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661 Gravity Enduro, Afan Forest race report

Aidan Bishop wins the Masters category and gets the fastest time of the day. Read his race report right here.

UK Gravity Enduro Series 2011, Round 5 Afan Forest, Wales, 10-11th September

Words by:  Aidan Bishop

Photos by:  Barbara Sztyk

 

 

The final round of the UK gravity Enduro series hit the welsh valleys.

 

 

This past weekend saw the 5th and final round of the inaugural UK gravity Enduro series, held at the popular Afan trail centre in south Wales.  The weather curse continued to follow the series with another wet and wild race!

We set off early Saturday morning and arrived at Afan Dirt Park where the race arena was set up in order to use the 4X track there as a finish spectacle to the race.  We rocked up around 9am ready to sign on and get out and ride the route and check out the 5 timed stages.  The route this time totalled up to 23km, with most of the transition routes being along fire roads to get you to the start of each timed stage.  The route to stage 1 taking the longest, combined with the rest of the route and the amount of pedalling you did it was set to be a tiring round that’s for sure!

 

The 4X track at Afan provided the finish of stage 5

Ok, so a quick rundown of the stages for you;  Stage 1, around 3 mins mainly undulating established trail with the last 30-40secs speeding up as it pointed downwards to the finish.

Stage 2, a bit of a lottery! 5 mins was pretty good going, starting out with a fire road tuck/sprint then into a freshly cut tight singletrack, in the dry would have been really enjoyable and technically testing but in the wet as it was, turned into a muddy rooty Scalextric track where staying on the bike was a mission.

Stage 3, back to the established trails again and around 4mins for this stage.  Starting fairly downhill and allowing you to carry some good speed, then points up for a bit, then over some big rocks that required concentration and smooth riding followed up by some flat trail to the finish.

Stage 4, around the 5 minute mark for length, starting off uphill on a marked trail then heading downwards with some little bridges and climbs before pointing fully downhill on some nice flowing trail which could have caught you out at the speeds you were travelling at if you weren’t on the ball.

Stage 5, 4 mins long was a good target.  Setting off on more established trail, less than a minute in you took a hairpin then a short straight before cutting back on yourself on some fresh grass and along a straight flat fire track path, cross a main track and don’t overcook it round a gravelly left and another long straight welcomed you with an ever growing puddle/lake halfway along before raising slightly.  Keep as much speed rolling as possible before hitting a muddy rut and that popped you out on top of the 4X track which you followed to the finish but the jumps made tricky to clear due to the previous physical exertion and wet conditions, then cross the line.

 

Donny, gunning for the Elite win but losing a brake in a collision on stage 2 didn’t help.

 

So that’s the race in a nutshell, not forgetting this is inbetween 23km of biking, mostly feeling uphill so preserving your efforts was vital to finish as strong as you could.  Saturday morning passed with most getting their practice loop in before the heavens opened up and a heavy downpour hit the arena for about an hour solidly…good timing!  Seeding runs were scheduled to start at 3:30pm on the final stage, number 5 so that all riders finished into the race arena.  Thankfully the rain went away so everyone at least could ride up and back down without being soaked.

After a series plagued with mechanicals and crashing so far, I was looking for redemption in the final round here and wanted a trouble free race so I could try my best to take on Rob ‘Box’ Cooksley who so far had been very strong in the series overall and the man to beat in masters as well as across all the categories.  A good showing from many Scottish racers, making the long trip down to see the series through to the end, including elite riders Gary Forrest and James Shirley and the Buchan brothers in masters.  Other series contenders were present in elites, including Neil Donoghue and the Yeti team of Green and Langley, and a face from the past I haven’t seen for a while Andrew Titley was there to try out this new discipline too.

 

 

Rob ‘Box’ Cooksley, the man to beat at this year’s series.

 

So the downpour lifted and stopped thankfully and all riders started to make the ride up the hillside for their seeding runs.  We all lined up along the narrow trail and got called up be our numbers, setting off at 20 second intervals.  Before I knew it I was off the singletrack trail and onto the first long straight, so time to raise my Joplin post, switch the Jekyll into short travel mode put my head down and keep pedalling!  Before long and I was onto the 4X track with my 20 second man Neil Cousins not far in front. Concentrate not to push too hard on the berms and negotiate the last rocks then cross the line….breathing heavy!  On checking the times in the timing tent we were told Box had the fastest so far with a 3:36, I wasn’t too far behind with a 3:39 with Tim Williams also on the same second, these ended up the fastest three times in masters and overall for the day, so tomorrow looked set to be a hard battle.

We stayed on site and so through the night were woken several times to the familiar British sound of heavy of heavy rain on the van roof, great!  I was just happy this was slightly better than being in a tent!  Fortunately the rain had stopped when it was time for people to start preparing to set off on their loops.  The first transition was the longest of the day, with race organisers allowing 60 mins to get to the start of stage 1, a generous amount of time to get there but it allowed you to not tire yourself out too much straight away.  So I set off on route for stage 1 and sure enough not long into the first fire road climb it started to rain again, on with the rain jacket then it stopped!!  Off with the jacket and over the top of the first climb and in the open and it REALLY rained, with strong winds and some hail thrown in for good measure, rubbish!  Five minutes later and it had stopped again thankfully and I met up with all the other guys at the start of the first stage.

 

Pedalling on the upper part of stage 4

Time to get the racing underway, most of stage 1 was rolling trail with a few little raises along the way before a downhill finish so judging your effort was vital, pedalling where necessary but too much and you’re just wasting energy and not really gaining any time or speed.  I went ok, trying to keep smooth and rolling so as to avoid any energy draining sprints to get back up to speed.  With the seeding results determining the starting order of riders for the day I was sandwiched between Tim Williams and Rob ‘box’ Cooksley. I watched Tim sprint off and started to get myself motivated for my start.  I set off and was trying to stay off the brakes, keep the speed rolling and pedal where it would be most advantageous.  I crossed the line not breathing very hard and then tried to judge the gap behind me as Box finished, whether he would be around 20secs or closer, it appeared closer so I set off for stage two trying to motivate myself to get my head into racing mode as I felt I hadn’t put in enough effort on the first stage and may have lost valuable seconds already on the powerhouse that is ‘Box’!?!

Stage 2 I figured was going to be a race maker or breaker for many, being that it was very muddy and very slippy it would be very easy to crash or stop and lose time towards your overall.  This was certainly true for Neil Donoghue who caught a rider in front who crashed in front of him and consequently Donny rode into the guy resulting in him having to complete his day with only one brake!  I set off down the long fireroad, bringing back memories of the sort of downhill courses we used to race on in the early nineties!!  Dropping off the road and into the freshly cut trail, it was a lot deeper in mud with the overnight rain and more roots were shining back up at you.  Where possible I was pedalling to try and keep some momentum going, not an easy task!  Through the trees and over roots I was rarely on both pedals, just scooting through close tree gaps and over roots, determined to not drop the bike.  This went on and on and it was a tough physical effort, getting nearer the end of the stage and I caught a glimpse of Tim up ahead, I think I was closing in.  I pushed on and caught and passed Tim and crossed the line, happy that I had made good time on a close competitor for the day, I then checked back again to see how close ‘Box’ would be, he seemed to finish the line some gap behind me. Turns out he had crashed, so with my clean (ish) run I had made some time back on him here, this motivated more now to keep pushing hard for the next three stages.

 

 

Gary Forrest, elite winner on the day

Stage 3 was a tiring one with what seemed a lot of uphill in it, with it not being far from the race arena, a small crowd cheered on riders over the ‘graveyard’ rock section along the trail and gave them a little boost. A welcome two minute transition to stage 4 gave everyone a little rest from the long climbing transitions.  Stage 4 was one of the most enjoyable stages once you had passed the halfway mark of pedalling along the trail it pointed more downwards where you picked up some good speed through to the finish line.

One shorter downpour when we made our way back up to the start of stage 5 then, but the race was drawing to a close.  With all the rain, when you turned onto the first long straight it was waterlogged and a nasty headwind hit you all the way along it, sapping your energy even more.  Knowing it was my last chance to try and post the quickest time I could I gritted my teeth and tried pedal as hard as I could along the whole stage, occasionally standing up to sprint and quickly sitting down again.  Out onto the 4X track for the last time, don’t crash now!  I finished quite strongly, breathing very hard but happy I had completed the whole 5 stages and route without any crashes or mechanical issues, just time to wait and see what the computer said!?!  Type your race number into the laptop and see what position it shows up, ‘Box’s’ name was already on the screen with a ‘2’ next to it then Tim Williams tapped his number in, that showed up with a ‘3’, he put my number in and it showed number’1’…it appeared I had done it!!!  Stoked with my result it was time to wash the bikes down, get changed and wait for podium presentations.

 

Aidan Bishop, master’s winner and fastest overall on the day.

I guess the race organisers and timing guys were having fun calculating all the overall series results, as two hours later prize giving started.  The computer was right anyway, I won the masters category ahead of ‘Box’ and Tim in third, and I got the fastest time of the day too, which I was very happy about as it had been a goal of mine all season!  The Scots finished strongest in the Elite category with Gary Forrest winning, Sam Shucksmith in second and James Shirley in third. Overall contender and winner of two previous rounds Donny obviously was slowed up by a lack of one brake and didn’t make the podium this time.

 

Helen Gaskell dominated the Elite women’s category this year

Here’s the top ten of the day:

1 Aidan Bishop Master 19m 8secs
2 Rob Cooksley Master 19m 16secs
3 Gary Forrest Elite 19m 32secs
4 Sam Shucksmith Elite 19m 33secs
5 Tim Wiliams Master 19m 41secs
6 Ben Whitehead Senior 19m 58secs
7 James Shirley Elite 20m 8secs
8 Chris Buchan Master 20m 11secs
9 Charlie Williams Master 20m 13secs
10 Andrew Devine Master 20m 14secs
 

 

 

 

 

 

Check www.racetimingsystems.com for the full results.

So that was the first year for the UK Gravity Enduro series and overall I think it has been a success.  A good turnout at all rounds and I think more will follow next year…let’s just hope for better weather! So a thanks to Steve Parr, Tally and everyone involved in putting on this series in the UK, see you next year.

A personal big thank you to Craig at RapidRacerProducts (that Neoguard was vital this year!), Cannondale, Mavic, Crank Brothers and Maxxis for supporting me this year and keeping me rolling!!

 

 

 

Aidan and Box on the master’s podium and 1st and 2nd overall on the day

 

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