Tuesday, 10 May 2011

661 Gravity Enduro RD1 Ae Forest

The inaugural 661 UK Gravity Enduro series kicked off on the first of its 5 rounds this weekend. While the format is not brand new to the UK, this is the first full series; the previous races have been part of the Europe wide Avalanche Cup series. The main faces behind it are ex NPS organiser Steve Parr and Tally of Uplift Scotland, with the first round being hosted on his home stomping ground at Ae in Dumfries. The format is best described as similar to a car rally, with 5 timed special stages linked with joining stages which while not timed have time limits to get you to your next stage, the idea is that between the stages all bike skills are tested, with some being pedally and others, in the instance of Ae, being near full on DH runs. The bike of choice was a 5”-6” travel bike, I was on my trusty Trek Remedy and it was spot on, though we saw folk there on everything from full on DH bikes to XC hardtails.

At Ae the course was based around the Ae Line XC route, it kicked off with a half hour or so climb up the DH uplift road to stage 1 which ran down The Shredder freeride track and onto the bottom half of Omega Man. From there it was a short hop to stage 2 which was the climb of Rab’s Slippy One run in reverse with one off piste excursion down a short mud chute. While probably the least challenging stage technically, it tested your legs, lungs and eyes for the numerous cheeky racers lines through the various switchbacks. Stage 3 ran down Granny Green Luv and involved a minute or so of hard pedalling along the first part of the trail before starting to gain a bit of gradient from about halfway through as it drops through a number of rocky berms to the bottom of the valley. From there a long link stage took riders to Stage 4 which ran part way along the Edge trail, thankfully this stage was cut much shorter than when the Avalanche Enduro was run here a and the stage went the whole length of the Edge trail, taking in several short sharp climbs and took 7-8 minutes. Although shorter this time, stage 4 still involved some slight uphills and plenty of flat to keep the legs ticking over. After a long (though not quite as long as the 1:45 allocated by the organisers) link to stage 5 the downhillers and more technical riders got their own back for the pedalling through the day with a run down the Ae downhill track. Even with the major features such as the coffin and the step down taken out, it was a major technical challenge for most in attendance, even more so with the torrential rain leading up to the event and over the weekend itself.

During Saturday practice it was stage 5 which was the biggest talking point. While the downhillers were having few issues it was pretty obvious that it was a much bigger challenge than many riders had been anticipating of the event. In the dry it would have been fantastic but in the wet it was pretty challenging on the mid travel bikes that most were running. There was even a couple of folk I heard of who headed home after Saturday practice as a result and some who during their race chose to skip the last stage altogether. Was it too much? I’m not sure, I think it’s hugely important that events are pushing the skill level of riders but I got the general feeling round the pits that the “average rider” was put off by it a little, yes most of them survived but for many it was a stage of attrition rather than setting competitive times which seemed to irk those who had come to race, many for the first time. On balance I’d say that given the weather conditions a few tweaks wouldn’t have gone amiss. See the stage in action for yourself in the video below from Campbell Coaching.


661 GRAVITY ENDURO Ae from Campbell Coaching on Vimeo.


The now infamous stage 5 was also the Saturday qualifying stage, while the time on the Saturday did not count towards your overall it acted as seeding for the Sunday. After having a big off in practice on the qualifying stage which left me with bruised (or possibly fractured but the doc at A&E seemed unconcerned as long as a lung wasn't punctured!) I was happy just to roll down to the bottom in one piece, regardless of time, which is just aswell because a timing error meant that my time wasn't picked up anyway, maybe saved me a bit of embarrassment! As a result I got seeded right at the top of masters, last man down after ex WC racer Nigel Page, I reckon that's the first and last time that'll happen!

Race day dawned absolutely torrential; in fact on the drive through MoffatLawlor had missed their start times and started behind me, not in front! Fortunately they made their times on every other stage, not the sort of riders you want catching you on a bit of Singletrack.

Stage 2 went alright, but it was a pedally one and my ribs were really making heavy breathing a struggle so ended up sitting and spinning when I should have been out the saddle hammering! The cheeky lines through the switchbacks were  winner though, I reckon some saved over 5 seconds, just gutted that looking through the times I reckon with a proper set of lungs I could have been sub 4 minutes and in amongst the top 30 in Masters, I got a 4:17. The ride to stage 3 was a little longer though as always with this sort of event the joining stages are a bit of a social affair, getting to know the riders around you and comparing stories from the previous stages. Stage 3 started with a minute or so of fairly flat trail and plenty of pedalling, again meaning I was sitting spinning when I could and should have been putting my fitness to use against the DH boys.
It was between stages 3 & 4 that things fell apart, for those that know it we were on Bran Burn Bash which was part of the link stage, I don't even know what happened, my mind was actually visualising it's way through stage 4 when next thing I know I'm on my ass, or should that be right knee which took the full force of the blow, immediately ballooning up to the point where I couldn't really pedal with my right leg! It was the stupidest and most embarrassing crash I have had in a long time and it put an end to my day, I rolled through stage 4 as it was the quickest way back to the start and skipped the infamous stage 5 for what I think is the first DNF I have ever had over the years!

Me on a rather wet stage 1, can we get some VCM 3 layer Gore-Tex jackets for next time?
Despite my failure to finish it was a fantastic start to the series, indeed the whole concept in the UK. There were a few tweaks that could be made such as making the transition stages a little more challenging, up to stage 1, 3-4 and 4-5 were way too long but the organisers acknowledged it and hopefully will tweak for next time. They could also order the sun for that off camber section next time round, I think that’s the one that the majority in attendance would thank them for! It would also be great to see some of the more technically skilled XC riders out to try it, it is pitched very much as an event for the best all round rider but still seemed to be DH racers who were there taking the spoils, I understand round 2 at Kielder will be a little more trail centre on all stages, perfect opportunity to put the legs and lungs to work over the tech skills!

Photo by Ian Linton
Video by Campbell Coaching
Full Elite Results
Full Open Results

2 comments:

chrisD said...

the expression tells us everything

Markdubya said...

I hope you were handing out the trash talk to Pagey before your run. Well Done mate. Good luck with the rest of your season. Pin it!