May 19, 2013. Punta Ala, Italy. Fabien Barel writes the first page in a new history of mountain biking. Already a three-time downhill world champion—once as a Junior in 1998, and twice as an Elite in 2004 and 2005—the Frenchman also boasts five wins in World Cup events between 2000 and 2009.
On that day, the Enduro World Series was born in Tuscany, and the Nice-born rider put the hammer down on a start list that included some of the biggest names of the past two decades, from across the MTB disciplines: Nicolas Vouilloz, Greg Minnaar, Steve Peat, Cedric Gracia, Jerome Clementz, Jared Graves and others.
On that day in Tuscany, Fabien—together with the other riders on the podium and event planners—rushed to the beach and plunged into the sea to celebrate. They didn't know yet, but perhaps they hoped, that this was the start of something big.
September 17, 2023. Chatel, France. Fast forward ten years, but the smile, the look and the twinkle in the eye have not changed a bit— and neither has the position in the standings: Fabien again at the top of the rankings (even if this time it wasn’t exactly planned).
This season, too, marked a first: the inaugural enduro under the UCI, the international federation. And now it's no longer the EWS, but the UCI EDR World Cup or specifically the E-EDR: the electric enduro. It may not yet get the recognition it deserves, but trust us, it's going to make waves.
At least in theory, Fabien is no longer a professional rider, instead serving as the Team Director and Mentor of Canyon Collective. However, he still frequently jumps on his bike, keeps up his training, and his talent and winning mindset remain intact. So he signed up for the first race of the year in Pietra Ligure, mostly for fun. Besides the Italian race, he's only scheduled for the final race in Chatel, to end the season on a high with his team.
But as fate would have it, Barel emerges victorious from those dusty specials overlooking the Ligurian Sea. So what's next? He goes back and forth on it. Stick to the plan or let things unfold? Clearly, success breeds ambition, so he finds himself also competing in round 2 in Leogang, Austria.
The result remains the same, first again! His belief grows and it all starts to matter. Wouldn't it be a shame to waste two such stunning and, for some, surprising victories? Fabien decides that the time is right to pursue the one cup he is still missing. Despite having three world championships on his palmarès, he's still missing the ‘Overall’, as they call it.
He stumbled in Trentino, Italy, finishing 33rd due to a technical issue. But he bounced back, leading the pack in Loudenvielle, France. Now, we're in Chatel for the final round of the inaugural UCI E-Enduro World Cup. Barel leads the standings, comfortably ahead of his countryman Kevin Marry. He can afford to play it safe. The note on his handlebars is a clear reminder: “be smart”. This is the final round; there’s no room for error. Let's bring this cup home, Fab.
And here it is. Fabien finishes just eighth today due to a penalty, but still leads by 41 points. So at 43, he wins the World Cup Overall for the first time, capping a season that began as a bit of fun but that he led from start to finish. All of this comes 19 years after his first downhill win and 14 years after his last Cup victory.
Fabien is an extraordinary human being in every sense, a role model for all who know him: friends, colleagues, and especially his boys, who with their little bikes have yet to start their cycling careers. Accuracy, decisiveness, timing, conviction: it's more than just talent. Sure, talent helps, but in Fabien's words, it's just the cherry on top of a cake baked with sacrifice, hard work, and persistence.
So Fabien gets his first Overall at 43. But don't assume electric enduro is just for knockabout athletes or riders who don't want to work as hard as traditional cyclists. The second place finisher is 25, the third is 23, and the fourth is 26. These are top guys in their prime, working with official teams from various brands, fully dedicated to the cause.
The UCI E-EDR World Cup race format is also more complex than traditional enduro. While there is mechanical assistance for climbs, the races are longer with more specials. Some of these are uphill on tracks with extreme difficulty coefficients, demanding exceptional riding skills and peak physical fitness. Additionally, the bike's weight, significantly heavier than any mountain bike, makes it harder to handle in many situations.
This new, captivating challenge not only burnishes Barel’s already extraordinary racing career, but also benefits him as a team manager enabling him to better do his job by fully immersing himself in the mountain bike racing environment.
Fabien is an extraordinary man, always pushing forward, overcoming obstacles and pain, ready to rise and recover from even the most devastating setbacks, like those in 2010 and 2014. He performs at the highest level, not just for himself, especially now that he's only a part-time professional athlete. His responsibilities have multiplied two- or threefold; he has a team of young riders to lead and much more besides. He excels at racing, even though no one asked him to and he has nothing left to prove to anyone, except perhaps to himself, because those with a burning passion inside never feel satisfied or like they've reached their destination.
As we said, responsibilities at 40 aren't the same as at 30 or 20. At 40, they include being a father, guiding young Victor and Margot with the sensitivity that children need, while retaining the professionalism of a true champion. Whether they take up mountain biking or not, the boys are on the right path. With Fabien as their guiding light, how could they not be? Fab, you're doing a great job here too. This is, and will be, your greatest achievement.
It's hard not to feel inspired when interacting with a person like Fab. It's impossible not to be drawn to him. A simple exchange of glances across the paddock is all it takes for the magnetism of someone as extraordinary as Fabien Barel to uplift us all.
Thank you for giving your best at all times. Thank you for always inspiring us, Fab.