where you truly put the limits of your endurance - mental, emotional, physical - to the test. It’s also where you put the limits of your equipment to the test. I teamed up with Catharine Pendrel for this race (we’ve done some stage racing together before) and we made a great duo. Apart from some heat exhaustion on the prologue, we rode smooth and cleanly to two stage wins, a second place on stage 1, and took the overall GC. There were flats, mechanicals, and crashes for teams in the women’s field every day, but Catharine and I managed a clean race from start to finish which is virtually unheard of in stage racing. I’d say that speak volumes to our equipment and the team of people that helped prepare us for this event. Aside from the actual racing, the whole experience was just this wild adventure. Israel is not somewhere I ever thought I’d go, but it was an incredible experience and I honestly had an amazing time.
– Haley Smith
The team uses the Norco Revolver FS 10
0 for most racing, including the Midgal Epic Israel. Check out the bike here.
You can follow the Norco Factory team on Instagram @NorcoFactoryTeam
Thanks to the Israel Epic team for the photos.