Last time was a solo drive up in the Tranny tipper, parking in the camping field and kipping across the back seats, this year we had bigger plans. ‘Ard Rock is a real fun family atmosphere event, so the wife and kids were in tow, Enduro Mag van, with EZ-up, banners and a place in the pits, oh how things have changed! We arrived Friday lunchtime to a bit of a drizzly day and set up camp, our little van and awning swamped by the mass of the factory SRAM set-up next door. For only it’s second year, this thing has some big noise in the form of pits presence, with the likes of Vito Sport, Julbo (eyewear), Mavic, Pro Ride Guides plus Specialized sporting some of their gorgeous 2015 models. The difference this year was that the sportive riders did their thing on the Saturday (not together on the Sunday), with the Enduro being held on Sunday, plus an extra stage thrown in for good measure. Also there were a full pack of no less than 800 riders attending both days, two of which were Specialized’s Mountain Bike Product manager Brandon Sloan and Rockshox product manager Jeremiah Boobar, both of which traveled over from the US to race!
It hardly seems like a year ago when I competed in the first ever Ard Rock Enduro, I loved it so much that it went down in my memory as the best Enduro event I had ever done. Back then I had never done the Tweedlove EWS, Mega Avalanche or anywhere near as many varying race events throughout the UK, surely I would now see this event with slightly less admiration, especially as it was forecast as a wet weekend.
Once set up the clouds cleared and I was off on my Jack Jones for a quick blast up to check out the steepest and shortest run of stage 1. As soon as I was half way up the big steep hill from The Dales Bike Centre I realized one of the reasons I love this place so much. The views are just amazing, miles and miles of gnarly craggy open Yorkshire hills as far as the eye could see. I was up there completely on my own, the long delayed busy drive up becoming a distant memory, replaced by the sheer joy of where I was. As the short way up became rocky and steep I chose to walk, feeling like part of the open wilderness, surrounded by lots of wildlife and literally walking through a bunch of about 10 grouse, it was mint. Stage 1 was so much fun, big open corners, full of tyre-killing rocks, then heading down to some great fresh-cut mucky stuff to finish off, it really was a case of how much you dared let off the brakes on some of it.
That night the first wave of predicted wet stuff came down from the heavens, making for an interesting un-cut load of long grass to trudge through in the camping and pits area, wellies were out in force. Saturday was a chilled out affair, big brecky, no rush, we got ready at our leisure as the Sportive lot went off and did their un-stage-timed ride of the large 40k loop, with just an overall time to compete for. My mate Myles and I headed off and cracked on with the full loop. All stages had several similarities to each other, no trees, lots of rocks, open grassland and loads of fun. The rides and even pushes up some of the transitions were pretty damn taxing to say the least, after ¾ the way round the long green lanes and steep tarmac climbs really did start to nail those legs. At one point we were totally exposed on the top of one of the huge ridgelines and it poured down, I have never been so thankful of a waterproof in my life, we still got soaked though!
We finished the 40k and wondered how the hell we would do it all again the following day, I reminded Myles to never underestimate the determination of a true Enduro rider, a mind-set gained from years of body destroying MX Enduro, I hoped I wasn’t being a tad too optimistic though. We feasted on the mint BBQ put on by the Dales centre, watched about 30 seconds of the band (hmm!) then hit the sack, tired and in need of a full overnight recharge.
We had chosen to start our loop at 10.50, I figured after the rain then a later start should see the last stage (with lots of grass turns) dry out, as it was forecast to get better as the day went on. It was so nice to have such a chilled start to a day of racing, it just didn’t seem like racing. You could choose to ride with your mates and there were no transition times, so a sedate transition pace was the plan for energy conservation. This time we took lots more snacks and energy food and 2 ½ lts of juice for the long haul. The start time was upon us and we headed off, wondering how our legs would feel after the big second day ride.
We were pretty amazed to be honest, we though the second route around this big loop was going to kill our legs, but we felt stronger and, with the lack of stage start times the relaxed attitude to each stage just led to total confidence in my riding, I loved every second of it. Heading up one of the long climbs I saw some chap on an Orange Alpine 160, he had a 36 tooth top gear on a 34 front and it had gone wrong, so he could only take it as far up as 2nd, plus his shock was a coil over type, the dude was busting his knees up the huge climbs, but amazingly he made it, respect due! The other thing about the loop was the varying countryside the transitions took in, ones not normally seen at other Enduros. There were waterfall lined bracken hillside paths, open road green lanes, villages and even a proper 70’s throw-back little pub/Post Office to get a drink in on-route. We had all day so we made the most of it, chilled to the max, 1st gear up many of the climbs. I felt pretty good on all the stages, there had to be a bit of overtaking done mid-stage, but it didn’t matter, that was half of the fun really. My plan paid off and as we arrived at the previously slippy stage 5 it was bone dry but minutes away from a big storm, perfect.
Straight back (luckily downhill!) to the race village and we handed our timing chips in, these were swiped at the top and bottom of all stages, then you had an instant read-out of how you were getting on, fantastic. One more hour, lots of food and all riders were down, as the top 5 best Vet riders in the country were present I was over the moon to get 5th Vet and even more chuffed to come down 20th overall out of 450 riders, result! It just goes to show you put the best results in when you are enjoying yourself.
Unfortunately I had to head off before prize giving, but (like last year) podium finishers and raffle winners came away with a huge array of top notch prizes, and the carved rock trophies were just something else. Top 3 overall were – 1st Phil Shucksmith (Pro Ride Guides) [Specialized Enduro 29 S-Works] 2nd Lee Kermode (Pioneer/Scott/Syncros) [Scott Genius LT Tuned 650] 3rd Josh Lewis (Stif/Santa Cruz/Fox Europe/Boss) [Santa Cruz Bronson 650]. Category winners were Phil Shucksmith (Pro Ride Guides) Under 30, Lee Kermode (Pioneer/Scott/Syncross) Under 40, Rick Ellis (Fast Fossil Racing) Over 40, Cheri Mills (Twelve50 Bikes Race Team) Female Vet, Sally Evamy Female Under 40, Sophie Carter, Female Under 30
As for whether I think this is still my favorite event after having now ridden so many, most definitely still a firm yes. In my opinion the most fun, testing, chilled out social event you can do in the UK, get booked in for next year when available folks. Huge thanks, to organizers, Pro Ride Guide’s Joe and Alex Rafferty, Dales MTB Centre, All the marshals from The Irish Guards and the full 700 competitors of both days who made it so special.
Footage by Hedcam Ten80
Words Jim Buchanan
Pics Digital Swaledale & Ard Rock Enduro
Pro Ride Guides www.ardrockenduro.co.uk