Wow, how soon did that come around, it only seems like yesterday we were all freezing our bollox off at Afan, with the thought of warm weather just a pipe dream, seven months gone and after a great summer it was time for Eastridge. This fine hill in Shropshire has been a real mecca for mountain biking for so long, having seen many a British DH and XC champion cut their teeth in the unforgiving rocky forest, see the old-skool 1993 footage attached http://youtu.be/1X2i9S4r_yQ Being a local track to us Monners, their was a buzz in the air with the anticipation of another race at this legendary venue.
The weather had been real kind to us prior to this event, with hot days a plenty turning the soil in-between the nasty rocks to dust in some places, but come thursday and friday and the heavens had opened to put a real dampener on things. It was with Titley, Bush, Bellis, Vini and Donny we hit the trails on the friday, just as the rain disappeared. We didn’t do the loop, being local we just did the bits we knew we needed practice on, and to be fair, Donny was giving a few ‘fast line’ tips away on the already taped out stages. Running tubeless and on our final decent I ripped a nasty hole in the side of my rear tyre, bummer! The place was already busy on the Friday too, friday seeming to be the new saturday of Enduro practice.Saturday, was dry again and the track had soaked up and spat out all that rain, running fast and dusty again.
Stage 1 Seeding and Stage 6
Known locally as The Student DH, this was most peoples’ favourite stage, downhill right from the start, flowing rocky turns at the top with a great kicker jump, into a new dusty, rocky, rooty section, over the fire road and the trickiest steepest part was upon you. You had to hold your lines over the nasty tyre popping rocks, turn after turn till you exited the wood into the open field, through the stream, over the nasty kicker jump and finish in the arena, all in around the two minute mark.
This was the only stage not starting in the same place as the others, it was kind of over the back side of the hill. This started with a flat pedal over some pointless jumps, followed by some awesome steep tricky turns, with roots, a mint hip jump, a nasty sharp rocky off camber turn, then some lung busting short uphill sections, down more nice steep stuff, then up and down what is known locally as topography, real single-track tight stuff, with not much of a gradient to the finish.
This was the real killer, the one we (except the 29er pedlars) all dreaded. Off the start and it was across a long peddaly single track section with just enough gradient to carry some speed (we raced this back in about 95) round some tight corners and more flat and uphill stuff, which just sapped your power and seemed to go on forever. Then as it got open and fast again and you tried to gain those precious breaths, you had to let her go, round a nasty left hander (one of the ones The Don had coached us on) and back into some mental, loose and loamy DH to finish, after a final short uphill fire-road sprint.
Known locally as the 98 DH, this was another ‘seat down all the way’ track, fast rocky, rooty flowing corners, with rock gardens that had lots of peoples tyres names written on them, just awaiting the big hiss. This, like stage 1 really ripped and was over in no time
This, known locally as Big Log has the best 1st half of all the tracks, rocky and flowing, real suspension testing corners, with drops and stumps thrown in for good measure. Then there was an awful fire-road climb to the second half that is real tricky, pedally, very up and down smooth dirt corners, which eventually got steeper and ended on some nice loamy DH stuff.
After putting another hole in my fixed tyre, I decided to take no chances and go for a 2.4 rear with a tube and about a million psi for seeding! There were so many people having troubles with punctures, with Rob from Continental being kept truly on his toes, helping people with their rubber issues and selling a real van load of tyres. Shimano too seemed to be flat out, with the bike braking coarse rattling bikes to bits and sending rear mechs into back wheels. Seeding was soon upon us and done in a flash, everyone giving it their all to rank as high as possible for the following days racing. There were smiles galore at the bottom of the track, showing the fun the riders were having.
I have to admit I felt quite smug, being able to set off from home at 8am, to be ready to race, but that smugness soon left me on stage one, as I felt my tyre (freshly tubeless milked up) go soft at the start, it turns out I had only used a third of the fluid needed, doh. I got another tube in, then with the slightly tight transition, missed my slot by three mins, taking a very harsh three min penalty, bastard! Anyway during the day with such a small hill it was quite odd to have so many transitions cross over, so seeing a constant ebb and flow of other category riders was the norm. It really did seem (probably due to the smaller hill) like the quickest days racing ever, I hit every stage clean, but carrying my three minute time penalty like a dog without it’s bark, knowing my day was fucked! After I came down I headed over to the finish field jump to what was a mass of very excited people, what a great atmosphere as we all watched the rest of the field come through on their final stage. To add to the atmosphere the Twelve50 bikes lot had horns, drums and other noisy things to get the crowd going, with Mexican waves a plenty thrown in too.
Women saw Liz Simmons take the win over Sally Evamy and Claire Bennett, Under 18s was closely fought, Leigh Johnson was the fastest in front of Joe Harrison and James Keen. In Grand Vets Howard Stuttard smashed the field, with Kev Baines and David Heath in pursuit. Vets saw nice guy Rich King take 1st over big Andy Sadler and the bruiser that is Julian Pofley, to tell you how close times were, I would have taken 5th, but with my 3 mins penalty I ended up right down in 25th, gutted! Masters, sporting a massive 115 riders, had the usual perfection racer Lee Kermode come in 1st, 15 seconds ahead of Cotic’s Chay Granby then David Mirfield. Seniors had Joe Taylor at the top, Mark West in 2nd and the consistent Mathew Fretwell in 3rd. In Elite women Tracy Mosely smashed it, in a league of her own with the very consistent and always smiley Helen Gaskell in 2nd and Sarah Newman in 3rd. Mens Elite saw The Don (local hero) stop dead in the finish area after hitting a tree, loose 10 seconds and still win by over 18 seconds! Phil Shucksmith was next up behind Donny and Alex Stock took a very respectable 3rd.
Movers and Shakers
So Alex Stock took the overall series Elite male title with the ‘all rounds to count’ rule being used, as Donny had missed a round due to a foreign race, but with no disrespect to Alex, we all know Donny is really the unconditional King of UK Gravity Enduro. Is this said with a bit of bias, as he’s a mate and a local, maybe, but lets face it, his times (as are Tracy Mosely’s in Elite women) just absolutely smoke the others, putting the pair of them, simply in a league of their own. As for the rest, if you want to know who ended up where in the series check out this link http://www.ukgravityenduro.com/ukge-2013-overall-series-ranking-points/
What a year
Looking back, it was 13 months ago that I sold my KTM 350exc and bought my first decent Mountain Bike to race in over 12 years. I jumped into this game of Enduro with no real idea of how I’d get on or even if I’d like it as much as racing the motorcycles. I dreamed of a top 10 Vets result and ended up well in the top ten, I would have even ended up 3rd overall if it wasn’t for my penalty, which blew things a bit for me. It has been a massive learning curve, as it has for many others starting out in this fresh new sport of Enduro. It has been an amazing year of ups and downs, fantastic social weekends meeting loads of new riding mates and hooking up with old DH buddies from way back. What a fantastic sport this is, we are all so lucky to be a part of the start of it.
Enduro Mag, for letting me talk my shit on here and all round the world! Steve Parr and crew for the great series, Empire Cycles and Continental for all the help this weekend. The Eastridge Trail Partnership for doing such a great job at making the Stages, Doc Ward for bringing us such fantastic images, making the race reports come to life. The Shrewsbury Monners for all the cool riding and racing together, and all the cool people I have met at the races this year, this thing called Enduro is just getting bigger and better, let’s smash it next year and put it where it deserves, high up on a plinth above the clicky elitist sport of Downhill!!
Words: Jim Buchanan | Photos: Doc Ward (http://www.doc-photography.com/)