Perhaps going through the Enduro World Series gauntlet of Finale Ligure, Italy, was a rude awakening for local rider Dylan Layzell.
In his first pro race, the Whistlerite took on the challenge, but ultimately finished 108th, seven minutes and 16 seconds back of champion Damien Oton of France.
"I didn't really know what to expect. I only just started racing this year. I just kind of did local events and things like that," Layzell said. "Heading over to Europe and things like that, it was completely unknown and it all just came about last minute, probably three weeks before the race I had to book everything.
"I didn't think too much about the riding until I got there, really."
Layzell noted he went in with limited knowledge, with just one run of each stage heading into the race and lacking time to do a track walk, so he did the best he could with the intel he had on the notorious course.
"It definitely lived up to its reputation," he said. "It was a tough race because it was so long on both days with so much pedalling. It was very physical in that way. Every stage was a challenge in itself. It was a very technical course and there was so much pedalling in the stages, too.
"Stage 1, in particular, was a really, really long stage. The fastest time of the day was (about) 16 minutes, so even if you're the fastest in the world, you're still hanging off the back for a super long time."
Layzell explained some of the course's main challenges came from its terrain, the likes of which he'd never experienced before.
"The riding was completely different from what I was used to riding the events in Canada and in Whistler. It was a mix of everything from mountain-bike trail to hiking trail to farming field," he said. "It was intense but it was definitely good to get through."
Though his results were generally a bit better on Day 1, Layzell said he felt more confident on Day 2 after a couple crashes took some pressure off.
"I knew I wasn't really fighting for position anymore," he said. "The goal was to fly out there, finish the race and be happy with my performance. Ultimately, I didn't want to go all the way there and have the race finish because of a mechanical or something out of my control that took me out of the race.
"That goal was definitely achieved... Ideally, I would have liked to have finished slightly further up the table."
Heading into the offseason, Layzell plans to work on his conditioning and finish higher. He plans to race more next season, not just in the EWS but on the lower-tiered North American Enduro Tour (NAET) and BC Enduro Series circuits.
"I'll do the Whistler EWS and if there are any I can afford to go to, I'd love to have a crack at it," he said.
Layzell started racing at the NAET's Squamish Gryphon race and after winning the amateur category, was hooked. With the EWS coming to Whistler with the Canadian Open Enduro in August, Layzell signed up in their amateur category, eventually capturing four out of five stages to once again earn the victory and boost his confidence.
With the race in Finale Ligure relatively close to his childhood home in the United Kingdom, Layzell decided to go in the hopes his parents would fly over and cheer him on, which they did.
"That was a big factor because it gives me the chance to see them. Otherwise, it would have been about two years since I'd last seen them," he said. "Getting the experience and the exposure to a race like that was something I was looking for.
"It was definitely a big eye-opener."
Other Whistler racers experienced misfortune in Italy. Jesse Melamed, sitting fifth overall heading into the race, was injured in training and dropped to 12th, just 65 points out of the top 10. Yoann Barelli, a French rider living in Whistler, placed 31st. On the women's side, Leonie Picton's bike was lost in transit and she had to borrow a ride from her team, but pulled out after completing three of seven stages.