As I drove home from this year’s Southern Enduro Champs on the M5, listening to the custom playlist on my phone, hooked up to the car stereo, a big smile broke out on my dust covered mug.
The playlist was my personal favourite tracks by Bloc Party, a band I’ve been a massive fan of since just before they broke the big time in the early Noughties (well, until the recent line up change and subsequent last album – just not the same band anymore). The track, was ‘I Still Remember‘, a story about excitement of young love back in the day.
Racing the Lite version of the Southern Enduro Champs a couple of hours earlier, also brought a massive smile to my face and made me remember what I love about enduro racing. Riding with mates and racing blind was what some of my early enduro races were when the format broke through a few years ago and that’s what got me hooked.
Taking a step back…so why wasn’t I racing the full 7 stage enduro and doing the 4 stage Lite race instead? Well, I did originally sign up for the full fat race soon after entries went live and was really looking forward to two days of race action after the awesome race last year. Unfortunately, a couple of months later, I realised the date clashed with our village summer fair. Now, I’m not really into the Cornish country fair ‘scene’ (although drinking a load of cider in the sunshine certainly is something I like), but with my daughter dancing in the street and her school work on show, that wasn’t something I could miss. So I got in contact with Scott at Southern Enduro and asked if I could change to the Lite, not just because I wanted to race one way or another, but also because the whole Unit Cycles team were going to be there and I didn’t want to be the one who didn’t come! Scott graciously swapped me over, but either way I wasn’t going to be able to ride Saturday and so I wouldn’t be able to practice the stages. As a result, I’d be racing the stages blind – on sight – as it should be…like back in the day. Yewww!
So back to race day. With an early morning start time, and a 150 mile drive to ordeal first, I woke up at the crack of dawn. Literally, like 4.50am. Weirdly perfectly awake straight away, I bunged everything in/on the car (all packed the night before to save time and maximise sleep) and headed up the A30/M5 to Minehead. The sun was low but rising in the sky and a visual treat at that time of the morning with a golden fuzzy glow thanks to the many misty temperature inversions on the way up. By the time I got to Minehead at 8.15am, it was already 18°C. It was going to be another hot and dry day, just like it has been for months. This has been the best summer in years so far!
I caught up with the Unit Cycles boys and asked how the stages were yesterday in practice. A unanimous “dry, dusty and blown out corners all round” was the answer. I wasn’t surprised given the conditions were the same last year, and that was only after a few weeks of dry weather!
With a 9.15am start time, I’d be riding around with a couple of fellow Cornish pinners: Unit Cycles and Chainbreakers Cornwall head, ‘Wilko’, and also Falmouth 4X racer, Andy, so it was gonna be good riding around with some familiar faces. We rolled out of the race village and up to Stage 4; the Lite enduro would be using stages 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the full loop and all based near the race village location. The previous night, I’d checked a few Strava ride logs from practice and it looked like three of the stages were the same as last year plus a new one, so even though I hadn’t done practice myself, I had a vague memory of the stages having previously ridden them. One thing was for certain though…that beautiful loam from last year, was still there and I couldn’t wait to get ball bearings deep in it! Stage 4 was the new-to-me one so as I dropped in from the start, it was basically eyes up, pedal and ride on instinct. And it was so much fun…in fact there was nearly a zen moment of feeling at one with the bike and the trail. The three of us exchanged details of how our runs went at the bottom; Adam had a smooth one whilst Andy was clearly feeling the love also, giving a tree a bear hug just before the finish line. A clean stage to begin was a good start for me and I was looking forward to the other three.
Stage 5 was dispatched with efficiency and was as rooty and blown out as I remembered. Stage 6 was going well until a late realisation of an off-camber high or low line option, meant my last second choice of going high led me to lose the front wheel on a sniper root sending me to the floor, twisting my saddle and kneeing my Garmin in the face breaking the screen. Back up and back on it and a quickish run to the end. Stage 7 felt a bit safe and not too quick, until the end sprint across the off-camber field where it was a case of pedal your balls off until you cross the line – I topped out at 30mph through that last sprint! Fortunately I managed to stop after crossing the line, as the braking zone before the barriers was not particularly long…but there were a few casualties over the day who didn’t!
Handing in the timer, I was surprised but stoked to see I was in 3rd place but we were early, so there was plenty of scope for some faster riders to come through. In the end though, only one other rider was quicker and I finished 4th. Not too bad with no practice and a crash…happy with that.
Most importantly however, even though it was only a four mile loop, even though I got up at ridiculous o’clock and spent more time driving than riding, it was quite possibly my favourite race of the year so far in some ways. Not because of the race result (although I’ll admit a fourth place feels good), but racing blind…riding as fast as you can against the clock and dealing with the track as it happens; the feeling of doing that and riding smooth and (mostly) clean…is such a damn good feeling! I genuinely wasn’t even thinking about trying for a good result, just focused on having fun in the loam. Combined with riding around with a couple of mates, having a chat with none of the usual race stress, it was just a nice chilled-out vibe all around.
Obviously, this isn’t how the Champs are supposed to be ridden and all races require practice now…maybe there’s an element of being for insurance purposes, but also it gives non-local riders some sort of a chance to compete against the locals on their tracks and level the playing field somewhat. I understand that, but it’s a shame we can’t race blind anymore at races.
Talking to the guys and girls afterwards, everyone had fun at the weekend although the heat made it more difficult for some. There was Saturday night music put on for the campers and Saturday’s afternoon/evening seeding runs for the full fat enduro created a good atmosphere by all accounts at the finish line. I would love to have ridden the full enduro and it was a shame I couldn’t share a few beers with the Unit Cycles team, but the Lite was still worth it. If you’re just getting into enduro racing or just fancy a weekend away racing but don’t feel you’ve got the fitness for the full enduro, then the Lite is well worth it and still a load of fun.
And at the end of the day…that is what it’s all about.
Big shout out to the Unit Cycles crew with some solid results all round and also to Royal Racing Roots team mate, Amy Jones who smashed in a win for Trailmunki. The Cornish enduro racers were on form this weekend! 🤘