I think I've had, at most, two short mountain bike rides in the last 6 months. So just how much fitness can someone lose in that time? I was just about to find out having entered Round 2 of the Scottish Enduro Series at Innerleithen with my new Orange Five 2014.
The course was around 25km but with a bit over 1200m of climbing. I deliberated over not doing practice and hitting the course blind on Sunday as I felt I had more to lose through fitness than not getting to know the best lines. However, I decided to do the entire course on Saturday taking it very slowly on the climbs to try and keep as much in reserve as possible.
|The look on Dave's face on Stage 1 says it all|
Stage 1 is part of the usual Traquair XC loop from the summit of Minch Moor at 567m which is a fast hard-packed trail, built with drainage in mind and no mud. This was a nice bit of trail to crank up the Orange Five a little and get used to the bigger wheel size. The temptation was to power out the turns but I had to keep reminding myself that I was saving the legs. The 650b wheels were rolling well, so in play mode I messed about doing manuals out of berms and getting airborne wherever I could.
Stage 2 was reached after a short climb up a muddy transition and led into a natural section that was new to me. The gradient in here wasn't all that steep in places so required plenty of pedalling to get a good time. There was a bit more to challenge the rider on this stage with exposed roots and tighter turns. Just as you thought this one was over you had another climb up a fireroad for about 500m before dropping into a real fun section called 'mince baby mince'. A bit steeper than the previous section you could get the speed up quickly, and the biggest challenge here was keeping off the brakes and pumping the bike through the moguls.
Stage 3 started off down a steep chute from the top fireroad and joined onto one of the downhill runs known as the Cresta Run, before cutting off through some new sections. Here there were some nice lines, one of which had an exit point off a berm between a couple of tight trees to get a better entry on to the short bridleway climb. Keeping as much momentum as possible through here would definitely help get you up this bit. The end of this stage was not far from here with another sprint up the fireroad dropping back onto one of the familiar downhill trails and cutting off onto an old bridleway for another sprint to the finish.
Stage 4 had to be the most enjoyable stage of the course heading down a proper National Championship downhill track right from the start. Skirting the side of the quarry you cross the fireroad and down the 'tunnel' section where you can really let rip. Pick up as much speed here as you dare to clear the step down and then keep left to take the high line, jumping the roots as close to the tree as you can to keep it tight and fast. After a few berms and jumps on the 'luge' section you have the option to jump the ditch onto the fireroad to make the turn shorter or keep left and take the slightly longer way round. After the short sprint along the fireroad, you head down sharp into a steep section where gravity decided how fast you went, regardless of how hard you pulled the brakes. Here you just had to keep the bike pointing in the right direction and ride it out to the bridleway at the bottom.
Stage 5 had a similar start to stage 3 with a steep chute followed by a sharp right hand turn at its foot. Where this stage differed from the rest was how claggy and soup-like the mud was. It clung to the front mudguard and tyre, stopping the front wheel from turning easily if you didn't have good clearance. It was almost impossible not to dab a foot, which then caused clip in pedals to clog up, making it difficult to get clipped back in, and resulted in some comical legs out sliding saddle bouncing action. By now any sense of flow and rhythm was long gone and for once the fireroad was a welcome sight. Here the fireroad relief was short lived as it turned out to be a long slog for what seemed like half a mile with a choked up bike, and an extra few lbs of mud in weight. The last bit headed down the Caddon Bank descent where you have to spin hard to get a fast time, if you still had anything left in those legs.
|Clearly with more energy on Saturdays practice with team mate Fraser Watson following|
Sunday - Race Day
The strategy for me today was similar to yesterday, to take it slow on the transitions to keep as much energy for the stages as possible. During the climb up to the top of Minch Moor it was noticeably windier than the previous day and with a constant drizzle. At least most of the climb would be done in the relative shelter of the trees until you reach the moor at the top. The misty drizzle on the summit was travelling horizontally, but the queue for the start of the first stage wasn't bad thanks to the allocated start times for the climb up. This was just as well because it got cold very quickly up there in that wind.
Off the start line the wind helped propel me towards the first hairpin where it then became a headwind until the next hairpin. I was down Stage 1 but without pushing on I could tell my legs were done in from the previous day, and the climb back up today. I gave the top of Stage 2 as much pedalling as I could and hit the fireroad climb, already gasping, where I was passed by another rider. The next half of Stage 2 started off well but my quad muscles were burning, making it difficult to stay composed for long. I stalled most of the turns and technique was out the window. This is the moment I realised just how much fitness I'd lost.
The rest of the day went on through a haze of fatigue, but eating well and often was keeping me together..... just! I hit the one line through a section that I wanted to hit on Stage 3 which gave me a little mental lift. It's funny how a little psychology change can also release a bit of energy and it put me in a good frame of mind for Stage 4. On the steep section I found myself getting down it slowly but controlled, until I heard another rider behind catching up on me, clearly going faster and without the means to be able to slow down. Finding a bit to let him past almost cost me my first over the bars spill of the day, but somehow I managed to hold it, and gave just enough room for him to go sliding past. Stage 5 went past with riders all over the track left right and centre. I got through it, albeit painfully slowly.
I finished 62nd in the Masters category with a stage time of 34m 48s, and team mate Fraser Watson did well for his first Enduro race finishing 28th in the Masters with a stage total of 30m 1s.
It was time to ditch some of the mud from bike and body, so a dip in the River Tweed was called for. The water was cold but not unbearably so and the muscles enjoyed the therapy. I finished way down in the list of results, but with a great sense of satisfaction having had such a long break from the bike. The Orange Five was flawless all weekend and I'm definitely converted to 27.5" wheels.
Thanks to the Scottish Enduro Series for the motivation fix! Hats off to everybody that took part at the weekend, and especially to the organisers and marshalls who were out on a cold hill all weekend to show us a good time.
Check out some of the head cam footage from Ben Cathro of Sick Skills showing us how it should be done.
Ben Cathro // Scottish Enduro Series Round 2 // Innerleithen 2014 - Stage Highlights from SickSkillsMTB on Vimeo.
The schedule was as follows:
10:45 marshal briefing
11.00–15:00 – sign on and registration
11:00-15:00 – start times for race day assigned at registration
(the 20 fastest men and 5 fastest women from Rd 1 across all cats will be assigned the first 25 start slots)
12:00 all marshals and Medic cover on track – practice starts
12.00–17.00 – course practice
17:00 practice closes
17:00 rider briefing
08:45 marshal briefing
09:15 rider briefing
09:00–11:30 collect timing cards
09:30-12:00 start slots from bottom of hill in arena
10:00 all marshals and Medic cover on track – course 1 opens
13:20 stage 1 closes
14:00 stage 2 closes
15:00 stage 3 closes
16:00 stage 4 closes
17:00 stage 5 closes
(stage close times may vary according to conditions on the day)
17:15 – all riders must be back
17:30ish - podiums
Check out the full list of Results from the Roots and Rain website.
Events photos by Ian Linton and Malcolm Porter on Roots and Rain.