Race Report>>>>>>> Last weekend saw me racing at the second round of the Scottish Enduro Series. This round was held at Innerleithen, which for me meant it was a home race on trails I ride day in, day out.
Saturday was practice day, the rain largely held off but despite this the trails were still begining to cut up early on in the day. The Innerleithen MTB Racing crew had one heck of a course planned out;
Stage 1 started high up on Minch Moor and followed the usual red descent, a fully man made trail from top to bottom. It was a stage which would separate those who had put in the winter training from those who hadn't.
Stage 2 was an bit of a different beast altogether. It started out with a sprint through axle-deep mud ruts before taking a sharp right turn into the woods. The trail made its way through the trees, cutting and weaving like an untamed river. The corners were riddled with roots waiting to grab you if you weren't paying attention. I spent some time in this part of the stage during practice looking for some alternative lines, but the track changed every 20 riders or so that came down. The stage then spat you out to an uphill fire road sprint taking you to a well known trail, "mince baby, mince"; a tight and tricky affair with a giant mud bog thrown in at the bottom for good measure.
Stage 3 was one for the downhillers. It began from the mid point of Cresta Run and cut down the hill before delivering you onto the "mouse trap" climb which you rode backwards before sprinting along the fire road and diving back into the downhill trail over a big jump and then through some roots before a cheeky left hander taking you down to the finish on the push-up path.
Stage 4 was one of the fastest stages of the day. It started from the Downhill start hut. It began with a relatively straight-forward but muddy section before diving into some fast turns through the trees. It was easy to get caught out here and blow a turn. You were then delivered to the fire road just right of the infamous road gap, down 'the tunnel' where speeds got stupidly high, launching the jumps before coming back out of the woods and entering 'the luge', a fast set of turns. Left, right, left, right, left... High speeds holding on for dear life. A quick sprint along the lower fire road and down 'deer hunter' before diverting right and down some steep rocky turns.
Stage 5 was a monster. Beginning just above the uplift turning circle, it was a mud fest; the key was to keep momentum. It was largely a case of holding on and hoping for the best. The mud thickened as you went down the trail, steep, rocky and technical. It was supremely difficult. If you survived the ordeal, you were then treated to a fire road sprint uphill to 'Jane's lane' and 'Caddon Bank'. As always, Caddon Bank was great fun to ride but throwing fatigue into the equation made for some interesting moments here and there.
My goal coming into the race was a top 10. Even though I knew that the field was stacked with Elite racers and International Enduro riders, I knew I had done the work and this being my first race back after breaking my finger, I was excited to get going.
I was so excited in fact that, when I signed on at registration, I forgot to get a start time! This meant that when I finally managed to get a time, I would be starting at 10:18am, later than a lot of the field so I knew I would be making my way past a lot of people both in the transitions and on the stages.
I set off from the pits at a fair pace on my way to stage 1 on top of the Moor. I passed groups of racers and then caught up to a few friends. Alpine Bikes Innerleithen's Neil Carnegie, Daniel Taylor and Summitdown mountain bike guiding (www.summitdown.com)'s Trevor Worsey.
We climbed up to the start of Stage 1 together. The weather was closing in and it was windy and misty up top. I knew I could perform well on this stage and cranked out the start as hard as I could, so hard in fact the I ended up splitting the inside of my left shoe in half. I ended stage 1 in 3rd place after going about 80% of maximum. This was a good start but my shoe was now going to be an issue for the rest of the race.
On to Stage 2, I nailed all my lines in the trees pretty well and was on a good, clean run. Coming to the fire road, I put down the power and began to catch the rider in front of me. I shouted "rider" hoping he would pull over before we dropped back into the trees, but he didn't. He pulled up right in front of me and would not move over. I lost around 15 seconds before finally battling past him. This left me in 14th. I had to put the incident behind me and move on.
Stage 3 was always going to be a struggle for me. I am the first to admit that my strengths are firmly in the pedalling department, not technical ability. I had what felt like an average run, but I kept it upright which was the important thing. I ended up 7th overall on the stage, even beating an ex-world cup downhiller. I was surprised. Perhaps I can ride downhill fast after all.
Stage 4 was going really well for me. I hit all my lines through the luge and was on a good one, but in the 3rd to last turn on the steep section of Deerhunter I blew the turn, the front wheel washed and I went down hard. I took a few seconds to gather myself before getting back on and finishing the run. The mistake cost me, 16th.
Lastly, stage 5. I took a gamble in choosing to run thecrankbrothers candy pedals for their mud shedding capabilities, but their small platform meant that any unclipped moments would be very wild indeed. I had a complete disaster on this stage. I rode like I had a bag over my head, one crash sending me over the bars and into the trees. The fire-road was a God-send (although for most, I suspect, it was the opposite). I had a chance to make up the time I had lost. I got to work, stamping on the pedals as hard as my poor shoe would allow before falling to pieces. I arrived at the entrance to Jane's Lane knowing I would now be able to make up some more time. Then, disaster struck, a mix of fatigue and lack of concentration, I pushed my wheel a fraction too far to the right of the trail catching a tree. The bike stopped dead, throwing me over the bars. My heart dropped, I knew that was it. I had blown my chance. I came down the rest of the stage dejected and dibbed in for a 15th on the stage.
My aggregate time put me in 12th overall and 11th in Senior. I had missed out on a top 10 by 20 seconds. I was disappointed not to have achieved my goal, but at the same time I can take the positives from the race. This is my first full season racing, this was my first race back from injury. There are plenty more opportunities for results this year and the field consisted of some of the best riders in the country and beyond.
Huge thanks to The Kona Bicycle Co., Hart's Cyclery andCycle Law Scotland. My Process 111 DL was running great all weekend and I am confident I was the only top 20 rider running a bike with less than 120mm travel. The 111 is extremely capable and loves to go fast.
Thank you as always to all the marshals, the race would not be the same without you guys, No Fuss Events , Innerleithen MTB Racing and The Scottish Enduro Series.
I'm looking forward to the first round of the UK Gravity Enduro this weekend at Ae forest where hopefully I can put down another solid result. See you all there