After a day of practice there is always one little section that preys on your mind, one niggly bit that keeps running through your head! For me it was a new bus stop on stage 3, Cackle, which had been freshly cut in. This section required a hard left, then a quick stamp on the pedals to get onto a high line, setting up wide and left to avoid the hole and set up for the line over the big rock. On race day, as my grip tightened on the grips at the top of stage I recited the mantra in my head, ‘left-power-high line-stay left-over rock’. The dibber flashed red and I was into it, spin up to speed, OK, left, power, high line, good, I was onto the bus stop, time to stay left and then!! Holy s@&t!!!
Testament to the growing popularity of enduro and Scotlands passion for racing, on a wet February weekend, over 270 riders ignored the foreboding weather and headed to Fort William to race in the first round of the POC Scottish Enduro Series! The name ‘Fort William’ rings out loud in the mountain biking community, world renown for the legendary World Cup Downhill course. Walking around the car park it was clear how popular the format has become, brightly coloured 160mm bikes with even brighter wheel-sets were assembled as old racing friends caught up after a winter of training, working or simply getting fatter.
Under a threatening sky, riders layered up and headed up onto the hill for a day of practice! With a large portion of fresh cut trail and waterlogged ground, it was clear that the stages were going to be far different after the passage of hundreds of riders! As corners were practiced, time saving gnarly lines were discovered and kept quiet, there was an awesome feeling of excitement and challenge in the air, Scotland finally had a full series and it was about to kick off!
After the steady Scottish drum roll of driving rain through the night, those that stayed in vans and caravans woke to a mild but overcast morning. The car park slowly filled with racers and spectators all seeking caffeine, their salvation provided by the chirpy staff of the mobile Billy Can Cafe. The No Fuss and Innerleithen MTB team were up on the hill from first light assessing the state of the rivers, and making some slight course changes due to the swelling water levels.
At 9:30AM on Sunday the 23rd February, the POC Scottish Enduro Series finally became a reality! The first wave of riders climbed up through Leanachan forest onto the windswept plateau above the World Cup XC trails. Stage one was a mixture of surfaced XC trails, all fast flowing with small jumps, berms and very loose flat corners. After a drifty, peddaly top section, there was a hearty fireroad sprint! As riders punched into the strong headwind, skinny jackets were rewarded, and everyone wished that skin suits would have a comeback! It was all great fun and very fast, riders started to think that this was going to be a simple race, but if this stage were renamed Dr Jekyll they were about to be introduced to Mr Hyde!
If there was one stage that would make or break results, Stage 2 ‘The Blue Crane’ was it! Starting on a rough and tough trail, the pace was fast and loose with a couple of big fly offs before plunging over a fire-road and into some fresh cut trail! WOW! what a difference a day makes, what had been a tricky awkward descent had become a slicked up luge, with bogs full of deep wheel holes, big tree trunks and rocks! If you could stay up here you would make some serious headway into the competition! There seemed to be two methods of surviving this trail, those with good bike Kung Fu could survive by throwing shapes and powering through like a paddle steamer, less accomplished riders were best to wait until the first inevitable crash then simply grab the bike and leg it!
Deep mud will always polarise riders, but when you think about it, we sit watching videos of riders getting loose in summer dust, aspiring to drift and slash our way down a trail! Mud is nothing more than Scottish dust, and today there was plenty of it! There is simply nothing more exciting than dropping into a muddy chute with the certain knowledge that at some point the back is going to try and swap ends with the front. Any tap of the brakes turns an ‘almost going’ into a ‘well gone’ and as soon as you admit defeat and those feet start dabbing, you know full well you are doing the one footed lambada down the rest of the trail. For those that love the feeling of trusting to gravity, who find comfort in speed and have brake fingers without independent thought, mud is the business! Brilliant fun!
Climbing back up to stage 3, there was plenty of excited banter between those that had ridden stage 2, and those heading up to get stuck in (literally). Stage 3 is where we pick up from my introduction, what had been a rough zipper line between big holes and rocks had become a 6 foot wide swath of deep mud and gnar. After a massive over the bars followed by repeated attempts to get back up to speed in a section where momentum was not only your friend but a cast iron requirement, the resultant pantomime embarrassed not only me but also the lone man watching, who could come up with nothing wittier than a supportive “well done”! Once off the mud, everything got fast and grippy and it was great to get up to race pace, feeling so much faster after the mud plugging. The lower section of the stage was electric, sprinting and pumping through great trail, I was almost sad to see the end!
Stage 4, Bermister, had to be cut a little shorter due to a last minute rise in the river, overnight the shallow crossing had become a raging torrent. In homage to the UK’s most legendary World Cup Downhill course, the stage dropped down the front face of the hill in full view of the car park arena! It also reflected somewhat the old school Klunkerz trails of old, with big, rough and drifty fire trail, offering high speed and low traction. The last section was an exhilarating collection of berms and jumps, with riders cheered home by hardy spectators.
After the final scrabble to beep in, it was all smiles and high fives in the car park! Scotland finally has a series and it had begun! Everyone was keen to see how they had performed against their buddies and the live timing worked perfectly. I don’t think I have ever been as muddy in a race before but what a great way to kick off a season! There were a few grumbles about the mud from a couple of riders, but let us not forget, it is February – in Scotland, by rights we should have been racing in the snow, and anyway it’s mountain biking! Big shout out to the marshals who stood on the hill all day in tough weather, with nothing but smiles on their faces and encouraging words. As bikes were washed in the rivers and muddy kit slung in vans, the atmosphere was fantastic, the SES had begun and everyone was excited for Round 2!
Full results can be found here:
There were a few standout performances on the day that need mention, but first, the most impressive thing about the event was the calibre of riders attending! Often regional races attract a small bunch of the top flight, but drawn in by the lure of a series, everyone who was anyone was here! The start list read like a whos-who of top Scottish racers, from all generations!
With new contracts just signed and new kit slowly arriving, many racers were riding unfamiliar bikes, still to be setup and dialed! Gary Forrest was always a danger to the overall podium and despite just putting in a few rides on his new Lapierre, he took a solid 4th place! James Shirley was also riding a new bike to himself and perhaps to Scotland, the new Radon Slide 150, and took 6th place, seemingly very happy with the bike! Credit must go to Greg Callaghan, who was over visiting from Ireland, smashing out an impressive 2nd place position on his new Nukeproof Mega 27.5!
Drew Carters deserves a mention, at just 17 and racing as a junior, he took 15th overall on his hot pink Orange! He is still awaiting his new MTBcut Santa Cruz bikes, and will be someone to watch on the more technical events through the series. Local Alastair Maclennan put down a great run to win the SuperVets category and come in a staggering 14th overall, and fellow local Gary MacDonald was just one place behind on a hard-tail! Easily winning the hard-tail category! Crawford Carrick Anderson was looking for a good result on his new Santa Cruz Bronson, and despite a small timing issue on stage 4 and a major OTB still placed 9th overall!
In the ladies, it was headline sponsors 2Pures dream with an IBIS UK TEAM 1-2-3 on the podium, Emma Guy headed up the rankings with Tracy Brunger in 2nd and then Lesley Ingram in 3rd!
So to the overall winner, I don’t think there were any surprises to see Canyon rider Joe Barnes on the top spot, but the speed of his stage times had many a worried eyebrow raised within the top 10. With top 10 times as tight as a camels arse in a sandstorm, Joe put over 40 seconds into 2nd place, a gap that had many elite racers worrying if it was simply down to Joe getting faster, or that the winters training had not been hard enough. Anyway, it was a monumental performance by Joe Man and shows that the Canyon shredder is on form for the season!
On the 5th and 6th of April, Round 2 will move back to the home of Scottish enduro, Innerleithen, and will certainly be exciting! If you want more information about Round 2 or the series in general, check out the website here! We will see you there!
Words and Photos: Trev Worsey and Catherine Smith
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