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Flying High with Noga Korem at the First EWS Qualifier in Israel

After running a successful pilot event in 2019, Enduro World Series racer Noga Korem has worked hard to create a 4-race enduro series in her native Israel. The cherry on the cake for 2021 was event #2 which is also Israel's first ever EWS qualifier, held in the Misgav region in the Northern part of the country. We caught up with Noga during the race to talk about this new experience as a race organizer, and of course, to share the action of the day with you as well. Dig in!

The boss herself!

Hey Noga! How was your off-season, if we can actually talk about “off-season”, since there was not much of an “on-season” to start with? How have you managed your training in these crazy COVID times?

It’s been great! At the end of the last season I sat down with my coach [Natalie Schneider] and we decided that in order to be a bit more motivated and bit more focused in the off-season I need to have more specific goals – so we set our own goals, like running 15 kilometers off road. I built a mini-gym at home, so we were able to set weight goals, building upper body strength mostly, and I also worked on climbing power to be able to actually talk to The Twins [Anita and Caro Gehrig] during the transfer stages, they are always so much stronger there! I had a little ride with them in Finale Ligure a few weeks ago, and I felt like I’m almost reaching that goal, so that’s a good sign for me. Luckily the COVID situation in Israel has gotten a lot better over the past couple of months, so I’ve managed to train pretty much as normal. There was a time when were not allowed to ride with friends, so I a lot of my training riders were solo. I did manage to do some XC training with the national team, and fell in love again a bit with hardtail bikes, and I raced the 4-day Samarathon marathon event with my GT Zaskar which was cool.

Today is race day at the first ever official Enduro World Series qualifier event in Israel! Congratulations on making this happen, how do you feel now that it’s actually happening?

This is something that my boyfriend Avi and I have been working on for the past two years, and after so many presentations, so many meetings, and so many people getting involved it’s super exciting to finally see it happening. This year we kicked off the Israel Enduro Series together with BikeIL [an Israeli bike magazine], we worked together to create a 4-race series. The main event this year is this EWS qualifier. We were hoping to have riders from abroad join us, but it was a bit too complicated with COVID restrictions in other countries. To see what we had imagined actually take place was super exciting!

Dawn of battle.
The event sold out at 300 racers.

When did you first start working on creating the Israel Enduro Series? Why did you want to do it?

The first time I ever spoke about it was during a meeting with Source Outdoor, they are my backpack sponsors and we work together on product development. They told me they wanted to give something back to the bike industry and the enduro scene in particular, and they threw out the idea that they wanted to support enduro races in Israel. So I thought “maybe I should just organize the race”, I spoke to another friend, and decided to go for it. I thought it would be super easy, “bring a timing system and let’s go race!” It turned out to be a lot more complicated and a lot of hard work. Avi was working with IMBA in the US at the time, and we started a project to build officially sanctioned enduro trails in Israel. This is possibly one of my biggest achievements in life, I would say – getting authorization from the national park authorities to actually build these trails. The authorities actually had to enact rule changes to allow this to happen – previously only XC trails could be sanctioned. So it all started as a small idea, and grew bigger and bigger every step of the way. But since the EWS race in Ireland in 2017, I pretty much understood the potential. I saw that you can create a very good race on a very small hill, and that you don’t need 2000 meter mountains to do a cool EWS event. I also went to Jerome Clementz’ race in France, and I really really enjoyed racing without time limits on the climbs, and I think these two events were my inspiration for creating the Israel Enduro Series, something fun that fits many types of people, from kids to grown-ups.

Enough elevation to put on a good event...
...and great views to boot!

Tell us a bit about what is involved? Organization, permits, etc?

Wow. So many things! First of all, we need a lot of volunteers to even make it happen, and we are lucky to have so many friends helping us out – thanks to them, we are able to create this awesome series. We needed police permits for this second event, because our first event turned out bigger than expected. Working with people who don’t understand the sport was stressful for me. We also need permits from the national forestry authorities (“KKL” or “Jewish National Fund – JNF”). Ever since we started this work in 2019, this was the hardest part – helping them understand that we have enduro riders in Israel also, not just XC. This was a big challenge in 2019, today it’s a bit easier – they are also seeing less illegal trails being built in areas where we are building official enduro trails, so that was a really good sign, and since then we have their full cooperation and they have helped us a lot. We have actually been able to race on un-official trails, but there are now plans to make those trails official over the coming years, and they allowed us to build two new trails for this EWS qualifier. Finally the local council was also super helpful in working through the permits – as I said before, the support of the local community has been really valuable!

The diversified terrain here offers both fun and challenging riding.
Lots of time on the tools to build these trails.
This section was hard to carry speed through.
Morning light pool is always fun for the photographer.

How did you make your event homologated as an official Enduro World Series qualifier event?

After our 2019 pilot event, we decided we wanted to create an EWS qualifier event (we have many more plans for the future but we know we need to start small…). I met Chris [Ball – head of the EWS] in Madeira and I showed him my plans. We were able to share some feedback from the pilot event, and work on the criteria for homologation – like for example a good timing system, a certain amount of stages, a certain amount of distance. Not too complicated actually, but a big honor for us that they allowed it and that they trusted us to have a good enough event. If I may say so myself, we think it was a very successful race so I think they made a good decision to allow us to do it!

Yonatan Yatom, who you also know as a Vital tester, on his way to the top step of the podium.

Yonatan Maayan on the attack, second today. One way to take this turn...
Tal Oren in the same turn, on his way to a third place finish.

One of the challenges of organizing a real enduro race is finding or building new trails to race on. Tell us a bit more about the work you and Avi (your partner) have done here?

Yeah so our trail builder is also my boyfriend, Avi Tamir. He worked for IMBA in the US, and he learned a lot from them. We’ve actually opened a company together, “Israel Enduro”, our goal is to build enduro trails around the country, in collaboration with the national park authorities. When we did our pilot event in 2019, we understood that the race village area was too small and that we lacked parking spots. We had to move the race village but we still wanted to use the trails we had built then, so we had to get creative. Eventually we managed to come up with 6 different stages, 4 of them were about 2 kms in length with 200 meters of elevation drop each, with another 2 stages closer to the main event site so that people could watch some racing while eating hummus or drinking coffee. This was the vibe we wanted and we’re happy that it worked out. After we got the permit to open the new stages, we reached out for volunteers and we built them ourselves in the last couple of weeks. We kept them secret until the last minute, and we think that nobody rode them before the event. The last couple of weeks were very dry and hot, so the stages were dusty and loose, which made it a bit more technical, but we got great feedback and everybody really enjoyed the trails.

Avi and Noga.
Avi shreds too BTW!

Jumping into the finish area right next to the expo and race village is always a boost!

Stage 6, short but sweet.
Feet up, flat out.

You’ve pulled together an impressive event here, lots of support from the local community and the local bike industry. Was that difficult to do?

For sure, organizing this race would have been impossible without all our partners, sponsors, and volunteers. Luckily we all have many friends that came to help, our amazing families that worked non-stop during the weekend, riders who couldn’t race or who just decided that they would rather help out than race themselves. One of my longest standing personal sponsors became our biggest series sponsor, Source Outdoor were the first to sign up for the 4 races this year. Also Ran Zilka Cycling, local distributor of OneUp Components, Leatt, and Devinci has been incredibly helpful. Matzman & Merutz, the biggest local distributor and chain of bike shops also decided to join in which was a big honor for us. Their support really gave us a lot of tail wind. Many other brands also jumped in after that, some from the first race, others came onboard after the first race was successfully completed. Joe’s No Flats is onboard for the series, and we have international support from Leatt as well as Continental. Muc-Off, MTB Hopper are some other examples of brands that have recently come onboard, and of course my personal race team sponsor GT wanted to be involved and support what I do here – I’m hoping to bring the team here for a training camp one day too. Jinga Clothing helped with our official leader’s jersey and crew jerseys, which came out really cool. The Israel Cycling Federation is helping us run registrations, results, marshalls and so forth. 

Yonatan Yatom 1st, Yonatan Maayan 2nd, Tal Oren 3rd. Ran Zilka handed out the loot!
Noga with Arik Feldman of BikeIL and local MTB legend Nimi Cohen.

Tell us about the race today – what is on the menu for the racers? Stages, climbing, etc?

3 races in one actually. Mini-Enduro, kids from 9-14. 2 stages for ages 9-10, 3 stages for 11-14. These were held on stages 5 and 6 which were right next to the event village so parents could easily go out and watch their kids race. Stage 6 ends with a series of table tops which made it extra fun. Ages 15 and up raced Enduro, 4 stages including 2 bigger stages of 2kms and 200 meters climbing each. The regional council managed to open an underground passage for the riders to transfer between the 2 main trail areas, which made life a lot easier (otherwise we would have had to close a main road which is a lot more complicated). For the Full Enduro category, it was a proper big day. 6 stages, 4 of which are 2 kms long with 200 meters of elevation drop each, pretty technical, not as steep as I’m used to riding in EWS events but still both fun and challenging. 1000 meters of total climbing, and it was pretty hot outside too, so we had three feedzones to support the riders. It was hard to plan for three races at the same time, but in the end the riders didn’t have to wait too much at the top of the stages and we’re happy we could pull it all off.

Nils Hjord tackling a steep little chute on stage 2.
Thanks to the 'Noga effect', 20 women signed up for the event - a new record!
No two trails look alike here - stage 4 starts here, then drops into a relentless rock slab for most of it.

We also just saw a jump jam with a best trick contest go down, with a guest star judge – Claudio Caluori who is here building a couple of Velosolutions pumptracks. Nice surprise!

Yeah I met Claudio last year during World Champs in Leogang, and we spoke a bit about his “Pump for Peace” program and I suggest Israel would be a great fit for it. Claudio really wanted to do it, so I spoke with Ran Margaliot, the CEO of the Gino Bartali foundation, and 4-5 months later there was already a crowdfunding initiative in place for building 4 pumptracks in so-called “youth villages” – facilities which host children from damaged families. Claudio’s company Velosolutions is working hard on them as we speak, and luckily Claudio could make some time to come and check out the race. It was an honor for us to host Claudio, people were super excited to see him and feel a bit a part of the “euro race vibe”, and of course we put him to work as a judge in our best trick jump contest. The jump jam is a tradition we started during our first race and that we’re trying to keep alive going forward. Fun for the kids, the photographers, and the crowd, and we’ll try to feature it at every race we put on. 

When he's not commentating World Cups for Red Bull...
...Claudio travels the world building pump tracks with his company Velosolutions.

Sometimes it all just goes crazy!

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So how did the day go? Was it harder than you imagined to pull it all off?

The day was really good! It started with a lot of stress, I wanted everything to be perfect and it’s really hard! I really respect all the organizers of the EWS or any other race, you guys rock. It’s so hard to have everything be perfect. So many little things, like the water is not in the right feed zone, I read the wrong list for the start at one point and made a bit of a mess, it’s not easy! From the racers’ point of view though, I think we pretty much nailed it, apart from me stressing they didn’t really experience any issues as a result of any mistakes. It’s definitely a lot harder than I imagined. We tried to not just have a good bike race but also a cool event, with lots of spectators, and to have happy sponsors and to build the enduro bike scene here in Israel. But seeing the happy faces and all the photos afterwards it makes us all sooo happy. Seeing the support from the sponsors and volunteers with smiles on their faces too makes it a perfect package. We have some small things to improve for the next two races we have left in the series this year, and hopefully for the EWS qualifier next year we will have some riders from abroad as well. It would be cool to see the Israeli riders race against some international pros to see how they will do, and definitely our goal is to see Israeli riders using these EWS points to go race abroad. We will do everything we can to support these riders to reach their goals of riding at the European level – we hope to see them at the EWS races soon!

At the start line, about to unleash the very first wave of riders of the day - stress levels were peaking!

Time for YOU to go racing now! You have any special tricks up your sleeve for the new season, like maybe a new bike or something…? ;-)

Well. Maybe. Or maybe not. If I did, I couldn’t say anything about it. Maybe we’ll have something at the first race… I’ve tried to train as hard as I can, it was obviously a challenge to do that while planning this race series, so I’ll have to do some extra work in the next month before the first EWS. Hopefully I can go ride in Europe before that, to help me prepare to do well in MY races now. It was definitely cool to feel the race vibes again here, and I’m looking forward to being between the tapes again. Bring on 2021!

Congratulations again on putting on such a great event. See you at the races!

Photos and interview by Johan Hjord

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