Words by Phil Shucksmith
Photos by Doc Ward
It’s not often you welcome a delay in the start line up of a race, but then you don’t normally have the stunning views of Dyfi to admire as the sun sets. Located in probably the most remote part of central West Wales, Dyfi has become a favourite on the UK MTB circuit.
The defining feature of the UK Gravity Enduro at Dyfi is the all-grass prologue track on the Saturday night. 360 vertical metres of flat out grass turns and natural features. It is an amazing feeling carving the bike down big grass turns like you are carving on a pair of skis. There is so much grip in the tyres when they are rolling, however a slight touch of the brakes in such a committed position will be your undoing. Matty Stuttard showed the spectators how it was done on Saturday night, carving his bike to an impressive 1st place in seeding.
Over the years Dyfi has matured as a race venue and to some extent evolved with the World Enduro race format in terms of become slightly more downhill-oriented than it was at the beginning. Each year the tracks have been improved. Stage 1 at Dyfi was originally pretty much a break neck fire road. This year the track incorporated a super fast open section at the top but soon went into a long succession of sweeping fresh and rooty turns, traversing down the hill. The winning rider on this track was going to be the one who could maintain a solid body position, off the brakes whist all the sniper roots were doing their best to throw the bike off line. It was Sam Shucksmith (my brother!) who showed solid form and momentum to take the win on this stage.
Stage 2 many had taken for granted because it was previously the only one predominantly on established trail centre. How wrong they were. It was the stage that claimed the most victims with some high-speed blind drops to catch you out. Sam Flanagan dug in deep against a fierce head wind to take the stage win.
Stage 3 was probably the riders’ favourite. Rapid roots at the top, fast rutted mud straights, a fire road spin, super flowing corners and a mental steep finish. What more could you want in a race run? Well that was at least what Chris Keeble-Smith thought as he snatched the fastest time.
Stage 4 was the pedal. It wouldn’t be enduro without at least one stage taking you into the pain zone and past. The stage started with steep, walking path style alpine switchbacks on a slippery clay surface. Carrying good composure down the top section was key to coming into a one-minute sprint in good form. There were a lot of dips to pump in the sprint to keep things lively but still it inevitably came to the point where you were hanging over the handlebars willing the downhill to come. The second half of the track was epic. 40mph whoops straight into a completely fresh loamy bottom section. Sam Shucksmith clearly felt comfortable on those loamy turns because he stormed to another win on 4.
Despite being a big 40km loop, it was sad to see the final stage come. Having so much fun on the bikes the elite riders were chatting about how we would happily go and do one of the stages again. Stage 5 was a re-run of the Saturday prologue stage. With some rain starting to come down the riders were noticeably more cautious on committing to the visibly slippery grass turns. Stakes were high for Matty and Sam who were pretty close coming into the final stage. Sam needed to push hard enough to challenge for the win in this round, but also he knew that if he just got down the hill in decent time he would be well set for the overall UK series title. I had already come down, putting in the fastest time and hot on my tail should have been Sam. The commentator was calling him in, but he was still not visible from the finish area. It was a painfully slow wait until he finally emerged from the woods clearly with a mechanical and unable to pedal. It was all down to Matty now. Would he be able to stay on the bike and lay down another grass track blinder? If he knew Sam had a mechanical he probably would have held back a bit to play it safe, but not knowing that, he was committing to the end and managed to hold it together to take the win.
Congratulations to Matty for winning the final round of the UK Gravity Enduro and Sam for demonstrating consistent form through the season and taking the overall series title.
Any seasoned racer will know that podiums should be savoured when they come about because for every string of podiums there is often a tough patch of struggling to perform. So often either Sam or I manage to find form on the day, not both, so it was all the more special to be on the podium together this weekend.
It is sad to see the end of UK Gravity Enduro in its current form, with the retirement of race organiser Steve Parr. However, the format has got so much momentum behind it that what emerges next year will likely be bigger and better than ever.
Thanks to Steve and Charlie and the team for all they have contributed to the sport over the past few years.