The hot topic in enduro right now concerns the fairness of practice, but regardless of whether you sit in the for or against camp, you have to agree that racing a stage blind is always going to be the ultimate test of a rider! There is nothing like pinning into a special stage, off the brakes, with no idea what is coming! This was the situation that faced over 150 riders in the Highland Perthshire Enduro, racing around the picturesque town of Dunkeld. Not only were the stages kept a closely guarded secret but some were only finished a few days before the event, leaving no time for any crafty practicing! On a sunny Saturday and with a level playing field, the stage was set for an exciting days racing!
With a 49KM loop taking in some of Perthshires finest views, 4 special stages, 1 of which was built specially for the event and fair weather, it looked to be a great day to be out on the bike. The important event marked the start of the Highland Perthshire Cycling Festival and was run in partnership with events company No-Fuss, and significantly heralded the first enduro styled event to hit the region.
Some of the special stages tested riders and bikes to the limit, steep, loose and very rocky! , Photo by Craig Beattie Photography
After a good humored race briefing and easy registration riders set out on mass for an enjoyable and scenic pedal to the start of Stage 1, climbing up from the shores of Loch Ordie. Stage 1 set the tone of the day with a departure from the current trend in Enduro, having not only the obligatory downhill section, but also dominated by a long flat pedal with a fair sized hill in the middle. Being the first stage, more than a few riders took off seeing ‘the red mist’ but were soon cashing cheques that their winter fitness bodies could not cash! Hard on the pedals off the start it was hard to move up the field, there was plenty of room to pass but the overnight rain had made all but the main line boggy and rutted! More than a few times I shouted ‘on your right’, cut out then stalled in axle deep mud while my intended quarry pedaled away with a big grin! The stage finished with a rocky, fast fire road blast that had all but the triple ring crew spinning out and seeking the most aerodynamic tuck to save seconds!
Offering the chance to regain composure, there was a steady and scenic climb up to the top of Stage 2. This stage was a total secret to all but the builders and was only finished a few days before the event. There were a few suspicious warnings in the race briefing that riders should take it easy as it was ‘a challenge’. Falling away steeply from the phone mast overlooking Dunkeld, riders milled around watching racers take off down the slick and rutted track before plummeting off the horizon to a chorus of break squeal and clacking slate. This stage was a true test of reactive riding, cutting steep enough to rival any DH track, and with a fair few roll-able drops, exposed corners and significant fall lines, it seems like the organisers had turned it up to 11. Dropping in it was immediately obvious that there was very little grip, and a go-with-it attitude seemed to be the way forward. Spending a fair amount of time sideways and well and truly under gravity’s control, I passed a rider digging his bike out of a tree, another trying to claw back up the slate, and one simply looking shell shocked. Once off the mud, the track wound sinuously through the quarry using every off camber turn and steep bank available on its way to the final plummet to the road (with a big catch net). Quite simply one of the best blind stages you could wish for, this would certainly be a stage that would polarize riders, punishing the nervous and rewarding the rowdy. It was a brave stage to put into the enduro, but even though there were those that found it a step to far, the smiles and excited banter at the finish indicated that it had been welcome addition. This is just the sort of stage that enduro needs, fun, exciting and challenging!
Stage 2 was a challenge for many of the riders, and was an awesome demonstration of track building.
After sorting a few mechanical’s and miraculously getting a muddy tubeless tyre to seal with a mini-pump we headed off for the transfer to stage 3. Taking in some sweet single-track and a grunting climb up behind Birnam Hill, a lot of locals were surprised to see the route heading out onto open moorland. By now the field had thinned out and the top of stage 3 was a much more laid back affair with riders chilling out and enjoying the scenery, trying to find shelter from the wind behind knee high sprigs of wild grass. Again, Stage 3 was a total unknown, starting out as a fast 2 minute blast over open single track with the faintest of paths, the track abruptly dived into the trees throwing riders into a series of tight and technical turns, sneaky lung busting climbs and a slick pumpy finish! Massive smiles at the finish of the stage indicated that once again Perthshire was delivering the goods!. After a snack and comfortable in the knowledge that we were 3/4 of the way round it was time to head to the infamous final stage, taking in a scenic diversion along the way to check out the impressive river hewn canyons of Rumbling Bridge.
Being the final timed section, stage 4 took in Perthshires showpiece, the lower section of the legendary Dunkeld DH track! Though it would provide a stiff challenge to riders of a more XC persuasion, its history and reputation made it a vital inclusion. The tight taping guided riders down one of the easier lines, but after 45km of riding and with dulled reactions, a healthy dose of adrenalin was needed to set a good time and careful line choice and swift reactions were essential. Being the first long event of the season I was tired and happy to be finishing, but I am certainly planning on heading back to Dunkeld to explore more of the great trails in the area.
At the top end of the field, riders were getting fast and loose on the downhill stages, Photo by Craig Beattie Photography
Enduro mountain bike magazine was representing in the mud!
The biggest result was the smiles on display as riders finished the race, the event had a great ‘good time’ spirit and had enough excitement to challenge riders off all levels. It was also great to see another expression of mountain bike racing working so successfully in Dunkeld, previously been known as a DH only venue.
Full results can be found at http://www.sportident.co.uk/results/2013/HighlandPerthshireEnduro/Overall.html
In the Female Category, Sophie Buckingham took the top spot with a time of 26:55, Roslynn Newman came in second with 27:11 and Catherine Smith was third with a time of 30:43.
In the Juniors, Stuart Wilcox took the win with a time of 19:12, with Ben Miller 19:28 and Jamie Carchrie 23:33 in 2nd and 3rd.
Orange bikes Huw Oliver took the overall win with a fast time of 18:34, ahead of team mate James Shirley 19:00 and Santa Cruz rider Robert Friel 19:06.
A massive thanks has to go to Kat and the rest of the Highland Perthshire Cycling crew who delivered a professional, welcoming and challenging enduro, and managed to showcase the diversity and beauty of the region. No-Fuss and SPORTident for the effective and immediate live timing and finally Progression Bikes and the rest of the trail diggers who built some amazing trail. I am already looking forward to next year.
Representing Enduro Magazine at the event, the SummitDOWN team riders Trev Worsey, Cat Smith and James Knowles came 9th, 3rd and 9th in their categories respectively.
Words and Photos: Trev Worsey
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