When I signed up I seriously underestimated just how epic this PMBA race was going to be, at only about 20km I was sucked in to the false sense of security that this is one of the shorter Enduros’ I have raced, until I realised it was 7 stages and 900m of climbs throughout the day. It wasn’t just the elevation profile that was full of highs and lows, emotions this weekend were just as all over the place. This wasn’t just Epic, this was Brutal.
Saturday morning started as most race weekends do, plenty of high spirits, the weather was good and forecast to get better over the weekend, so what could possibly go wrong? Practice day even went quite smoothly, although every single stage was as gnarly as the last, there was space to stop and session things, and I was feeling confident as I was hitting almost all the A-line options. Even the mud was giving good grip and sticking well. However ruthless the stages were, the transitions were even worse, the only time I managed to actually pedal my bike was on the accidental 5km detour along the road, because we missed the turning for stage 4. Every stage required a hike-a-bike back to the top, so I was feeling completely knackered after practice day, and had no idea how I was going to remember all seven stages and piece it together in to a race run on the Sunday.
By the time Sunday rolled around there were definitely some different attitudes around the event village. Some people were still really excited to race. I was looking forward to half of the stages, and knowing the other half were going to be a serious challenge for me, some people were just dreading the whole day, and some had either left or switched to the light option. Either way there was no backing out for me here, I wanted those EWS qualifier points.
So seven stages, that’s a lot to try and remember:
Stage 1 – Lemon Squeezy. This was supposed to be a quick fire warm up, and sure the fast rolling fire road was nice to feel like your getting up to speed, before crossing in to some fresh cut forest track, the top section had dried out a lot from practice and was running well…and that’s where the sense of confidence and security was lost where 300 riders had resulted in the off camber loam turning to slick mud, and before even the first stage was out the way, the feet were off the pedals looking for balance.
Stage 2 – Scorpion. I was loving this track in practice, and on a dry day, sessioning it with mates, it would be a lot of fun, however hitting it at race speed is terrifying, the roots were all polished smooth, and every technical rock garden and slab sent you straight in to a tight corner or a tree. To make matters worse half way down this stage my cleats and pedals decided to pack in resulting in not being able to clip in at all with my right foot, and only about 50% of the time on the left. Hitting those rough sections of track not being connected to my bike put the fear in to me, and despite looking forward to this stage all morning, it’s the first time ever I have finished a stage so scared and angry that I burst in to tears. After a lot of calming down and coaxing from my team mates and the marshal, I was ready to continue and determined to finish the race, even if it meant doing it on a strange balancing act on my cleats.
Stage 3 – Gary The Polar Bear. To me this felt like the little brother to stage two, much the same feel with technical rocky sections and tight bar end smashing trees to deal with (or in one case I thought it was a good idea to shoulder barge one tree – the tree won).
Stage 4 – Nicks Party Time. Hats off to the trail builders on this one, I don’t know that I have ever know a trail with a starting view quite as good as this one. However you don’t get long to enjoy it before once again the combination of slippy tree stumps and rocks caused every rider issues. I don’t know anyone who rode through this cleanly, and even if you did the sudden change in to boggy woodland was enough to cause you issues. I think I got about half way through this stage before I decided that this race was a write off, I even walked up the short climb rather than try and run or pedal because I was convinced it wasn’t worth it.
Stage 5 – Sublime Ride. By this point in the day I was simply determined to finish the race regardless of time or speed. This was arguably one of the better flowing trails. For the first 50m before I hit a bog and almost went over the bars, after deciding to avoid the switchback chute of certain death and opt for the B line, riders were then given two choices of tight and awkward routes through the trees which resulted in me tripodding it with one foot on the ground at almost every point.
Stage 6 – HDDN Gem. This sweet little trail (which had one of the most annoying transitions to get to it ever) was a great laugh, but only because it was one of those trails where you just had to say F*ck it, and hope you stayed on your bike. I actually enjoyed this trail more than I expected, as I had really struggled with it on practice day. This might be because I had intended on taking a B line at one point, and I came upon it so fast in the race that I ended up hurtling down the A line and surviving, up unto I hit the flat bog half way through. My in ability to clip in to my pedals was difficult enough when I couldn’t get my weight centred correctly over the rough terrain, but in the bog it was even worse as when I went to pedal forward I just fell off the bike (at this point I would also like to apologising to the family who was spectating, in and effort not to turn the air blue with my swearing I ended up just grunting at them).
Stage 7 – Sadists Surprise. Well that’s a mean trail to finish on. It starts so promising with a super fun, rocky, trail through the trees, and even though a large part of it is climbing through the trees, it’s just technical enough to be interesting, before popping out the trees in to some more, fast single track. However then the trail lives up to its name, this wasn’t just a climb, this was a full on hike-a-bike in the middle of a stage. However, with the promise of the finish line just the other side we pushed on and speed down the grassy banking and back in to the race village.
I can safely say I have raced some brutal trails, in some harsh conditions, but I have never been so emotionally tested like this before. Managing to produce tears and laughs, frustration, anger and joy. This race caused everyone a lot of issues the whole way round, with no one making it through unscathed. That’s why (despite almost giving up twice) I was incredibly surprised to find myself not only on the podium but also in first place. After that epic enduro, I’m certainly feeling better about how the rest of the race season is going to go.