Marking the last event on the enduro calendar the infamous Innerleithen MTB Day and Night Enduro took place on Saturday 30th November, with 4 awesome stages and over 1700m of climbing it was going to be a tough one! Innerleithen is gifted with some of the finest natural singletrack in the UK, tough, technical and challenging it is a world class destination. Looking around the car park you could be forgiven for thinking you had accidentally wandered onto the World Cup Circuit, Joe Barnes, Chris Ball, Greg Williamson, Jess Stone, Crawford Carrick Anderson, Rab Wardell and many other top racers had shown up, grass roots indeed!
Always keen to do something different, this is the second year that Innerleithen MTB Racing has put on this unusual round. The entire race is held on one day, consisting of two stages raced twice, with a couple of hours of practice before kickoff. After riders have finished the two tough daylight stages the racing is still far from over! After a break to take on some food and drink, riders reassemble and head back up the hill, IN THE DARK, to race both stages one more time!
Scottish riders are generally hardy folk made of stern stuff, so by popular request the organisers put on a hard-tail category for those that thought that racing in the dark on rocky tracks was not challenging enough! For some reason which sounded great at the time but eludes me now I thought it would be a good idea to join in, misery loves company right? Leaving a high end carbon Mojo HD in the bike room and taking out a steel 853 Genesis hard-tail! Hard-tails still have a lot of love in the UK and many Scottish and UK events still attract a cult following of stalwarts, those crazy few who shun the comfort, speed and control provided by a full suspension bike, instead choosing to race in a white knuckle, leg burning fashion! Most events have an unofficial hard-tail category, but in this event there would be a podium and everything! This was going to be rowdy!
With a sold-out start list, 150 riders fuelled up on good coffee and pasta headed up the hill for the first of many climbs! Anyone who has raced any enduro at Innerleithen will be familiar with the climb to the top of the stages, steady but relentlessly up! The previous three times I have stood in the mud at the top of the enduro stages have been cold, wet, muddy but still brilliant fun. So it came as a welcome surprise to be standing at the top in the sunshine, it was still muddy though!
Stage 1 was good old fashioned downhill, starting above the Gold Run and plunging over root and rock, with plenty of tight sketchy corners that have been shaping Scotland’s fastest riders for many years. Dropping 280m over 1.3km and gravity biased the whole way, tactics would play a part here as many straight lines were developing over some of the longer switchbacks. It was pretty hard putting the power down in the mud at the top as it was like churning custard, but as soon as you hit Gold Run it was dry as a bone and super fast, happy days!
Stage 2 was a different beast altogether, dropping 340m over 2.6km, there was going to be some work to do on the pedals. Starting on the legendary Alistair Lees track, through unrelenting tight corners with slippery rock and root everywhere! It was one of those stages where momentum is key, anyone falling off the pace would spend the entire stage getting hung up on everything, it was certainly pretty wild riding on a hardtail!
Crossing over the fireroad the stage picked up the next section of Alistair Lees before diving sharply off onto some fresh cut trail. Cutting tight across the hillside through the dense trees you had to work the bike hard here, like a pumptrack made a bit too small it was tough keeping power down over the corrugated surface. More than a few trees bore the scars of an over wide bar, and ‘almost’ wheel holes became ‘big’ wheel holes. Back onto clearer ground the stage punched up briefly before the long pedal through the old well surfaced XC trail. This is where the race would be won or lost, on the pedals! With a final sting in the trail the trail dived down to the arena, where flat corners and cheeky taping kept riders on their toes, a massive stage and harder physically than most on the EWS circuit!
As riders climbed back up to race their second ‘day’ stage, those that had dawdled too long at the feed stations were in for a surprise, the day/night enduro had become a night/night enduro! I was near the back of the pack and as I dibbed in to start stage two, cut right into the tight trees realisation hit me like a brick, it was proper dark under the canopy! With lights still in the van ready for the night stages the next 2 minutes can best be described as a carnival as I tried to aim for the biggest gaps between the trees, ricocheted of the hidden roots and generally failed in the attempt to put down a smooth run! Joe Barnes set a faster time in the night run on stage 2 as he also got caught out by the failing light and had to rely on his bat senses to get through the ‘daylight’ stage.
The meaty climb from the car park to the top of the stages would be completed four times, six times for those that chose to practice, so grim determination was going to play a part! What was initially a climb filled with chirpy banter, some cracking no-handed wheelies from Mike and general shenanigans soon transformed into a head down push, a silent pilgrimage in the dark with riders falling out of line to wrestle cramp!
It was a tough day for sure, but such a great experience as darkness fell! It was awesome watching riders cut over the hill side, 30 second gaps separating the train of lights. Much respect to the guys at the top of the hard tail category, I found that lights + rocky trails + hard tail is not a match made in heaven, coming through the rougher sections I had no idea where I was going, which way was up, where the light was pointing or if it was the lights or my eyeballs that were bouncing up and down, madness, scary and brilliant fun!
After a tough day racing it was Canyon Factory Rider Joe Barnes who took the overall win with an amazing time of 24:57, followed closely by Trek World Racing rider Greg Williamson 25:17 and Lewis Buchanan with a time of 25:45.
In the ladies, Jess Stone took a solid win with an impressive time of 32:45, in second was IBIS UK rider Lesley Ingram with a time of 36:20 and Rosslyn Newman in third with a time of 37:24. Jess Stone is going from strength to strength at the moment, since exploding onto the DH scene and taking the 2010 Elite National Downhill Championship, she now rides for UNIOR International Mountain Bike Team and looks set to be a dominant force in enduro!
In the vets category it was legend Crawford Carrick Anderson who took the victory with a solid 26:35, this guy has taken a serious number of podiums over the years! Fellow IBIS rider Keith Buchan took second with 27:49 and Team CHR rider Michael Stangeways took third with 31:29.
In the Hardtail category Joe Swann took the hardcore victory with a great time of 28.56, in second was Andrew Ramsay with a time of 31:08 and Ewan Bell in third with a time of 31:22. These guys need recognition as the course was rough! I was pleased as punch with 6th, but think I will stick to the full bouncer next time!
In the Juniors Lachlan Blair took the win with a time of 26:58, Drew Carters came in 2nd with a time of 27:43 and local pinner Thomas Mitchell (a name to watch in the future) came in 3rd with a time of 27:48.
So another great event from the Innerleithen MTB crew, credit needs to go to the marshals who not only gave up their time to stand in the cold but were always on hand with witty banter and encouragement. Let us also not forget the productive and passionate group of trail builders, happily giving up their weekends to create great trails for others! These trail diggers should be commended more and thanked for every callous they have endured for our pleasure!
For the full results check here
Words: Trev Worsey
Photos: Malcolm Porter Marked Mediahouse
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