Anyone that has been at the Epic blast knows about the strange mix of pain and fun involved in that type of racing. The recent 661downhill enduro in Innerleithen definitely had that mix in spades, and if you consider that it involved seventeen miles, five climbs and descents and over five hours on the bike there was a constant shift in the balance of that mix.
Ramy Mc Cann, Stevie D and myself had an early start making our way to Scotland to get in some much needed sneaky practice on the Thursday before race day. The reality of the hardship involved became evident fairly early on as Stevie’s hectic management strategy unfolded and the climbing began. Inners is steep and with five stage starts to get to on race day we needed to understand the ups as well as the downs. By mid afternoon we got stages one and two under our belts, both of which were spot on with what we expected. Stage one was straight out downhill, tight, twisty and very very steep. Stage two was a mixture of soaking wet grass, mud, and typical trail centre riding. It was also pretty long so it got the legs going pretty hard. We got back to the van and re-grouped. Tomorrow would be a hard day with three more stages to learn and a seeding run to complete .A big feed and an early night were what we needed now to bring day one to a close.
Day two. Over breakfast we acknowledged and accepted the fact that we were all at least partly responsible for the snores the night before and moved on. We had a long day ahead and while Ramy broke the microwave Stevie unveiled his plans for the day. We rolled up to the car park at the bottom of the mountain ready to rock. Three more stages to ride and one of which would double up as the seeding run… Stage three was the longest climb of them all. Almost to the top of the mountain. It was also entirely made up of hardpack, berms and table tops. Lots of peddling and sweating both up and down. Next was stage four. This one opened all of our eyes with some of the trickiest riding of the lot. Some amazing fast and flowy single-track led us into a very rocky black section then straight into the woods and down some of the steepest, slippiest trails any of us had ever encountered. This one would be interesting come race day. On then to stage five. This trail would bring us back down to the car park, and the finish line. It would also be our seeding run. Again we started with some great and very fast trail centre riding and straight into more natural and rooty single-track. We were brought out again into some more fast hardpack which brought us back down again to where we started and where we’ll hopefully finish.
Seeding time came and off we went.. We were all happy enough with our times, but the race the next day was where we had to pull it out of the bag.
Day three. We awoke to rain and bad moods. None of us wants to spend the day soaking wet but we were here to race . Myself and Stevie, being the old dogs, were starting each stage one minute apart and could keep each other company on the climbs. Ramy was to start forty minutes after us and would have to make some new friends. The stages came thick and fast and all of a sudden we were racing. The descents were unbelievable to race on such a soaking wet day and the climbing was very hard, having an allotted time to make it to the start of the following stage, and trying to pace yourself to have some juice to push it when you really needed to. So we all survived, Stevie being the fastest man in the van, Ramy next then me. I got two punctures on the final stage which blew me out of the water. All in all it was an awesome experience and we all agree that we’d love to do another, (and another!)
This does definitely seem like a great way to race whilst spending the whole day out on your bike, riding with your mates like you do on any Sunday at home. There was plenty of slagging, some new acquaintances and some re-acquaintances, And Stevie had manners enough only to mention that he beat us twenty thousand times on the way home! Roll on the next one till we put that bitch back into his box!
P.s. Since originally writing this putting Stevie back into his box could prove difficult as he is now Irish champ.(The bitch)
Report brought to you by Paul Callan