What do you get if you fill a primordial forest with teflon mud, steep flat corners and technical sections spicy enough to give even elite riders the hebegibies? The opening round of the Scottish Enduro series, that’s what! We check out one of the most technically challenging enduros the UK has ever seen.

The POC Scottish Enduro Series, now supported by Cube Bikes, has taken great steps forward in 2016 with a brilliant ‘roll through’ timing system, great prizes and new venues, certainly one of the UK’s premier series. Never one to pull any punches when it comes to putting on a challenge, 5 bonkers stages, 34 km and 1200m of climbing, riders were going to need a big bowl of porridge on Sunday morning to get round this one.

Dunkeld is one of the most magical locations in Scotland, early morning at the Hermitage.
Dunkeld is one of the most magical locations in Scotland, early morning at the Hermitage.
Bikes and riders filled the sleepy rural sleep.
Bikes and riders filled the sleepy rural town.
The day started, as all the best do, with a good coffee.
The day started, as all the best do, with a good coffee.

The weather was certainly not playing ball, the knuckle end of the UK is well known for its ‘temperamental’ weather, and for Saturday’s practice, the week’s rain had left the tracks greasier than an oiled-up weasel with a poncho made out of banana skins. Riders first discovered this when rolling into the first chute on top of Stage 1, tapping the brakes resulted in an increase in speed, first forwards, then sideways and ultimately backwards! And what about Stage 2? Taking in some of the old DH track, everyone was talking about the drop at the bottom. The run in was a quagmire, rider after rider rolled to the lip, tried to stop, before alarmingly realising that was a laughable proposition and instead plummeted straight over, eyes on stalks while pin-balling through the rocks like a monkey riding a greyhound! Some found it entertaining, it was certainly entertaining to watch, but the organisers wisely opted to tape it out on race day.

Practice opened with tough conditions. New ambassador Katy Winton helps other riders with lines.
Practice opened with tough conditions. New ambassador Katy Winton helps other riders with lines.
At this point riders were 'all in', this section was taped out in the main race.
At this point riders were ‘all in’, this section was taped out in the main race.
Dunkeld was the perfect host, rich in wildlife and history.
Dunkeld was the perfect host, rich in wildlife and history.
Forward momentum was tough on the Stage 3 which was thick in mud.
Forward momentum was tough on the Stage 3 which was thick in mud.
Chris Hutchens was pushing hard in practice.
Chris Hutchens was pushing hard in practice.

Stages 4 and 5 took riders over to Newtyle Hill where local builders had uncovered the holy grail of MTB trail building, private land with an owner that doesn’t mind bike tracks. Huge credit needs to go to Taj Hendry of Flotec Suspension Tuning, the mastermind behind the epic, and fresh cut, Stage 4 and the classic Stage 5, both of which combined massive flow with devilishly tight switchbacks. With epic views over the River Tay, these stages really are World Class!

Riders rolled out of the start line to a breaking sky.
Riders rolled out of the start line to a breaking sky.

Many went home after practice feeling a little bashed about, but the next morning brought the sunshine, the definition of a game of two halves. The sun and wind of Saturday morning had done wonders for Newtyle Hill, turning the bobsleigh run into something with real, actual grip. To those first-time riders who crashed their brains out on Saturday then came back from more on Sunday, you are all heroes, real heroes. With revised and shortened tracks, and better trail conditions everyone finished Stage 5 with a huge grin, a wonderful, albeit a bit bonkers, start to the new season.

Katy Winton was flying in practice but took a hit to the head and decided to sit out the main race.
Katy Winton was flying in practice but took a hit to the head and decided to sit out the main race.
With drying tracks, speeds could be higher...
With drying tracks, speeds could be higher…
....but the safety foot was often engaged.
….but the safety foot was often engaged.
This section caused no end of confusion
This section caused no end of confusion

Dunkeld was tough for sure, one of the toughest we have seen, was it too hard? Yes probably. The weather certainly didn’t help, and all credit to the organisers who listened to rider feedback overnight and made adjustments to the taping to take out sections that were proving fifty-shades-of-wild, or just too muddy to pedal. At the end of racing on Sunday, the vibe was super positive, there was a jubilant camaraderie, one that only comes from surviving something flipping hard.

Someone will be stoked to the max with this!
Someone will be stoked to the max with this!
There were overtakes aplenty of the challenging trails.
There were overtakes aplenty of the challenging trails.
The morning light, was throwing some neat shadows.
The morning light, was throwing some neat shadows.
Bex Barona was flying and looking to be enjoying herself.
Bex Baraona was flying and looking to be enjoying herself.

When it comes to the results, there were a lot of fast riders on the day, Wideopen rider Chris Hutchens, Radon’s James Shirley, BMC’s Lewis Buchanan, Kona’s Thomas Mitchell and Kenta Gallagher who is always dangerous, to name but a few. In the women, while looking good in practice, Trek’s Katy Winton took a thump to the head and decided to skip race day, leaving Roz Newman, EWS hopeful Bex Baraona and Kirsten Moynihan to fight it out in the women’s category.

Kenta Gallagher is always a weapon at these events...
Kenta Gallagher is always a weapon at these events…

When the results were announced it appears that BMC’s new signing Lewis Buchanan is pulling no punches for 2016, putting almost half a minute into a hard-charging Kenta Gallagher, a winning margin that had all the usual podium dwellers scratching their heads in confusion. What was his secret, we asked him to find out, “Today was wild, for me personally the stages were really challenging. I have a reputation for pushing too hard and making mistakes, so I have been working on consistency and rode with that in mind. Huge respect to everyone who raced today as they were the hardest tracks I’ve ever ridden, and everyone deserves huge kudos for getting round the course.” In the women’s category, Bex Barrona, her first time at a Scottish Enduro Series but no stranger to enduro, took a convincing win. She said, “it’s been great, with bikes everywhere it seems we have taken over the village, but everyone has been really jolly, I will definitely come back.”

Taj Hendry, the man behind the mattoc of stages 4 and 5 was there to provide support, or to protect his berms.
Taj Hendry, the man behind the mattoc of stages 4 and 5 was there to provide support, or to protect his berms.
Flow, flow, flow
Flow, flow, flow
Thomas Mitchell was getting a little wild, everyone was!
Thomas Mitchell was getting a little wild, everyone was!
There a few choice hucks for those who wanted to cut loose.
There a few choice hucks for those who wanted to cut loose.
Lewis Buchanan, somebody help this guy, he is on fire!
Lewis Buchanan, somebody help this guy, he is on fire!
It will be a big year for Bex Baranoa this year too, running a full EWS season.
It will be a big year for Bex Baranoa this year too, running a full EWS season.

In the end, though, it was Dunkeld that was the real winner! With its fearsome DH track, if you ask anyone who raced in the early days about Dunkeld, they will assume a thousand yard stare, take a sip from their drink and babble manically about ‘rocks as big as microwaves’. But as riding changed and the world went enduro mad, the woods grew quieter as riders drive by at speed on the way to Fort William or down to the Tweed Valley. Dunkeld has caught up with the times, proving itself not only a host of a mighty good race but also an off-the-beaten-track mecca for trail riders looking to challenge themselves. With a wide variety of trails, a very Scottish town and some amazing cafes, delis, pubs and a good bike shop (Progression Bikes) it’s well worth a longer stop.

A good end to a great day!
A good end to a great day!
The first round had set the tone for a great year!
The first round had set the tone for a great year!
The top 3 Women; 1) Rebecca Baraona 2) Roslynn Newman 3) Kirstin Moynihan
The top 3 Women; 1) Rebecca Baraona 2) Roslynn Newman 3) Kirstin Moynihan
Top 3 in Elite Men; 1) Lewis Buchanan 2) Kenta Gallagher 3) Chris Hutchens
Top 3 in Elite Men; 1) Lewis Buchanan 2) Kenta Gallagher 3) Chris Hutchens

So the 2016 POC Scottish Enduro Series has begun, kicking off with a round that will be remembered as the ‘best ever day on a bike’ for some and ‘that bloody bas$5ard’ by others. The next round is in 4 weeks in Fort William, we cannot wait to see what they cook up next!

Full results can be found on sportident.co.uk.

Special thanks to POC Sports, CUBE Bikes

For more information visit the Scottish Enduro Series-Website.

Words & Photos: Trevor Worsey

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