Another weekend, another race, this time at Shropshire’s Eastridge woods, the third race held there this year! The Mash-Up format of the Welsh Gravity Enduro had gone down so well there last time that it was welcomed with open arms by the usual and some ‘not so usual’ racers last weekend.
This was the usual one-day format, practice early morning, racing from 10am to 3.30pm. Three stages in total, all stages open for practice and racing all day, during race runs each one is timed, with the fastest times on each one to count.
It was nother race at our local, Eastridge, seven miles from my house, well you’d think I’d know it! But with the rain having finally made an appearance after a long mostly-dry summer, where the previous Eastridge races had been dry and dusty, it was worth a check out the day before! The Intense Primer 29 had taken a back seat as the choice of bike for the race, instead the cobwebs were dusted off the big hitting 650b 170mm-travel Scott Genius LT, due to the short transitions and three very downhill biased stages. Although fully kitted with bling she felt like a bit of a slug up the hills compared to the Primer!
The rain had abated on arrival as the bike was pulled out of the van, fully set-up for some rough and slick DH action, a downhill shorty on the front and double down Aggressor sported on the rear; this bike meant business today! After the short climb up to stage 1 it was time to get those smaller wheels spinning up to speed. The first 100-meter flat sprint instantly made me question my decision of using the smaller wheels, but this was soon to be forgotten upon entering what is known locally as ‘The Old Black Run of Topography’. As things got steeper along this old trail, used many a time in local enduros it became instantly noticeable how slick it was; a real head-wrecker after so many weeks of dry grippy terrain.
I got down stage 1’s many carved out natural peaty, rock and root-strewn turns feeling like a complete amateur, typical ‘first run blues’! Best to put that one behind me and head back over to the main part of the hill for stages 2 and 3. Although stage 1 was kind-of downhill, it is very tricky and awkward, with quite a lack of flow, this definitely couldn’t be said about the following stages! Stage 2 known as ‘The 98 National” was much faster and all about the line choice. Fast peaty open stuff at the top, with big loose rocks and bits of forestry debris littered the track, so a mixture of smooth and aggressive riding was key here, especially whilst trying to hold a good line in the off camber rocks at pace before the fire-road crossing into the older forest area. Here there was corner after corner of slick loam and front wheel sending roots, the grip was in-between tacky and wet as the rain held off then returned and taped pretty awkward in places; your smooth skills really were called upon here.
About 2/3 down stage two and that familiar sound of carbon hitting rock and tyre letting pressure out was heard, so no full run here for me; bang a plug in her, blast it up and off to do stage 3. Up the same old fire road to the top and we were welcomed by the gnarliest trail ‘Student Champs’, fast, rocky, rooty and jumpy at the top in the trees, cross the fire-road and turn into full-on gnarly steep downhill action through the large section of forested hillside. Corner after corner of tricky tech roots, rocks, drops and stumps, this was the real deal, the stuff big hitting enduro bikes are made for, putting a smile on my face the more relaxed I felt. Cross the bottom fire-road and fire her through into the finish field with some slick grass turns and Saturdays ‘unofficial’ practice was finished. I knew I had to pull my finger out the following day to podium, feeling like my aggressive riding style was not yet showing its face!
The rain had held up during the night after a dumping of wet just before nightfall on Saturday. I arrived at 8.30am with no type of rush to ride; let the early birds scrape off the wet layer first! The place was buzzing with folk, over 230 entrants, with a massive showing from some of the 50/1 Sheffield lads, or as I call them ‘The Ten Past Twelves!’ This was the start to Charlie Williams’s Autumn Welsh Gravity Enduro Series and it would seem folk were keen to get amongst it for a full series. I dordled off from the race village, the Scott immaculately clean and race-prepped, I showed no real enthusiasm, just feeling like a tired old git, as always during any of my first climbs of the day!
In my head it was practice till 12 (I really should check these things) as I went off the line of stage one, sat down, all the time in the world, steadily going down checking out the lines, little did I know it was a race run and I was being timed; what a bell!! Oh well, that was still pretty slick and would benefit from drying out more than the others, so I decided to leave it till later. Off to stage 2 and due to a stage injury and massive queue, plus me having no patients it was off over to stage 3. I messed the top up a bit, but hit the rest up ok, coming through in 2nd Vet; hmm maybe another shot at that one! Back up, then back down, this time following Vini Crighton Poli; still a sketchy run and only ¼ of a second faster; fucks sake, back up again!
Leave that stage till later and blast back up to stage 1 for another rip, this time it goes steady but pretty well, all corners hit up well, no records broken, but it felt pretty neat. Back to stage 2 for another go, settling in quite well to some speed at the top, only to puncture again in the middle part; bollox, another plug is fitted! Back up again to the same stage and I saw fellow Vets competitor Carl Jennings who rides for Whyte bikes, he informed me he was lying second, so he’d knocked me down. I asked him if he saw where I was lying and he laughed and said he hadn’t looked; cheeky bugger! “For that” I said “I’m going to smoke you on this stage!” we had a good laugh, then I hit that stage with some aggression, followed up with much of the same again on stage 3. I was happy but tired after eight full runs in the day, a lot or riding for Eastridge!
Carl came over to me on his completion and I’d got back up to 2nd, I rubbed it in a bit saying he shouldn’t have wound me up, he then asked if I saw where he had ended up. Of course I told him I hadn’t looked and we had a good laugh about it! This my friends is what I love about racing, the banter, the friendly competition with the usual rivals and the big racing family we are all apart of. The event went as smooth as it could, with impeccable timing and a great atmosphere. The Mash-Up structure is a great idea, but pretty tiring for the competitive folk and I did find myself riding a bit more on my own, as all racers kind of end up with their own agenda to improve on whatever stages they have messed up on.
The winners were Master Women- Kelly Jones, Senior Women- Maddy Brown, Elite Women- Emma Wareham, Hardtail- Martin Brown, Grand Vets- Ray Collins, Vets- Dan Bishop, Masters- Ajay Jones, Seniors- Chris Kenwood, Under 18- Cai Grocott, Elite Male- Joel Moore
Full Results: Here
Words: Jim Buchanan Photos: Doc Ward