Easter…a time that signals rebirth with springtime bringing warmer temperatures, more sunlight, less rain (pfft, yeah right) and fluffy bunnies breaking into your garden to hide chocolate eggs they’ve stolen from the supermarket in attempt to lure your kids into a chocolate coma.

It also means…

THE REBIRTH OF ENDURO SEASON!!

The organisers of the popular Southern Enduro series, largely based over in the south and southeast of the country, decided for 2017 to put on a two-day ‘Southern Enduro Championships’ and saw the light that the only place to do it right, was to venture further west to the radlands of the southwest and to the steep private hills of Exmoor.  Good move.

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Hills for thrills

With this being about as close as I get to a ‘home’ race (it’s not, it’s still a 3 hour drive away), I signed up at the start of the year and this was going to be the first time racing enduro for the Southwest Syndicate team (Velo-Smith & RSF Suspension) so I was really looking forward to it.  Having done a couple of the Mondraker Gravity Rally enduros a few years ago close by, I had an idea of what might be on offer and those events were good, so with barely any rain for more than a week there was potential for some cracking stages.

Not fancying a 5am start on the Saturday, I arrived at the venue Friday evening to camp it up.  A fairly steep camp field and four portaloos between 300 riders was a little concerning (especially when one already was out of flush) but the small arena area was looking good.  Of course, a race weekend wouldn’t be complete without rain, and at about 9pm, drops started to fall so I turned in for the night praying for the dry trails to remain dry.

PRACTICE DAY

Rain has a habit of sounding worse than it actually is when you’re in a tent and the constant pitter-patter of rain for several hours, combined with a hint of…okay, A LOT of excitement for riding the next day, kept me awake for several hours.  Saturday dawned and I expected everywhere to be pretty wet after what felt like an age of rain but the sun was coming out so all was looking good for the day.  If the brisk northeasterly wind wasn’t there, it would’ve pretty warm but as it was, it was chuffing cold!

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Can’t beat a nice view mid race

SW Syndicate team mates, Lawrence Jones and Nick Vail arrived for Saturday practice but needed to set up camp first so I headed out for a practice loop  Apart from a bit of mud in a few places on the first transition, things were looking nice and dry on the trails, which I was happy about as fresh-cut stages on wooded hillsides tend to be a bit of a nightmare from past experience!

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Photo: Big Mac Photography

Dropping into Stage 1, it became apparent that today would consist of steep descents, lots of roots, the odd jump and probably the one thing every mountain biker craves;

beautiful

luscious

miraculous

..oh-so-sweet…..

LOAM!

(Can you tell there’s none of that near where I live?!)

Stage 1 was good, nothing out of the ordinary as such, with a mix of  rooty twists and turns down through the woods, linked with a couple of short fire road sprints but Stage 2 was something else.  A short descent into a couple of slightly downward traverses along the valley side, but with plenty of trees close by to catch your handlebars.  In fact, that’s what happened on my practice run.  I first binned it after the front wheel washed out on some soft dirt then picked myself up and 20 metres down the stage, my bars clipped a tree and ejected me on to my arse.  Not a great start but at least the landing was soft :-/

Then, the trail dropped down.  Straight down. Like 45 degrees-arse-buzzing-on-your-back-tyre down.  Sliding down with tyres scrabbling for grip and hoping the catchberms at the bottom are still solid!  And just when you though it couldn’t drop any more, it did.  Yewwww!  Proper fun but at the same time, slightly nervy.

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Wide handlebars might be bang on trend, but banging your knuckles on trees is not

Stage 3 was a flatter, more pedally affair but flowed really nicely on the bottom third dodging left and right over and over again through the trees and Stage 4 was longer with some off-camber sections to deal with.  Stages 5 and 6 started in the same place with 5 spitting you straight into some flat, root strewn corners before dropping into an awesome section of techy, steep, loose turns full of ‘brown pow’.  Stage 6 was again very similar and ended with a top gear sprint down the field back to the arena.  Having done a practice loop, we were grinning like school kids in a sweet shop, as was everyone it seemed who’d had a taste of the dirty goodness.

RACE DAY

A better night’s sleep was had on Saturday and Nick, Lawrence and I headed out of the arena a 10:15am.  With no stage start times, today was going to be a pretty relaxed ride around.  Stage 1 went well enough for me.  I didn’t feel particularly quick but not slow either so it was a bit of a banker.  After yesterday’s two crashes within 20 metres on Stage 2, I was genuinely feeling a little worried I was going to balls it up again in between the trees, but I managed to thread the needle without trouble and fortunately those catchberms on the steeeeeep sections were still intact, so finished the stage without much issue.  Stage 3 went well at the start but I did cock up a berm towards the bottom which stopped me dead costing a bit of time, but not too much overall.  Stage 4…well, I couldn’t really remember what Stage 4 was like from practice and as result didn’t ride it particularly well.  Stage 5, which ended up being my favourite, went by without much issue but I knew I could’ve been quicker….the constant awareness of hearing brake pads rubbing on rotors suggested I should have been going faster.  Stage 6 was similar and by this time, I think the lack of riding in recent weeks meant fatigue was creeping in earlier than normal, though topping out at 32mph on the final sketchy grass sprint meant I had some energy in the tank…though that nearly led to smashing into the fencing at the end as the braking zone at the end was a little close!

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Photo: Dave Price Photography

Handing in my timing chip, I was 13 or 14th in Masters at the time but still with some faster riders to come down so I was hoping I wouldn’t drop much, but in the end I finished 31st in a field of around 85 riders.  Initially I felt a touch disappointed but then finishing in around the top third is a decent result in the largest category so fairly happy with that after all.

Team mates Lawrence and Nick finished in 19th and 28th respectfully in the Senior category, battling slower riders and some mechanical issues but a solid start for the team considering.

So, it was a damn good weekend of bicycle racing helped massively by dry weather.  If it had been raining, those fresh loamy trails would have been carnage and certainly less fun for me.  But it didn’t and it wasn’t and it feels good to be racing against the clock again….which is a good, because the PMBA National Champs are just two weekends away…!

Big thanks to the Southern Enduro team for putting on a great weekend, the race organisation itself and First Aid back up was some of the best and smoothest I’ve seen, but more loos next time please…then you won’t have to literally beat them with a shitty stick 😉 )

Thanks to Velo-Smith and RSF Suspension Specialists for the team support and also to Rad8 MTB Glasses, Pearl Izumi and Performance MTB UK for the personal support.

Next stop…the Lake District!

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