The Glentress Seven gives its secrets away in its name – it’s a seven-hour race at Glentress, a forest that many a UK mountain biker will have on their hit list. For the second year running, the event was basked in sunshine which, depending on which riders you ask was either a good or bad thing.

For one day only, Glentress forest is a sea of race tape, flapping in the wind as the forest is prepared for this now traditional event. Noncompetitors visiting for the day will be initially alarmed that the forest is out of bounds but the organisers know a lot of sneaky cut throughs, walkers paths and secret descents, and they work closely with Forestry Commission Scotland to make the forest open and for 638 riders to be absorbed into the forest.

Before any MTB race can begin, first there must be Coffee
Before any MTB race can begin, first there must be Coffee
This was to be the final big event after a fortnight of great fun.
This was to be the final big event after a fortnight of great fun.
Race director Neil Dalgleish gets the day started
Race director Neil Dalgleish gets the day started
Solo riders have all their goodies lined up ready to go.
Solo riders have all their goodies lined up ready to go.

At 10am sharp, the biggest peloton you’ll ever see in a forest in Scotland was led outwards and upwards for the first lap, riders jostled for position with the lycra clad, peakless hardtail brigade taking pole position and the more relaxed baggies, knee pads and backpacks crew bringing up the rear.

Over 800 riders turned out for 7 hours of joy - or perhaps suffering.
Over 800 riders turned out for 7 hours of joy – or perhaps suffering.
The front line looked hungry for a win...
The front line looked hungry for a win…
...and that was just the kids.
…and that was just the kids.

Racers can organise themselves into trios, pairs, or ride solo which results in an impressive 17 opportunities to get on the podium and welcomes riders of all abilities to ride anything between 1 and 11 laps.

And they're off. Seven hours of pedalling awaits.
And they’re off. Seven hours of pedalling awaits.
The first few laps allowed people to find their own pace.
The first few laps allowed people to find their own pace.

The first lap was slightly truncated in order to avoid dumping all the riders simultaneously on the prime single track but lap 2 was the full 11 km with 375 m of climbing up some tricky ascents including the aptly named Rue de Souffrance. Riders started to thin out as the course edged up and up, punctuated with exhilarating descents down some prime trail centre gold which only added to the amount of eventual climbing but were heartily welcomed.

The weather was simply beautiful and the Valley was looking at it's best
The weather was simply beautiful and the Valley was looking at it’s best
This was the section that everyone was talking about.
This was the section that everyone was talking about.
Most had no issues with the drop, style for miles.
Most had no issues with the drop, style for miles.

Just as legs and hearts started to droop, a welcome sight lurked around the corner – the TweedLove Cake Shop, for those who were in it to win it, it was a test of resolve, for those who were in it to eat cake it was the mirage in the desert realised!

While others took a more direct approach.
While others took a more direct approach.
There were riders of all ages keen to take on the challenging course.
There were riders of all ages keen to take on the challenging course.
Big smiles, most racers were in it for the fun!
Big smiles, most racers were in it for the fun!
And it was dusty... who would have thought it?
And it was dusty… who would have thought it?

The high point of the course awaited just beyond the cake, a relief for those that had righteously indulged, followed swiftly by the (Tweed) Love Tunnel, a rocky slippy luge starkly in juxtaposition to the sweet hard pack previously encountered. The downhillers were all of a sudden in their element and those without a dropper seat post were perhaps wishing they’d added a bit more weight to their rigs. The excitement was soon over one way or another and riders sped up with the knowledge that the only way was (generally) down.

There are lots of ways this caption could have gone, but I'll go with "what magnificent foliage. "
There are lots of ways this caption could have gone, but I’ll go with “what magnificent foliage. “
Speeds were high as riders dived down the descent back to the base.
Speeds were high as riders dived down the descent back to the base.
Cat (the author) dropping into the 'drop of doom'
Cat (the author) dropping into the ‘drop of doom’
These were the real heros, literally saving a life!
The Tweed Valley Bike Patrol were the real heroes, literally saving a life!
There are no words to say how important these guys are when things go wrong.
Saying thank you could never be enough.

Although plenty of time was still left for the climbers, we were now in the realm of the descenders. The charmingly named “zoom or bust” kicked the riders out onto a fire road before an “only open for the race” swoopy beauty of a trail opened up, guiding riders via a cut in scalextrics track into the forest. Racers soon discovered both their natural order and the difficulty of overtaking on this short section, it was, however, followed by a long, straight climb where the battle could commence to reorder riders before the last descent.

There is a trail in there somewhere.
There is a trail in there somewhere.
Off camber roots lay in wait, luckily they were dry and grippy.
Off camber roots lay in wait, luckily they were dry and grippy.
The trail skirted the tree line, some the Valley's finest.
The trail skirted the tree line, some the Valley’s finest.

Many veteran Glentress riders tell tales of… “the bomb hole” a very short, very steep drop in surprising riders who have become lulled by the swooping ease of the trails thus far. Many a rider has ‘ come a cropper’ here and excited kids gather at the bottom in both hope and dread of a fall – the path welcomes those that believe and punishes those who doubt (and brake). A detour is available for those that just don’t wanna’!

It was tight to overtake on the tight singletrack, confined between the trees.
It was tight to overtake on the tight singletrack, confined between the trees.
Back in the pits it was busy as riders passed the baton or grabbed food.
Back in the pits it was busy as riders passed the baton or grabbed food.
Alpine Bikes were on hand to keep the bikes running sweet.
Alpine Bikes were on hand to keep the bikes running sweet.

With all the tech and all the climbing behind them, the riders swoop along the edge of the trees before final eviction into the field above the event village. The remains of previous years ‘dual slaloms’ give riders a final fling in full view of spectators and the eagle-eyed commentator Jamie, ready to welcome riders to the change over area.

The time ticked away...
The time ticked away…
For some it was an agonising wait until the next lap.
For some it was an agonising wait until the next lap.
While for others it was all a bit much,
While for others it was all a bit much,

The first lap completed, solo riders settle in for the long haul and team riders dive for the snacks and gels to revitalise themselves before act 2 of their performance. With a cool start to the day, riders were hopeful that the day would remain overcast, spectators and marshals, however, must have wished harder because the day became glorious and perhaps a tad warm for those sprinting on the climb.

The climbs started at tell as the day rolled on.
The climbs started to tell as the day rolled on.
As the last lap hooter sounded, there was time for just one more.
As the last lap hooter sounded, there was time for just one more.
Flat out to the finish.
Flat out to the finish.
It had to go in the report.
It had to go in the report.
At the end of a hot day the field were exhausted, but elated.
At the end of a hot day the field were exhausted, but elated.
Tweedlove GT7 Final-8758 Tweedlove GT7 Final-8824 Tweedlove GT7 Final-8830 Tweedlove GT7 Final-8832 Tweedlove GT7 Final-8870 Tweedlove GT7 Final-8881

The weather kept smiling on the event for the podiums, allowing riders to get their moment in the sun. Many riders, who came for the atmosphere and camaraderie of a team event, had already reaped their reward and returned home happy.

The real heroes.

As at any event where several hundred riders come together to compete, there will always be some minor scrapes and this event was no different, however, nobody was expecting to have to deal with something as serious as a heart attack. Amazingly, the fantastic Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue team (TVMRT) and the Tweed Valley Bike Patrol, were on hand to attend within 4 minutes, and their expertise turned what could have been the most tragic of endings into a lucky escape! Teams like this are run by volunteers whose aim is to keep us all safe when we’re enjoying the forest. If you would like to lend a hand, you can make a donation to TVMRT or sponsor Bike Patroller Tom on his 322 km (5500m ascent) Rat Race crossing.

The end of an amazing day, and great Tweedlove festival.
The end of an amazing day, and great Tweedlove festival.

Words: Cat Smith Photos: Trev Worsey