Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Vattenfall Innerleithen Classic Enduro May 28-29th

Greg and I were representing VCM at Innerleithen MTB Racing's 2 day classic enduro.



For those not familiar with the format the event is based on riders picking up a timing dibber anytime within a 2 hour window [ie no 'mass start'], making their merry way to the top of the hill in their own time, dibbing to record the start of their descent, pinning it to the bottom of the stage and dibbing out to record their end time for that stage. Repeat another 5 times over the course of two days. Winner is the rider with the lowest cumulative time for the timed stages.

Other than the infernal push-up track none of the timed trails were repeated and gave a good sample of the huge range of riding goodness that lurks beneath the conifers. Saturday's trio of trails were more xc-oriented making use of some fresh cut singletrack as well as some TTFs from the Red XC loop.

Saturday night's entertainment was a bbq and dual-slalom in the field next door. The racing line through the gates was marked with fresh cow poo, apparently ; )

Sunday dawned bright and [much] breezier, increasing to Eezy-up flattening by mid afternoon.

Sunday's timed sections were longer, faster and rougher. The highlight trail was stage 5 which dropped from the top of Plora Rig almost to the River Tweed by starting along an old enduro trail that is tricky to ride as the rocks and roots keep pushing you into a rut-bog that immediately kills any forward progress. Then into a new section of trail, that the FC had kindly decided to thin earlier in the week - the place looked a mess, the trail had not been wrecked but it was difficult to figure out where it went! And where it went was straight across a fire road and into the Plora Craig / Razor Rock trail then turning right after the rock garden into a joyful 'rediscovered' oldskool DH line with the usual Innerleithen ingredients of tightness, steepness, treesyness, loose loamyness and bermsyness.

The payback for this is the ensuing 300m+ climb that needed tapped out to get back to the top for the last run of the event - which used bits of the Matador, Cresta and Gold Run DH tracks - none of which was much as much fun as it was edgy survival on a hardtail.

The key to enjoying an event like this is, I think, to get a bunch o' mates and ride around in a gaggle at an eminently sociable pace, then individually rag it down the timed sections trying to catch the rider who set off 30 seconds in front, while not being caught yourself. The resulting regroup will offer plenty of faffing and blether time, and the relaxed deadlines mean there is little chance of being time pressured.

I'm sure it would still be a fun event if there was more time pressure on, and squeezing the 6 sections into one day would be a hoot [maybe even a night stage? ; ) ]. Every one seemed to be having a good time despite the slightly lower than hoped for numbers [Dalby UCI XC, The stormbound Glencoe British DH series race, and the Medieval weekend next door at Traquair House as well as other bank holiday activities all did their best to tempt folks away.

All in all top fun, and my new success criteria of placing less than my age was comfortably met

; )

See you back in the Valley at TweedLove, love.

Basque In The Sun

I recently spent a week in the Basque County with long time friend Doug McDonald who is originally from Fearn and now runs BasqueMTB. Doug knows us well and he had a tough week lined up for us.



Our week started damp but it soon picked up to reward us with warm temperatures and dry dusty trails. We cycled in the mountains...............





Along the coast on cliff hugging singletrack................



And finished on stunning golden beaches for end of ride swims in the surf.



San Sebastian.

The Basque Country is a beautiful place with stunning scenery as far as the eye can see, The trails are simply awesome, Ranging from rooty, rocky, techy, big climbs and even longer descents there is enough to keep everyone amused for more than a week.



We didn't manage to ride everything that the Basque country has to offer so that can only mean one thing! To be continued.............












Tuesday, 24 May 2011

2011 Scottish Downhill Series - AE Forest



At the start of the year I optimistically set out with a goal of racing all of the SDA rounds this year. Well as you will have read in an earlier post I managed to get myself entries into the first 2 races, the first being at AE forest and the second at Fort William. Well both races have come and gone and somehow I managed to organise my work/family/racing balance perfectly and actually took part.




AE Forest was First and on a course that I had vague memories having not raced there in nearly 6 years.

The course followed pretty much the usual line down the hill. Start line sprint down the hill to a rocky shoot with a right hand 90 degree turn at the bottom and onto a long stretch of off camber joy. Then down a couple of short drops followed with a few burmed turns missing out the much feared Coffin jump instead cutting a line through a wooded section of roots and mud. From here you were shot out on a man made section of trail, over a small river step down and over a large table top double jump. This lead you through a rough section of grass and single track to a wooden set of steps with a couple of line choices to get ones self through. I toiled with this section all weekend and think this is an area where I lost a lot of time. Once through it's time to stand on the pedals and get your sprint on for about 100 meters to get enough speed to bounce across the top of the infamous rock garden and then into the woods again this time snaking steeply and severely off camber in sections down to the massive Step down. Once safely over the drop it some swoopy big burms and crazy speed which leads you over the the edge of the Elevator which must be a 30 foot drop in elevation in the space of about 10 meters and across the finish line.

Saturday Practice

Saturday practice start as usual with a leisurely stroll to inspect the course, lite breakfast then time to ride. Thankfully the weather gods are shinning and the sun is out and the course is dry. I ride well all day cleaning all sections including the tricky wooded sections which I always struggle with especially having not ridden DH for over a year. I finish practice confident I can put down a respectable time come race run time.

Sunday racing

The format for Scottish DH racing is like this: Saturday Practice, Sunday Morning Practice then 2 timed race runs on Sunday Afternoon. My race runs for this weekend are 12:33pm and 3:33pm and I'm seeded 26th in a field of nearly 40. First race run comes around I am unusually calm as the clock counts down and the beeper sends me on my way. I have nice clean run with not a single dab and I'm well chuffed, I manage 2:43.623 and am sitting in 15th after run 1. I manage some lunch and before I know it I'm back on the start line ready for my 2nd run. After the first run I set my weekends goal. I would try breaking into the 2:30's and finishing in the top 15th. The beep goes and and I'm away, I pedal my guts out for the second race run pushing my limits in the sections I know I struggle with. Unfortunatly I have a bit of a step off in the woods after clipping the bars on a tree. I keep going hoping to make the most of my run hitting all my lines hard, I break the timing beam with a 2:40.096! I'm over the moon having crashed the bike during that run. Over all I managed 16th for the weekend itching for the next round. I'd had a great weekend racing on almost dusty trails and finished mid pack and almost attained my goals. No complaints really.



Bring on the Bill.

Monday, 23 May 2011

48 minutes of racing goodness

Did my first race of 2011 last Thursday evening, the 2nd round of the Edinburgh 48 series organised by ERC. It went like this:

Cut up flyers for Crosslove on living room floor, run a little late leaving Peebles.

Catch up with Greig, Marty and Chris D at sign on, admire the new VCM kit, very awesome; sign on; talk tyres, squeeze tyres, pop a gel; admire the relaxed-ness of it all.

Nip out for a quick pre lap, wash out on a dusty drop-in out of the trees, manage to bang my left hip* nicely and scuff up both shoulders. Eh? Receive some well deserved heckles from Edinburgh Uni mtbers behind. Say helloo to Chris M.

Adrenaline nicely spiked arrive (un)fashionably just in time for the start; Bang! Go! Miss my pedal, miss it again and again. Oh well. Settle in mid pack. Move up a little, mojo lost for the descents. Can't blame the file treads.

Several laps fly by, enjoying this a lot. Course has real rhythm and flow. Sit in behind young Calum McGowan (U14!) up the grass climb, remember that feeling of going slightly into the red to hold the wheel. Briefly ask 'do I really enjoy the pain that comes with racing?'.

Next few laps get smoother all round, catch up with Greig, sit on for a few laps then nip ahead.
Briefly spot Dougie Shearer coming back up ahead in 3rd, but then he's away on a last-few-laps charge. Cross the line after 54mins. 4th spot. Very chuffed for first race. Greig takes 5th, Chris in 14th tantalisingly just ahead of Marty in 15th, looking resplendent on his bright orange s/s crosser.

Receive new kit from our DS. Head home. Drop crumbs in the car. Happy!


New kit!

Really looking forward to the final race in the series on Thursday 2nd June. Can highly recommend it for a laid back, fun race on a great course that works well for both cross bikes and mtbs.

andy

p.s. apologies for the terrible grammar, punctuation etc.

*graze still too sore to sleep on my left side.. hey ho.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

12 & 24 Hours of Exposure: European 12/24 Champs.

This last weekend saw a gathering of racers, somewhat early in the typical mtb season, for the 12 and 24 hour solo British and European Championships, smoothly organised by SIP Events.

For the second year in a row, the venue was Rock UK next door to Newcastleton's 7 Stanes Trail centre. This is a unique event - it is only open to solo racers.



Most of the racers seemed to arrive on Friday evening and immediately began prepping for the midday saturday start. The forecast was not great - thunder and lightning were a sure thing: electricity and tension were thick in the air.

The main story: would Matt Page repeat his stellar performance last year to win: after numerous other fine performances in the last 12 months, he was favourite. However, there was a deep field, with veterans of the sport and relative new comers getting ready to fire their guns. The 24 hour solo was the belle of the ball, but i had decided to enter the 12 hour solo. I like the length; not quite enough time to get to the brain-dead stage, but enough time to knock out some proper miles.



I've never been entirely sure if a separate singlespeed class is a good thing or not, it strikes me that the bike you choose to race on is your decision alone. If you see singlespeeds as a handicap, then dont use them. Of course, i dont make the rules and so my aim was a win in the singlespeed class but also to do well in the open field. This might smack of hubris, but i knew the beefcakes would be dooking it out for the 24 hour crown.

Following a piper down the main street of Newcastleton at midday was an exercise in slow-speed bunch riding and patience. Marty, Craig Forrester, Phil T.Horse and Oli of the Kinesis Morvelo Project and Chipps nattered away as we rolled up the hill to the Rock UK base. Then the hammer dropped and we took off for the trails proper.



It is tempting to go easy for the first couple of laps in an endurance race but i also believe you need to start at a reasonable enough clip that you dont let your body think that the days action is just going to be a gentle pootle. With plenty of overtaking space before the first, slimy climb through the trees, i moved up a little just to see what sort of pace was going to be the order of the day. A second climb was going to be a tester: it nudged the red line on the singlespeed with the 33:18 i was running. But straight after that we were into the swooping narrow gauge trail Newcastleton is famed for. All too soon, we popped out onto fire road, which led to another sweet, winding descent before we headed out again on fire road. With a second tasty tree-lined singletrack section then completed, a sharpish pinch led to the most corrugated grassy descent back to the pits and start/finish area i have ever ridden.

All in all, the lap was a good one. It was taking me just over the hour which i feel is pretty good to break up the clock-watching a bit. As the riders spread round the course over the first few laps, it was clear that there was going to be a ding dong for first place in the 24: Ant White, Matt Page, Josh Ibbett and a few others were tapping out a rapid pace. In addition, Rob Lee, Matt Carr and the inimitable Dan Treby were in close attendance on their singlespeeds.

Then the clouds gathered and shed their load on us. All of a sudden the fresh cut trail in the trees early on in the lap became a fight. The grass robbed forward momentum and the spray on the fire roads was a little miserable. The smiles came back for the swooping singletrack and as the rain ceased everyone was hopeful that things would dry out quickly.

I knew i was doing ok - sitting pretty comfortably in the top 20 initially and the legs felt good despite pretty meagre riding this year. I kept the iPod turned to 11 and watched my fluid and calorie intake.



As the day wore on, it was more of the same. Heavy showers, drying out, Various riders taking a stab at the front - testing each other out. At around 8 hours in i had a total crisis of motivation. I had spent 2 laps with the Morevelo boys as they chatted their way round the course. It was great to spend time riding with you guys. But then the energy banks emptied and i was close to pulling. At that point i got an image of my wee girl, Daisy, in my head: smiling, with her fingers in her mouth and her great, big blue eyes full of mischief. I knew that to pull would be a let down - a waste of the time i was taking to be away from home. So i buckled down and got on with the job.

Soon after this point, i had to work out my lap times and the available time left. The rules meant that any lap completed after the 12 hours would not count. I was going to come in before 11pm but with too little time to get a last lap in. It was going to be a gamble as in theory a rider could do more laps than me depending on their strategy. I gave it all i had on the last lap in the dark. I had to walk some of the trail as it had been chewed up by the countless tyres and feet that had passed. But at 10.54pm i came into the finish area knowing i had ridden a pretty decent race.

The intention was to go back and help Chris who was supporting Jac in her bid to win the solo 24 singlespeed female race. But with half a beer on board and precisely zero red meat and bread loading, i fell asleep.

An hour later i was awoken by pounding rain. Thunder and lightening were rebounding around the valleys and i really felt for the 24 hour guys. Again, i fell asleep.



In the early hours, at 5.30am, i woke, grabbed a coffee and went to see how things were with Chris and Jac. Over coffee we chatted and it seemed that around 2am the skies just opened. Most riders had taken a little time off to shelter and some hadnt re-emerged. Jac was just about to start lapping again and we wished her luck whilst at the same time counting our lucky stars. Needless to say, the big guns had barely slowed down overnight. An astonishing performance by one and all.

Soon after, the race closed. On wandering down to the arena, it was clear i had done enough to take the British and European, singlespeed, 12 hour solo win and was 14th in the open. I was under no illusions - the 24 was the real deal here - but i can tell you i was pretty stoked. Dan Treby took the singlespeed 24, Kate Potter of Cotic the female 24 and Matt Page didnt disappoint in his bid to repeat, despite some potent challenges.

We all packed up as the rain allowed and i think quite a few of us were wondering if we will ever try to to do this sort of thing again. I guess you all know the answer to that one...

Without the support of the team, Pro Velo Support, Uncle Geoff, MJS, the Mule bars, post ride Mellis cheese refuelling, the tech support of Bike Love, the excellent Endura kit, the much needed post race Bulmers - this wouldnt have happened. Thank you.

All the pictures on this blog were kindly provided by Joolze Dymond, who deserves a medal for sheltering from the weather and taking pictures for around 48 hours. Awesome as ever.

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

Thursday, 5 May 2011

No Fuss IXS MacAvalanche

I'd put my name down for this as soon as I heard about it last summer. With the Megavalanche now becoming the main focus of our summer holidays, there was no way I was going to miss the chance to take part in the Scottish version.

With only 70 places available and about 400 people registering, I thought my chances of being picked were pretty slim, but, three weeks before the big event I got an invite email from Chloe at No Fuss. The cost would be £112 and I had until 8am the next day to get it paid or my place was gone. Needless to say, I coughed up!

The format of the MacAvalanche was to be very similar to the French version: mass start on snow; ride through snow; out of snow onto jaggy rocks; peddaly section; and basically a long, exhilarating descent to the finish - at a significantly lower altitude than the start. Except with one awesome difference - a helicopter to the startline, oh yes!

Arriving for sign-on at the cafe about 8am, everyone seemed really relaxed and excited about the race. Eyeballing the sponsored riders in their expensive gear, I started to get really nervous.

A quick briefing from No Fuss Frazer didn't calm me down either. The instructions were for us to first get our bikes to the summit of Meall a' Bhuiridh (1108m). We would take the Access Chairlift to the Eagles Rest then ride along to the Cliffhanger Chair where we'd have to sit swinging, bikes on our knee, unable to close the 'safety' bar. It was blowing a hoolie up on the hill, so the whole chairlift balancing act seemed scarier than the race itself!

Anyway, in practice it wasn't nearly as death-defying as I'd imagined and was actually great fun!

After surviving the Cliffhanger, it was then a steep push up to the summit, where we left our bikes lined up on the startline.


With no option of a practice run in before the race, we could only walk the course back down. This is where I memorised every rock garden, scary drop and boggy section and picked out some 'sick lines' and 'options'....Aye right! By about a quarter of the way down all I could remember was snow...mud...snow...jaggy rocks...boulders....mud.
It took around an hour to walk the course, so that was the time I was aiming to beat in the race!



Once down, it was back to the cafe to get our flight times and another Frazer briefing where he told us not to mess up our flight times as the helicopter was costing about a million quid a minute!



My flight was one of the last to go up and the ground crew guy made my day by giving me the seat in the front - and I didn't even need to call shotgun! It was about a 1minute ride to the top and a wobbly hover/landing onto rocks and it was so cool.


It was seriously windy at the top, so thankfully I didn't have long to wait until the start. To avoid utter carnage at the start, Spook got all 96 us to line up down the hill away from the startline, so we had an uphill run to get to our bikes. I got a not bad start, taking the inside, steep line, grabbing my bike and running through the first snow patch. I jumped on at the first grassy bit and tried to ride into the next snow section, but it was just a waste of time. Running, sliding and falling was faster and I seemed to pass quite a few riders using this technique!


Out of the snow, I'd completely forgotten all of the holes and drops to avoid and seemed to fall and slide my way down this section too. I felt like all the riders I'd passed earlier were now passing me again!


Before long it was halfway down and the long pedally section. The loose gravel had my back wheel stepping out so much, I was convinced I had a flat. But I didn't. Then it was onto the start of the downhill track, then quickly back off it (- phew!) and onto the Weasel track. This was quite muddy and undulating before we took a left, pointing the bike down through deep grass and heather. It was a battle of nerves to just let the brakes off, get your bum over the back wheel and try to skim over the hidden rocks and ditches - and it was great fun!


But I hadn't finished crashing yet, close to the finish, my front wheel disappeared into a muddy hole and my bike ended up pointing back up the hill. I couldn't get untangled and back on quick enough and was gutted to lose another 2 places to a couple of riders who whizzed past me and onto the finish. Och well.


Prior to the race I'd read that they expected the fastest rider to get down in about 20minutes. Joe Barnes took the win (by a country mile!) with a time of 10minutes 59secs.
Hannah Barnes won the senior ladies and came 56th overall.

The weather was spectacular and whole event was very well organised with a really friendly atmosphere.

After the prize-giving, a more relaxed Frazer asked if we thought they should do it again next year. There was a resounding "yeah!" and I can't wait for it!

(Photos: Mark Forrest)