The first round of the Gravity Enduro Series went down at Afan Forest last weekend, you’ve seen the results, you’ve seen the chit chat…and now here’s a great race report from Elite racer Aidan Bishop:
For a short time there was going to be no Gravity Enduro series in 2013, but myself and I’m sure many others are glad Mr Parr, with assistance from Charlie Williams and others, decided to go ahead and put on another races series for this year. Afan park in South Wales was the venue for round 1 this year and with the current state of the UK’s severe lack of spring like weather it looked like it could be a tough weekend ahead. Close to the event and the country seemed to be getting hit with pretty heavy snow in most places, so much so Tracy Moseley couldn’t get to the first national XC race in Nottingham but could make it to South Wales and so headed over for a change of pace! Although bitterly cold all weekend we avoided rain and snow both days so it could have been a lot worse, so this years series was ready to go.
The pits and parking area was soaked however so parking was a little hectic but it was good to see main series sponsors Mavic and Shimano there to support the race and the riders. The discipline also is booming, with a sell out of over 300 riders in just one day. There was definitely a large mix of riders there to tackle the physical Afan route mapped out for us, not least in Elite, with senior and master riders moving up this year it is now a sizeable category, likewise there was a good amount of women racing too which is good to see.
Having raced there 2 years ago the route map looked like some of the same sections would be used, there was a long transition out to stage 1 but the other 4 stages were all quite close together, although there was still plenty of pedalling inbetween to be done, around 20 miles in total and 3hours to complete. The full loop ridden on Saturday and then it’s up to stage 5 for seeding time. A number of the elite riders opted for the bigger wheels this year, well this round anyway, with Dan Atherton running what looked to be a prototype 650b wheeled GT bike, would the bigger wheel size dominate the results sheet?
So Saturday afternoon came around and it was time to ride up the hill and line up for seeding runs. Appearing longer this year with more established trail to follow before a fireroad sprint including an uphill and then a muddy pedal opening onto the 4X track which housed the finish arena, sub 5 mins ended up being a good time so plenty of burning leg and lungs at the finish. Tracy Moseley being fastest in the elite women’s field and for the men Dan Atherton led out from Neil Donoghue and Sam Flanagan, time to queue for the jetwash or a hose and clean up and get warm.
Sunday morning and the rare sight of sun was welcomed, but not for long. Fortunately however it did stay dry, very very cold but dry! The long climb and pedal up to windy point and we arrived at stage 1, where temperatures of -2 welcomed us and wreaked havoc with freezing camlebaks, freehubs, shifter cables, etc. The first stage was all trail centre track, flowing but pedally taking 3 and a half minutes at max effort. Chatting with familiar faces from the masters category, great to see the likes of Mr Tunstall, Titley and Brown racing. They had just finished stage 1 and warned us of some lethal icy patches to watch out for…great! After having a poor seeding the day before I set out to make time back, keeping speed rolling and making it past the bad ice, I was closing in on Ben, the rider infront of me, when another frozen part of the trail caught me out and I went down still holding the bars. Back up quickly I finished ok, but not the start I wanted. Turns out I wasn’t the only victim of the freezing conditions with Al Stock and Sam Flanagan hitting the deck too, a damage check revealed I managed to put a crack through my helmet when I connected with the ground….never ride without one kids!
We all got to stage 2 with time for banter and war stories before tackling another section of trail section named the graveyard. Again keep speed rolling here as there were more rises and obstacles to slow you up, a little longer effort here at the 4 minute mark. Then onto stage 3 for the longest of them all. Nice flowing man made trail to begin with before a draining fireroad linked you into the trail that took you down the ‘wall’ trail, a 7 min plus stage that really tested your fitness and recovery, but some fun and high speeds entertained you for the last 30-40 secs of it as a reward for your efforts though.
The organisers always like to include a ‘natural’ stage to mix things up terrain wise and test everyone’s riding skills out, this was the stage for that. Short and starting out on manmade tracks it soon went onto fresh trail which due to the weather turned to into deep deep mud that became practically unrideable and most resorted to running parts of it, 3 mins of not much fun really, at least it was short!
Once more to the top of the seeding stage for the 5th and final effort. It had got COLD again, I noticed the mud on my frame had frozen solid on it! Glad to get going and warm up, less than 5 mins later and the first enduro was done for the year. Final results showed Miss Moseley is on top of the enduro game with Helen Gaskell second and Cheri Mills in third. Elite men and Dan Atherton showed impressive fitness and skills to dominate the race and take the win. Donny impressing me with a strong second place, likewise Sam Flanagan riding strongly to third. I scraped into 9th spot in the end, hoping for more if I’m honest but something to work from now.
So as it ended up 5 of the top 7 elites were running bigger wheels, seemingly a good move for this race then although these guys are fast on any bike so I wouldn’t read too much into it. But does this mean each race will see a variety of bikes on the start line?
Personally I see 650b being the ‘norm’ for trail bikes and its racing, DH will continue to run ‘traditional’ 26” (for now at least) and XC racing has to be 29” now to compete, I just look forward to the whole thing settling down in the coming years so the debate will settle with it.
Big thanks to Cannondale, Mavic, Crank Brothers, RRP, GoPro, MRP for their support.
Race Report – Aidan Bishop