As I sit here thinking about how to write this race report, it’s snowing outside. Properly snowing. And if there one thing guaranteed to distract someone from Cornwall, it’s the cold, white, fluffy goodness from above.
Anyway, so this weekend saw the….err
…first race of…errr
….I’ll be right back….
….right, where was I?
Two weeks ago the first round of the Welsh Gravity Enduro Series (WGES) was supposed to take place at Afan Forest, but with the ‘Beast from the East’ dumping on most of the UK from a great height, the race was wisely postponed. That meant that this weekend’s round at the MTB Mecca that is Bikepark Wales, doubling up with Haibike Mini Enduro, became the default first race of the year for most riders, including my good self. It was also my first proper enduro race since early June last year so I was looking forward to getting back between the tapes again and see where my race head was at these days after losing the mojo a bit last year.
This race was a little unusual for two reasons: a) it was on a Saturday rather than the usual Sunday and b) the mash up format ran between 1pm and 5pm instead of the usual 10am to 3pm. With the Beast’s smaller, slightly weaker sibling rolling in from Russia again this weekend, I woke up Saturday morning (in relative luxury for once at a nearby Premier Inn) to see a load of snow in the Valleys. Oh yes…snowy race action could well be on the cards today!
The later start meant a leisurely cruise over to Bikepark Wales to get set up, registered and on the trails. No uplifts allowed so it was the XC pedal route up to the top, which fortunately, didn’t take anywhere near as long as I thought it would. The trails being raced were ‘Dai Hard’, ‘Hot Stepper’ and one of the newest trails at the park, ‘Root Manoeuvres’ – none of which I had ridden before, and having not spent a massive amount of time riding the Rallon lately, it was going to be a full-on reintroduction to racing.
It was cold out. Really. Bloody. Cold. Cold enough that the mud was literally freezing to the bike as soon as it splashed onto the frame and riders were getting frozen mechs and broken dropper seat posts. Temperatures were sub zero and the strong easterly winds made it feel even colder. Did I mention it was cold?
Dai Hard was much fun though the strong headwind at the top of the hill bringing a wind chill factor of -5°C meant no one wanted to hang around there too long. Coming out of the woods half way down also meant a windy slap across the face dropping into some severely rutted drop-offs. Hot Stepper was short and sweet, a fast and flowy blast through the woods for just over a minute and then Root Manoeuvres was a rad but muddy, rooty and rutty mess all the way to the bottom of the Park.
After two practice runs on Dai Hard and Hot Stepper and one on Root Manoeuvres, I dropped back to my car for a quick bite, ditch my Camelbak now that I knew my choice of three layers and waterproof jacket was bob on, and then started to head back up to the cafe for a quick brew to warm me up and give me a caffeine kick for the climb up. By now it was 1pm so race timing was live and on the way up, I bumped into mate (and Roots and Rain ‘nemesis’!) John H who offered me a brew from his van. Never one to turn down a free coffee, I jumped in and the kettle was on. Freezing temperatures and a camp stove don’t lend themselves to a quick hot drink so after chatting bikes and #vanlife, we realised it was already 2pm. Feck…better crack on!
Up the hill and into Root Manoeuvres first. After only one practice run and knowing it was a bit of a brute, I figured I’d get a run in early, do the other two stages a couple of times and then head back to Roots for the finish. Dropping into the stage, all was going quite well until the second to last corner where I nearly lost it, pogo’d on one leg trying to save it for a few metres before the inevitable quarterback style sack with my bike being the fluro linebacker getting all up in mah face. Meh, good start yo!
Back up to the very top and into Dai Hard which was average for me, no big mistakes but didn’t feel particularly quick so a bit of a banker run, and then down to Hotstepper which went pretty well and felt quite rapid. Back up for a second go at Dai Hard; a quick start felt good but as I came out of the woods on a tricky slow speed mid-turn drop-off , without much warning, a major case of arm pump came out of nowhere stopping me from braking when I really needed to and down I went for a second sack of the game. I rolled down the rest of the stage, left forearm aching as the finger muscles screamed “screw you Andy, it’s too damn cold for us this shit!”
With time running out and a big queue for Root Manoeuvres, I decided to forfeit a second run on Hot Stepper, in the hope I could get some feeling back in my arm and just put down a consistent run on the final stage. After queuing up for 15 minutes, like panic buyers at the Tesco bread isle on snow day, and getting very cold, I dropped into the final stage. Two corners in however and I realised that arm pump was still there and I just couldn’t use the rear brake with any effectiveness at race pace. Rather than risk getting injured going ‘hero or zero’ (definitely would’ve been zero), it was best just to cruise down and let riders past as and when they came blazing past, but so damn frustrating not to get a clean run on that stage. I’ve never had arm pump that bad before, so hope it was something to do with the extreme cold :-\
44th in Masters (of 78) wasn’t the best start to the season, but in some ways not too bad considering. What was awesome though, was to be back racing enduro and catching up with plenty of familiar faces whilst on the trails, as well as in the café afterwards over a much needed hot drink. Good times.
A big thanks to Charlie at WGES and Chris at Mini Enduro for putting on a great day of racing and as always to the marshalls who bravely froze their arses off so we could race. Also, a big thanks to Unit Cycles for getting my bike in race shape…I’ve got two months until the next race now, so enough time to improve on my own race shape…and hopefully I will have thawed out by then.