If you asked me to name my favourite enduro race of all time it may come as a surprise that despite being lucky enough to have followed enduro all over Europe this season, my favourite event is a little closer to home, the legendary Dudes Of Hazzard/No Fuss ‘This is Enduro’ race. It was just the most fun I have ever had, racing on the stunning trails above Kinlochleven deep in the Scottish Highlands. For 2013 the Dudes once again paired up with No Fuss Events to hold the ‘Spirit of Enduro World Champs’, it was a done deal for me, I was going!
This year the event was sold to its capacity of 350 riders, drawing racers from all over the UK, Hope Technology were representing with a full team, and there were a fair few internationals too including Joe Barnes team mate, Ines Thoma.
The format was open practice on Saturday with racing on Sunday over 3 special stages with untimed relaxed (time not gradient) transitions. Most riders arrived for Saturdays practice so there was a steady stream of bikes crawling up the hill to see what had changed since last year. The weather was typically Scottish and the chilly wind and rain kept riders moving. By the end of the day the run-off water that over the years had done a fine job of shaping the trails was running like a torrent. To find the best line down you simply followed the river, you could not see all the sketchy terrain you were riding over so it was full gas, riotous fun! After a long day of good trails, good banter and a fair few wet boggy spills, riders retreated back to the Ice Factor for hot tea, bacon rolls and warmth. The dudes had planned a bit of a shindig for the evening, and more than a few beers were drunk by some in a party that featured a ping pong tournament, mechanical bull and the unexpected cameo of a naked streaker.
The morning brought clear skies with furiously cold temperature, those that chose to sleep in vans emerged hunched against the cold seeking hot drinks and motivation. Hotel radiators all around Kinlochleven had transformed cold wet gear into hot wet gear and sodden shoes and gloves were gingerly reapplied. The No Fuss crew were in early, getting the timing tents sorted, briefing the marshals and sorting out the stragglers that could not make it to practice. In no time at all the RedBull sound machine was pumping out tunes and the car park was bustling with riders ready to get into it.
The organisers had solved the age old problem of queues with the dib in/dib out system by releasing riders in pre-chosen waves. It worked perfectly and there were no queues at the top of the stages, really important this time of year where the weather on the tops can be fierce. That’s not to say that it was easy getting riders ready for their starts times, like herding cats, MTB’ers specialize in the art of faf. The pros left at around 8:30AM, far before the sun had a chance to bring some warmth but no sooner did the first transition start than the gradient kicked skywards and layers were rapidly shed.
Stage 1: Graymares Trail
This stage is legendary, and for good reason. Starting with a high speed but sketchy charge down a narrow and rough track, punctuated with relentless knee high boulders to hop, skip and jump and plenty of welcoming wheel holes for the unwary. It was all dirt, spray, sketchy lines, lung bursting effort and magic fun! Just as the legs start to give out the trail slackens and kicks over a couple of rivers, throwing in a cheeky climb that punishes the unfit.
The boys played a neat trick and taped in Stuarts Bogg, a straight line option that cuts out a sweeping rocky right-hander. Many unwary folk mistook the lush green carpet covering the bog as solid ground and pinned the straight line, only to instantly wonder where their front wheel had gone and why they were flying. Still it was a soft place to land. Back on dry land it was another lung busting pedal down into the steeper part of the trail where things got really interesting. The series of steep corners and drop offs that lay in wait would have kept more than a few riders awake the night before. Alpine in feel the switchbacks had to be plummeted into rather than negotiated, and many riders discovered the limits of their forks! After a sprint for the finish the day had begun. This is a truly iconic stage and typifies enduro for many, fast , tough, fun and more than a little bit scary!
>Stage 2: The Kennels
Stage 2 was another favourite stage from last year, during the never ending climb there is was plenty of time to take in the epic views down the valley over the Mamores. ‘ The Kennels’ was a long and tough stage, fully pinned over loose rock and scree with the chance of an epic crowd pleasing crash always just a stones clip away. Coming full tilt off the exposed top section it was time to get loose through a rooty passage in the woods, plenty of body English and snake hips were needed to hold speed. The rain had done an excellent job of washing all the loose stuff away so grip was high.
I had a great time mentally ticking off the ‘interesting features’ looking longingly over at the line that worked well in practice while careening down the one rut I did not want to be in, it was all a blur! After the rocks and roots it was just a couple of sweet hairpins with loads of support to pop off then a blast down into the finish straight, and the start of the world slowest sprint finish. I had caught some traffic here and with 50m to go it was all out effort, however the mud was 6 inches deep so it was a case of who could dig the quickest. Like paddle steamers racing to the finish, all spray, effort, digging holes and minimal forward momentum. Fantastic stuff!
Stage 3: Sooks Pipe
For years to come people will talk about Sooks Pipe, burnt deep into the memories of all those who dug their way through it! It was the sort of mud that will be keeping washing machines very busy all over the UK today. The stage was a fresh line cut in by the dudes, and during practice there were plenty of high and dry lines, but the evening weather and the traffic had changed everything on race day. Getting ready to start at the top there were two obvious lines, luckily we were behind 2 riders! The first went left and went straight over the bars within 10m from the start, right it was, the next rider went right and rapidly ejected out the front.. OK down the middle it would be! To best describe the next minute of riding you sort of had to be there, smashing from one axle deep hole to the next, deep mud everywhere!
I felt like I was just digging holes, until it got really steep and the resultant crazy out of control hurtle over big drops had the cheery crowd thinking that I was more than just pinballing with a death grip.. Breaking free of the mud, it was onto fireroad for a long sprint down a flat walkers path with the consistency of custard. Scaring myself silly going way bigger than in practice off the sketchy concrete step line jump there was just one more cheeky wee forest section before a final blast to the finish, big Hi-Fives and a massive sense of a day well spent. This stage polarised rider opinion based on how many OTB’s had been collected, Fiona from No-Fuss wanted to call this stage Bog Pipe, and it would have been fitting. It was new for the event, a bit wild and totally mad to race on, but this is the Spirit of Enduro World Champs and the stage was the perfect finish for me!
There was a small issue with timing on the day, however and testament to the event, nobody really cared. I had such a great day on the hill I almost forgot to take the transponder back, it was a day filled with race speed shenanigans, seat of the pants riding, comedy, great banter, amazing views and awesome organisation. As to who won the ‘Spirit of Enduro World Championships’, I think the answer is simply everyone… The boys should have made more lamps!
In the end it was Joe Barnes who took the wins on all the stages and the overall, closely followed by fellow dude Liam Moynihan, with HopeTech rider Gary MacDonald in third!
Full results have just gone live and can be found at http://www.sportident.co.uk/results/2013/TheDudesOfHazzard/
Words and Photos Trev Worsey