I arrived at Ae mid morning on Saturday for some practice. The sun was shining and the tracks were dry, dusty and loose. I don’t often ride at Ae having only visited for the UK Gravity Enduro round earlier in the year. Luckly most of the stages were similar to those used by the UKGE, although they were taped much better with more flow to them and the changes made for the Scottish Enduro stages were all positive changes which made the riding even better.
Having had a pretty big crash only 3 weeks prior I was carrying a few injuries. My right shoulder had attempted to dislocate during said crash, but hadn’t quite succeeded leaving me with some rather painful soft tissue and ligament injuries to my shoulder and neck. I was also nursing a bruised heel bone which meant dabbing a foot was not an option. I knew that this weekend I would not be able to ride at race pace at all but I had to try and get some points for the overall.
I met up with a few mates from down south and we set off for some practice. The fire road climb up to stages 1, 4 and 5 was long and seemed to go on forever. Once at the top we were greeted with 3 stages all leaving from the same spot and heading off down different sides of the hill. Stages 2 and 3 took us over to the other side of the forest so all in all we took in about 26 miles and 3,617 feet according to my Strava stats, so it was most certainly going to be a big day out tomorrow.
Overnight it rained down hard, everything changed. The tracks went from deep dust to deep mud. I put a spiked tyre on the front in the hope this would help keep me upright in the famous Scottish mud.
Race day arrived and I was excited but also apprehensive. Knowing I simply couldn’t afford to crash was weighing heavily on my mind. The conditions would make it even more difficult to keep her upright but I wanted to race and prove I could still battle it out with the fast guys even if I couldn’t go 100%
Stage 1 was a fast, downhillesque trail. It featured flat out rough, rocky turns before depositing you into the woods and over some fair sized gaps and jumps. After a fire road sprint it was onto a final flat out straight where us top boys would be pushing 30-40mph over baby head sized rocks. A fresh cut muddy singletrack section brought the stage to a close.
My run was controlled; I hit all my lines smooth. Nothing special, if anything it felt slow, very slow. I always felt well within my comfort zone, which is unusual for me in a race run. Usually I try and ride right on the edge of the limit, for me there is no other way to race. 100% or nothing but with my shoulder this was not an option and I simply had to swallow the fact I wouldn’t be able to ride to my limits. Although in hindsight this might have even helped me. 7th on the stage was a good way to open my account for the day.
A short transition to Stage 2 saw me bump into David Winton, dad of the famous Katy Winton who is currently out in the Alps slaying the EWS races. David himself is no slouch on the bike and I set off just ahead of him down the stage. The ground was very wet. The mud was slippery and the bike swabbed about all over the place. I had a pretty wild moment involving some slick roots about halfway down getting bucked like a bucking bronco, but I saved it and pushed on down the fire road sprint and onto the trail centre section. The stage was very physical and there were a lot of tired riders crossing the line. I managed a 6th. David caught me up and we headed over to stage 3.
3 was a mix of trail centre flow and fresh cut awkward, hole ridden loam. I struggled to carry speed along the trail centre section, there was a big head wind. I cracked on and barreled into the fresh cut. The holes were pretty blown out from practice. I managed a few choice gaps and cleared some good sections carrying good momentum. 7th on the stage.
Onto stage 4, this one was the one I feared most. It was super muddy but due to how flat it was meant carrying good speed over the rocks and roots was going to be difficult. I tried not to dab, but an off camber root pushed me into a slide and I had to put my bruised heel down. I immediately felt it as I slammed my foot onto the ground. The pain throbbed and I pushed on and tried to ignore it. I came across the fire road and fired into the next section. After a slightly overcooked corner which ended with an off track trip into a large bush I was able to regroup and take 6th on the stage.
The pain in my foot was at the forefront of my mind now and my shoulder was aching from the repeated hammering it was getting. I climbed up to stage 5 alone. I wanted to gather my thoughts and try and get through the last stage unscathed.
I rolled up to the start line, dibbed in and dropped. The top section was awesome. Huge moto ruts, you could just get stuck in the rut and pin it round the corners. I came into the steepest bit of the stage too hot and the back end stepped out, I was going down, the bike slid, gripped, slid, gripped, slid and then finally gripped and it shot me back on to the pedal and pulled her round the next corner with all my strength. I heard the marshal applaud me, “amazing save! amazing save!” he shouted. I pinned it to the bottom and crossed the line with an 8th.
I ended the day with 6th in seniors with no crashes and plenty of mistakes. I was disappointed to have not been able to ride at 100% but at the same time I am stoked to have had a safe and injury free weekend. I rode the Kona Process 153 and didn’t have a single issue all weekend. It was the perfect bike for the job.
Thank you to Kona Bikes, SweetProtection, Hart’s Cyclery, Renthal, HIGH 5, FiveTen, Evoc, eThirteen, CycleLawScotland for their support