Five things we learned about the 2024 EnduroGP elite riders from the Italian Enduro Championship round one last weekend in Cavaglia.

With so many major teams and riders contesting the opening “Assoluti” Italian Enduro Championship round of the season last weekend, it was always going to make fascinating viewing for EnduroGP fans.

Steve Holcombe on the Honda, Nathan Watson on the Beta, Brad Freeman back from injury, Josep Garcia jumping across from sunny Spain to join Andrea Verona in the Farioli factory camp, Sherco’s Hamish Macdonald on a two-stroke Sherco, TM’s team changes, Fantic’s fast world champions…and that’s just the tip of the entry list.

Conditions were horrible in Cavaglia for this maiden voyage of the season for the EnduroGP elite, so bad they cancelled day two. But it did give us plenty of meat to chew on in terms of who’s doing what and how well as we fast-approach the first GP of 2024.

“I have fear when I get over confident” – Steve Holcombe gelling with the new Honda

Think about it from outside the sport of enduro, apply a move like Steve Holcombe made to any world champion from MotoGP, WSBK, MXGP, TrialGP and you won’t find a very big list of riders who won first time out. New bike, new team, new life it seems for Holcombe who was “riding more like my old self,”  he told us.

Honda’s aluminium twin spar frame, Showa SFF air forks, a very different, higher-revving, 250cc four-stroke motor…it is a massive change for a rider who has literally never raced a Honda and certainly has spent the huge majority of his career on Beta machines.

A heap of work by rider and team are behind it Steve explained, “I’d been feeling really good on the bike, but I have a fear sometimes of being over confident. Today I tried to keep calm and I felt really good and confident with the bike but sometimes that’s dangerous because you go too fast.”

Not getting ahead of ourselves, partly due to the conditions in Cavaglia, and this being just day one of many in 2024, never-the-less it is ominous for his rivals to look at the time sheets early on Saturday morning and see such big gaps.

For the record, Steve went fastest in six of the first seven tests to establish a half minute lead and remained fast or fastest all day in the long, and traditionally more testing, Enduro test. It is a tried and tested formula for winning. 

“I was riding more like my old self,” Steve continues, “getting good times in the first tests and then being able to manage the gap, manage my speed and not need to push as hard in the last tests.

“As riders we all come into the first race of the year saying we are not ready but, you know, we are ready. We’ve all worked hard in the last few months. I had one crash which was not good but overall it was a good showing for me to know where I am.”

From a neutral point of view, EnduroGP in 2024 is going to be a competitive one.

Beta 350 brings rewards for Watson

Nathan Watson switched camps with Holcombe and took up the second berth in the Beta Racing Enduro team alongside Brad Freeman, actually signing with the Italian manufacturer before the end of the lasts season and before Holcombe had signed with Honda.

A self-confessed “hater” of the wet and muddy conditions, Watson never-the-less bagged P3 overall behind Andrea Verona at this opening Italian round ahead of some serious competition.


Like us, you might think jumping to a traditional steel backbone chassis Beta off a Honda would be a tricky one but Watson says it was, “quite an easy change, I felt good on the bike straight away and really comfortable.”

Already training partners, Watson has been clocking up the hours getting to know the Beta with new teammate, Brad Freeman: “we just spent a lot of hours training not testing over the winter,” before adding with a trademark smile, “I’m looking forward to some dry tests!”

Tellingly, Nathan also explained the Beta is giving him the opportunity to get back “fighting at the front” thanks to being on a smaller 350 RR model after successive seasons riding the big CRF450RX in EnduroGP: “It’s been tough, unless it was quite an easy test it was difficult on the big bike to be challenging [for the win], definitely I’m feeling good on the Beta and can be closer to the front this year.”

Bad break for Brad

Sticking with Beta riders, and apologies for going big on the Brits (so far) here, but Brad Freeman lucked out once again. At literally the first timed test of the weekend, the Friday Super Test, he smacked his hand on a post and did not start Saturday due to the swelling and suspected broken bone.

We’ve seen him battling with a broken hand at GPs before of course, but it’s an unlucky break literally, after what he says was a really positive winter. Brad will race on, he always does, and told Enduro21, “I will be in Portugal, don’t you worry about that.”


From the mid-point of 2023, where Freeman crashed a couple of times and hit his head, seriously worrying himself enough to actually stop riding for once, and despite taking the E3 world crown, Brad says after Christmas things got back on track after a tough ’23.

Along with the new teammate Watson, they went to Sardinia for a month, “riding and riding basically to get a good feeling again and get back to fitness.”

They Beta boys raced a Portuguese championship round prior to the Italian championship and things were looking good until that unlucky hit. The swelling was so bad on Brad’s hand, we understand, it was not possible to do a proper Xray at first and Brad will have a better idea of the injury later this week.

Weather and gear lever issues for Garcia

Both the Farioli team factory KTM and GASGAS boys, Josep Garcia and Andrea Verona, arrived at Assoluti round one with largely unchanged bikes for the season and a steady ship to sail off.

With just a few things different, but more or less the same – except a new 250F engine for the Spaniard – essentially their winter months have been about improving what they already know.

It’s the reason why Josep made the trip from sunny Spain to very rainy Italy, to train in real race conditions alongside Verona, Watson and new E1 class rival, Holcombe.

Fastest in Friday night’s Super Test, Garcia says he took time to get used to the conditions on Saturday, the mud but also the wet rocks and streams which were quite different to his home terrain.


“I came to do some Italian tests to understand where we are and to have more confidence with the bike.” Said Josep. “The tests in Italy, either they suit me very well or I always struggle. I knew that this race has a terrain like this and wanted to ride something different to where I have been training in Spain.”

With Holcombe off and away on the time sheets, plus Verona also distancing himself in second, Josep was in the fight for an overall podium with Watson before a broken gear lever in a test cost him roughly one minute, putting him out of contention.

“Physically we are ready but, of course, every year there are things to improve before we start but we came here to race in these conditions, now we understand where we are, where we can improve.”

300 Sherco two-stroke for Macdonald –“it was pretty gnarly”

Another big name rider changing machinery (but not manufacturer) for ’24 is Hamish Macdonald who has switched, slightly under the radar, to Sherco’s 300 SE two-stroke.

The Kiwi had not just a new bike to get to grips with in race conditions but, like everyone else, also the wet conditions which blew through Northern Italy last weekend. “I’ve not ridden in conditions like this in a long time,” explained Macdonald, “it was pretty gnarly.”


Speaking about the new bike, Hamish says, “I didn’t really feel myself this morning but after that continued to get better and I won a few tests outright later. So, I’m really happy with how we improved over the day and with my first race on the new bike, especially in these conditions. It’s something to build on.”

Moving to the SE 300 Sherco from so many years on the 4T models means a change to E3 class. That brings fresh motivation Macdonald says, and not just for the world title but it will also breathe life into the big bike class in GPs which can suffer with not enough depth of field.

“I wanted new motivation with the bike and I feel that. Last year I think I kind of got stuck in rut, you know, with the same feeling every time, I felt a little bit lazy with the way I was riding in the end.

“I’m learning new things with the two-stroke, I haven’t ridden it so much yet and we have a new gearbox now also, but to finish fourth overall is a good starting point. We’ll see how the real race is in Portugal.”

Footnote on the Sherco EnduroGP team: there’s still no sign of French star, Zach Pichon. Enduro21 understands there’s no deal done with the Sherco factory due to contract negotiations, we think. The world championship will be all the poorer if he (or his father) don’t sort out a ride soon.


Apologies to other teams and riders, we were coming to you but the rain stopped play!

Round one of the EnduroGP World Championship is in Fafe, Portugal on April 5-7.

Round two of the Italian Enduro Championship is in Caltanisserra on April 27-28.


Photo Credit: Future7Media | Andrea Belluschi + Beta Racing | Cristiano Morello