Well personally I was unprepared, in ill health and found it a cold slog at Afan a month prior, I felt like I was finally running on all four cylinders and ready for the next round up at good old Inners, my last visit being that of the Scottish National DH back in 2001. This was going to be a good old road trip with local boys, Bush (aka Lee Turner the massive tree smashing beast) sporting his beautiful new Intense Tracer 650 and Andrew Titley on his second ever Gravity Enduro, fresh from his Masters 2nd place, from the 1st of the Brit Downhill series. Bush had missed the 1st Enduro round, but myself and Titley felt like we’d learned some good lessons from round one and were ready to take on the big hill, for the marathon 5hr loop. Neil (The Don) Donoghue was to join us on the Friday, his confidence brimming after his Elite round one 2nd place, behind Athy, surprisingly he was still opting for the 29er, even at Inners! Bush doesn’t mess about, he held the van pinned, mostly at a ton, and after lots of reminiscing about races and road trips of the past, we soon arrived 10pm thursday night at Tweedale Caravan site within spitting distance of the race village to warm up the static caravan.
The Don getting down to business on one of the many rock drops!
PRACTICE DAY (unofficial)
Steve Parr was just arriving on site (happy as ever) as we got there, no pissing about, we were out on the trail. Loads better prepped was how I was feeling, as I had white duct tape on the top tube, to write down our transition times and compare with the allotted time . The weather was pretty much hit and miss with a mixture of sunshine and mild showers. We all had it in our heads the pedalling was going to be savage and the sections were going to be the usual trail centre types, with a total of 5 hours riding. This was not true, as we pissed the transitions, riding and pushing steady, doing each one with about 40% of the time to spare. As for the stages, trail centre style they definitely were not! Stage one – Rough rocky fast downhill, no pedalling. Stage 2 – Whooped out, muddy, rooty downhill, no pedalling. Stage 3 – Bit of trail centre at top, then virgin woodland, loamy stuff, we were wondering if the new stuff would hold up. Stage 4 – really technical, lots of crafty lines, tight turns and weird uphill rocks, then mentally steep downhill rocky shit at the end. Stage 5 – This was just awesome, fast downhill most of the track with a bit of pedaling in the middle, amidst the terrain were table tops, doubles and ‘take your brain out” type of stuff. We were all riding well and feeling good, we totaled all stages in 4 hours easily, coming back down to the race village at 2pm. At the time we returned the heavens opened with massive hail stones, just as mates of ours had started out, to say we felt smug having just finished was an understatement.
Conditions were challenging at times!
Plenty of good old Innerleithen mud to battle with!
On site sat around I noticed Tracy Moseley and asked her how she was feeling about the up and coming race. “I certainly picked the worst day of the year to have a stinking cold, because its gunna be the most physical, so I’m just hoping to have the energy to survive Sunday Yeh looking forward to it, I’m hoping my downhill skills will help, but it’s still quite pedally, conditions are nice, but its going to change so much”
Back at the caravan on bike cleaning duties, The Don turned up, after riding stages 2, 3, 4 and 5, he was feeling pretty good, loving the tracks, I asked him how he was feeling about Sunday and how come he still chose the 29er on such a DH specific track. “Erm, not sure how I’ll get on, have to wait till Sunday (he laughed and we all laugh, bit weird trying to do interview in front of piss taking mates!) As for riding the 29er, I’m doing it on that because it’s fast, but its the first time I’v ridden it in mud and because the mud’s sticking to the tyre, it’s getting quite heavy, so I’m not sure about that, but other than that, it rides fast and is fast” We brew up and chill, then out for some nosh, sharing stories of the day, then we all hit the sack pretty knackered at 11.
SATURDAY (seeding time)
We hit the trail at 11 am, after replacing Bush’s bent brand new chainring with another brand new one. We headed straight up to the middle, open section of stage 4 to check out all the crafty lines around some of the rocky switchbacks, with a quick stop at the bottom of the snotty top bit through the woods. As we had downhill hardened Titley with us, we had to drag him away, due to him getting carried away with looking at lines, “there’s no way you’ll remember them all mon!” I informed him. Then it was up to the top of stage 5 (seeding stage) for a full blast down. At the top was about 10 people ready to hit the track, it so reminded me of the olden days of downhilling, you could tell it was a pretty gnarly track, as there seemed to be a deadly silence in the air, I’m guessing riders were slightly apprehensive of what lay ahead. We convoyed it down, steady, trying to spot any lines, till we hit the jumps at the last section, where it was bike launch central! Stage 5 was definitely fun.
Tracey Moseley enjoying the sunny spells.
Racing was thick and fast!
At the bottom I bumped into Steve Parr and asked him what he thought the riders would make of the track. “Well this was a proposed World Cup UCI round here originally, so it’s meant to be physical, long and extremely technical. People that can ride a bike here love it, people not very confident aren’t going to be very happy till they hit stage 5, they’re gunna hit stage 5 and come down with a massive grin, because it’s so fast, so flowey, big jumps, drops, I just hope they enjoy it”
Back to the shack, clean and prep the bikes and we were ready for seeding, I was 1st of our lot, so off I went, up the hill and put a clean but slightly steady run in for 12th in the Vets, that’d do, but I wanted top 10, oh well, another 5 stages on the Sunday to rectify that. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the finish area checking out everyone’s time and with the cool but sunny weather, it was a real social affair, all riders were stood around sharing stories of their runs and how they had close ones and big moments. Out of our lot Titley came down in a very respectable sub 6 minutes for 4th, Donny 3rd, hoping to make it up on the Sunday but Bush had the best story! “I hit the top fast section literally as fast as I could (other riders who saw him confirmed this) nailed a stump with the pedal and look what it did” I looked down and the new chainring was still on, but just spinning around the XTR cranks as he had amazingly managed to split all the chainring bolts, rip them out and loose them, unreal! Back to the digs again, for nosh and a chill, so far this was turning out to be a top weekend.
Being the old git, I was out the shack first and heading up the hill for the final day, hoping all the training I’d put in could give me the leg power to go the distance. Some stages did seem different, as in practice I had (this time) been advised not to pedal hard on the flat bits, but conserve energy, so obviously it seemed like there were more pedally sections in the race runs, especially section 3 in the virgin woodland. These I approached in a different way to the last round, sat down spinning fast to keep momentum, apparently it can take double the energy to stand up and spin. I even managed to bump into Bush a couple of times, his chainring was holding up, but he was having a bit of a mare, overtaking about 4 riders per stage, but he was still smiling. As for the stages, they were definitely rough, technical and tough, testing the best or riders. I was enjoying my day, having some great chin wags with riders up on the transitions, that to me, is the difference with Enduro to other sports, its so social and you’re just constantly meeting people from all walks of life. My legs seemed to hold up really well, although the long fire road climb from stage 4 to 5 was a bit of a ball buster.
A weird thing about Enduro, is it seems like you’ve got such a long race day of riding ahead, but once you’ve started it just seems to be over in a flash. I put all my runs in, pretty much without a fault amazingly, just how I wanted, a bit too steady, but I stayed on, even on the snotty part of stage 4. As I mingled down at the finish I hoped for my 1st UK Gravity Enduro top 10 finish. Whilst waiting about I had a bit of a mooch around the many pro looking set-ups, its great to see all the stands flying the flags for the brands, with Mavic, Shimano, Cotic Bikes, Twelve50 Bikes, Whackjob clothing, Exempt clothing and RWD Braking. I got to meet Simon Sharp, one of the Hope Technology directors, he had put fastest run in seeding to top the Grand Vets, I wondered how many other bike companies, had directors who were actually madly into the sport they make a living off? I spoke to a couple of people who were doing their 1st ever UK Gravity Enduro, first was Vets rider Andrew Mee, who had posted an impressive top ten seeding run, I asked him what he thought of his first ever Enduro race. “The first word that springs to mind is tiring, the second is happy, it was good, a really good event. Its hard because it’s a big hill and there’s lots of climbing and the descents are tiring as well, but I’m booked in to do some more and can’t wait” I then caught up with Exempt clothing’s rider, downhill ace, Lachlan Blair, who seeded fastest under 18s rider. “Yes this is my first UK Gravity Enduro, I’v done a couple of local ones though. I really enjoyed this one, I don’t know how I got on today because I had a front puncture for the whole of the 1st stage, but I didn’t get caught up by anybody, so I think that went alright. Then on the second stage I punctured again towards the bottom, but I enjoyed it, I’ll hopefully do some more if I can make time amongst my DH schedule”
Jim Buchanan enjoying the fun conditions.
Lachain must have done something right even with those punctures, taking the win in the Under 18’s. As for Simon Sharp from Hope, he also took top spot 1.34 mins in front of 2nd place Grand Vet (must have had some good brakes!) Marcus Jones ruled the Vets, I was chuffed with 9th Vet, 1 minute 15 secs off the podium. Liz Simmons was top lady with a 1.22 mins lead, Tracy Moseley must have shifted that cold to take a massive 3.06 mins win in Elite women. Titley had real mixed emotions at the end, he was gutted after perfect runs all day, only to wrap himself around a post at high speed then puncture near the top of stage 5, he thought he’d thrown it all away, but was totally shocked to find out he still came in 3rd Master, behind ex-DH ace Lee Kermode in 1st and Gary Neale in 2nd. Top 3 Senoirs were Joe Taylor, Mathew Fretwell and Lewis Kirkwood with only 11 seconds separating them all, not bad over half an hour of timed stages! Finally it was time for the big boys, had Donny bitten off more than he could chew, opting for the big wheels on such a gnarly track? Local boy Gary Forrest, who had fastest seeding run ended up in 5th after some free-hub troubles, just behind 3rd placer from Round 1, Sam Flanagan, 4th was old timer, Crawford Carrick Anderson, coming in behind Alex Stock, then Shrewsbury’s finest Neil (The Don) Donoghue took a very respectable 2nd (even with 2 punctures!) Mark Scott took the overall win, a mere 8.1 secs in front of The Don.
As for us lot, we drove back to the Shire in 5 hours, you know when you’ve had real fun, because the radio was never listened to once, the conversation was flowing all the way home, with post-race chatter being the most popular topic, making the trip home seem like a breeze. It’s not just about the riding it’s about the whole thing, and this weekend, to us lot was perfect, big thanks to Steve Parr and all his sponsors for making it happen, roll on Hamsterley!
Words: Jim Buchanan
Photos: Doc Ward (http://www.doc-photography.com/)