Round 6 / EWS Continental – Fort William – 14.10.18
What a blinding finish to both the Scottish Enduro Series, and the EWS Continental Series. With one race being rounds for two big events in the race calendar the No Fuss event team were sure to deliver something special. 5 stages and gondola assistance sounded promising. Fort William always provides brilliant trails but given the time of year I assumed it was going to be brutal.
I was unsure if the weather was going to play nice for the weekend. After all it was Fort William in October, the odds were against us. We were lucky that the wind died down enough for the gondola and chair lift to operate, we were unlucky that it still chucked it down with rain all day on Saturday, so even though riders could get to the top of the trails, we were wet and frozen cold for the decents.
Stage 1 – Starting in a traditional way for a round of the SES. A pedal up the fire road to the road gap jump on the World Cup Downhill track saw the start of stage 1. Down a rutted rocky chute and over the jump at the silverline wall ride, but with a diversion around the Hazzard Hoofer to avoid us trying to ride through what was by now a pretty deep river. Hoping through the tree roots and rocks in the next section of the World Cup track, and another diversion before the motorway section had us joining on to the Blue Adder trail center track. Lots of hard pack switch backs and loose turns made this a great track to warm up on.
Stage 2 – A decent length pedal to the top of the Witches XC World Champs track, this time with a twist though. We pushed up the descent to ride down the first part of what is normally a climb. Some tight switchbacks lead riders down to the start of Blue Crane. This is not a blue track, rather a tight technical stage which navigates of bits of very muddy and slippy broken stone wall. That wasn’t even the muddiest bit. After the end of Blue Crane there was a short fire road sprint which took us to an unmarked natural trail which went alongside the lower part of Witches Champs. This bit of track was a mud bath, I was feeling pretty good surviving the first few ruts and turns but the final steep drop sent riders in to two feet deep of sloppy mud. This corner claimed a lot of crashes, lost seconds and a shoe over the race weekend.
Stage 3 – This is the first Enduro race I have ever done which included a ride in the Gondola. A trip to the top station, then a short traverse over to the Quad Chair lift, and up to a never before ridden track. Stage 3 was fresh cut right accross the moorland, which resulted in a very wet and boggy track, where you had no idea where the grip was or how big the holes were. What I had managed alright in practice turned in to a disaster as two over the bar crashes left me with no balance or speed to tackle the rest of the slip and slide track, and resulted in running the last bits of the stage.
Stage 4 – A 2 minute push accross the piest took us to an old walkers path, but although with marginal more grip than stage 3, it was still navigating through deep bog. I was able to keep much better speed through this stage but one miscalculation had me again over the bars and elbow deep in the bog which was not easy to untangle myself from. The stage eventually went through the starting hut of the Downhill World Cup track and used the first couple of turns before finishing just past the gondola Station. Personally I would have rather used the whole Downhill track as a stage, with my experience of that track I would have spent a lot less time on my head as I did with stage 3 and 4.
Stage 5 – I had been fully ready to tackle the full force of the Top Chief during practice day, but after putting so much energy in to surviving stages 3 and 4 I was knackered by the time I reached the start line. Luckily we weren’t racing all the boardwalk along the top of the track (that just gets to dangerous at race speed), so the stage started just where the bed rock started. At about 2.5km long, the top section was a grueling test of strength and skill over an unrelenting boulder field. Very pedaly with lots of sneaky technical climbs, mixed with rough descents ment your gears and wheels had to be in exactly the right place otherwise you were going down face first. Once at the bottom of the Top Chief track we weren’t finished. It joined on to the red trail and then on to the newly built kids down hill track. This was a plesent change after the rest of the day, lovely hard pack track full of swooping berms and a couple of jumps before the final sprint to the finish line back in the Nevis Range.
Well I will admit I did not have a great day on the bike, but these days happen to everyone and all I can do is learn from my mistakes and accept I really need to learn to ride mud and bogs better. Despite that it was great to ride some new stuff. Even though the whole day’s riding was only 23km (including the lifts) it did result in around 20-30min of racing so it was still an epic day on the hill. Fort William was always going to be tough in October and I’m just glad to be walking away in one piece.
Even though my race result was nowhere near where I wanted it to be for this round, just because I survived it, I did gain enough points to put me 3rd overall in the series. So not all was lost in what has been a year of ups and downs for the Scottish Series.
Round 5 – Pitfichie – 16.09.18
The penultimate round of the Scottish Enduro Series was going to be difficult to meet expectations. After the amazing weather and trails we had last year, I wasn’t sure if this year was going to live up to my memories of the place. Needless to say I was not disappointed. It’s a difficult one to call, being the most northerly round, meant a lot of the familiar faces wouldn’t travel that far, but it would also bring a lot of fast locals to race that are maybe new to the scene.
Even though it had been raining all week, and chucked it down Saturday night, we got lucky with the weather, being dry and sunny all practice day and only a quick 5minuet shower on race day. So although the trails had changed, and gotten slippier between practice and race day, at least we weren’t getting soaked through in the rain.
Stage 1 – Pitfichie Downhill. What a cracking stage to kick off on. Big rock slabs and drops up top, flat out speed before dropping in to the woods, with the first of numerous rock gardens. The damp loam was great fun to ride, and the mixture of rock features followed my big berms meant even when the bottom of the trail started to mellow out a bit you could still have a lot of fun. You really needed this trail to get the mood high, as the pedal across to stage 2 was the longest one of the day.
Stage 2 – The White Lady. This stage was almost complete contrast to the others, starting up on the moorland, and weaving throughout the heather. You couldn’t really fit pedal strokes in between the turns, so pumping and weaving was the only way to keep your speed. Once riders were off the moor and back in to the trees the track was more familiar, a mixture of loamy corners and rock gardens weaving their way between the trees.
Stage 3 – Machiatto. Stage 3 started on the red trail centre track at Pitfichie. A hard gravel course with some big sharp rocks to try and skim along without getting punctures. This was taken at full speed before taking a sudden right hander on a more natural bit of single track. The nasty rock pile which caused issues last year had been smoothed over a bit this year, and made for a fun feature on an otherwise straight bit of track. The trail then changed in to a long series of big sandy berms, one after the other, ricochet riders down the hill. With a couple of jumps and drops and a last sprint through the mud to the finish line.
Stage 4 – Devils staircase. Somehow Pitfichie is the only Scottish Enduro Round where none of the stages have any sneaky climbs in the middle of them. So to compromise, they put in this lung buster. 5 minutes of non stop trail centre, switch-backing down the hill. There is nothing left to add it was relentless.
Stage 5 – The Resurrection. Back on the downhill tracks for the last two stages, but far more technical than stage 1. Starting right at the tree line, stage 5 had an awkward beginning, over some tree roots and a fallen wall, before bouncing through some open bits of boggy grassland. After the rain this stage had become a bit more of a controlled loam slide. Trying to find the grip in the corners, and gambling on weather the rocks had more or less grip and the soil. Snaking through the trees towards the finish line, started getting a bit sketchy as I could feel the bike sliding in all different directions.
Stage 6 – Frankensteins. An even more tricky start, and certainly one of the most technical stages of the day. This was steeper, with bigger roots, and even bigger rock gardens. The stage almost ended my day twice, as my arms were feeling pretty tired by this point in the day and as the front wheel was washing out on the slippy mud covered rocks, I was struggling to keep it rubber side down. A couple of long rock gardens, which had you just pointing the bike downhill and hoping, turned in to some fast berms towards the finish.
Where stage 5 and 6 were both sharing the same finish line, it had attracted quite a crowd of supporters and photographers, giving the whole event a fantastic feel to it.
Given the strong competition from other girls in my category I was pretty certain I hadn’t podiumed, so I did the thing I never thought I would do. I didn’t hang around to find out the results. Instead I decided it was a long drive home, and I really wanted that Pizza on the way down. So I ended up missing out on my 2nd place podium. Ooops. Lesson learned.
Round Four – Dunoon – 29.08.18
I would like to start this post with an apology to Dunoon. I had always discounted Dunoon as a place to ride, it was a bit of a pain to get to, and the trails I had seen all looked a bit of nothing. I fully apolagise and retract that opinion. Those trails are absolutly awesome. Even with all the weather against us, I still has the most fun I have had at an enduro in a very long time.
So just taking a step back, riding Dunoon is a little bit special to start with because most of us have to catch a ferry accross to it, so it was already feeling a bit like a holiday. To add to this the structure of the whole event is different, with a prologue stage running through the town centre on Saturday evening. So after spending all day practicing stages 2 to 6 up on the hill all the riders had enough time to get dry and feed before heading in to town for the blind stage 1.
Stage 1 – Dunoon presents DH. So this short minuet long stage was something I really hadn’t come across before, 7pm in the evening, and in a torrentual down pour of rain. Starting at the top of a monument in the centre of town, we were sent down some old stone stairs, and accross the car park in front of the Castle House Museum. To make it more interesting there was the occasional pile of logs or carpet to hop over. Another set of stairs shoot riders up on to one of the rocky outcrops in the public park. This turned out to be the most difficult part of the track, a super tight right handed turn dropping between two rock faces. It’s a shame we weren’t able to practice this stage as I cut it far to tight and ended up getting bucked off my bike, but then so did a lot of people, so I didn’t feel to stupid. After navigating down the rocks in to the park, the track went over a couple more wooden rollers, and a drop made out of scafolding which sent us accross the road (which had nicely been closed so we weren’t fighting with the cars). After that there was a final sprint down the pier to the finish line. This is certainly a stage I won’t be forgetting in a long time.
Stage 2 – 4 Stroke Strimmer. This was a nasty start to the day. After thunder storms all night long this trail, which originally has very little flow to it, now had a lot of flow…of muddy rain water. This narrow single track weaved it’s way awkwardly up and over some of the moorland and heather, but with plenty of river crossings to keep this track really muddy. At this point almost everyone had decided that goggles and glasses were not going to help, either steaming up, or not shedding the water, and everyone was blinking mud from their eyes. Despite all this, I had so much fun, there were so many sketchy moments where I was certain my wheels were going to get caught out by the grassy tussocks that overlapped the edges of the trail.
Stage 3 – 1 Armed Raker. By this point in the day we had a back log of riders waiting at the top of this stage, which resulted in a long wait in the cold rain – but it was totaly worth it. The top section of this stage was a properly gnarly rocky and rooty section made even more difficult by the layers of the slippery mud. This was an absolute ‘point – shoot – and hope’ section of the track where you just don’t want to think about touching the brakes. This changed drastically in the middle section which became really narrow and rooty, along a ridge line. At this point I have no idea how I was still on my bike, and with a severe drop off to the side of the track it took all my concentration no to slide off the edge.
Stage 4 – Lord Mayors View. Without a doubt this was one of the best tracks I have ridden in an enduro. This is mostly because it was a rare occasion that the stage acctully had a great jump line in it. The top section was a little flat and undulating over the rocks and roots. You had to make sure your wheels were precisly on the line to keep your speed up. But once you got over the first fire road the gradient got much steeper, and big berms, lots of rooty drops, built up the speed for a gap jump just before the bottom section. This section started getting much faster, with three good sized senders, and an optional road gap to the finish line. Needless to say that with a steeper gradient and big jumps this was my fastest time of the day taking the stage win in my catagory.
Stage 5 – Louis Return2Dunoon. Very similar to stage 4, but without the flat start. This stage was steep berms one after the other, lots of fun, but definatly one of those trails where once you were commited there wern’t many options to slow down or run out to the edges. Once the trail dropped on to the fire road, there was a short uphill sprint, before dropping in to another steep climb, a couple of tight bits to get between the trees, and a final sprint along a foot path to the end. The mud at this point had made all the trails pretty trechourous but despite that still always ended up in big smiles.
Stage 6 – Jack’s BackCrackSack. This really should have been the simplest of the tracks all day. From top to bottom this was a flat out sprint along a variety of footpaths, with nothing to technical, and only a few flat corners which were tricky to navigate at speed. Despite this it turned in to my worse run of the day. I don’t even know what went wrong, after a couple of straights in the rain was fully in my eyes and I don’t know what stoped my bike, I only realised it had gone wrong when I was flying through the air towards the ground without my bike. Even after I had landed I had no idea where my bike had gone. So after this I was right back on the pedals trying to gain time back which resulted in me almost going through the tape.
It was one of those days where the weather conditions were that bad that you had to laugh or cry. For someone who normally hates riding slippy and muddy trails, especially in the rain, I had an immense amount of fun just trying to stay on my bike, and it was made all the better for the podium finish. Although this probably wasn’t the best chance to display Dunoon’s trails, they were the type of trails that I could imagine being absolutly brilliant in the dry.
Round Two – Innerleithen -20.05.18
I missed out one round one so I was really excited to get racing enduro and at Innerleithen which is just one of the best places to ride in the world. With the first two stages on the Golfy side and the final 3 stages on Cadon Bank it promised to be a fun round. Quite how they managed to find some of the longest pedaly stages in a place which has some of the steepest tracks possible to ride is quite an achievement.
Practice day was scorching, and the dry and dusty trails were running fast, despite that the gruelling 40km long ride with 1,500m of climbing certainly resulted in quite a few people struggling before even getting to the start line. A slight change in conditions on race day meant it felt like a more typical Scottish race, the wind picked up, the sun had gone and the rain was on and off all day. Which to be honest was quite a nice relief following the heat of the day before.
Stage 1 – Kevin Costner Pants (water world 2). This was a brutal shove in the deep end of the pool to start the day with. Especially on the start of race day when I unfortunately got caught in the wind and rain for 30min. This was familiar to some as this trail made use of bits of an older track (now decommissioned) called Water World. However, it was all new to me. A very fast top section sprint over the heather, before dropping in to the forest and the carnage within it. A relentless series of steep chutes, and lose bermes, one wrong step and you get fired down a hill full of pointy trees
Stage 2 – Escape from New York. This was a strange trail. During practice I thought it had no flow at all but hit it at race speed and it changed in to a different beast. The top section was all about timing, long pumping sections through trees, where you needed to stay loose and nimble, squeezing a crank of the pedals in when you could. Once you lost your rhythm on the pumping sections you were struggling. This dropped on to a quick fire road sprint, and then on to an all time favourite, bottom section of Repeat Offender. This tight twisty trail is fast and huge fun, and really benefits people with narrow handle bars or tough knuckles.
Stage 3 – Memories of Ali. A pedal through town and on to the other side of the valley now. This trail started at the top of one of my all time favourite downhill trails; The Matador. Although before I had time to fully enjoy it, it diverted on to the more natural enduro trails, some tight fun rock gardens with lots of line choices made up the first section, and then some more mellow open single track through the forest tested riders commitment to seeing how flat out they could go. This dropped racers on to the red trail centre loop, just before a nasty little climb, which was worth it for the fun big bermed quarry section, lots of whoops and rocks, and a sneaky little step up in to the finish line.
Stage 4 – Classically Trained. Well just as fatigue is starting to set in to most riders this was a slap in the face, all out test of fitness and endurance. At around 3km long and lasting about 10min, this lung busting stage required pedalling almost from start to finish. Much like stage 2 the top section through the tress was most fun when taken at speed with some well built berms to hop in and out of, this then turned on to more of the red trail centre, which seemed to go on forever, with flat corners and bus stops to sapp all the speed out of you. Finally just when you think your body is hitting the wall some gnarly steep chutes through the trees came back to really test who could still hold on to their bike.
Stage 5 – Going for Gold. Feeling like I’m on home turf here, flat out full speed downhill trail. Really fast with great flow, a few little drops, sending riders in to the newly rebuilt bottom of Gold Run, with steep tight berms one after the other. No matter how tired the riders were they were all left with a smile on their face here.
This round of the SES was a world apart from last year at Innerleithen when most of the stages were on the downhill tracks. This really was a full test of endurance, and despite my current lack of fitness and a lay down on stage one I was pretty happy to just complete the whole thing. Finishing up 5th wasn’t to bad a result to start the season with either.