Usually I am prepared well in advance for any weekend away on my bike especially if it's an organised event or race. However for a variety of reasons, but mostly just laziness, it was a case of just bunging everything together on Friday evening ready for an early start on Saturday morning. Shakey and I were heading up to Innerleithen for the first round of this year's Gravity Enduro series.
When we arrived the car park was full and the fog we had endured on the 5 hour drive was just beginning to lift. We got ready and headed out for a practice lap without really studying the route map. Half way up the first climb I stopped to remove a layer. T-shirt and shorts in Scotland in March! Amazing!
Half an hour or so of climbing saw us at the start of stage 1. This was part of one of the downhill courses and was steep singletrack all the way. It was dry and fairly straight forward but as we slowly went down to check it out Shakey's chain kept coming off. Part of the cage on his XTR mech was missing, allowing the chain to rattle off the lower jockey wheel. We headed back to base. He went off in search of a new mech and I decided to swap from SPD pedals to flats. The pedal change didn't take long and I headed back up the hill to finish my practice lap alone.
The sun was now blazing and I was sweating big time by the time I had finished the climb and push to the start of stage 2. A natural sliver of damp singletrack snaked off into the trees so I dropped my saddle and headed in to find out what this stage had in store? There were lots of damp treacherous roots all the way to a fire road crossing then more technical singletrack before a short climb to join part of the trail centre route just before the quarry. The finish was the quarry step up and shore drop. It was a long and very tricky stage.
The climb to stage 3 was the same as the red trail centre route up to Minch Moor but finished a way before the summit. It was a fair old slog (as usual). The stage was another long one. It started with some flat out singletrack, then there was a flat damp pedal, some steep loamy descending, a fire road pedal and then lots more steep technical descending. All the stages were challenging to ride both technically and physically. I was thinking that racing them would be very hard.
The link to stage 4 was more fire roads and quite a bit of pushing. I was feeling pretty tired by the time I got to the start of stage 4 and sat down for a rest and some flapjack. Stage 4 started with some more damp natural, rooty, boggy trails to a fire road. This first section was pretty horrible to be honest and I commented on the fact to the ambulance folk on the fire road - not that they were particularly interested but I wanted to vent! Across the fire road the stage used the Plora Craig and Razor Rock parts of the trail centre route. I vaguely remembered this technical, rocky yet flowing (if you got it right) section from riding the trail centre previously. I stopped a couple of times to suss out lines including one cunning shortcut down a rocky section and to make sure I was happy on a little rock drop at one point. Just after a nasty rock garden (that I reckoned I'd be carrying up and over come race time!) the stage hair pinned off to the right into some very technical, rock, rooty and steep terrain. This was definitely going to be the toughest stage.
I was proper knackered by the time I reached the bottom. The last link was a long fire road one and I granny ringed along at a very slow pace. The early start and all the riding had now caught up with me proper.
I eventually arrived at the top of stage 5 at about 3pm. Seeding was due to start on this stage at 3.30 but I wasn't due to be riding until after 4. I had plenty of time for a practice run and the climb back up but I was absolutely knackered and so decided to chill for an hour and ride the stage on sight. I gave Shakey a quick call. He was down the bottom with a fixed mech but had only practiced 3 of the stages.
The ladies were first away so I occupied myself taking a few photos of some of them setting off before I was joined by my fellow veterans. Paul and Beef from Rave Racing turned up and I had a chat with them to see if there was anything I needed to know about the stage I was about to ride? Apparently the main thing I needed to know was that there was a long fire road pedal in the middle!
Paul was away first but punctured before he had gone a few hundred yards! This year the seeding times count towards the total so that was his race pretty much knackered at the start. It wasn't long before it was my turn and I pedalled into the unknown. The first sections were pretty fast with mostly obvious line choices but then I missed a big short cut. The guy behind me overtook me about 20 yards to my left! When turning on to the fire road I virtually stopped, not expecting to go so sharply right. Further on I clipped a bar on a tree but stayed on. Eventually the stage picked up the last part of Caddon Bank which I vaguely know from previous visits. This put a smile on my face as I hit the jumps and berms and upped my speed but I still managed to cock up and strike a pedal at one point. This scrubbed nearly all my speed off just before a jump with a load of photographers on it! There's a lot to be said for practice and knowing what's coming up!
Having made so many mistakes I was pretty happy with my time of 7.13. Shakey had smashed that with 6.26. We retired to the pub for some well earned refreshment.
After the traditional "athletic" gallon of ale and a chinese I was feeling remarkably well come Sunday morning. We looked up our start time for the first stage and gave ourselves a leisurely 50 mins to do the half hour climb. The sun was through even earlier on Sunday and it was going to be a glorious day.
I was actually a little nervous before starting. The technical nature of the stages had not scared me but the idea of riding them fast had. My plan was to just get down everything and survive. Soon enough I was being counted down into stage 1. I got down ok but could have done it way faster. I could hear the guy behind getting closer to me but he never actually caught me.
There was more pushing than riding going on to get back up the hill to stage 2. I joined the stream and there was the usual friendly chat and banter as we regained altitude. We arrived at the top with 5 or 10 minutes to spare before starting the stage. I hadn't actually made a note of my start times as I assumed we would have plenty of time on the link stages. As it turned out we had just about the right amount of time and some people would be struggling with some of them later. There would also be confusion and timing problems!
I had a couple of moments on stage 2 where I was dabbing or scootering. Some of those roots were b*stards but I got down it without crashing proper. I think also made up some time on the guy in front but lost some to the guy behind. The seeding appeared to be about right. I had to stop at the bottom to get my breath back before starting the long plod to stage 3.
I climbed, chatting with the guy behind me. When we eventually got to the start of stage 3 the marshall was shouting out names to start who weren't there. Apparently the link time was very tight and it wasn't long before we were off. Again I made several mistakes but non of them bad enough to crash. Again I appeared to make up a bit of time on the guy in front and the guy behind made up a bit of time on me. This event was definitely about ability as well as fitness and I doubt many people cleaned everything?
As we headed on the link stage to stage 4 everyone was chatting and comparing near misses and crashes from the stages so far. I was really enjoying the race but was still a bit apprehensive about stage 4.
The link to stage 4 seemed more generous and there was a large crowd hanging about waiting to start. The marshalls here weren't shouting out numbers or names like those at the previous stages and there was some confusion amongst the racers as to when we were starting. There were also rumours of running late by 5 or 10 minutes. The start gate was playing up and the marshall binned it a few riders before me! There was no official communication from the marshalls and as I set off (not knowing what time it should be) I assumed all was sorted?
When I started into the damp section I hadn't liked in practice it wasn't long before I semi-crashed. B*gger! And this was probably the easiest part of the stage. My line choices on re-mounting were rubbish and I had to sort my head out as I crossed the fire road and on to Plora Craig. I enjoyed the rocky sections and remembered my rocky little shortcut. When I came to the nasty rock garden I overtook someone while both of us were off our bikes and running over the little uphill! He actually encouraged me as I did so. That's how friendly this racing is! On the really technical steep finishing sections I made a load of mistakes but overtook more people who had actually crashed. I'm not sure how many as there were photographers and some other folk dotted about the trail too?
Actually overtaking some folk did my ego the world of good and I was feeling a lot better than I did in practice as I granny geared the final link stage fire road. I was now however wishing I wasn't sitting on my light weight race saddle! It was hurting.
I was chatting to a fellow competitor as we climbed but he stopped for a rest at a junction. I decided to continue plodding and it was a good job I did - when I got to the top of the last stage it wasn't long before I was off. Once again there did seem to be some confusion over timing with the marshall though?
The last stage was probably the fastest and easiest? It still wasn't easy but I really enjoyed it this time and assumed I would be faster than in seeding. At the bottom I checked on the computer at the timing tent: 5.29! Hmmmm... that was faster than Jerome Clementz in seeding! I think there's a timing error in there somewhere!!
Shakey finished not long after me and we celebrated with a couple of tins of Stella.
Due to the long drive home we didn't hang about to see everyone finish and find out the results. We'd have to find out on the net later.
Overall this was one of the most enjoyable races I've done. The course was a proper challenge for me and I was happy to complete it. The unseasonably excellent weather also helped. Racing on that kind of terrain can't do anything other than improve my riding? The only problem was the timing - it hadn't affected me so that I noticed during the race but now I've checked my results I'd say my adjusted stage 5 time is definitely wrong. It would seem (from the Facebook page) that I'm not the only one?
The organisers have admitted a bit of a cock up with the timing which is a big shame as the event was excellent apart from that. But at the end of the day we were paying to be timed accurately and it never happened. Mountain bikers are generally a chilled lot so I hope this doesn't damage the series and that all is sorted for the next round?
The results can be found here. At the time of me writing this I came 30th (out of 43) in Vets and 191st over all. Shakey got 18th in Vets and 112th over all. I don't know if those results will change though?