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After hitting pause on the 2020 season, French enduro racer Youn Deniaud is looking forward to getting back to what he loves most.

Giant Factory Off-Road Team rider Youn Deniaud in the Caroux mountains of France

With few races to prepare for in 2020, Youn spent more time exploring his local terrain. Baptiste Vignaud photo

As far back as he can remember, Youn Deniaud always had a race to prepare for. First it was motocross, which he began as a junior and dedicated 10 years of his life to. Then it was enduro mountain bike racing, the sport that he transitioned to in 2014.
 
There was always a goal. The clock was always ticking.

Last year was supposed to be a comeback for the French rider after an injury-plagued 2019 season with the Giant Factory Off-Road Team. As the 2020 season was approaching, Youn was healthy, fit and looking to regain the form that saw him rise through the ranks as a privateer and finish top-10 overall in the 2018 Enduro World Series.

But just weeks before the 2020 season kicked off, everything changed. The global pandemic led to the cancellation of events—and a period of uncertainty that continues today, more than a year later.
 
“When they announced the cancellation of the first races, it was hard to keep the motivation because it was difficult to have 100 percent focus without clear objectives,” Youn says. “It’s a little different now, heading into the 2021 season, because it’s a little more predictable and something we’ve been living with.”
 
When those 2020 events were cancelled, Youn’s focus changed. His day-to-day living no longer involved packing and preparing for races in far corners of the world. Fortunately for him, that didn’t mean he was riding less. Far from it.

Giant Factory Off-Road Team rider Youn Deniaud in the Caroux mountains of France

"The Caroux mountains are considered the mecca of enduro here in France." Baptiste Vignaud photo

Youn lives near the Caroux mountains of Southwest France, with a world of riding opportunities right out his door. The historic village of Olargues at the foot of the Caroux mountain range is well-known in France, but the mountain bike world became more aware of this region when the Enduro World Series came to town in 2018. Miles of singletrack criss-cross the hulking mountain range that’s known locally as la Femme Allongée (which translates to “reclining woman” in English).
 
“The Caroux mountains are considered the mecca of enduro here in France,” Youn says. “It’s a rocky mountain range with very technical trails. I’ve lived near these mountains since I was 8 and have been riding the mountain bike trails since I was 18. It’s a tough place to start enduro racing, but it allowed me to develop a base of good technical skills.”

Giant Factory Off-Road Team rider Youn Deniaud racing a 2020 EWS event in Italy.

Youn's 2020 season was limited, but he managed to score a top-10 at one of the only big events held, an EWS race in Pietra Ligure, Italy. Sven Martin photo.

Much of the terrain that Youn rides originated as ancient hiking trails—so it’s generally steep and challenging on a mountain bike with plenty of switchbacks and sharp corners to negotiate.
 
“Mountain biking here is considered to be something you have to earn,” Youn says. “The climbs are tough, and the descents are physically taxing. If you can learn to ride here, you will be well prepared to ride almost anywhere.”
 
With fewer races to prepare for over the past year, Youn has spent more time on his Trance X Advanced Pro 29 trail bike, a shorter-travel option compared to the Reign Advanced Pro 29 enduro bike that he typically uses for EWS races.
 
“The terrain here is physically demanding and there are lots of long climbs,” he says. “The Trance X Advanced Pro 29 makes the climbs a bit easier and I can still descend with it almost as well as I can with my Reign race bike.”

Beyond trail riding, Youn has used the time at home to focus on projects and goals that can be hard to fit into a hectic race calendar. “Having this long period of not racing has given me more time to work on any weaknesses while continuing to develop my strengths,” he says. “I also made it a goal to have everything I need to train in the best possible way at home. I built a pumptrack in the garden and also a crossfit room for working out.”
 
This year, as winter turned to spring, there were still plenty of uncertainties with the upcoming season. That’s beyond his control, but Youn says he’s aiming for a strong return to EWS racing.
 
As of April, the 2021 EWS season was set to kick off in June at Val di Fassa, Italy. The first three stops on the calendar—Val di Fassa followed by La Thuile, Italy, and then Loudenvielle, France—are “doubles,” with two rounds of racing at each venue. The series then continues with single events in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, and Pietra Ligure, Italy, followed by the final round at Tweed Valley, Scotland.

Giant Factory Off-Road Team rider Youn Deniaud in the Caroux mountains of France

Baptiste Vignaud photo

Whatever the future holds, Youn is prepared. “My goal is to be a consistent top-10 finisher in 2021,” he says. “And I would also love to get my first podium finish.”
 
The Frenchman knows it could be a rocky route ahead, but that’s mountain bike racing. Besides, he has spent the past year, and most of his life, riding a mountain range whose very nature is defined by rocks.

Whatever comes, he’s ready to roll.