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By Simon Freeman
In my report a few weeks back I mentioned that myself, David Muirhead and Alex Dickson had raced all the rounds of this year`s mountain bike POC Scottish Enduro Series, and that we were due to race at Fort William in the season finale. That race took place over the course of last weekend.
The series featured five rounds at different venues, and each race was set up like a car rally, with untimed uphill transition stages leading to various timed downhill sections, the results of which were amalgamated into an overall race time. The stages varied massively in length, from as little as 90 seconds to an absolute behemoth we endured at Laggan in April which took us 16 minutes to ride! The topography and trail surface differed wildly from venue to venue but also from stage to stage, and the taped trails we raced down last weekend at Fort William epitomised this eclectic set-up.
Stage 1 was the easiest and least technical track we have raced on all year, an entirely man-made sprint through flowing banked corners coated in compacted quarry dust. Of course you had to be careful you didn`t push too hard, it is all too easy to wreck a race run by hitting the deck on an easy stage. We assumed that the organisers were trying to lull us into a false sense of security with stage 1…and we were so right!
Stage 2 started halfway down the legendary World Cup track (below the road gap jump, thankfully!), channelling riders through some savage rock gardens before cutting off to the right along a lung-busting fireroad before descending into another sculpted hardpack track which then diverted down a horrendously muddy, freshly cut chute that was littered with roots big enough to swallow a bike wheel whole. Even walking down it was impossible.
A big transition ride towards Torlundy took us to the top of stage 3, which was the famous Blue Crane trail running into Ridgeline. Both of these tracks are black-graded on a good day, but there is a huge difference between trying to ride these ‘for fun’ and then trying to race on them once 300 people have spent a whole Saturday skidding them to bits in the tipping rain! A lot of people fell foul of this stage, but we survived and we absolutely loved it.
Stage 4 was a different animal altogether. We had tackled it fairly early on practice day and hadn`t had any issues with it, but the swarm of maniacs who had ridden it in the rain since our earlier visit had turned it into an absolute swamp and the ruts were so deep that I found it almost impossible to negotiate with my limited skills. Dave telling me afterwards that he had romped it didn`t help my mood one bit!
The last 2 stages were so high up the mountain that we needed a trip on the gondola to get to them. The black graded Top Chief track is a fearsome animal that follows the best twisty bedrock line around the hill before plummeting several hundred feet straight down off it into the tree line below, where it once again becomes sanitised into a flowing, twisty and utterly hilarious serpent of a trail that had riders drifting and whooping all the way to the carpark. The organisers had cleverly split the Top Chief track into two stages, as there is a long section of perched wooden boardwalk high up on the mountain that is great fun to ride but would be far too dangerous to race on. Stage 5 was therefore very short -taking most riders about 90 seconds to ride- while stage 6 was a 10 minute monster. What a way to finish a season!
So how did we do?
David was fastest of the three of us, as he has been all season. He finished in a time of 24 minutes, 42 seconds. He races in the Senior category (ages 19-29), so it is a tough school littered with sponsored riders and crazy kids. He finished 29th in seniors on the day, and 95th overall out of an entry of 255 riders. Having failed to finish the race at Laggan earlier in the year due to a mechanical breakdown, David has been constantly playing catch-up but he still managed to finish in a brilliant 22nd place overall in the seniors category for the season.
Alex has ridden consistently all year and has managed to tread the fine line between wrecking and ruling perfectly at every round. He had one of his very few crashes on the last stage at Fort William which cost him a few seconds, but he still returned a very respectable time of 25:58 to finish 32nd in the Masters category. The Masters section almost always attracts the largest entry and it is full of well-heeled chargers on very expensive steeds, so for Alex to finish in 37th place in that championship (180 names featured on that championship table!) in his first full season is a highly respectable result.
I have continually been either on par or just slower than Alex on nearly every stage of the year, and nothing changed here. I know if I`ve kept within a few seconds of him I have done just fine, and I managed my ride to achieve this perfectly right up until the last stage where a cruel puncture right on top of the hill put paid to any chances of a good result to finish the year. With 4 top 10s already in the bag for the season though (a rider`s 4 best results out of the 5 rounds count), I managed to hold onto 5th place in the Grand Veteran`s championship which was some consolation for a day that finished with me feeling, well, a bit deflated.
Competing in this series has been a brilliant experience for us. We have had some hilarious times racing our bikes through some of Scotland`s very best scenery, and we have loved camping out of the back of vans. The organisers at No Fuss Events have done an outstanding job of setting up a professionally run race series in some difficult locations and have always managed to tread the right side of a precarious line, providing us with stages that have been just barely on the rideable side of ridiculous!
David Muirhead leads Alex Dickson down the rocky Top Chief track during Saturday’s practice. NO_C42bikes01