Scottish Enduro Series Round 1, Tweed Valley
7-8 March 2015
Ronde CC has been set up to promote cycling, and whilst most activity and participants are interested in road biking, there are a few who turn to the dark side and Mountain Bike.
When most people go mountain biking it is usually to ride up hills slowly chatting to your mates, then ride down as fast as you can over rough tracks. In the last few years this has spawned a new competition style where you ride up hills with your mates and then ride a downhill section that is timed. You do anywhere from 3 to 6 of these sections in a day and the person with the lowest overall time wins. It's called Enduro, and the Tweed Valley is the home of Enduro in the UK.
The Scottish Enduro Series started last year, but with the Tweed Valley hosting a round of the World Enduro Series last year and again this year, Scottish Enduro has taken off big time. So much so that I rather bravely decided to blag a last minute entry to the first round.
This is the sort of riding I have been doing for the last year or so anyway so how hard can it be. Ride up hills then fly down the narrow, rutted, muddy, rocky, tree lined tracks…little did I know.
The format is a practice day Saturday and race day Sunday, they don't tell you the route beforehand. So Saturday I arrive to find a massive queue to register. No problems, just join and get chatting to a farmer from Perthshire and a Herriot Watt student. Both proved to much more experienced than me, uh-oh!
One of the challenges of this format, especially this early in the year, is that you ride the full course twice in two days. So anyway I follow everyone else and head up the hill. The initial climb is right to the top of the hill; a good warm up. This is the start of the first and last stage. From here you do each stage in order, at your own pace. The idea is that you can ride the trails, work out the fastest lines, be aware of any technical challenges, work out where to go fast and where to save a bit of energy. But it still takes 3-4hrs of riding to get around. By the end of the practice day I was already knackered.
Race day starts in your own time, you choose your start time. You start with 6 other people and ride up the hill at your own pace. If you're riding with mates you can have a good chat. Once you get to each stage start, you race down, wait for your mates, climb again, race again and so on till you've done the course.
So I got to the start of the first section, had a rest, psyched myself up and dived on in. The first section, that was dirt on Saturday, was slimy mud on Sunday. Overnight rain and 350ish riders had ground it to a fine paste. Very limited grip. In the forest there was more grip, but also more slippery tree roots. Either way it was interesting! The organisers decided to be cheeky and add a 2 minute climb in the middle of the stage. So sprint downhill, standing the whole way, sprint up hill and then dive into the trees again, this time much closer. Oh yes, if you are slow like me you also have to give way to faster riders. I made it down having had a good run, keeping balance pretty well, not crashing and enjoying the section. Time to catch my breath and climb another 300m plus.
On the practice day the top was being blasted by a cold wet westerly wind. Thankfully it had died off a bit for race day, but the top on Minch Moor is still one of the highest places in the Borders. The next section involved riding down the usual uphill track, before disappearing into the forest again. The first section was great, hard packed and fast, but the forest was full of mud again. This time though the mud was on a flat section, so the water had soaked the ground to about a foot deep and in places riding became impossible. It became hike a bike. Pushing through the mud til you found a section of harder ground and jumped back on to make up lost time. Fortunately on this route there are some well drained, very very steep sections. Unfortunately it was on one of these section that an earlier rider had crashed and was in a bad way blocking the track - we later found out he had broken his arm quite badly, but was ok in general. We waited for a while, then we were told the stage was cancelled and had to climb back out, before climbing back to the top again.
Due to the cancelled stage there was quite a long queue at the top of Minch Moor for the third stage. After waiting around in the cold for over 30 minutes, we took off down across through the heather in a narrow rut. Fortunately the rut was relatively free of mud, so was quite fast. It was also narrow and if your front wheel touched the side you were drawn into the wall. I managed to get through most of the way, but clipped one wall and came off for my first crash. The rest of the trail was similar, but wider and faster, with a few flat bits that required sprinting again.
The transition to the next section was part of the regular red route so very easy with no really climbing. I did Stage 4 for the first time in November last year, part of it used to be an old downhill course. I know the route pretty well as I have been riding it regularly since then. Little did I realise the effect of fatigue. I was shattered by half way. I managed to ride it all pretty well, until I got to a rock section that I hadn't managed to ride before. I was doing well, keeping my speed up nicely until... The front wheel washed out, went sideways from under me and I came down hard on the rocks. I landed heavily on my left shoulder and hip. Even worse I broke the bike in two places. The rear quick release handle broke off and I broke the remote for the dropper seat post. It was a borrowed bike! I was pretty shaken up at this stage, so caught my breath before starting again. At this point the trail got steeper. Again I rode it pretty well to start with, using my experience of the trail. But then lost confidence. I couldn't get into a rhythm on some steep sections over tree roots. I lost it completely and went over the bars into some bushes. I lay there shaken for a bit before getting up and making my way gingerly to the bottom of the track.
By this stage I was pretty disconsolate and felt the event had beaten me. Something that has never happened before. From this point there is a flat route back to the car but I decided the climb would help sort me out. I was glad I did, by the time I reached the top again I was ready to do the final stage.
This section I was much happier with. I've done much of the route before and am confident I can ride most of it. This I did, a bit gingerly in places, but with speed and confidence in others. There was much less of the mud and technical rooty bits on this section - it was almost enjoyable. It certainly produced a sense of achievement once I had completed it. Yeah I've done my first Enduro! Riding on the day were lots of other people who compete on the world circuit, are sponsored and have been doing this for a living for years, so pretty special to compete in the same event.
It was very good to do my first ever Enduro on my home trails of Innerleithen. It was a great experience, chatting to the competitors, the marshals and other people around. In the end I came 62nd out of 68 vets and 295th overall, but I was happy to have finished the event. Would I do it again? 2nd round is in April, missed that one but thinking bout round 3!!
Words by Ben Glencross, banner image from Strava/Google Maps