Full to Capacity
On this, the final weekend of June, where there were big southern events such as Glastonbury and The Silverstone Grand Prix clogging up the road systems, it was quite a relief for me to be heading right up north away from it all. There were no Shrewsbury mons on route with me, so it was a Jack Jones solo affair till I picked up my lift-share buddy Piers Bickerton-Jones to head up to North Yorkshire, not too far from the last UKGE round at Hamsterley, where I was meeting my mate, Cotic Cycles’ top rider, Chay Granby. As normally I like my creature comforts and go for digs not camping, it was a roughing it affair, choosing to doss down on the home made Tranny Tipper back seat bed conversion, spot on.
On arrival the site was pristine, sat in a kind of valley between what could only be described as two big ridge-line mountain/hill type things (is there a word for something in-between the two?!) All we could see was open moorland with lots and lots of rocks, not a tree in site, brilliant, straight away we knew this was going to be different. The format was real simple, a 38 kilometre loop with four timed stages, which were practiced at your leisure on the saturday, then ridden and raced on the sunday. Race day was to be a casual affair, with 100 sportive xc riders going off first, to do the whole loop, non-stop, with us Enduro lot following up the rear (so to speak!) being timed on our stages after a mass start. We had no allotted start times, just timing chip bracelets on, which were to be swiped at the top and bottom of each stage. There were 350 Enduro racers following the 100 sportive riders, YES, 450 RIDERS IN TOTAL!! I knew this was going to get interesting!
Rock ‘n Roll
After a night in the Transit, like a true Gippo, I was up to be met by Chay, who was showing me all his nice freebies he receives off Cotic and their relevant sponsors, with a massive grip on his daft northern face!! I had the new Banshee Rune on test and was pretty excited to put it through its’ paces at a rock-fest of a track. We kitted up and headed out, choosing to do it the easier way round in order of Stages 4, 1, 2 then 3, so as to avoid the 16 kilometre transition between Stage 3 and 4. Straight away I knew I was in deep, trying to keep up with Chay (being one of the UK’s fastest Masters racers) as I struggled somewhat in the sunshine on the climbs, lots of which were steep and testing, but well worth it on arrival at the Stages.
The best words, I’d say to describe the stages would be, gnarly, natural, rocky, grassy and so much fun. There wasn’t a trail centre type track in site, as it had all been taped out on virgin ground, consisting of rocks of all sizes and shapes, loose shale, steep grassy turns, fast rock strewn gullies, crazy wide foot-out loose corners and obviously the odd bit of pedally stuff just to even things out for the fit lot! It really was like a breath of fresh air, where true skills would prevail on the wide multi-lined tracks. Apart from feeling pretty knackered from climbing some of the steep tarmac and fire-road climbs, the fun factor was enormous, especially trying to follow Chay down the Stages at turbo speed. Unfortunately Chay did have a bit of a chain device problem all day, so after all four stages, we went back, fixed it as best we could and headed up to test it with another run of Stage 4, it still wasn’t quite right, sucking the chain in at full DH pace, so he just hoped for the best for race day. My Banshee test bike, on the other hand, was running smooth as silk, just soaking up the big hits with ease. As it was a warm summers day it was a chilled out affair, post practice, even participating in using the trail centres’ bollock shrinking cold shower to truly freshen up! That evening the camping had filled up, and it was quite an unbelievable site for what really was just a one-off regional Enduro race, I’m sure it was when the entries had came in thick and fast that The Rafferty brothers realised this was not going to be a one off. That evening around 10 pm the steady wind dropped away to be replaced with a massive stream of biting midges a bit like Mother Nature telling all her kids it’s time for bed!
With race day on us faster than a shit house rat up a drain pipe, so was the change in weather. It was kind of grey all day, but never rained, that however wasn’t the problem, it was the wind. “By eck lad it wu windy” it was just completely mental, nearing the top of stage 3 at one point my front wheel actually got blown sideways across the stone road whilst riding, and people were literally getting blown into the verge. But the most bonkers bit was the top of stage 3, where your bike became like a flag, sideways in the wind as you clung onto the bars walking to the top of the start mound, insane! As we did the loop over nearly four hours the wind seemed to turn slowly as did our direction, always seeming to be against us on some of the climbs, to say this made things tough is an understatement.
The first 2 stages, being the most open, were the ones most affected by the wind, slowing things down a fair bit, but most of the timed stuff was still fine and still lots of fun. There seemed to be bodies everywhere on the stages, people with punctures, mechanicals and I think just plain knackered. With Chay and I being the first Enduro competitors out of the block, we caught quite a few of the straggling sportive riders and did need to do a bit of shouting on our stages to get them out of the way. You always feel a bit of a twat doing this, but at the end of the day, racing’s racing, and as long as you say thanks at the end of the stage they always seem to understand. The day went on, we did 1, 2 and 3 pretty quick, but the 3 to 4 transition was massive and took my brain into Enduro mode to complete, but still it was so much fun once out on the massive long fire-road track, with some great downhill sections of its’ own. On completion of all 4 stages (with Chay not suffering too much chain device problems) we shook hands, that’s when you know its been tough.
Back to the Pits, which were a wash with people, looking more like something out of the National DH series than a local race, with a massive turn out from Santa Cruz and Hope also with Mavic, RWD Brakes and Mercedes on display. Everything seemed to be thought of, food and drink, bar and a raffle with awesome prices on offer from all the event sponsors.
In the Over 40 category Gary Britton took the honours, with favourite Marcus Jones out of the running with a puncture and Dave McKendry took 2nd, I was hoping for the podium, but could only manage a 5th. Females saw Helen Gaskell take the win over Cheri Mills, under 20s saw Rob Goodey win over MDE’s Joe Harrison. Under 30’s winner was Ben Whitehead, with Timothy Breeze then Chris Breeze in close succession behind. But category of the day (as there were no elites) was the Under 40’s, this is the one Chay was running in. We came in, handed our chips over and immediately were handed a receipt telling us our times in each stage, to compare with our mates, very nifty. Current overall positions were on a big monitor and Chay was leading the lot for ages, but he knew Lee Kermode was out on course, so after an hour or so, the inevitable happened, Lee came in and smoked everyone, putting Chay into 2nd U40 and 3rd overall behind the later finishing Ben Whitehead (U30) with Richard Norgate in 3rd U40.
This event was a real surprise, everything was run spot on, I think the format of “go when you want” and also running sportive riders could only be got away with at such a wide-open track and wouldn’t work at your average UKGE track, due to race traffic, but what a weekend.
Click the link for a nice little vid of the weekend
Video from the first ever Ard Rock Enduro in Swaledale Yorkshire on the 29th and 30th of June 2013.
More information: http://www.ardrockenduro.co.uk
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Pics by James Stewart & Jim Buchanan Words: Jim Buchanan