The fifth and final round of the 2013 UK Gravity Enduro series headed to the classic mountain bike race venue of Eastridge Woods just outside of Shrewsbury in Shropshire last weekend. A small coppice of woodland well established in the history of the sport, having hosted championships in both XC and DH. For its relatively small size the woods packs a brilliant network of trails. The fruits of the labour of a local volunteer group, made up of passionate riders-come-trail-builders, the Eastridge Trail Partnership. After a few issues with the originally planned Round 5 venue of Triscombe in Somerset, Eastridge stood as a worthy replacement, having featured in the series the past two years and having always been a firm favourite of the series among riders.
The 2013 season has undoubtedly been the best so far for the series, with all five rounds filling up well in advance of the races; the hunger from riders for the discipline is ever-present. Reflecting back on all the previous rounds of the series it is clear to see that Steve Parr and his loyal group of helpers have really raised the bar in 2013, with Naked Racing’s Chris Roberts’s faultless timing system, and Charlie William’s diligent taping, it appears riders’ confidence in fair racing has been restored and the future for the series certainly looks bright. Talk among fellow riders as we waited for the start of the final stage on Sunday was that of positive anticipation of next year’s racing, without even the slightest hint of ‘burnout’ that riders from many other disciplines experience.
This year’s Eastridge loop featured many of the same great stages of last year’s round here, with the addition of a few last minute course tweaks to catch even the locals off guard and limit the advantage of sneaky practice prior to the race. All stages were quite technical and more orientated towards the downhill riders, but the addition of a few climbs and some longer flat stages helped mix things up. With the recent spell of dry weather and a couple of rain showers going into the weekend, course conditions simply could not have been better. The sunny and dry weather - well, until the heavens briefly opened as the final rider crossed the line on Sunday - was a welcome change from the rain and mud seen in pretty much all four of the previous rounds. As a compact venue Eastridge also brought out more spectators than many other rounds, with so many of the stages being a short walk away from the main arena on almost every stage riders were greeted by shouts of encouragement.
Stage one - Student Nationals Downhill. The steepest, most technical in the woods, a real test of skill with loose rocks and roots everywhere, taking just short of two minutes for those at the front end. Dropping into the main arena meant this track featured heavily in the weekend’s racing, not only as the qualifying track for Saturday but doubling up as both stage 1 and 6 in Sunday racing, to help extend the race time with the relatively short stages. With 900+ runs of the track over the weekend the racing line changed from run to run.
Stage two - Topography. The classic in the woods, and one of the first tracks built by ETP founder Alex Langley, that set about the development of the trails some six years ago. A flat sprint over a couple of jumps dropped into a steep series of tight turns, before a rooty singletrack traverse at the bottom. The addition of the lower section on last year’s added some length and a few new lines further up helped keep things interesting for those who had ridden it before.
Stage three – ‘93 Downhill Into the Rainbow. The longest, most physical of the race at just over 3.30 for the fastest riders, starting right at the highest point in the woods and using all the terrain available to drop you down right to the boundary of the woods in the longest route possible. The top section saw riders on the gas the whole time with a few flat, open corners to keep things interesting. A short fireroad sprint into a series of berms and rollers then dropped you into a steep off camber shoot on to the fireroad before an awkward dead right turn to flat out sprint took you to the finish.
Stage 4 - The 1999 National Downhill track. Very short in length, fast and rocky at the top before some tight corners in the bottom section. All over very quickly, a stage that 14 years ago would have taken upwards of three minutes but on modern bikes less than half that just shows how much bikes have moved on.
Stage 5 - Big Log. One of the firm favourites in the race, a track that has seen a lot of attention from the partnership of late and it showed. Featuring a bit of everything with plenty of drop in height and some new berms to the unfortunately named pooh corner.
As the final race of the season as well as the race win, the coveted series title was up for grabs. In the elite men’s this was really a battle between local rider Neil Donoghue and round four winner Alex Stock. With Neil missing the fourth round to race the Trans Savoie, and Alex profiting by taking the win in Dyfi, Wales, it was really going to be tough for Don to take the win, but a first place for him and a fifth place or lower finish for Alex and he could have clinched his second series title.
With it all to play for Neil rode like a man possessed, riding noticeably faster than the rest of the field through many sections. Total stage domination was the name of the game, winning six of seven stages, until a mistake 50 metres from the finish on the final stage saw him off track losing him vital seconds. Alex stock rode on the pace all day after qualifying fourth and riding consistently in the top six on all stages until also suffering issues on the final stages of the day. A snapped chain 20 metres from the start could have spelt disaster but somehow Alex managed to pull off a still ridiculously quick time to take thirf on the day and clinch his first UK Gravity Enduro Title!
Event video from Wideopen Mag... Viewer discretion advised...
In the women’s elite category, Tracey Mosley’s world domination of enduro was clearly present closer to home too, coming into the final round of the series with three wins under her belt and fresh off the last round of the world series where she sealed the World Title, Tracey took a dominant win, impressively finishing in the top 40 riders of the entire event. Helen Gaskell took an consistent second on the day to also take third overall in the series after not finishing in R2 at Inners with Sarah Newnham rounding out the podium in third also taking second overall in the series. In all the other categories it was a fierce battle to gain as many series points as possible in order to make that top three that would see riders moving up into elite. With riders at both the front end of masters and senior category beating the times of many elite riders throughout the 2013 season, the level of racing next year should be equally as high.
For me, riding on my local trails in the dry fresh from a week’s racing in the Trans Savoie, the race couldn’t have gone much better nor been a more enjoyable experience. Finishing consistently in the top 10 all weekend and coming away at the end of it in eighth place, my best result this season, was hugely satisfying. A huge thanks to Steve and his crew for all the hard work this season, we all look forward hearing news of next year’s series.