A step by step guide to the preparation for your first race.
So you’re thinking of having a go at this thing they call Gravity Enduro, but like lots of people you don’t really know what to expect and how to prepare for your first one and what exactly you will need. Bike-wise you need a reliable fully functioning preferably full suspension rig. A hard-tail is fine, especially as certain races like Mini-enduros, have a category for these, but personally I would go for full-suss, as after a couple of days in the saddle at a big event, comfort is a big part of the picture. Geometry needs to be more along the lines of a non mega lightweight xc machine, more like that of an All Mountain type bike, as the timed parts of the loop will mainly be DH, not uphill. Obviously you will need a lid of some description, I choose to carry my full face up the transitions, whilst wearing my half face then swapping for the Stages, but only at the gnarlier of tracks. It definitely isn’t a good idea to ride up without any helmet on, as most race organisers will issue penalties for such actions. Its always worth checking the rules and regulations of any event you’re thinking of doing, as some may stipulate that eyewear, pads and a jacket are a must too (For more details check our racing category: http://enduro-mtb.com/en/racing/ ). I carry goggles to wear on race day, lots opt for glasses, some for none at all.
Personally I think the kit you carry is such an important part of racing, you can be miles from your vehicle if you have problems, so remember the old saying “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. Clothing comes in all shapes and sizes and obviously differs, dependant on the season you are racing in. But when it comes to kit in the colder months I tend to go for the lots of layers approach, one of which being a decent, lightweight fold away-able breathable waterproof top. The colder months see me ditching the DH style trainer shoes, which will soak up the toe freezing water like a sponge, in favour of something along the style of a winter waterproof boot. Another good tip for the cold stuff is the use of amazing merino wool socks and base layers, these can be like life savers when all are shivering around you. Knee pads should definitely be chosen wisely, remember you may have theses on for two riding days, so any that cut into the skin will cause you serious problems.
Now we move onto the all important pack, this again differs with the time of year, in the colder months I tend to carry a spare pair of gloves and for the real cold weekends the wet-suite style winter gloves are ace. But a must for all seasons (whether tubeless or not) is at least one spare tube, tyre levers and a pump or compressed air canisters, you will have time to fix a puncture on a transition at most races, this is a lot less likely to happen if you run tubeless though.
As you may be out doing a 35k loop for several hours, it’s also essential to carry food and drink, most packs will come with a type of bladder and if, like me, you can get a good sweat on, then 2lts is essential for a days riding. I also carry a hearty high energy snack, like flapjacks, banana and peanut butter sandwich, nuts, etc, plus the energy gels are good, with a caffein shot one being kept as a last resort for the final transition on race day if you are totally goosed! Also tools, cable ties and a split link for the chain are a must too. A timepiece of some description is needed, as you need to keep an eye on your times. A bit of white duct tape on your top tube and a pen is a handy tip, I shall explain in the next bit!
Most Gravity Enduros run a similar format, its pretty simple really. In the UK Gravity Enduro you practice from 9am saturday morning till about 3pm saturday afternoon. This involves doing the full loop, which will incorporate all five stages, linked together by transitions. Transitions are mostly a steady uphill fire-road/quad track/trail centre type track, to take you up to the start of each separate Stage. You are not timed on these transitions, but do need to be at each Stage by a certain time, so a good level of fitness is also essential. I like to know all the transition times (which are usually signposted at the start of each one) and time them on the saturday, to see how my pace compares. The aim of this is to be as steady as you can on the transitions, conserving energy, without being late. Some parts of a transition may be real steep and easier to push, this is often better than trying to prove to your mates you can ride it, as energy conservation really does count.
Once at a stage, I find it is better to go down at an average pace, as it pays to learn the lines than to give it death (which you ain’t going to be able to do on all five Stages anyway) it’s better to be quick and paced than flat out, blowing and crashing, it’s Enduro not DH! Lots of the timed stages will have pedally sections in, there’s really no point giving these the flat out treatment in practice too, you will only knacker yourself out, save it for the race.
UK Gravity Enduro has this on the saturday after 3pm, this consists of going up to Stage 5 (which usually ends in the arena) and giving it full beans to get your riding position for the following day. If you come in 5th in your category, you will be 5th rider down in your category on race day, unless you are Elite, as they go fastest last. Your seeding time will be added onto your overall time the next day to make up your final position. Qualifying on the saturday can (as there is a lot less risk) break the norm with the pack situation if there’s a short transition to it, as you may not need a drink or tools just to go up to ride one Stage and back, I feel a lot more at ease without a pack on, so quite often don’t bother with it for seeding. Your fuel is also a major factor in Enduro, you wouldn’t run a Ferrari on shitty old diesel, so get some good carb loading and lots of fluids on board a few days prior and during the whole weekend.
Seeding is also great to find out if you need to tinker with your bike, suspension set-up, tyre pressures, gears etc, remember the set-up should be in the middle of what you think is too hard/soft when it comes to suspension and tyre pressures, getting a kind of in-between set up for the overall of the whole loop. Usually after Seeding you will be given your Stage start times for the following day, this is where your white duct tape comes in handy. Stuck on the top tube, you can write your Stage start times in permanent marker, so you’re not pissing about getting something out of your pocket all the time the next day, plus it wont get destroyed by the elements.
It’s worth remembering that I am explaining the format here to the UK Gravity Enduro, and others may differ, some may have Seeding on race day, some may not have it at all. Plus you may not necessarily have 5 Stages, some Stages may be repeated and (as in the case of the brilliant Mini-Enduros) it can all be done in one day, with practice in the morning and racing in the afternoon. Sometimes there is no time limit on the transitions so you can relax, ride up with your mates and race the stages whenever you want (within an over-all time limit). If you attend Italian Superenduro races make sure to prepare well as they have huge loops and are allowed to make shuttle runs during training. French races are mostly on-sight without any previous training.
Basically on race day, the full loop is repeated again, with your transition times hopefully being stuck to, sometimes you might find the organisers make the transition between stage 4 and 5 a bit tighter, just to make things a bit tougher when you’re knackered! If you are late for any of the Stages you will receive a one minute time penalty for every minute you are late (some race organisers may not be as strict and may let you slot in) You may have also noticed on the day before that some transitions can be avoided by doing a different route up the hill, but be warned, this can be a disqualifying move, as it’s called Enduro for a reason!
The great thing about Gravity Enduro is that it is so sociable and you usually end up riding the transitions with the same group of people, just chatting and sharing the days riding stories, it really doesn’t feel like a race till you are on that Stage ready to do your thing. I always find, no matter how hard the loop, the day seems to be over in a flash, so make the most of it and ENJOY!
Words: Jim Buchanan Photo: Doc Ward