Apparently Shropshire has a higher percentage of top-level MTB riders than any other place in the world. Someone told me that recently, it could be bullshit, but it also could quite easily be true, locally we have produced so many top riders past and present for such a small place. I have ridden many big-time races throughout this year, EWS, Mega Avalanche, Ard’ Rock and all the UKGE’s, but you ask any of the fast locals and I reckon secretly this is the event they look forward to the most. This is the one where all the Shropshire folk (along with others) battle it out for the ultimate crown, that of local hero.
Whilst the rest of the MTB world’s media were hustle and bustling it out over in Germany to see what the latest kit was on offer at Eurobike, us locals were flat-out doing the evening practice runs at our very own part of MTB history, Eastridge Woods. We knew nothing of exactly what stages were going to be used, but the place was busy with local mons and monettes tiring themselves out on all of the many stages available at our small hill, which we’re all very proud of.
The event was held by Mini-Enduro and rumored to be in the original field, this too got all the old skool riders excited; I’d better explain. XC and then the start of downhill had been raced in these woods from day one, 80’s and 90’s, seeing such races as National XC’s and DH, sponsored in the early days by the likes of Red Bull and Volvic. Local riders who had cut their teeth there included Andrew Titley, Bobby Blake, Stu Hughes, Mat Farmer, Neil Donoghue, Marc Beaumont, all the Athertons, Rich Cunnynghame and Ian Collins, all big names back in the day, some still stars. The crazy thing was, Beaumont, Bobby, Stu, Titley, Cunny and Ian were all coming back for another blast.
The field has history too, it was the first UK DH to ever feature a big-assed triple in the track back in 2002, built by our very own Stu Hughes, this really got some riders clucking back in the day, most shat themselves, lots crashed, but the select few nailed it pinned. After that event all UK DH tracks followed suit and put big jumps in, Stu being a real trailblazer there.
The locals say these woods could tell some stories, I don’t disagree, plus the terrain is so unique to the area, there’s just something extra gnarly about trying to ride this small hill in anger. With its dark peaty soil strewn everywhere with roots and tyre puncturing, bike sending sharp (often loose) rocks this track takes no prisoners. Neil Donoghue (injured from Trans Savoir and unable to race) always says ‘if you can ride Eastridge fast you can ride anywhere fast’. I had to admit I never quite got that, there are much gnarlier places in the UK and much bigger hills and mountains, but of late I have finally started to understand. Eastridge demands respect during racing, push too hard, ride too rigid and it will spit you off like water from a duck’s back! Two words come into play when trying to race Eastridge, relax and pump, the only way to get down quick, hence why the smooth Neil Donoghue usually rules here.
It was great to get back in the old field, apart from all the cow shit! On Saturday the weather finally cleared as the locals met up for a day of fun on bikes. No Neil Donoghue, but Marc Beaumont was present and excited to be practicing and racing, he was having fun at this no-pressure race. We were riding up and doing some full runsplus lots of sectioning, god it really was like the old days, except for actually wanting to ride up a hill too!
The tracks were quite overgrown in places and definitely changed from days of old, some wide open sections now having closed in and become single-track, with nasty hidden rocks on crafty lines. We all rode the four separate trails to be raced the following Sunday, although some parts slick and tricky it was such a great day of mates racing. I wont go into the description of all separate stages, as three were pretty similar, rocky, rooty, tricky, some were pedally and others more DH. Stage 3 was much shorter than the rest, with some ‘balls needed’ flat-out smooth quad track DH action, we had guessed parts of some of the tracks earlier in the week, but other bits of old were re-instated keeping it a lot fairer for the visitors.
One incident of the day worth mentioning was that of my mate Coop (tester for the mag) flat out in practice and going down hard due to a rider stood on the line (tut tut!) he opened his elbow up and had to finish the day at hospital receiving six stitches, he vowed to be back the following day!
Just Like The Old Days
Morning came and just as is said of all Eastridge races of the past, it was hot and sunny all day, the local area seems to know when it’s race day, it never seems to rain during racing and never has! I saw Tester Coop with a grim look on his face, he had been up the hill and had a roll down, his elbow was wrecking him and started bleeding, it was game over, I felt gutted for him, as this was where he really wanted to prove himself.
The field was buzzing as lots of riders and a great amount of spectators turned up, spectating not usually being a part of Enduro, but it always is at Eastridge. As Usual with the Mini-Enduro there was a presence felt by co-sponsor One Industries and local bike shop sponsor The Trailhead, this time they had set up shop. Trailhead were being kept busy on the sales side of things, plus they had a mechanic on call all day fixing and sorting racers steads, the labour being free of charge, nice touch, racers were very thankful!
A few of us set off and hit the hill for an hour or so of practice, I had one great, smooth run, then one really bad, forgetting you can’t try too hard at Eastridge and getting pinged off every line I was trying to hold, I really didn’t know what to expect in the race
And we are off
The loop totaled around 20k of riding, with pretty-much similar short transitions to the tops and an hour to get to them, as usual very relaxed. As we headed off up, we saw Marc Beaumont finishing his first stage run, he was blowing big time at the end, saying just how hard work it was. ‘oh great’ I thought, Marc thought it was pedally, how the hell will we get on!
The riding was a social as ever, just chilling with mates, but nerves were a plenty on the start lines, with riders just hoping to get down in one piece. Stage one (like stage 4) took us down into the finish-arena, stage 2 was over the other side and the long tough one. Stage 3 was short, fast and furious, stage 4 was the gnarliest one, with so many evil rocks and roots to knock you off-line. I managed to relax and stay on the bike all day, easing off the speed, but adding on the fluidity, it worked, I came down 4th, 20 seconds off 3rd, I had finally broken my 18 year Eastridge no-result curse, ah the relief!
Racing between the categories was fast, furious and well fought, with some riders victorious and several taking a trip to the 1st aid, those rocks are not forgiving! In the Women’s category Bird Cycleworks local rider Traharn Chidley was pipped to the post by another top local, Emma Wareham, both girls putting down some cracking runs. Keiran Davies took the win in Hardtails. In the 13-17 yr old category Nathan Foster was fastest. In the battle of the local shops, Blazing Bikes/Intense dominated the top of the Super Vets with Kev Sherry 1st, Dion Thomas 2nd and Simon Kirkham 4th. The shop and brand battle continued in my Vets category with Rich Webster (Trailhead/Santa Cruz) 1st and Andy Saddler (Bad Ass Bikes/Intense) 2nd. The shop/brand battle also continued into the Masters, with the win going to Andy Woodvine (Trailhead/Cube) 1st, Joe Finney (Bad Ass Bikes/Intense) 2nd and Andrew Titley (Bad Ass Bikes/Intense) 3rd. Seniors saw it’s own battles fought hard, The lightning fast and future star Rob Newman (Banshee Bikes) just took the win over Paul Pickup with Vini Crighton-Poli (SPS/Santa Cruz) stepping up yet again with a very respectable 3rd. Finally it was the Pro-AM’s turn and as expected Beaumont (GT Factory Racing) took a big 17 second win over local Pivot rider John Owen, John only one second ahead of the 18 year old Leah Johnson (Marin) and the flamboyant Josh Lewis (Santa Cruz/Stiff) coming in 4th. After reflecting on the results one thought comes to mind, if there was a manufacturers cup it would be dominated by Intense and Santa Cruz!
The event was a massive success, so much better in the old field, full of history. We all loved it and gratitude goes to Chris from Mini-Enduro, The Trailhead, The Eastridge Trail Partnership, The Billy Can Catering and all people who gave up their time to Marshal. Lots of us hit the local pub after for a gathering, so many stories to tell of a great days riding
Words Jim Buchanan
Pics Doc Ward, Anna Wilmot
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