If there’s one thing that gets a mountain biker from Cornwall excited, it’s the prospect of a few days riding in Scotland.
Big, steep hills, world-class trails and the feeling of being properly away from ‘life’ for a few days. With the famous Tweedlove bike festival hosting the 2018 BEMBA British Enduro Championships at Peebles and Innerleithen in the Tweed Valley, as soon as it was announced, Whatsapp messages and emails were flung around. Before you can say “See yoo jimmeh” in a dodgy and highly offensive Scottish accent (sorry Scots), myself and four southwest mates were entered for a rad weekend of Championship racing, north of the ‘other’ border.
The Whyte British National Enduro Championships took place over three days, with two days for practice and one day of racing. Six prime stages awaited us spread over a 53km course with 1,600 metres of climbing and most importantly, descending. Having only ever ridden the 7Stanes red trail at Innerleithen previously nearly 8 years ago, and having heard so much good stuff about the off-piste trails and ‘Golfie’, I was excited to be riding here. There was just the little matter of the 10 – 11 hour door to door train/road trip for me to endure just to get there first. I could be wrong, but I reckon I was probably travelling the furthest in Great Britain to race this weekend. I wasn’t going to claim a National Champs title but at least I could claim this title.
The six stages were spread mostly around the town of Innerleithen, with Stages 1 and 2 at ‘Inners’ itself and Stages 3, 4 and 5 in Caberston aka ‘Golfie’, north of the town. Stage 6, which was only open for practice on the second day, was on the edge of Glentress Forest, dropping back into Peebles and finished with a series of flowy berms and turns freshly created for the Champs and were some of the sweetest corners I’ve ridden, giving riders a massive smile to finish on. So although we started in Peebles, most of the racing was taking place 7 miles away, making a long transition down the riverside Sustrans path which did feel a bit pointless but at least it would give a good warm up before the big climb up to Stage 1. I guess the idea was to finish on a high as close to Peebles as possible, which as it turned out, was worth it.
So with Stage 6 closed for practice on the first day, a hefty amount of climbing involved and shuttling allowed, we loaded up the cars for Day 1 of practice and drove to Inners to practice Stages 1-5. It didn’t necessarily feel right environmentally or in the ‘Spirit of Enduro’ to do this, but a 14 mile round trip down the river path, despite being easy, would expend valuable energy needed for another day of practice and the race to come. And anyway, we were driving over 1000 miles to ride some bicycles, so another 14 wasn’t going to matter much in the grand scheme of things.
So if you want to know what the stages were like, you can check out my blind practice runs over on my Youtube channel, but if you cannae be arsed or your internet is slower that a Ket-up snail, they were basically this:
- Stage 1 (Morning Glory) – rooty, bit rocky, steep, uphill fireroad sprint, bus stops, shortish, fun!
- Stage 2 (Fools Gold) – longest descent of the day, steep, rooty, turns, , jumpy motorway, steep, thighs burning, arm pump, berms!
- Stage 3 (Scotland the Perfect Stage) – second longest descent of the day…turn baby turn, roots and chutes, more thigh burning and arm pumping..
- Stage 4 (F.E.A.R.) – wet, steep, anti-grip, loose slate, flat corners, roooots!
- Stage 5 (Born Slippy) – nadgery start, log double gap, off-camber contouring, don’t look to the right!…steep!
- Stage 6 (There’s No Other Way) – short, single-track start, sick series of smile inducing perfect berms to finish. Riders’ favourite!
Day 2 practice was to be a more relaxed affair as we didn’t want to knacker ourselves out for race day, so we concentrated on the Golfie trails with a bit of Stage 3, then all of Stages 4 and 5. Whereas Day 1 practice went well, Day 2 wasn’t quite so straight forward as I had a silly low speed OTB on Stage 3 and then seemingly forgot how to ride a bike on Stage 4. For some reason, I just couldn’t find my flow or any grip on it and although it was fun, this seemed to be my bogey stage.
We’d been blessed with 20+°C temperatures and blazing sunshine so far but a weather warning for thunderstorms late on the Saturday, meant we wanted to get practice done before the heavens opened. One and a half runs of the absolutely rad Stage 6, with its perfectly sculpted series of final berms created especially for the Champs, were done just as the thunder started, so we blitzed it back to the house. The hope then was that the rain that fell for the next hour or so wouldn’t make the stages a slick, greasy mess. As it turned out, this patch of Scotland was so dry that the rain made naff all difference.
I was scheduled to depart the race village at 9.04.am so queued up and in EWS style, every rider was set off after a quick interview on stage. My response to how I was feeling was “A bit nervous”. Like most riders, I get a bit of pre-race nerves but I felt a little more nervous than usual this time for some reason. Was it the occasion? Was it that I felt I might be seeded too high and was going to get caught? Was it part of me that just felt like I didn’t want to crash and f*ck up an awesome weekend so far? Possibly a bit of all of that.
The nerves quicky disappeared as I pedalled on the long transition and got chatting to the rider in front of me who was from the Lake District. After an hour of riding, I was at the top of Stage 1 about to drop in. My run went ok with no major issues so was happy to get a clean one in to start the day. Back up for Stage 2 and just before heading in to my run, I heard a rider, who was out of order of seeding for some reason, being slotted in behind me. I heard the Marshall ask him after a quick conversation, if a 40 second gap after me was ok? His response – “Can I have a minute?” “Hmmm” I thought. Either this guy is cocky…or fast”.
It turned out…he, Ronan Taylor, was fast…as in elite downhill and enduro racer fast. Why was he behind me?! About 3/4 of the way down I heard the shout no racer likes to hear…”RIDER!” so I was going to have to pull over and let him past. Ah bollocks. I was having a decent, clean run but had to let him through. He was cool though when we chatted at the bottom of the stage; it turned out that there was some kind of mistake with the timings and he should have been racing with the elites later in the day. For both our sakes, I was hoping he could start the rest of the stages somewhere away from me, or this could get frustrating for both of us.
A long pedal over and 350m climb to Stage 3 and Ronan was able to drop in well after me fortunately. Again my run was clean with no major mistakes so back up the same climb to Stage 4. As mentioned, in practice, I literally just couldn’t get to grips with this one with those loose, damp slate corners being a bit of a nemesis. My aim was to keep it clean again but I had three (FFS three!) silly offs on steep corners where I just couldn’t gain any traction as I dropped into them. I was getting pissed off at myself a little and then to top it off, I heard “RIDER!” one more time and had to get out the way to let Ronan past again. I don’t often get caught in races, but I appreciate more now how shit a feeling it is when you have to sacrifice your run for the rider behind, how difficult it can be to get out of the way without ballsing up both your runs and how it can knock your confidence having someone catch you so quick and leave you in their wake. As a trail, I loved this one. But to race, I didn’t.
Stage 5 was clean but by now fatigue was definitely setting in and I didn’t feel quick at all but fortunately I knew Ronan was able to have a later start behind. That said, it was my fastest stage of all six. The long 9 mile transition back to Peebles for Stage 6 gave me some time to munch some final calories back in and the thought of railing this berms again stoked some energy back into my body. My run started off a little ragged down the ribbon of singletrack and as I dropped into the final series of blissful berms, packed with spectators making noise, I was looking forward to getting to the end. Unfortunately, that took a little longer than I expected, thanks to putting my front wheel a little too high on the exit of the final berms and washing out into the loam. I wasn’t the only one crashing there, it seems plenty of riders got equally caught out on that turn from watching some clips on YouTube since. A massive F-bomb was dropped from mouth with frustration at ruining the run (apologies to any kids who were in earshot!) and I picked myself up and sprinted to the stage finish and then back to the village green before my alloted finish time was up.
Crossing the final timer, I was miffed at my stage 6 crash but being handed a custom Tweedlove glass tankard with free beer token immediately took my mind off it and I headed to the arena to find out my times and find the SW crew.
The atmosphere was great there. Race day stories were traded, free beer was drunk (extra purchased beer was also drunk) and it was a nice chilled out vibe to finish of a great weekend of riding. My final race result was 56 of 75 in E1 Masters (category winner was some dude named Joe Barnes), which frankly, was disappointing but it was far from a disappointing day or weekend.
The stages were excellent, the race was challenging, the weather was bob-on, the organisation was fluid, the company was awesome and the beer was on point 👌 A big shout out to fellow Cornish enduro rider and Royal Racing Roots team mate, Amy Jones, who smashed it in E1 Women’s Masters, finishing 4th! Check out her race report here.
Tweedlove put on an excellent show for the British Champs, even if I didn’t. I’m itching to go back and ride the area again – there were glimpses of so many trails riding around, and I would seriously consider making the 11 hour trip back for one of their enduro races again next year.
After last year’s effort by PMBA and this year’s from Tweedlove, next year’s BEMBA National Champs in Wales will have a lot to live up to!