I thought I would use the Highland Perthshire Cycling (HPC) Dunkeld Enduro as an easy way to ease myself in to the 2018 enduro race season before my first Scottish Series….and then I remembered it’s Dunkeld and nothing is easy when racing Dunkeld!
5 blind stages over 35km all on one day. Seems simple enough. I know Dunkeld relatively well, so was comfortable there wouldn’t be anything to unexpected. Although the forecast was promising, heavy rain and hail on Friday night meant the first couple of stages were gnarly and running really slick (because it’s April in Scotland and the weather could be doing absolutely anything). Stage one started from the highest point of Craigvinian on a super technical trail called ‘Cairn to Cottage’, so after a long slog to the top of the hill riders are plunged in the deep end on a narrow, rocky muddy track which is very difficult to hold speed on and is always just a battle for survival. It’s a great track but I have never once managed to actually piece it together in to one single run, which proves how awkward it is. It wasn’t even the full trail, about half way down riders were diverted on to a quick up hill fire road sprint, and on the supper slippy, grassy, off camber ‘mountain board’ trail, this dropped us back on to another uphill foot path sprint and in to the lower section of the downhill track. This track seems to change every race depending on how its tapped and is just a carnage of big rocks, roots, divots and tight corners. This tracks claimed a lot of riders with no one coming through it cleanly. And if that wasn’t enough the downhill track got used in stage two as well. Although it started on a fun new cut section of fast rolling mossy forest trail the second stage quickly dropped in to the a parallel section of the downhill track, just and awkward and gnarly as the first. This time riders could hold their speed as the cross over the access track on to a swoopy bit of single track which required being nimble and some quick gear changes to get up and over sneaky rises in the track.
After the first two stages had battered the riders around a bit it was time to change hill. No for the long push to the top of Birnam Hill for the longest stage of the day ‘Rake to Ruin’ is a flat-out test of confidence at speed. A complete change of riding style from the gnarly technical stuff of stage 1 & 2, stage 3 boosts lots of narrow single track on open hill side which relies on riders trying not to dab the breaks and handle flat corners at speed.
After ticking off that hill, it was back in to town ready to tackle the final beast that is Newtyle Hill. This is where I feel my happiest. The trails are always dry, steep, loose and rocky. Stage 4 made use of a trail called ‘The Rudder’. This trail is non-stop steep at only 0.6km long and 165m of descent. Every tight corner seems to have big tree roots crossing over the most awkward spots, and every chute was a full commitment. One final push to the top of Newtyle hill, and this time to ride ‘The Mast’, equally as steep and loose as The Rudder, with a few surprise drops and pedaly sections, and with a brand new catch berm to navigate just before the finish line, this stage left everyone with a huge grin on their faces. You can get an idea of it from my trail preview below:
So, my plan of easing myself in to the 2018 Enduro scene didn’t exactly go to plan, although I love the trails at Dunkeld, but they are brutal and never an easy place to race. Despite that I finished up in a respectable 6th place, only 1 second behind 5th, so can’t be displeased about that, and it’s certainly broken the ice for the rest of the season now.