Big Fish Well I have to admit the apprehension and excitement was growing in me when I arrived at Dan Brown’s residence (Atherton team manager) bang on 4pm on the Saturday before this, a one off, season opening, single day, mini Enduro race, held a mere three hours drive from Shropshire at Haldon Forest, Exeter. I knew it would be a great test and benchmark for mine and everyone else’s fitness, to see if we’d done enough over the cold damp winter months to prove ourselves race ready for 2013. The fact I was travelling down there with Dan and Gee (I have to admit) made things more exciting, as although we’ve all known each other for years, I had never experienced a weekend with the team. On arrival at Dan’s, as expected he informed me the boys were running late, no surprise there, as Atherton time is not like that of most of us! There was no Rach, as she was at some British Cycling awards do, but having two of the three at such a small local venue is normally totally unheard of, no wonder race organiser Chris Roberts was getting the tweets and FB status’s out there at a fair rate of knots to promote their presence! We set off, the weather looks shit for all that’s left of Saturday and Sunday and Gee informed me how this (in all his years of racing) was the first time ever he’s done a non DH race on a mountain bike!
Hospitality We arrived at Simon’s (daddy Atherton!) early eve, and we were straight out for a meal in some remote quirky little pub, where we just happened to bump into the full Shropshire contingent, The Trailhead bike shop and their supported riders, all had been riding that day and told us to expect lots of fun; brilliant!
Back to Simon Atherton’s and I realised he is one proud dad, with lots of his walls covered in posters of years of racing. We all chilled, drank some brew’s, the lads constantly ate (I’ve never seen people eat so much food!) then we all hit the sack, ready to rise at 7am. Simon only lives fifteen minutes from the race venue, being a regular rider of the forest himself. Morning was soon upon us, as too was the constant sound of the fun sapping wet stuff coming down from the heavens.
Factory Riders On arrival at Haldon Forest, the Atherton experience began, no waiting in signing on lines, straight into the One Industries motorhome and awning we rocked, to all be treated like kings, I have to admit, it was great!! In between the lads constantly posing for pictures and signing autographs we all got ready to hit trails, Dan Brown riding too, but unfortunately not racing, due to a recent wrist crash injury. We were also, soon joined by the other latest GT factory signing, Taylor Vernon, it was the first time I’d met this sixteen year old fast kiddy from South Wales, and what a nice chap he is, we were all suited and booted, waterproofs adorned and off we went. The format was simple, there were three timed stages, we were to be timed on each of these in the afternoon, plus we had transitions to get back up the top. Morning was just a matter of practicing the three stages as much as possible ready for the afternoon, simples!
Section 1 I think it was Gee who decided I should lead the pack down the first bit, going as fast as I could totally blind with the two Dans, Gee and Taylor in hot pursuit was a real baptism of fire, but the going from the start said it all; massive, massive fun, with a huge grin factor. We all (except Taylor, he’s too young to remember!) agreed this was just like days of old, the original British downhills, not too mental, but mud, rocks and roots was the order of the day, and it ruled! you had to pedal a bit to maintain speed, but Section 1 consisted of loads of loamy loose narrow turns, that meandered down the hill to a fire road crossing, probably the pedaliest part, then it was off down a pretty gnarly, rock strewn drop, after which things got fast and rooty for the last short section to the end. We were all buzzing, so (as we did with all three stages that morning) we rode back up for a second blast.
This consisted of some similar loamy corners to start, followed by a kind of triple drop into a real tight left hander, which caught many a rider out on the first run! Once rolling again things got faster (and I have to say) a lot gnarlier than I was expecting for such a small track, there was a kind of v shaped steep gully (pretty tricky to ride) a few sweepers then a very dark and amazingly rough rock garden, with holes just crying out to swallow wheels and spit riders off into the trees! After the rock garden, things speeded up through the trees, a small tabletop and we were at the end, more smiles, and at this time, even the rain stopped for a bit!
Section 3 This section, to me, was the most fun, a similar start of flowing, loamy corners was followed by an off camber rutted and rooty straight, it was very difficult to stay pinned on this section, especially rocking the SPD’s! By the time of the race, the short rutted section actually became a bit of a nightmare, real deep and gloopy, but for me, this is what Enduro should all be about, sorting out the men from the boys!! A quick drop over a fire road and the final section was like the icing on the cake, real slick polished wet clay corners, a thinkers section! Stay in the slick and it was so easy to drift out too much and slide off, but use your head and do some outside to inside lines and a tad of grip could be found, this last section was the only bit where I wished I had bought a mud tyre for the front, instead of my big fat 2.4 Rubber Queen!
Racing And that was it, two runs of each and we were back at the truck for a quick jet wash (kindly put on for all by the trail centre) a spot of lunch then out again for the timed stages. Lets face it, the big question of the day was which Atherton would win (out of the 150 competitors) not whether one would! Dan got the first stage, two seconds over Gee, Gee got the second stage, seven seconds over Dan, but Gee took the overall win by taking the third stage seven seconds over Dan again, with Taylor coming in third, closest rider to his team mates. I ended up pretty chuffed with fourth in the veteran’s category, considering I fluffed the off camber deep mud section in the 3rd, that would do me. There were a few issues with the timing and results being delayed, but this was Chris Roberts’s first venture out of downhill into organising Enduro, so I suppose a couple of teething problems were to be expected.
Satisfaction To me every race can be summed up by one simple aspect, how you feel at the end of the day. On the way home we all said the same (feeling tired out in the van travelling back) that it was an amazing day’s riding, I haven’t smiled so much on a bike in a long time, we had spent plenty of time on the bikes, had lots of fun and no one was broken………. PERFECT! Big thanks to Dan Brown, the Athertons, Taylor, Simon Atherton, One Industries and Haldon trail centre and Chris Roberts (mini enduro) for the hospitality, great riding and holding a top event!
Words & pictures: Jim Buchanan (Sorry for the insta-pics, we’ll update the article as soon as we got new pictures.