I have to admit, it was with a degree of apprehension that I approached this, the penultimate round of the UK Enduro series, after being told all the stories about how gnarly Dyfi is. I had ridden it several years prior when competing in Motorcycle Enduro, and knew it would be rough and tough, so I knew people weren’t exaggerating.
Things for me all seemed a bit weird, for a start it was a virgin outing for an old caravan I had bought 10 months before, and when the old Bill pulled me and the family over in Welshpool and I realised I had had the caravan hand-break on for 20 miles, it wasn’t the best of starts and I hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come. I had previously made the switch from the GT to one of the Empire Cycle rigs, and this too, was its’ virgin race, and after all the reports of tyre slashing rocks I had opted for a super tacky DH rear, this too another first for me.
On meeting up with the home boys, Titley, Bush, Vini and Coop, I encountered problems from the start, with a dodgy leaking inner tube, straight away I seemed to be faffing around! Anyway in the end I spent the Friday (this seems to now be a new trend in Enduro as an energy saver) doing all the loop. What a loop it was too, just over 20 miles in all, 5 stages with every one having a lung busting leg destroying, long-ass fire-road transition to the top, oh my god, what a difference from the last Mini-Enduro I had done at Caersws 3 weeks before with it’s 15 minute transitions, I felt unprepared and that mixed with the use of the sticky DH tire ended up being the toughest thing I’d ever done; DH tyre, never again!
Anyway enough of my whinging, what about the Stages?
The first 200 meters of this was insane, it was quite tough on the friday in the dry, a freshly cut steep section on clay soil with roots and very tight turns, out of all the stages this was the one I heard more than a few moan about, in the wet it was almost un-rideable, but, this is the UK’s top series, so maybe real tricky sections should be in, I’m on the fence on that one. After the tricky stuff was a lung-busting long flat quad track, that didn’t seem to get any easier till near the end when it shot down a real fast shaley rough section to the finish.
A fast start, similar to the last bit of stage one, really as fast as you dare go over the huge whooped out lumps created by years and years of world motorcycle events, some you doubled up, all needed to be hit with an air of caution, one false move on these and it could be a hospital visit. dividing this up was a tricky ditch with shiny roots in the bottom to catch out the flat-out merchants. Some big scary bermed loose corners sent you down to the freshly cut single-track section of slippy soil and roots, as things got trickier and more twisty with a bit of a pedal then a final speed up out of the woods to the end.
This, it would seem, was everyone’s favourite, a big long trail-centre type stage, but a bit more narrow and technical than your average trail centre. It consisted of rock drops, big blind fly-offs and plenty of sticky-outy tyre killing awkward rocks to avoid. As is many trail centre sections, it was quite quick but took lots of energy to keep a pace on all the way to the bottom, although there were smiles a plenty to be seen on completion.
There always is one killer, one stage you don’t look forward to, due to a bit that is just so pedally it is just plain horrible, and this was that stage! Off the top it was flat out single track narrow stone, very easy to hit the side and get into trouble, this was fun and dangerous at the same time, but what followed can only be described as ‘impossible in the wet’. It was a 100 metre uphill freshly cut soil and rooty trail through the trees, difficult in the dry, but (as was told to me by many of the top riders) better to get off and run with the bike in the wet, hmmm! I just had to tell myself it’s the same for everyone! Out of here and and along a flat fire-road, with a 30 second pedal to exit onto another freshly cut bit of natural soil and root trail winding it’s way down through the forest (so much fun) to the end.
Stage 5 & Seeding
This stage was so different to all the others, the one that came into the arena, it was nearly all steep open fields with some ace drops and (if you dared) step downs up the top, big wide sweeping drifty grass corners, weaving it’s way down all the open fields from top to bottom in no time at all. This was where I learned another valuable lesson in Enduro, bring spiked tyres, just in case you can use them for seeding!
So the day was done and I was truly exhausted and at the end of my tether, plus I was sure my Revalation forks were playing up, busting through their travel with no mid-range, killing my confidence. Although I was over the moon with the plushness of the new Empire, things weren’t going well for me, at least I didn’t have to do it all again on the Saturday. Friday night and me and the family, plus Titley, and Bush chilled at the local campsite and all took a well earned early night, to be followed by a much needed lie in. That night I realised my caravan was watertight, as the heavens opened and all through the night and on and off during next day, making things very interesting up the track indeed.
Back up to the race sight and all the usual stands were there, with the addition of Continental Tyres. I noticed a distinct growth in the amount of female competitors, which can only be good for the sport (I had to think long and hard about how to word that without sounding like a perv!) long and hard, doh!! Vini and I did some chilling around the Empire stand doing our bit, I was telling Chris (of Empire) about my fork issues, to which he replied “go and see Sram, that’s what they’re here for”, why didn’t I think of that?! Over I went with one hour till I had to leave for my seeding, to be told they needed a full strip-down, as one of the damper holes was blocked with grease. I took the risk and got it done just in the nick of time, transforming the forks into something to trust, I headed up with no time to spare.
Stood at the top in my riding t-shirt I really did regret not bringing a waterproof shivering in the rain, but once I was off I gunned it, nailed the drops and jumps to come in 5th, that’ll do! All riders took to the hill in their separate categories, but biggest shock of qualifying was our mate Andrew Titley coming down fastest Master and fastest overall, his 20 years of DH racing and recent xc fitness training really paying off, he was buzzin’
I was up mega early scitzin’ about my sticky rear tyre, fortunately Rob from Continental replaced it with a fat trail tyre to put my mind at rest, giving me no more excuses! So off we went on the big loop again, I rode it (feeling so tired all day) with Renthal Cycling’s top man Ian Collins, he was a joy to be with, keeping me upbeat and taking my mind of my tiredness with his ace humour and brilliant fun (not bothered about results) attitude towards the whole day. I was gutted when I got a big stick stuck in my rear wheel on stage one, then relieved to hear stage 1 wasn’t to count due to a big crasher in the Vets just after us, he’d gone down hard on the (maybe too) gnarly first section. Although I wasn’t relieved for the poor bugger, as he’d bust his hip or something, heal soon dude. Ian really did drag me through the day, even catching me on stage 4, making me go faster than ever before and pull away at scary pace. I have to admit the feeling on completion of this, (what I would class as the toughest of all the rounds) was that of shear relief, I have never seen so many knackered riders at an event, except the ones on 29ers that is!
I know I may sound like I’m moaning, but I can assure you it’s not about the event, I think we all have off weekends or days, and that was mine, the track was mega, a real challenge, and as I write this sat in my nice warm conservatory I wonder why I wasn’t buzzing all weekend, I think after having a sniff at the podium at the Mini-Enduro I was hoping too much for another, instead of just riding and having fun the Ian Collins way, another lesson learned!
In the ladies Rebecca Baraona took the honours with Sally Evamy and Laura Battista giving chase, the super fast Leigh Johnson won U18s with Stuart Wilcox and Rob Goodey in toe, our man Vinni qualified 3rd, but was marred with mechanicals all sunday. Grand Vets winner was Howard Stuttard, Kev Baines in 2nd, followed by David Heath. In my category Vets, winner was the occasional (luckily!) racer Justin Grice on his big 29er, with Chris Ames in 2nd and a very surprised Ian Collins in 3rd, proving that not being bothered paid off! I have to admit I was disappointed with my 10th, next time Dangermouse, next time!! Top 3 Seniors was probably the closest fought battle, with Ben Slinger taking top spot followed by Andy Walker, then Mathew Fretwell. Elite Women had an absence of Tracy Moseley, leaving Helen Gaskel free to take the honours ahead of Sarah Newman, then Aimee Dix. Masters too was a closely fought massive category, but it was the usual winner Lee Kermode who got the top spot followed by Cotic’s all round nice guy Chay Granby, then DH ace and good mate Andy Titley. With only Elites left to run and more absentees such as Santa Cruz’s Donny and Hope’s Sam Flanagan it was all to play for, Alex Stock took the win with Samual Shucksmith in very close 2nd and Greg Callagham in an also very close 3rd.
Big thanks to Steve Parr for another stunning event, Naked racing for the timing, Sram for sorting my forks, Continental for the tyre, Ian Collins for being a top bloke and my misses for keeping the kids entertained in the rain whilst I was out selfishly racing!!
Cool Vid from round 4 here…
Words: Jim Buchanan | Photos: Doc Ward (http://www.doc-photography.com/)
Roll on Eastridge for a Monner spectacular, 7 miles away; of course I won’t practice!!