Scottish Enduro Series 2017

Round 6 – Dunkeld 15.10.17 – 3rd

The final round of the Scottish Enduro Series was held at the infamous Dunkeld. The trails at Dunkeld were where I raced my first ever Scottish Enduro Series in March 2016, where the stages were so steep and muddy that many riders didn’t return after practice day, because of this many riders had already decided not to race Dunkeld. However, as I needed one more round to complete the series and this was on the teams home turf, I was determined to take on anything it had to throw at me. We were merciful that the rain held off just enough so that the trails were running well (or as well as forest trails in October can be expected to run), and this six stage, 30km epic was going to be a brilliant way to finish the series.

Stage 1 – The first half of the day was spent on Craig Vinean Hill, Somewhat cruelly riders were thrown in to the deep end with stage one being held on the lower sections of the downhill track. The stage was taped so that it wound awkwardly between the trees and randomly over odd rocks, making it tricky to hold the speed over what is normally a very fast track on the downhill bike. The riders who seemed to be able to hold their speed were simply those that could keep their front wheel from dropping in the bomb holes, and are quick to react to the sudden changes of direction.

Stage 2 – This was a relatively short straight stage which speed down a narrow and very muddy trail with plenty of slippy tree roots hidden just under the mud. Half way down the trail there were a couple of sizable rock rollers leading in to a steep muddy chute on to the fire road which required complete commitment. The second half of this stage gained even more speed but without much increase in grip. The trail is so narrow any slight twitch of the bars normally resulted in catching the front wheel on the grass tussocks either side of the track and sending the rider over the bars (yes this happened to me quite spectacularly in practice).

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Stage 3 – Continuing on directly from the bottom of stage 2 was the start of stage 3 making use of the fantastically named trail; Bambie’s Farts, leading in to 9.8. Bambie’s Farts is my idea of a nightmare of a trail. Tight and twisty mud bath, wet roots going in all directions, no hope of getting any flow through the speed sapping mud, with just enough pointy rocks hiding at the edges ready to catch your pedals. On a dry day this track if difficult, on a wet day after sending a couple of hundred riders down it, no one was getting through this cleanly. Half way down this track turns in to the 9.8 trail. Although this wasn’t any less muddy the steepness increased which allowed the momentum to be maintained and the steep mud slide switchbacks become strangely enjoyable (or is that just me?). However, this all fell apart on the last couple of corners which got so blown out I couldn’t help but lose the bike down the side of the hill metres from the finish line.

Stage 4 – We crossed back through the town to the opposite side of the valley for the second half of the race. Newtyle Hill is the polar opposite to the trails on Craig Vinean, draining quickly and staying much dryer, they were also much steeper and loser. Stage 4 was held down the Crows Nest. This trail descends an impressive 177m in only 0.7km, which means for the vast majority of it you are just trying not to fall off the back of the bike. However, once again the blown out catch berms did result in me overcooking one corner and going off track, but this was easily rectified.

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Stage 5 – Back up to the top of Newtyle Hill to the start of stage 5; The Rudder, just as steep as stage 4, but this time with more switch backs thrown in the mix. Just like the rudder of a boat, riders need to use their weight to kick the back end of the bike around the steep and tight switch backs. The Rudder has always been a firm favourite of mine, which must be apparent as this is the only stage which I didn’t either fall, dab a foot down, or mess up my line choice, which resulted in me taking the stage win at only 3:03min.

Stage 6 – The final stage was on the newly upgraded trail; The Mast. This trail was difficult on any day but by the end of a long day of riding this trail required what little concentration and energy we had left not to just crash off the edge of the hill. A combination of steep chutes which you had to keep your speed down in order to clear the sneaky climbs, all of which seem to happen on narrow paths  being careful not to fall off the sides. Unlike the dusty trails of The Crows Nest and The Rudder, The Mast is characterised by piles of lose shale, which makes for great fun when the ground is moving in one direction, and the bike is moving in a different direction, hopefully still with the rider on board.

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Dunkeld was always going to be challenge. It is a selection of trails which are very difficult to maintain control at speed, if you can even keep the momentum to get up to speed, as a result Dunkeld always results in being a matter of the survival for the fittest. I was feeling confident about riding Dunkeld but I was under no illusions about how difficult it was going to be so I was completely surprised to finish in 3rd place and take my second SES podium of the year. This fantastic conclusion to the series was enough to pull up my low results from the beginning of the year resulting in me finishing up 6th in the series overall.

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Round 4 – Innerleithen 15.08.17 – 3rd

So I missed out on round 3 at Dunoon, but more than made up for it at Innerleithen. Not unlike round 3 last year at Tomintoul this 40km (1,770m climb) course promised to be epic. Innerleithen and the Tweed Valley is recognised by all riders in Scotland as being one of the ‘must ride’ destinations to go, and it’s not hard to see why. There is everything from steep and technical downhill tracks, to roaming hill top cross country trails with the views to go with it. I would confidently say that Innerleithen is my favourite place to ride, and the No Fuss Scottish Enduro Team certainly made the most of what Tweed Gold there was available.

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Stage 1 – Started on the north side of the valley in an area of forest behind the Innerleith Golf Course (appropriately known locally as the golfy trails). The first climb was a steep slog to the top of Kirnie Law, this was a new route to me and it made use of an older trail used for downhill racing originally in 1997.

Stage 2 – The second trail on the golfy side of the valley was repeat offender in its entirety, and is a favourite trail amongst many riders in the area. It is an unrelenting, arm-pumping mass of roots and trees trying to trip you up from start to finish. The majority of this trail is completely natural so keeping a light touch on the bike to skip over the ditches between the trees as well as narrowly missing the trees with your handlebars is key, however as is a favourite around Innerleithen and just when you think you have the hang of it a sharp twist of direction in to a steep shoot or drop is never far away. Despite this it seems like almost everyone finished this track out of breath and full of big grins.

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Stage 3 – We moved across to the Caddon Bank side of Innerleithen for the final 4 stages. Although all the stages started around the top of the downhill trails on Plora Rig, stage 3 was not a downhill trail. This was a traditional enduro nemesis of mine. Mince Baby Mince is flat(ish) with little flow, lots of boggy mud and slippy roots meant that I was fighting with this stage from start to finish. However for once in my life I found myself enjoying this. Even though I was racing on my old flat DMR Vault pedals a summer of ridding clipped in to my DMR V-twins has meant my balance and commitment to slippery trails has really improved. Despite this I was very glad once I got to the end and could move onto to the last three stages on the downhill trails.

Stage 4 – I didn’t recognise the start of stage 4, but its muddy start quickly jumped on to one of my favourite trails in the area, the Matador. Although typically dominated by familiar features the taped trail seemed to weave in and around the track enough to make it feel like a whole new trail. This was where I really started to find my flow, lots of fast steep turns to throw the bike in to. The trails had really started to dry out by this point so I was in my element of dry, dusty and lose.

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Stage 5 – This started on an old IXS downhill start which then ran on to the upper section of Gold Rush, before switching on to Cresta and the 39 steps. This stage is the perfect blend of traditional Innerleithen and Downhill Gold trail and I was feeling extremely fast and relaxed on this stage which really paid off as I took 1st place win for the women on this stage.

Stage 6 – Weaving down between Make or Break and Cresta the trail bypassed the ski jump, but still took racers in to the tunnel section, which is a fast, flat out jump line, with barely enough light to see where you’re going out, it opens out on to the new section used in the Scottish Downhill Association round 2 back in April. Slightly off camber with wide corners pops out on to the fire road, the trail drops on to lower Deer Hunter with some very creative lines taped.

I had high expectations for the Innerleithen round of the Scottish Enduro Series and it didn’t disappoint. Some amazing steep trails combined with good weather which made for prime fast running conditions resulted in my best ever series result taking 3rd overall and my first ever SES podium finish.

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Round 2 – Pitfichie 16.04.17 – 10th

So, where on earth is Pitfichie? I had heard of it before, but never met anyone who had actually ridden there. Well, we found out that in fact there is a lot there, and it is awesome! Pitfichie was a new location for the Scottish Enduro Series, but it is one that I think everyone agrees that we hope comes back next year. This race consisted of 6 stages, spread over 35km with 1300m of climbing. In previous years, the Scottish Downhill Association has held events here, so the downhill tracks were already pretty established, but with the addition of a couple of new and refurbished enduro tracks, and an existing red cross country loop it turns out Pitfichie has more to offer than just downhill.

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The race village was located at Monymusk, at the foot of Pitfichie hill. As the race was held over Easter weekend the village was very quiet but the locals helped out by putting a great spread of tea and cakes for the racers. To start we headed north out of Monymusk to for the first of 6 brutal hill climbs. The thing about Pitfichie is it is steep. So steep that most of the transitions were done by pushing the bikes uphill. Stage one made use of the downhill tracks, it started out on open moorland across big granite slabs which make for some fantastic natural drops. As you descend down the hill the slabs break up in to a more boulder terrain through the trees. This track is normally very open with lots of line choices, but for this stage the line was taped to make a lot of turns and technical corners to avoid the trees, before straightening out for a very fast finish. Stage two was about 5km away from the bottom of stage one and involved some more steep climbs but it took us to the furthest point from the village and on to one of the new enduro tracks. Stage two was a much narrower trail along the top section, and including some heather hopping, it then descended quickly in to forest loam, beautiful flowy berms and the occasional rock garden for good measure. Stage 3 left from the top of Green Hill, and it started on the red Pifichie trail, which was the typical fast boulder field, but then took a sharp turn down a break in the forest. This trail was essentially a straight line down the hillside, but just to keep us on our toes the SES crew had built in random turns and bus stops, so just when you are getting to flat out there would be a sudden change of direction. Stage three certainly tested how brave you could be at leaving breaking to the last minute.

To get to the top of stage four was the most interesting and certainly most beautiful climb of the day. Heading up to the top of Cairn William meant traversing across the ridge of some huge exposed slabs of granite, and the views were something spectacular. Stage 4 used the well-established ‘Devils Staircase’ trail, a hardpacked trail with one switchback after the other. Nothing particularly technical about it, but the ability to keep on peddling regardless of anything else meant this stage was my best result of the day. Stage 4 finished just a short push from stage 5, which took us back to the top of Pitfichie hill and just a short way down from where stage 1 had started. Stage 5 was also making use of some of the downhill trails, but incorporated a lot of natural features (this was also where the one spot of mud could be found). Personally I think stage 5 was probably the most technical of the day where there was a fine balance to be had between speed and control, this is what also made it one of the most fun tracks of the day. As stage 6 started from the same place as stage 5 we all had to push our bikes the 125m back up to the top of the hill. It was worth it though. Stage 6 was one of those rare treats you get when it’s dry in Scotland and the trail was pure loam, it made it lose and soft to ride and a lot of fun. Again, making use of some of the downhill tracks technical features, whilst keeping the enduro feel to it.

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Overall the first ever Pitfichie Scottish Enduro Series race was a complete success, great weather, great trails, and great racing.

Round 1 – Fort William 12.03.17 – 14th

No Fuss Events have been exceptionally gentle for the first round of the 2017 Scottish Enduro Series, for which I was very grateful, and very different from round 1 of the 2016 SES at Dunkeld which felt more like a battle for survival. This years round one was held at the firm favourite location at the Nevis range near Fort William. This year saw a relatively short round at only 28km and a few good stage changes from the last time the SES was here.

A quick blast up the road under the gondola took us to the gap jump on the world cup downhill track where we dropped in to stage 1 (1.3km) which followed the DH world cup track, with its mulitpile line choices and features it’s a great section to start on before finishing on the blue trail which in contrast is smooth and fast flowing (apart from when you accidently crash in to the railings on the bridge – ouch). Unfortunatly due to a timing error this stage was later removed from the overall timings. The transition then took riders to the top of the XC champs course (1.7km). The top section of this is fast and open full of switchbacks . Around half way down this stage there is a brutal fire track sprint to truly burn your legs out on this lengthy stage before turning in to a narrow single track through the forest using the familiar 10 under the ben tracks.

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In true SES format around half the trails are natural (or as I call them steep, muddy, shoots of doom designed to throw you of your bike), and stage 3 was the start of this. A new addition to last years’ race but on an old trail. Stage 3 (1.1km) made use of some of the natural trails and really had something for everyone. Starting on a broken down wall through the forest, a short bit on lose rocks, plenty of gloopy mud, wet roots and rollers to navigate makes it one of the most variable stages with something to challenge everyone on and left a lot of smiles.

The highest climb of the day (265m) took us to Stage 4 (dist 0.8km, & steepest decent 203m) which saw the return of a stage from last years race down the old Allt a’ Mhuilinn trail. A year of rain and riding has done nothing to mellow this stage, being dominated by deep channels and ruts full of what I can only assume is peanut butter (it has about the same consistency anyway), and relies on you having enough speed to prevent the mud from completely stopping the wheels from moving not easy when every second peddle stroke sees your foot gouging in to the side of a mud wall, and your wheels being engulfed in hub deep mud.

The final stage of the day had riders transition back along the length of the puggy line, past the café and back to the start of stage 1, in fact it shares the same first 100m of trail as stage 1 before splitting off to the left to join the bottom section of the red downhill track (1.1km). where some of the fastest speeds of the day were obtained (35km/h+). It felt good to finish the day on some smooth hard pack trail complete with fun little jumps along the way, and nothing beats crossing a finish line in the Nevis range car park. Although my struggle with the muddy trails ment I didnt get the result I was hoping for, it was a fun start to the series, and I know I will be back at Fort Bill for a few more races before the end of the year. I cant wait.

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