Fancy some mid-summer night’s racing? Cotton Burner Triple has what you need and after last year’s inaugural series, it was back for 2017 with more of the same – compact all-inclusive racing, banter, tunes and the odd comedy crash or two. But for 2017, the added bonus of actual summer sunshine and dry trails…well, nearly.
3 Wednesday evenings, 3 MTB race disciplines, 1 bike.
Ride hard, have fun and see where you end up…!
14 June – XC Eliminator
As with last year, we turned up to the course not knowing what the first discipline would be – enduro, XC or XC Eliminator. Deep down, most of us wanted enduro, including me but as we signed on it was obvious due to the ‘heats sheet’, it was going to be fast and frantic XCE.
With what must have been around 50-60 odd riders to get through, the heats were going to be rattled through quickly to get the final in before darkness fell. For the first round, I was in Heat 3 and got a good start off the line taking the lead into the first corner. With a 1 mile long course, it was 7 minutes of hell and 100% effort regardless of your fitness and skill level and through the first half I could feel second place not far behind me so couldn’t relax. As we climbed up the switchback climb at the back of the woods, I could see I had a decent lead and kept it going to take the win. For the second heat, my start wasn’t quite as good as before and I slotted into second place into the first corner, sticking to the rear wheel of the rider in front through the first half of the lap. It was too narrow to overtake and as we hit the switchback climb, the chap in the lead burnt out and let me past and I carried on for another win. I’d already bested last year’s effort at this point!
For Heat 3, I was a little late getting to the start line so couldn’t start from the front. Off the ‘B of the Bang’, I nearly got tangled up with another rider, possibly with my pedal getting caught in his spokes which nearly had us both off. I kept it upright, glanced back to make sure he was ok (he was) and back on the power on the start straight. I slotted into 4th place at the first corner and knew I wasn’t going to be able to overtake for a while so kept on the rear wheel of the third place man. At the top of the switchback climb, I was still in fourth and as we hit a short wide open climb, I saw my opportunity and put the hammer down to overtake two riders slipping into 2nd place with a couple of corners to go and get through to the semi-final.
For the semi-final, I was matched up with last year’s winner, Tom Dunn and XC whippet Paul Sole. I got a good start off the line and was in second place behind Tom up the straight and then Paul just caught and overtook me into the first corner. With the top 3 qualifying for the final, I kept at it hard for the first half of the lap and reaching the climb, realised I was probably good for third so backed off a little (but not much!) to finish and go through to the final. I did for a second consider dropping back so as not to qualify as my energy levels were getting low…but I just couldn’t do it!
The final started only a few minutes after we finished the semis, and I…was…spent. There was little left in my tank for any serious effort , so I lined up behind everyone else and decided to let them get on with things. Fatigue had well and truly set in by now… I ballsed up a small drop-off near the start and nearly got intimate with a tree but somehow managed to catch my wayward landing, narrowly avoiding an embarrassing crash in front of the baying crowd. Crossing the line, I was last in the final so 6th overall and well and truly knackered. Not a bad effort considering I was on a 160mm travel enduro bike ha!
21 June – Enduro
What a difference a year makes. This time last year, everyone taking part in the Cotton Burner Triple was battling mud so thick it stopped wheels going around and ‘soccerball’ boots were better footwear than MTB SPDs or 5:10s. Fast forward 12 months, and the week between round 1 and round 2 was the hottest week in 40 fricking years with temps hovering around 28 degrees in Cornwall. It’s never THAT hot down this way.
That said, today was the last day of the heatwave going by the forecast, and I was really hoping round 2 wouldn’t be XC as I didn’t fancy 45 mins of full-on continuous pedalling, sweating my nads off in this heat. Fortunately the organisers took pity on us and as it turned out, my wish was granted as today would be enduro baby yeah!
With practice from 5.30pm and race runs starting from 7pm, there was plenty of time to practice the three stages. Almost identical to last year, the runs were fast in the bone-dry conditions and huge fun, with all stages finishing in the same location. To get things going quicker, the entries were split into two groups with one half starting on Stage 1 first and the other starting on Stage 2 first and both running at the same time. Seeing as both stages converged at the bottom for the final sprint to the line, there was potential for some race face clashes but I think it went well in the end.
I started early with Stage 2 being my first run and got a good start barrelling full speed into the short 40 second stage. In fact I was going so fast I misjudged where the first drop-off was and ended up going past it down the chicken line. Fortunately though, it was just as quick if not faster and I then intentionally took the chicken line on the final steep drop-off to get a better line into the following corner. Honest.
Stage 1 went well except for an accidental SPD unclip going into the first small double which put me off for a second and Stage 3 felt great straight lining down the fast hillside into a lung buster of a pedal along the riverside.
Thanks to the more relaxed nature of enduro compared to the XC events, there was plenty of time in between stages and afterwards to chat with other riders. Although the beer was flowing, with a 30 mile drive home after, I opted for coffee and cake from the rad ladies at Kern of Kernow who rocked up to fuel everyone from their funky French van.
With the maths geniuses behind the event needing to spend some time adding up everyone’s times and double check, results weren’t out until the early hours of the following morning, but I was stoked to wake up and find I finished in joint 2nd place, behind Tom Dunn who smashed out the win.
So with only the XC race remaining, I was sitting in joint 3rd place overall but with only your two best results counting towards the overall series result, I was going to have to win or something to get a top 3…and that ain’t gonna happen.
28 June – XC
What a difference a week makes! Last week’s, 26 degree heat and sun drenched trails gave way to bog-standard British Summer mud and rain and temperatures literally half of what they were the previous week. The rain lashed down all night and most of the day, so 40 or so riders ragging it around some wet woodland was going to throw up an interesting race in the depths of Cotton Wood.
With talk of tyre choice on the Facebook group the night before ranging from ‘run what you brung’ to ‘MUD SPIKES!!’, I was firmly in the former category. Although I had a decent place overall to try to lock up, I couldn’t be arsed changing tyres as I was in the firm belief that the shite weather was a temporary glitch and we’d be back to Spanish levels of heat in no time!
A quick practice lap to check the conditions and the course was wet but not actually too bad, though it was only going to deteriorate with more rain and 40 riders doing 3 laps on it. As last year, there was a lap of the camp field section behind a quad bike pacemaker to space people out before we barrelled into the first singletrack decent and I made sure I was near the front as we set off. As expected, the XC boys shot off straight away never to be seen again so I kept on the back wheel of Unit Cycles rider Chris Brenton for ¾ of the first lap until the final climb where I overtook. Into the second lap and the first series of flat, grassy sweeping corners and my back wheel let go of all grip spinning me 180 degrees leaving me sliding around on my back like a break dancing turtle. Chris overtook but I was able re-pass later in the lap and from then on it was pretty much on my own until the finish. I couldn’t quite relax though as I was being caught on the final lap, and losing traction at the bottom of the first climb, having to stop and re-start meant the guys behind caught up quite quickly, but fortunately I was able to get back on and pedal up the now very slippery climb and force out a bit of a gap for the finish line, crossing in 5th place with a bike that had probably doubled in weight with the mud.
I finished the series in joint 4th behind Paul Sole 3rd, Tom Dunn 2nd and Graham Sheldon 1st. Despite the effort of near maximum heart rate for 50 minutes combined with slippery mud, it was weirdly enjoyable, but this was no doubt in part to the great atmosphere that Cotton Burner brings. The great thing about the event is the laid back atmosphere and mixture of racers and non-racers, young and not so young riders, guys and girls, experienced and less experienced riders just coming together for some after work fun in the woods!
Yet again, a massive thanks to Simon Stuart-Miller for the photos above and for putting on the event and letting us rag around his beautiful nature reserve* on some seriously fun little trails. Also big thanks to Stacey Bray for sorting out the timing including staying up late on week 2 to add up the enduro times and post them up and also to Cranked Bikes and Crankburner for supporting the event and providing prizes. And as always, big up to the marshals for keeping an eye out for everyone and to all the riders who took part for the top atmosphere, banter and great racing!
Just like last year, I’m now left with a big hole in my weekly riding. Cotton Burner Triple is only on for three weeks, but it leaves a lasting impression on everyone who takes part.
*Cotton Wood is a privately owned working woodland and nature reserve and the trails are only open to paying guests at the lodge for a weekend. It’s only 250 metres from the awesome trails at Grogley Woods, just off the Camel Trail and only a few miles from the trails at Cardinham and Lanhydrock, so a great base for a weekend of riding and outdoor adventures in the area. Head over to www.cotton-wood.co.uk to get booked in.