Finally after a big winter break the season opener for the UKGE team was upon us, as the rolling circus that is the UK’s premier race series hit Triscombe in the southwest (near Minehead). The promise was to be that of tougher tracks, more sponsorship, new timing chips, a greater exhibitor/team race presence with all the usual competitor bravado that goes with it. So off we all headed as the anxious wait was over, to unknown ground for this, the first round. We were finally racing in the lower parts of England, where on a clear day you can see across to Cardiff and Bridgend; but could such a small gradient hill deliver the goods?
With a few last minute sensitive land issues, which almost got the event cancelled, race organizer Steve Parr had to make changes to the planned six stages. So instead of the usual qualifying/seeding held on one stage for Saturday followed by it repeated then five more on the Sunday, some stages had to be ditched, in favour of four stages, two repeated to make it up to six, with two stages being used on the Saturday, with their times combined for seeding and qualy’s. This was a fair bit different and did make for lots more people turning up for ‘unofficial’ practice on the Friday, Friday being the only time you would see some riders sporting half face helmets. We had the Enduro Mag EZ-up set-up next to the podium and were surrounded by what can only be described as a very impressive array of exhibitors and teams. Along with us there were the likes of Hope, Sram, Shimano, Bird Cycles, MDE/Shaman, Whyte, Enve, Marin, Mudhugger, Intense, Flair Clothing, Banshee/MRP, SB Gravity Team, Army Team, Navy Team, Scott/Syncros, Royal/Seven, Mountain Bike Chalet The Billy Can and Twelve50 Bikes; wow!
We were camped out for the weekend, so when the damp conditions came in Thursday eve and Friday day, they weren’t really welcome. I kind of knew the trails were mostly natural with no major rocks, so personal tyre choice for the first day’s practice was that of a Michelin Wild Mud up front and Shwalbe Hans Dampf on the rear, ah the joys of testing stuff! Stages one and two were very close to the arena, also doubling up as stages five and six, with the 2nd/6th stage finishing right in the pits. First of all we headed up to check these out for a blast.
This was the one which all but the mega pedallers dreaded, the one with the massive flat section in, but there has to be one folks, or it’s just DH racing! A bit of snotty woodland single-track to start with then the leg pain began, with what seemed like a life-time of flat hard-packed narrow trail, any rider who could stay stood up on the pedals all the way along this was just super-human. After the big pedal came the total opposite to finish, we’re talking steep switchbacks all the way down to the finish. The sort of corners which in the wet had you going in opposite directions to the way you were turning, but when you got them dialed were just such great fun.
After a quick 15 minute spin from the bottom of 1/5 we were soon at the top of the next stage, this looking very similar indeed, with it’s surroundings of typical English woodland and a narrow black loamy track winding all-downhill this time between the trees, each one crying out for a crash. This was the tricky one of the four stages, the one that was going to have any rider’s name on it, if they were pushing beyond the 80% speed mark. Roots and ruts were the order of the day down this stage, with some very tricky catch berms, where riders had to keep their exit speed to make it up over several of the small uphill, off camber corner exits. This trail was just so difficult to ride fast and smooth, the amount of riders who talked of crashing on it was just unreal. Right at the end was a great section of loamy turns after a quick fire-road drop-in. This was the main spectator focal point of the weekend, with many riders spurring other racers on to try and take the very tricky high-line before dropping into the arena.
The longest transition was that of the 45 minute ride over to stage three, riding up then along the top rifge line of the Quantock Hills. This place was typical picturesque English countryside, with the ride taking racers along bridle paths and green lanes surrounded by stereotypical pastures green. The top of the stage was a bit of a flat pedal over more rooty single-track, but soon the gradient changed to downhill as it sped along the well used natural DH practice tracks of old. There were jumps, fly-offs, fast downhill ruts with built up catch berms and plenty of roots and holes to catch un-suspecting riders out. This to me was the best stage of all, so much like a British National DH track of old, the likes of Bringewood springing to mind, my grin at the bottom was a wide one!
Like from stage one to two the transition from three to four was really minimal, with a short fire-road climb taking riders from one to another. This started off with a straight downhill blast with some tricky launches over roots, heavy on the brakes, then up and round a huge puddle-avoiding bus-stop. Fire up the leg engines again before you got up more speed into another tasty woodland section, this one being the one with a bit of a loose rocky section and some tricky drops, certainly testing riders DH skills. From one wood section to another and riders were straight back into tricky soft dirt, but as it leveled out the emphasis was on keeping that corner speed, so as not to have to get going again on the many following technical ups and downs. The final part went on and on and if you blew out any corner then all your speed was gone for the rest, this proved to be my nemesis for the Sunday’s racing!
The weather seemed to be changing all the time, from wet to sunny, but still the tracks remained slick and lacking that dry traction. I decided to leave the mud tyre on for the following day’s practice and qualy’s. We had managed to do two runs of all the stages that day, totaling 36.7k’s and 1,295m’s of climbing, the joy of quality rather than quantity really did shine through. Saturday morning saw all the ‘two day’ riders turn up to complete the riding field, and what a field it was, especially with the bursting 50+ Elite entrants, things really do seem to have stepped up this year, one rider worth a mention was that of Gareth Brewin, top UK and fast World Cup DH rider, also no stranger to massive jumps like in Red Bull’s Hard Line. This tall longhaired unassuming fella from Welshpool had decided to use the first round as his virgin enduro race, riding in the elite category on Alex and Jim Stock’s new SB Gravity team upon the fantastic looking new GT Sanction; could he prove his worth in a different discipline?
We managed to get in one more run down stages 3, 4 and 1 before lunch, as the weather finally started to sort it’s shit out and bring some brightness to our weekend. All riders went up in the afternoon to do their bit and try get the best times possible for a good running order for the following short day’s racing. Mine was a good first pedally stage, then a small crash on stage two saw Tim Ponting (last year’s DH World Masters Champ) catch me up near the end, a soul destroying moment I must admit! With Seeding all done and riders having sorted their bikes ready for the following day we were all in our usual blissful race bubble, unaware of the troubles that were to become apparent the following morning.
The next morning whilst half asleep and feeding the dogs, I had a shout from Steve Parr (Race Director) he made me aware of some goings on in the night that made my heart sink. During the early hours thieves had got into Steve’s truck awning snipped the big lock and stolen a selection of team and stock MDE’s, some Whyte team race bikes and other bikes from in and around the camping site. To say this had put a massive downer on the morning for all at the site was a huge understatement; these robbing bastards had taken bikes from right under everyone’s noses, a very bitter pill to swallow. These bikes shall be mentioned in another article coming soon, but please be aware there is going to be bikes or components for sale, Whytes, MDE’s, a Lappierre Spicy, Scott Genius and a Trek Remedy.
Again the weather looked like it was going to go either way in the morning, I’d taken the decision to ditch the mud tyre, opting to change to a High Roller 2 up front, luckily as the day rolled on it seemed to be the right choice. Charlie Williams had cut out some amazing tracks for us all to ride prior to our arrival, plus he had been out shaping and mending after the previous nights riding, this fella really needs a pat on the back for his efforts and commitment. We were all soon up and about, the hustle and bustle of racers readying their steads before the day’s racing filled the crowded arena, as all the riders checked and double checked they had all they needed before their final off from the podium area.
The day turned out to be really nice, with the sun making a late but welcome arrival heating riders and tracks up as the day went on. It was amazing with this one-off shorter format at a low level hill just how fast the day went. Sunday’s race for me was a tiny 13.9k’s and only 481m’s of climbing, with Strava telling me my total riding time was a mere 1hr 28mins of riding time, but believe me it was proper quality stuff and very close racing.
AND THE WINNERS WERE
Grand Vets – Howard Stuttard
Vets – Tim Pontin
Masters – Peter Jordan
Women – Martha Gill
Under 18’s – Nial Oxley
Seniors – James Metcalfe
Elite Women – Tracy Moseley
Elite Male – 1st Mark Scott, 2nd Sam Shucksmith, 3rd Gareth Brewin
Props go out to Tracy Moseley for winning the Elite category by nearly two full minutes, my gosh that girl’s fast! Then there’s Gareth Brewin, 3rd Elite in his first ever enduro, not bad for a bloke who only rides DH once a week and never trains, watch out for him in future folks! In the Vets Tim Ponting was actually given a run for his money by Rich Webster, Rich’s trials skills and roady training coming into play, finishing only five seconds down on a rider with such an amazing racing history!
So had the UKGE crew bought us a good enough opening round to keep us super excited for forth coming rounds and retain their title as the number one UK enduro race series? Well I’d say so, it was probably the toughest race yet, with tracks testing riders ability and skills to the limits and proving you don’t necessarily need a huge Scottish or Welsh hill to make for great gnarly racing. Ok so some light fingered twats may have put a dampner on it, but they will never take away our famous ‘spirit of enduro’, till the next one UKGE-folks!
Full Results – here
Words | Jim Buchanan
Pics | Doc Ward, Jim Buchanan
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