Sharjah Jonsson vs. the Enduro World Series

As an introduction, I have been riding bikes since the age of five in the Howick forests of KwaZulu-Natal. I started racing XCO at a national level up until 16 also taking on road, time trial, and downhill in those years. In my junior years, I raced enduro and downhill and found myself swaying over to the enduro scene.

How did I end up on this path this year?


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Last year, I finished high school and was set on racing my bike on the world stage of Enduro but I was faced with a few problems, I’m not a trust fund kid so I had minimal money. I also had no knowledge on the qualifying criteria which has to be completed the year before to qualify to race in next year's Enduro World Series (EWS) events. To make it worse, I had also missed the first round of wildcard entries. And I was unemployed. This left me with only two things to do: I entered the second wild-card entry phase and I got a job as a travelling sales rep.

 

One morning, I received an email granting me access to enter the first two rounds of EWS in South America, impulsively I paid for the two entries and was suddenly all out of money (a recurring theme in my story). I scraped through the next month doing my repping work, riding my bike, and couch surfing.

 

In the months leading up to South America, I continued working and trying to train and prepare myself for the brutal stages I was going to be riding in Chile and Colombia. And boy, it was not even close to enough for the beast that is the EWS but you’ll find out more about that in just a second.

 

I was fortunate enough that my family, friends, and sponsors helped me to get to South America. It was going to be my first time out of South Africa, I knew nobody and I was in an emotional state of uncertainty, fear, and an indescribable kind of excitement. Before I knew it, I was in Durban Airport saying goodbye to my mum about to walk through the international departure gates that symbolised the start of a roller-coaster year.

 

A month in South America and my first taste of the Enduro World Series


Chile

 

I arrived in Chile in the early hours of the morning. I caught a shady taxi and got to my backpackers. When I arrived it was closed for three hours, so I slept on the bench outside. Until I was woken by Matteo and his mechanic Andrea from Italy, who at this stage I didn’t know but they would be some of my biggest supporters through the season.

 

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Capturing the crazy terrain in Chile. The scale is unreal.

 

With a shuttle from my new Italian friends, I began practice with a leg-up. I was blown away with the length and physicality of the trails we rode in practice. Stage 2 was the longest EWS stage ever, stretching 11km and descending 1800m. While having to adapt to the terrain made up of “anti-grip” which is loose gravel that forms no ruts, high-speed sections, loose rocks, and big rough natural rock gardens that at times stretched on for over a kilometre.

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My race over the two days was unbelievable. I was stoked just to finish and keep my bike in one piece. Time management became so important with eating, prepping bikes and getting enough sleep. Fortunately, my hostel included food and Andrea helped me a lot with my bike maintenance. With the days being eight hours and stage times adding to over an hour, I was pushed to my limits and I became very aware of my weak arms. I was stoked on 17th in the U21 category and 104th place overall. That same night I packed my bags and left at midnight for my 5 AM flight to Colombia.

 

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A rider pins through a high-speed section on stage 4.

 

Colombia

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I arrived in Colombia without bags for two days. Coincidentally, the Italians were in a BnB opposite from my hostel and they took me on track walks throughout the week. The format was a bit different with practice on Friday, an urban stage practice and race on Saturday and seven stages on Sunday. Tyres became a nightmare, the forests were muddy and Saturdays urban definitely needed low profile dry tyres and Sunday was back to the forest, so I was swapping tyres with CushCore inserts that took a solid hour to replace every day.
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Muddy day out for my final race day in South America.

Racing in Columbia was the craziest experience with 30 thousand spectators on the urban stage going off their heads and the gnarliest mud I have ever ridden with 87 mm of rain in the race week. The ruts got so deep my axles were dragging and my pedals were banking up in the ruts. In the end, I finished 15th in U21 and 94th overall.

 

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The urban stage spectators went mental.

 

I spent a week in Colombia after the race. When I left I ended up on a 94-hour return trip featuring weather delays and bus rides to change airports and sleeping on airport floors because I couldn’t afford a hotel. It was a nightmare!

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Going home after this trip, I was more eager than ever to do some more racing. I got a job at my local bike store to try and get more structure through an 8-5 job. I was offered an entry a month before France for round 3 and I blindly committed and applied for a visa. It arrived two days before I left.

 

The European test


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Germain and his buddy in the van after we met another one of his friends along the way.

 

I arrived in France to find that a train strike had me stranded. Luckily, I had a reply to an Instagram story explaining my situation from Mika, a Frenchy who I had met in South America. He said to wait at a traffic light opposite the train station and his friend would fetch me. After a couple of hours, Germain rocked up and shouted from his van “Hey, you’re Africa right? Get in!”. So I did and he dropped me off at my accommodation after a three-hour drive going completely out of his way. Selfless acts like this make me love our riding community.

 

Germain and his buddy in the van after we met another one of his friends and loaded up.

 

 

The French round was definitely the most technical of the year with more riding on rock then off it. I was humbled in practice to see the big names of the sport struggling. Day one of racing started well and stage 2 came and the wheels fell off, I had a big high side onto my back falling 3 metres and severely bruising my kidneys. I lied to the medics that I was alright and carried on and finished the day. I had a rough night with a lot of pain and urinating blood but I started the next day and as if the trails weren’t hard enough it began to rain. I suffered through to finish 24th U21 and 120th overall. With my consistency to this point, I had managed to get a ranking of 11th in U21 in the overall series.

 

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Austria/ Slovenia

 

After France, I secured another entry to Austria and Slovenia round 4.

 

I organised a house with three other riders from Australia, Brazil, and Norway to split the costs. We met at the airport to find out one of the guys missed his flight and we would have to wait another seven hours for him. I slept on the floor of the airport until he arrived and we got to our accommodation in the early hours of the morning to find no one to let us in. We all slept in the van until we were let into our accommodation. Nights like these you envy the factory supported kids.

 

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The race was on the border of Austria and Slovenia and each day we raced a different side of the border. The first days racing was a nightmare for me, I couldn’t stay on my bike and started getting increasingly frustrated and riding worse for it. Day 2 started well with a really good stage, the final stage was 15 minutes long and rough with some pedalling and two climbs and I broke my chain out the gate. I somehow still ended up 21st in U21 and 115th overall. I dropped to 14th in the overall series rankings after this race.

 

Sharjah Johnson EWS-19.jpgThe Top of stages 4 and 7.
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Sharjah Johnson EWS-21.jpgDay 1 we rode out to Slovenia.

 

I was four races in and out of money, so I got back to work. I had to deny the opportunity to enter rounds 5 (Italy) and 6 (Canada) when I got offered spots. It was hard to watch the next two races live timing and not be there with my ranking plummeting to 26th. I worked a solid three months and struck lucky with a corporate event, where I managed to raise enough money for the final two rounds.

 

Spain

 

Spain was round 7 and it was crazy with massive days out on the bike and 35-degree heat making it gnarly to keep focussed. The tracks were fast and I had a decent race but felt like there was no extra to give when I needed to. I finished 20th U21 and 86th overall.

 

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Stage 1 track walk with Mika Othax.

 

Italy

 

 

With Spain being only a week apart from the next round in Italy, I managed to hitch a ride with my Italians for the 10 hour drive. I arrived at 11pm at a house that five of us were splitting (an American, Colombian and two Brazilians). It was a proper Airbnb rip off as one of the beds was in the kitchen. I woke up at all hours of the morning letting people in as they arrived and we even had two extra Americans join us for a night sleeping on the floor.

 

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The old Italian Streets in Finale Borgo

 

Finale was a single day race with four stages. I had a massive crash in stage one and hurt my hands pretty badly. I rolled through to a 37th U21 finish and 150th overall. It was a dog show for me but never the less an extraordinary day on the bike.

 

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Nativity sets in the caves at the top of stage 1

 

I finished 21st U/21 in the 2018 Enduro World Series and it was a real rollercoaster ride. I learned so much, met so many people and had a lot of rough nights with terrible food, but those I won’t remember a year from now. For 2019, I will try and give the U21 circuit another go with my off season being used up working.

 

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Stage one practice, Round 7 Spain
If you have interest in racing EWS do the qualifier event in Lesotho and enter the wildcard early.

 

If you’re going to race an EWS prepare your practice and race days, ride downhill casing tyres and tyre inserts, prepare yourself with upper body training and be ready for the ride that’ll change your view on racing bikes.

 






13 Comments

ichnusa, Dec 04 2018 06:36

Lekker Shar!

ians, Dec 04 2018 07:45

Great story, awesome chap. You are going to make it big dude 

Steven Knoetze (sk27), Dec 04 2018 08:13

Well done man, its tough going but you are doing what many can only dream of.

Keep at it, keep training and it will all work out.

Cannot believe you haven't managed to snag a sponsor or 2 locally, they are missing out!!!!!

Hairy, Dec 04 2018 11:30

Well done young man!

 

Just subscribed to your YouTube channel, so looking forward to some interesting content as you go along your journey in life 

Headshot, Dec 04 2018 12:18

Awesome. Well done!

Skott5, Dec 04 2018 01:09

Remember watching this kid race in the Spur MTB series and other school events and knew he would go on to bigger things.

 

Go Sharja 

Nikolais, Dec 04 2018 03:02

Nice write-up Sharj!!

Pure Savage, Dec 04 2018 04:47

rad

Bizkit031, Dec 04 2018 06:09

Keep on TRUCKING Sharjah.

solty, Dec 04 2018 08:02

You will remember those rough nights and terrible food, but it will have turned to fond memories and stories years from now.

What an adventure!! Keep at it.

Pikey, Dec 04 2018 10:08

Kudos for sticking at it when many would of jacked it in ....best of luck ,the sport needs ppl like you .

Christofison, Dec 05 2018 08:44

Chargah! Keep sharjing man.

stefmeister, Dec 05 2018 11:48

Sleeping in weird places, eating crappy food. Sounds like the life of a student. Plus side is the kid gets to ride his bike in awesome places over the world. Can't complain about that.