If the Tweed Valley is known as the ‘heart of trail centre riding in Scotland’ then Laggan Wolftrax must surely be the teeth. For all who have ridden it, the black route is one of the most challenging and rocky you will find in any trail centre, anywhere! A jumble of huge slabs, bristling with sharp edges and wheel holes for the unwary, scattered randomly over a sinuous, flowing trail. This route has been challenging highland riders for years, and while easy enough to nibble down carefully, for the first time ever would be a stage in a race. The POC Scottish Enduro Series was rolling out the big guns, it was going to be a wild ride!
Laggan Wolftrax is one of the most cherished trail centres in Scotland and has been open for many years now, but through its history it has seen waves of development and loss. Sitting right on the edge of the Cairngorms national park (proper mountain country), its remote location has been both a blessing and a curse. Despite offering some of the finest purpose built trails in the highlands, management has changed hands a few times, and rumors circulated that it was on its last legs. But no, Laggan is back and its future looks very bright indeed. The newly appointed Laggan Forest trust has big plans and we should see some exciting new developments soon, keep an eye on their Facebook page to find out more.
The format of the race was to be one day of practice and then a day of intense racing, and once again, demonstrating Scotland’s passion for enduro and the popularity of the series, was a sell out event. Organisers No Fuss were promising a varied course with 5 stages, designed to highlight the best trails and showcase the beauty of the highland venue, and also serve up an unhealthy dose of full fat gnar. Not only were they using some of the epic trail centre trails, but also taking in the ‘off piste’ infamous Laggan Brown trail, a technical masterpiece that truly defines off-camber, and with dry and dusty conditions it was going to be amazing!
After a beautiful day of practice, spirits were high for the day of racing. This would be the third round of the Scottish Enduro Series, and after the mud of Round One and the general vertical nature of Round Two, everyone was elated with the grippy and technical nature of the Laggan stages. Not even the dreaded midge could dampen spirits, and there was a heady smell of Smidge and Avon Skin So Soft (known repellents) around the pits. Interestingly I was privy to a secret from one of the marshals that midges do not bite ginger people, at first I laughed, but then noticed he was indeed sitting in the woods, in the shade and was not waving like a lunatic, so perhaps there is something in it!
Stage One was a belter, the top half had been closed the day before so was to be ridden blind by all the racers. It descended the normal trail centre climb in reverse, over rock gardens and flat corners. The trail was originally built to be picked over slowly while climbing, so was a hoot to fly down. There were wheel holes everywhere and it was easy to get over excited on the rock gardens and flip over the side, riotous fun. The fun was soon replaced with wheezing as the length of the stage became apparent, with a few punchy climbs and fresh loamy sections to liven things up. Ben Cathro smoked it, showing that DH riders are not lazy, and there were lots of grinning but very red faces at the bottom. The day had begun and everyone was stoked!
Stage Two needed no introduction, it was the Infamous Laggan Black route, a carnival of big rocks and slabs that needed either inch perfect line choice, or plenty of gurning and panicked ‘butt back’ survival. There were a lot of features to remember and some of the slabs needed to be done right, but in the heat of battle rational thought often goes out the window, and I know that for me personally I spent a large portion of the stage looking longingly over at the best lines, while I desperately fought with the consequences of being on totally the wrong one. ‘The best’ trail centre trail had become a fantastic enduro stage and everyone got down safely.
Stages Three and Four took in the ‘secret’ trails on the other side of the valley. The fast and flowing armoured trail centre trails were replaced with good old rooty gnar, with plenty of vertiginous corners to catch out those of a nervous disposition. More than one rider burst out the bottom of the stages with evidence of a close encounter of the foliage kind and I picked up some leafy helmet decoration from an inelegant OTB. Blown out, off-camber corners became super sketchy, and a hop, skip and jump approach seemed the fastest, thank heavens it was dry! There was plenty of post stage debriefing going on at the bottom and overtaking was all friendly sportsmanlike.
The final stage moved over to the trail centre once again, this time featuring a blast down the ‘orange’ freeride trail, a collection of big berms and jumps, all gravity fed, all full gas! I am not normally a fan of ‘trail centre’ stages but I stood corrected, it was the perfect end to the day. A chance to let it all out and pin it to the end, drifting through big berms and trying to look cool for the cameras on the last big jumps. And what a great day it was too, amazing views, stages that had the perfect ‘scary to fun’ ratio and that lovely relaxed pace and good vibe that defines the No Fuss events!
As always, the focus of the day was more on the races within the race, the fierce friendship rivalries and participation. In the end though it was Ben Cathro who held off a hard charging Chris Hutchens and fit Crawford Carrick Anderson for the win. Ben is on a roll at the moment, recently winning the Scottish DH championships, if you want to learn from the man himself, you should check out his coaching company, Sick Skills. In the womens category, it was Tracy Brunger who took the top step, ahead of Roz Newman. Special mention should go to Fiona Beattie who was not only instrumental in running the event, but squeezed in a quick lap and manged to take 3rd overall! Full results can be downloaded here.
And let us not forget all the people behind the scenes, without whom these amazing races could not happen. Cheers to all the marshals who braved the midges and the sharp breeze in the morning, and the Billy Can for keeping everyone fed. Also all the sponsors POC and 2Pure, Hope Technology, Sick Skills, Singletrack Bikes Midlothian, OneUp Components, Escape Route Pitlochry, Basecamp Bikes, Jayfest, Spank and Innerleithen MTB Racing who donated money, time and prizes. The next round is on the 12-13th July in Ae forest, for more information check out the series homepage it is sure to be another belter.
Words: Trev Worsey
Photos:Cat Smith and Sophie Buckingham