Wow, I can’t believe just how quickly this year is flying by, we are now in April and have just had the most amazing two weeks of sunshine. It really has felt like summer out on the trails.
It’s been prefect timing for the start of the racing season too. Travelling up to Scotland under blue skies takes some beating as the scenery alongside the M6 is stunning when you can see it. I love Scotland, the only downside is normally the weather, so I was so excited with the prospect of riding at one of my favourite places in the sunshine.
Innerleithen is one of first places in Scotland I went to, racing downhill as far back as 1997. I remember celebrating my 18th birthday at the hotel just at the entrance to Glentress! I have been back to Innerleithen more than once every year since and always enjoy riding the tight, mogul like narrow descents that are so characteristic of that hill. This year it was the venue of the first round of the UK Gravity Enduro series. I was really looking forward to my first enduro in the UK and with a full entry I think there were another 299 people also excited to be racing enduro.
I was not entirely sure of the format of the UK enduros but soon found out they followed a similar format to the Italian enduro I did at the end of last year. It was a 30km loop with five timed stages, you had a start time for each stage which meant to you had to be there at that time to avoid a time penalty. Back in 1997 we had to push to the top of the hill so I knew how far it was and this weekend we had to ride to the top five times to complete the loop so I knew it was going to be a good day out!
I was glad I arrived on Friday to be able to ride all the stages and take my time. Even taking time it was a good ride and took me about 4.5-hours to get around. It’s completely different to downhill racing as you really have no chance of remembering five downhill tracks, like you can when you practice just one track multiple times.
Having just done one run on each track you really just get a feel for them and hope you can remember the main features and junctions. I actually quite like the feeling of not quite knowing where you are going as it makes you look ahead really well, read the trail and react fast to what comes up. It keeps the adrenaline levels high.
The five stages were all so different I was really impressed with the organisers and course designer. You really did ride every possible terrain you could on the hillside, from man-made cross country trail, to old downhill tracks, to recently cut loamy chutes to fireroads, it had it all. It would test skills and people definitely had stages that they favoured over others.
Stage five took in some old school downhill tracks and then a good sprint along a fireroad before it dropped into the final descent of the cross country loop. We had to race stage five on Saturday afternoon and the results were then used to seed everyone for the start times for Sunday’s racing. The seeding run time would also count towards your overall time so it was important to get a good start to the weekend.
I was excited to get racing for the year with the all too familiar start beeps. It felt great to get that nervous feeling and get the heart rate up. I had a pretty good run until I hit a rock about halfway down and cut my tyre, but the Stans sealant did a great job after first covering my glasses in sealant it then sealed my tyre with enough pressure to ride to the finish pretty well and still take first place ahead of ex-Pro cross country and downhill racer Tracy Brunger.
The women’s field was really healthy with around 15 elite women with a true range of talent, experience and age. Ex-pro’s Tracy Brunger and Emma Guy are both locals to Innerleithen and very handy riders so it was great to see them both back at a race. Helen Gaskell and Sarah Newman both raced the enduro series last year taking the top two spots so I knew they would know the format and how to approach the enduro races.
We also had the new breed of downhillers of Katy Curd and World Junior Champ Manon Carpenter. It was great to have such a good field and also great that we could all ride around the loop together between stages having a good gossip along the way, when the terrain allowed.
The start times for each stage had been set and we were told were quite generous, but I don’t think they had taken into account the time it would take us to complete each stage before we started the liaison stages as we never had more than a few minutes at each start to get ready, have a snack before you were off again on the next stage. It was a tough day out and I really felt as though I had a great day’s training along with doing five downhill races in one day.
It was everything I hoped enduro racing would be and more. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole weekend and getting to sit out in the sun in shorts and flip flops as we waited or the prize presentation just topped off the weekend.
And my first venture into enduro racing ended with a win and huge sense of satisfaction that I was really going to enjoy this new direction in my racing.
The great weather continued when I got home and I now have to switch focus as my next task is to complete the World Cup XC and Pro Sprint Eliminator in Houffalize, Belgium in three weeks time. A solid block of training on the road and some sprint session mixed in with some racing at home on the farm at a local race this weekend it what’s in store for me over the next week or so.