My second dabble in to enduro this year took place at Bike Park Wales run by the excellent folk at Minienduro.
I was really looking forward to the race after having ridden there previously and knowing what a quality and professionally run venue the guys have put together in a short space of time. My Stumpy 29er enduro weapon had just had a race tune by the good folk at Roll for the Soul so everything was nicely dialled for the race.
Three stages over a 10mile course involving essentially hacking up the xc climb for 20mins at a time and smashing straight back down on a mix of Black and Red runs. Unusually for an enduro there were no fresh cut tracks, just a mixed of well established ones which would have been welcome familiarity for regulars.
Stage 1 was the most technical taking on the black Dia Hard graded trail twisting through some rooty singletrack before a few tasty little drops that eventually led to the most challenging bit of the whole day, a tricky off camber mudfest. Luckily I had left my rear mud tyre on out of laziness for the race so this gave some bite at least. In practice I had a couple of foot out moments on this section so come the race run I was wary of a potentially big chunk of time that could be lost by going for a face first mudslide down the hill. Come race run after negotiating all the top section nice and clean I really backed off in the mud and probably took it too cautiously so my stage 1 time didn’t exactly light up the boards as a result.
Stage 2 combined the fun, fast and open top section of Wibberly Wobbly with some nice launch hip jumps before hitting the flowing wooded singletrack. A quick dash across the fire road led to the rocky Rim Dinger, aptly named as on my practice run I tore my rear tubeless ready mud tyre, cue sealant spraying everywhere and inner tube insertion for the rest of the day. I had a good run down here come race time but backed off slightly on the rocks for fear of puncturing. Again not electric but solid enough.
Stage 3 involved the pedally vicious valley before the rocky and muddy switchbacks of Bonneyville. This stage was for me a lot more in line with what I consider enduro racing, mostly down but a short uphill punt thrown in to test the fitness. I was flying down this one, clearing a fast sender and loving the variety of the trail from the twisty rooty turns up top to the faster blasting further down. Just before crossing the fire road to the next section I got carried away with the excitement of getting in the ‘groove’ and went to put full gas down on a slightly rocky flat section…then disaster. The benefits of a lower bottom bracket on newer style bikes is something that I’m still adapting to in terms of catching pedals more frequently. After a big crank down, the smile on my face was quickly wiped out as my pedal caught on a rock and I was jettisoned out the front door big time. It was one of those crashes most people have had at different speeds when you get crossed up and your thighs are on handlebars etc. My lovely stumpy flipped a few times down the hill but I got away relatively unscathed. I managed to scramble back up pretty quick, retrieve my bike from half way down the hillside then hop back on board. Unfortunately as many people will relate to the frustration of, brake levers were in the wrong position and bars twisted, stop and sort or push on to the end? I chose the latter so rode the rest at 75% to keep safe. Massively frustrating but enduro’s are a race to end very end, every turn counts but staying on the whole day without mechanicals counts a lot more.
Overall I had an ace day with my buddies in the hills, Bike Park Wales is a quality venue run by great people. The trails on balance favoured the more dh focussed riders but my stumpy didn’t leave me short on any of the features, smashing through everything with ease, just as fast I’d argue as my old 26er dh bike. These big wheeled bikes are bloody amazing. I just about managed to sneak in to the top third in the masters cat which I’m horrified to say I might be riding in this year with it being my 30th, a horrifying thought given all the smite I’ve distributed to mates in the ‘old man’ category in previous years!