Words and photos: Matt Rousu

One of Australia’s fastest mountain bikers is preparing to travel to Chile, South America to take on the worlds best at the opening round of the 2018 Enduro World Series (EWS) on 24-25 March, backing it up with Round 2 in Columbia the following weekend.

Chris Panozzo is a 2x Australian Enduro National Champion (2015 & 2016) and has tasted the waters of the EWS before, racing select rounds in 2016 and 2017 and placing as high as 21st at Snowmass, Colorado in 2016. He has been training hard all Summer to rise to new heights and it’s been paying off; he’s won almost every race he’s entered in 2018 so far.

With the likes of Sam Hill and Jared Graves, our Aussies have been doing quite well at the highest level of Enduro mountain bike racing over the last few years. I caught up with Chris Panozzo at The 2018 Bike Buller Festival who surprised everyone with a brand new bike to see if he could be the next Australian to rise to the top of the EWS.

It’s Been a big weekend testing out your new bike. Tell us about your new Cannondale Jekyll? How did this all come about? New sponsorship or just a change up?

"Yeah, it’s been a bike I’ve been watching get developed and always thought it looked great, but to get a chance to ride one now its been good. It’s much more like a mini downhill bike that is still playful on trails. It suits my style better having grown up racing DH bikes. I'm really looking forward to working with everyone at Cannondale. I’m also still with long time and great fam at Shimano, TLD, Fox, Maxxis and Lusty. Even though I’ve changed frames the stable support from everyone else has made the transition pretty smooth to say the least."

It's a new head badge but a lot of the rest remains the same.

Tell us some nitty gritty details about the bike? Any modifications from standard? Back to 27.5in?

"I’m still working through a bit of a program to get up to speed on the bike but it’s coming quite naturally, I haven’t really been thrown any curveballs with anything I’ve ridden so far on the bike, which is pretty good feeling to have as it’s always a bit nerve racking, whether you are racing the bike for a company or riding a bike you’ve just bought after analysing every bit of info on the net. Yeah back to 27.5" wheels, the wheel size is a fair bit easier to attack unknown terrain that is common practice in the EWS, but the wheel size is only one small part of the puzzle."

It seems like you’ve been training like crazy over the Australian summer to be prepared for another overseas racing adventure. The first round of The EWS kicks off in South America on the 24-25th of March Chile followed by Colombia the next weekend, What’s your season look like? Are you going to try and focus on the EWS or do you have other racing goals?

"I have thoroughly enjoyed the Aussie summer, have just spent time enjoying my riding, enjoying the process of training. Road and XC racing, stayed off the gram, spent time with Family and Friends and keeping busy with other things in life. Yeah I’ll be in South America, as well as Europe, which will also be Ben Mcilroy’s first trip into proper EWS racing, even though he has already won a round in Tassie last year. Can’t wait for the season to start!"

Take a look at Panozzo's inspiration and training haven.

Getting the time on the bike in. Photo: Matt Staggs