This weekend saw the first ever Tweedlove International race come to the Tweed Valley. The event promised to be effectively an EWS level race without the usual EWS field of pros, instead a healthy list of around 600 amateur racers would be battling it out over the weekend. That being said there were some big names in attendance all battling for the biggest cash prize in UK Enduro provided by Shimano.
This race, for me was marked out as a big one. I was unable to race any EWS' this year so instead decided to focus my efforts on the domestic race calendar. With such a strong elite field I knew that I'd be up against it to pull out a good result. However, I was determined to try and make something happen as many of the stages were on my local trails I train on so I knew them well. I was going to be easy to spot in my new RideIt jerseys and I couldn't wait to get racing
Practice was held over the Thursday and Friday before the race and I didn't get out on the Tuesday till later so only rode stage 6 and 7. These were both pretty dry despite the weather and I set my bike up based on my initial impressions of the conditions on Thursday evening.
On the subject of bike choice I decided to use the Process 111 for the weekend. A short travel 29er with some progressive angles. I wanted to play to my strengths which would undoubtedly be day 1 at Glentress and I decided to try and maximise my advantage on day 1 even though I knew I'd suffer on the more technical stages on day 2 at Innerleithen. Jonathan from Fall Line Cycles has been working with me for most of the season and his help and guidance is really making a difference to my bike set up and general confidence. We decided to up the front fork travel from 120mm to 140mm. This would slacken the head angle by a degree and give more control in the steep stuff. We also went for 203mm rotors front and rear and a special gear set up for the race. More information on my bike set for the race will follow in a bike check.
The race would be run over two days and 7 stages. 3 stages on day was at Glentress which leaned toward the pedally end of things. Stages 4-7 would take place in Innerleithen with two up the golfie and two on the main downhill venue.
Saturday came around and felt good about the day ahead. I'd been seeded quite high up the order so I'd be sharing the transitions with some top elite racers. Stage 1 I'd raced before on countless occasions. It's a regular training track for me also so I knew I'd go well. I put down a solid and clean run. Nothing spectacular but I was making progress. The first stage of any race for me it's always important to just put down a solid time. That might mean taking less risks than I perhaps might on later stages but for my confidence I always aim to just get a good stage 1 in the bag to start the day. So the first goal of the day was complete.
Stage 2 was a bit tricker. Again I use parts of this stage in my training. The top half was pretty technical and tricky with tight trees and slippery road roots lining the track but the bottom was trail centre and flat. The two parts on the stage were linked by a tough uphill sprint which went on for longer than my legs would have liked. I enjoyed this stage and rode really smooth. With minimal mistakes and a good time put down my confidence was high going into the final stage.
The last stage was another familiar trail with nothing too out of the ordinary. However, I did notice that my shock was dropping air pressure. I had added air at the top of stage 2 at the neutral tech zone but the shock didn't seem to be holding air. The bike was sitting deeper into its travel than it normally would with the correct air pressure for me. The bike only has 111mm of travel so it's vital to maximise the limited amount available. Another blown air shock was less than ideal when I was about to set off down stage 3 but I tried to keep this out of my mind and focus on finishing the day strong.
I set off and immediately the lack of grip was noticeable. I was really loose over a lot of the stage. I had a few moments and took a wrong turn at one point but made it to the bottom in one piece... Just.
Back at the expo I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was sitting in 13th overall just behind some pretty big names. This was a real boost to the confidence as I didn't think I would be in the position I was after the problems I had on the final stage but I was really happy with where I was and it was clear the 111 had been the right choice. I wanted to try and push on to a top 10 the next day.
Sunday morning looked great weather wise. It was still dry and the trails were even dusty. Making my way up golfie I allowed myself the think that perhaps I could do this. I could get a top 10. Stage 4 put a stop to these thoughts. It was dark and tricky in the wooded top section and I had a few small mistakes but I felt I rode "flat white" well. It always amazes me how much faster the top guys really are. On some stages you know where the time is but here I was off the pace and couldn't see where I'd lost that amount of time. Perhaps 5 seconds tops but I was a good few seconds more off the pace which had me rethinking.
Stage 5 was much of the same. I was riding it blind but I know it well. I don't enjoy this trail at the best of times so felt it best to keep calm and under control through the technical and steep corners and tight tree lined sections.
It was another poor stage and at the timing check in Caberstone I had clearly lost a bit of time. Nothing drastic but a fair wedge. This didn't matter much though because I was still having fun and wanted to stay positive.
On the long transition from stage 5 to stage 6 I got caught in a massive hail storm. This wasn't great and I got soaked. It made for a cold slog up to the top of the stage. The hail had turned the trails into a mud soaked slip and slide. The biggest issue I had was getting my goggles clear and stop them steaming up. After 10 minutes of attempting to clear them I decided I'd just ride the stage without them. This was a risky move as one small misplaced piece of mud could force me to stop. I set off from the start and almost immediately I was squinting to try and avoid mud going into my eyes. I made it down to the fire road sprit without issue but when I dropped back into the stage I hit a tree and stopped dead. I reset and carried on. I pushed hard until the steepest section of meandering corners to stay smooth and safe. Suddenly the bottom of my frame clipped something and I was pitched over the bars. I got stuck under the bike and struggled to get going again. A lot of time lost.
On the transition to the last stage I couldn't help but think that I'd blown a big opportunity. Yesterday I was in 13th, touching distance to that elusive top 10. Today I had struggled along and made mistakes. I can't not be disappointed but at the same time, I'd still had an awesome time pedalling round with everyone. I had one more stage to go and despite my disappointment in how the day had gone so far, I wanted to finish on a high.
The last stage was one of the Innerleithen DH tracks, "cresta run". It was fast. A little too much for a little bike like mine but it still lapped up the terrain and didn't let me down. I had a solid run and pushed on. Towards the bottom the crowd was big and spurred me on to keep off the brakes. I finished on a high and was stoked to put down a clean and quick final run.
A quick transition back to Peebles I traded stories with many of the other elites and we all agreed that the whole race had been so much fun. Often at these types of races the fun factor can get lots as the competition gets stronger. Not here. Everyone wants to win but the vibe is just a bit more relaxed than a British Enduro Series race. There's no elitism, only a bunch of dudes and girls shredding trails but against the clock. Tweedlove have something special here and long may that continue.
I ended up 19th which, in hindsight I'm pretty happy with. It's not a top ten but it is a top 20 and I'm happy with it. I had a great time the whole weekend and achieved some big goals and I can walk away happy that.