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SLIDESHOW: Historic Enduro World Series Kick Off in Punta Ala, Italy 18

<b>Welcome to the kick off of the highly anticipated Enduro World Series. Racing begins in the seaside destination of Punta Ala, Italy. Sit back, soak up the rays and ask yourself why you're not there.</b> -Sven Martin

<b>World Champions, downhillers, full-time Enduro racers and XC pros are all poised to stake their claim on the Enduro World Series.</b> -Sven Martin

<b>A man of many hats and words. Race organizer, man behind the SuperEnduro Series, Enrico Guala welcoming the riders and press tonight before the official press conference.</b>

<b>What we all want to know is which competitor is best equipped for this every-man style of racing and riding.</b>

<b>All the facts about the Punta Ala Enduro World Series race.</b>

<b>Riders begin the race on Saturday with a crowd-favorite Prologue stage that is actually an urban course through the castle walls and streets of Castiglione della Pescaia. This is only racing on Saturday and times count toward overall.</b>

<b>Timed stages are called Special Stages. The total overall time of a competitor's Special Stages determines their result. The fastest wins.</b> -Matteo Cappe

<b>The climbing stages or liaison stages are not timed, but there is a time limit in which the liaison stages must be completed.</b> - Matteo Cappe

<b>Michael Prokop packing two helmets. With 62 KM of pedaling on Sunday you don't want to be doing it all in a full face.</b> -Sven Martin

<b>There will be a lot of surprises this weekend. With more than a few "unknown" riders producing strong rides. Stage 3 goodness on Rock-Oh trail.</b> -Sven Martin

<b>Sunday is a packed day with all five special stages taking place on the local trails. Riders face 1780m (5800 feet) of total climbing in the transition or liaison stages in between the timed Special or descending stages.</b>

<b>Anka Martin on a new Santa Cruz ______?</b> -Sven Martin

<b>Dan Atherton began a full-time Enduro focus in 2012 and is poised for success in the Enduro World Series with incredible DH skills and the heart of a lion. He is confirmed to race the 27.5 GT prototype bike.</b>

<b>Atherton Racing's ace in the hole, Martin Maes, is only a youngster but already pulling big results amongst the older, established crew. In a game where experience is coveted, I reckon he could be dominating the sport in 4-5 years time, if not sooner.</b> -Sven Martin

<b>Jerome Clementz is the enduro king right now. Will World Cup downhillers or XC converts come in and spoil his reign?</b>

<b>Graves has big calves and has been Tweeting some good info and pics.</b>

<b>Graves is fresh off a sub-two minute Sea Otter lung buster and looking lean. It will be interesting to see him stacked against the world's best Enduro pilots after making the move from full-time 4X racer.</b>

<b>Anneke Beerten is another World Champion in the mix. She raced XC last year in addition to 4X, so Enduro should be the perfect blend of the two disciplines, right?</b>

<b>Tracy Moseley is on a new Trek 29er Remedy and by all accounts she is loving it. Will it be a battle between her, Anne Caroline Chausson and Anneke Beerten?</b>

<b>And here she is with her new bike...</b>

<b>Pauline Dieffenthaler through the infamous slot located on the Stage 3 trail, Rock-Oh. Considered the toughest trail in the region, Stage 3 starts with a hard sprint followed by technical, bike-eating terrain. If riders manage to keep their bikes in one piece, they have a final sprint through the woods, over stream beds and to the finish.</b> -Sven Martin

<b>The American Dream can finally escape some of the pedally American enduro races for the rough and tumble European courses.</b>

<b>New Giants and new tires for Adam Craig and Kelli Emmett.</b>

<b>The Dude, Joe Barnes, has set up camp in the middle of the woods, all alone, living like a nomadic hunter-gatherer. Even with the big ride on Canyon he is staying true to his gypsy roots.</b> -Sven Martin

<b>Ben Cruz rode a lot of moto this off season and it's showing. He is not afraid to let loose after last night's heavy rain. Finding the throttle on Stage 5's La Torretta trail.</b> -Sven Martin

<b>We know we've only skimmed the list of capable pro riders in attendance, so don't feel hurt if your favorite rider was left out. We're well aware of the potential podium snatchers out there and we're really excited to see ifsomeone we've seldom heard of leaves us all in disbelief by taking down the big guns!</b>

<b>The press conference went well tonight and since the riders have been riding and learning the stages, it's no wonder they look a little spent. Best caption left in the comments gets a Vital MTB t-shirt.</b>

<b>The end of the final stage, Stage 5, spits you out to this spot on a beach. Racing here at Punta Ala is pretty unique with the challenging trails, a good vertical drop and beachfront scenery. Take note, the region is open for camping and riding all year, long after the racing has left town. Stay tuned for race day coverage here on Vital MTB. Thanks to Sven Martin, Ale Di Lullo, SuperEnduro, I-MTB and Matteo Cappe for the information and imagery.</b> -Sven Martin

The Enduro World Series officially kicked off today in Punta Ala, Italy with a press conference and pre-race course rides. Sven Martin is on site capturing beautiful images along with the SuperEnduro team as a sold out field of the world's most diverse riders assemble to see who will earn the top podium spot. Riders will ride 62km with 5 timed stages and a bonus prologue stage to determine this first winner of the long-anticipated Enduro World Series. With a host of World Champions, enduro specialists and XC converts, it's anyone's guess who will come out on top.

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Thanks to Sven Martin, Ale Di Lullo, SuperEnduro, I-MTB and Matteo Cappe for the information and imagery.