Round two. 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.