Aidan Bishop brings us the race report from the first round of the UK Gravity Enduro Series, and a pretty sweet helmet cam video of the race which you’ll find at the bottom of this post…
2014 UK Gravity Enduro Series
RD1, Ae forest, Scotland
Words: Aidan Bishop
Photos: Barbara Sztyk
This past weekend saw the first round kick off of the UK Gravity Enduro series in Ae forest near Dumfries in the Scottish borders, the very same venue where the first UK enduro took place in 2011. Arriving Friday evening and the car park and camping field was busy, the pits were up and looking good along with the general size and feel of the event as a whole, enduro in the UK is in a good place right now with each race selling out fast. A check on the weather showed potential for a dry weekend, which would have been very welcome and indeed the run up to the event kept fairly dry meaning the race and the large amount of riding to be done over the weekend wouldn’t be a miserably wet chore.
Fresh and slippy sections provided entertainment
Saturday morning and time for last minute bike prep, say hello to faces I haven’t seen over winter months, get signed on and get ready to go and check out the timed stages. True to the forecast it did start to rain in the morning, but luckily it quickly brightened up in the afternoon which was very welcomed. A 4 hour loop to get round all 5 stages, with some decent thought going into the layout from a spectators point of view as stages 1, 2, 4 and 5 all finished close together near the arena which were therefore pretty accessible for spectators to get to on foot and watch, cheer or laugh at the riding going on, in between it was a long ride out on fireroad and some nice trail route to follow out to ride stage 3 before making your way back to the top of the hill for stage 4.
Finishing stage 1
A quick run down of the stages;
Stage 1 – 3-4 mins long mostly on a stoney trail with plenty of berms and jumps, along the way some tight bus stops were added to slow things a little and make it more technical, a quick sprint along fireroad before turning back on yourself and down a very fast rocky trail with a succession of drops and compressions, which claimed many tires, before turning off onto some fresh cut singletrack hairpins down a pretty steep hillside to the finish, tricky given it got wet and slippy here.
Stage 2 – Physical here, 95% on trail centre path with flat corners that gave little traction in the damp conditions, so 3 minutes plus of continually sprinting out of corners.
Stage 3 – 50/50 split here between smooth trail centre path with berms and tabletops, which were exposed to very strong crosswinds over the weekend so had to be squashed to be safe. The last half you joined a narrow natural singletrack that followed the edge of a hillside, keeping the bike flowing smoothly here would result in less pedalling before dropping down towards the line, just over 3mins was good going here.
Stage 4 – Starting out up on top of the hill straight into fresh cut trail through the heather and steep into dark muddy woods where you tried your best to keep your feet on the pedals and the bike rolling down the main deep, root, rock and tree stump strewn rut. Cross a fireroad and the track got a little easier but still some ‘muddy scalextric’ riding was required down here before joining a hardpack but slippy trail centre track over jumps and drops to the finish. Another 3 mins plus of surviving to do here, keeping upright on the bike and keeping it moving as quicky as you could manage was key to a good time here.
Stage 5 – Again this stage was also used for seeding runs on the Saturday and pretty much followed the old national DH track route to the finish arena down below, so quite a full on track for anything smaller than a full DH bike. Sub 3 mins was good going here, a mix of open rocky tracks broken up by tight trees and roots to get through before carving down the hillside in view of the finish and finally dropping down the familiar steep bank to the line.
Dropping into the arena at the end of stage 5 and the race.
With practice over, the seeding runs started at 3:30pm with the women’s categories going first through to the elite men last. Big Ben Cathro was out racing and stamped his authority here, over 6 seconds clear of AL Stock in second whilst Helen Gaskell similarly had a clear gap over Sarah Newman in the women’s elite field so they both took the lead overnight as all stage times count to your finish time.
Sunday morning and grey skies were above all day, but it remained dry which kept conditions consistent. First riders set off the new start stage and up the fireroad climb at around 9:30am with the elites leaving about 11:20, with the final outcomes being decided over 4 hours later down stage 5 into the arena.
I can’t speak for how everyone’s races went but in the elites, which had a good number racing here, it was Ben Cathro who extended his lead being fastest down stage 1. The following stages, requiring digging deep into your legs saw other riders like Mark Scott and Neil Donoghue claw back time. All the way through Al Stock was riding fast and solid, placing highly in all stages but Cathro’s DH speed counted for him to take the win in when all was said and done with Stock 2nd and Donny riding well to claim 3rd. Elite women and Helen Gaskell was fastest on all stages and took the first win of the season from Sarah Newman and Carrie Poole into 2nd and 3rd respectively.
In other cats, the juniors saw a quality ride from Leigh Johnson taking the win and a timein the overall top twenty. Masters and MTB long termer Andrew Titley took a good win in a big category, whilst the veterans saw Tim Ponting coming into enduro and showing he still has vast dh speed and bagged first place.
As for my race, I was off the pace from seeding, much more technical riding time needed for me to get up to speed. A puncture on stage 1 but otherwise getting round fairly cleanly to finish mid pack in elites in 18th. There is definitely some fast and talented riders in the elite category this year, the future is bright for UK enduro.
A good job by the Steve, Charlie and the team behind the series this year with the races looking good and running well creating a good weekend for anyone taking part.
Big thanks to Cannondale, Mavic, ION cameras, MRP, ION, RRP for their support this year.
And finally, here’s the video I filmed during practice…