EWS 2 - County Wicklow, Ireland
Round 2 of the Enduro World Series took me to Ireland, Dubbed the "Emerald Enduro" Ireland promised to be a social affair. Turns out the trails in county wicklow are actually very very fast and very technical. I left Scotland from my girlfriends house and we drove down toward Cairnryan to catch the ferry to Belfast. I made this journey often as a child with my family to see my Grandparents who lived in Belfast so the nostalgia was creeping in. Me and Niamh arrived at the ferry port in good time and our crossing was uneventful. Apart form buying some super awesome white chocolate Toblerone. (you've got to try it!) Once in Belfast we journeyed south to Dublin and then further south to county wicklow.
Our host at our B&B was Gerry and he was very friendly and accomidating. We dumped our bags and I began setting up the bike. I was running some new bits on my Stereo 140 HPC 27.5 bike in the form of a 160mm FOX 36 Float fork and the new Float shock with larger volume sleeve. The additional stiffness from the 36 was something very much welcomed. The bike tracked better in the rough and felt more planted.
Practice was pretty cool, I hooked up with Sam Flockhart and we cruised round the stages together. Conditions were dry and dusty. The week long Irish summer had arrived and was in full swing. The stages were flat out and just stupidly fast. I was feeling on the bike but added more air to both the fork and shock. Putting 120psi un the fork and 290psi in the shock to help skip over the small bumps and hammer the bike. The set up worked well but was brutal on my hands. Deathgripping my way through the lower parts of stages. I had a big crash on stage 2 knocking my knee really badly on some large rocks. I couldn't bend it very well and made my way to the medical tent. After some pain killers and a well placed bandage they advised me to perhaps sit out - but that's not me and this was an EWS race.
After practice I retreated back to our B&B. It was hot enough for me and Niamh to eat and cook outside and we utilised a small camping stove we found in her garage to create some of the most creative pasta dishes I've had. As the evening progressed I could feel my knee getting stiffer and stiffer. I struggled to walk and couldn't turn the pedals a full rotation. I was worried I would have to retire from the race before it had ever begun.
Sunday morning brought race day and my knee was still painful. But I could now pedal so I made the decision to go for it and race. The race was 7 stages over 1 day making up around about 30 mins of stage racing time over the 5 hour day. I rode well - I had made the decisions to not push my limits too hard as I had my home EWS the following weekend. I rode the whole day at 70% and just held on as my hands got more tired with the stiff set up.
The crowd at the event were simply unreal. Amazing support from the crazy fans. Everyone was super stoked to have the EWS come to Ireland and families, friends and fans came out in their thousands.
I was really pleased with my 85th place finish. It was a good race for me. I learned to keep consistant and was most pleased with not having a single crash all day. Big thanks to CUBE UK for the opportunity to come and race the EWS races closer to home.
EWS 3 - TweedValley, Scotland
Only 1 week after Ireland I was back home at the 3rd round of the Enduro World Series. Tweedlove promised to be epic as per usual and it was my ambition to get a top 50 placing at this race. Practice was over a few days as there was alot of ground to cover. It was sunny and the trails were dry and loamy. I was feeling great on the bike. Better than I ever have actually. I was riding fast and smooth. Confidence was high and I was happy.
I decided to practice with my coach, Rab, who was also racing. We did stage 1 and 2 and they looked prime. Classic techy / innerleithen and DH tracks on the main hill. There was a gully at the bottom of stage 2 which I hit and nearly rolled the tyre on. I decided to try the line again and carried even more speed into it. Then. Suddenly. BOOM! I blew up, bike flying, me... Flying. I smashed my head into the ground pretty hard and snapped my brake lever in half. It took me some time to understand what had happened and I was quite shaken. I drove back to the event village to go and see Shimano to try and get some help. The dude at Shimano was really awesome. He replaced my lever and gave me a full brake bleed. Super service and support!
I headed back up the hill and had a look on foot at stages 3 and 4 up the golfie side. Neil had done an amazing job crafting the trails and racers were loving the natural cut sections.
The next day (Thursday) I checked out the Glentress stages, 4 in total. There were a heady mix of natural stuff with pedalling sections, prolonged pedalling sections. The Glentress stages suited me better however I was looking forward to giving all the stages everything I had and riding consistently.
Friday was taken as a rest day for alot of riders but not me as I had yet to rider stages 3 and 4. They had cut up alot and were much slicker than the previous days practice. My confidence had definitely taken a big knock after my crash on Wednesday but I was determined to try and just focus on the race and put it behind me.
Saturday came. Day 1 of racing. Transition times were relaxed which was cool, although we did have long waiting times at the top of each stage. I sent off down stage 1, I was nervous and blew out a few turns but kept it pinned until disaster struck. I clipped my pedal on a stump and was sent over the bars. I hit my head again and was in disarray. My race was over before it had even started. I limped down the stage and just felt dejected, however I still had 3 stages to go in the day and I wasn't going to give up.
Stage 2 went better for me although I was feeling the effects of my crash. My head was sore and spinning. I lost my chain on a crucial climb and had to run. This lost me time but it was onto the Golfie for stage 3 and 4.
Stage 3, Waterworld was one of the best trails created in the valley. Steep and flowy loamy goodness. I was going well, hitting all my lines. I had taken a more conservative approach, not wanting to risk another crash. I hit a tree pretty hard with my shoulder and I could hear the crowd gasp so I must have hit it hard. I finished the stage clean. Keen to finish the day on 4.
The last stage was repeat offender. I had ridden this trail extensively and I wanted to push hard for a good time. I rode the stage really well. Hitting my lines and riding fast. Then, as I was nearing the bottom, I clipped a tree with my hip and got set over the bars. Another crash and another bad time. I finished the stage - disappointed in the day. I knew that my goal of a top 50 was gone but I still had day two of racing to do.
Day 2 brought a new challenge. The weather had turned and the wind and rain had arrived. Stage 6 and 7 were cancelled and now stage 5 would be raced and stage 8 would be extended.
Stage 5 went as well as it could have for me. I stayed upright the whole time which, was more than most racers managed. I took a different approach, controlled and measured efforts.
Stage 8 was the last stage of the day. It was the longest of the weekend. I wanted to finish the weekend on a high so I focused all my energy into putting down a good time. I rode each section well. The flat trail path at the top, Ho-chi-min and zoom or bust. All ridden at 80%. I saved enough energy for the climb at the bottom of zoom or bust and finished strong.
Result! I finished the stage 50th! I was so happy, I hadn't achieved all my goal at the race but a top 50 stage result for me with everything that happened over the weekend was massive for me. I ended up 92nd overall. Disappointing but I learned an awful lost from the weekend.
Thanks to all my friends and family for coming out and cheering me on, CUBE UK for their support and Scottoiler for keeping my bike clean and shiny all weekend.