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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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’!
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 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 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.
Words: Cat Smith Photos: Trev Worsey