Dunkeld Enduro

“Fancy entering the Dunkeld Enduro?”

Was roughly the conversation that led of me trailing down to Dunkeld one damp saturday morning. My brother in-law (Jonny) was looking for events to enter and Dunkeld’s trails have bit of a reputation, as does the enduro, so it was an easy sell.

The Highland Perthshire Enduro takes place in the early spring on three of the hills over-shadowing the quiet little town of Dunkeld. The trails around Dunkeld are infamous for their steep natural character, with each hill having its own distinct flavour. But as I drove into the town, those hills were shrouded in rain and low cloud. To say this was going to be a wet day was an understatement, the lint in an otter’s pocket was drier that the trails that day.

The first two stages shared a climb up Birnam hill with the popular Rake & Ruin and Pink Floyd trails setting the tone for the day. Rake & Ruin was a fairly mad cold open and left you in no doubt as to what the riding would be like for the rest of the day. I have never ridden mud like this, the mix of thick clag and slick greasiness that kicked up and hit you in the chest as you drifted both wheels was something special. It was was more like skiing than riding, with both wheels on full lock you didn’t slow down. Wild. But after somehow not crashing, I made it down.

Now cramp is a right bastard; the only cure I have found that works for me, is to stop riding.

after making the climb the second time whilst awaiting my turn at the start of Pink Floyd, the mantra of “Ride Don’t Slide” was repeating in my head. This was by far and away my best stage of the day, after this it was all downhill.

The opening straight had ample grip and I was loving the speed on offer. Popping off of rocks and through compressions the bike was just motoring. More motivation to let the bike run came from the decreasing gap between me and the rider infront. After a brief low slide off the track as I entered the trees, I was back on the hunt letting the bike drift into corners as I learned how much traction I had to play with. The gap was narrowing.

Stage 2, the high point of the day.

I called “RIDER” which was a first for me at an enduro, (normally something I am used to hearing shouted at me!) and overtook the boy infront. Making yet more good progress I got over confident, overcooking a berm in the process. By the time I was back on track the guy I had passed was once more in front. Nope, not having that. Attacking yet again, I knew the end wasn’t far away, so putting down what power I had, I hollered “RIDER” overtaking him in the last few hundred yards.

Careening out of the mud bath and past the dibber, it wasn’t long before Jonny finished the stage. He had had an absolute mare, with so much mud hitching a lift on his drivtrain, his cranks, his rear mech, everything had jammed and refused to turn. Nightmare.

Did I mention it was muddy?

However all this was bittersweet, as the begining of the end for my day started during that climb to stage two, as the first twinges of cramp started creeping and dancing around my calves. Now cramp is a right bastard, and once I have cramp on a ride, the only cure I have found that works for me, is to stop riding, my day is done. Not really an option during a race, so I hydrated and refueled as best I could and tried to push through it.

Stage 3 was a very different affair, Doug’s and Dan’s Trails may lack gradient but are beautifully dug and crafted flow trails. Perfect catch berms and features help you carry speed, whilst they are tricky to ride fast blind, they are bloody good fun! And once more traction evaded me, I blew through a berm and ended up running downhill, again.

This was going to be a very demanding day.

Then came the long 9km transition and climb up the fireroads of Craigvinean to stage four and five. This was the 9km that broke me. Added to this, was the cut-off time for stage 4, if you didn’t make that, you were bumped from the full enduro to the lite verison of the event.

“I’m fine keep going!”

The cramp built and built, and my energy levels fell lower and lower as I was increasingly struggling to push through it. And what was albiet a sustained fireroad climb, turned into a death march. Strava afterwards told me that this climb was no steeper in gradient and only fractionally longer than the climbs on my local loop. But when the body is needing to stop, climbs you would happily spin up extend beyond the horizon. I am not embarressed to say that it was during this climb that I decided that the full enduro was not going to happen that day. After stage 4 my day was over.

Meeting Jonny at the top, he could see it in me, even if I wasn’t on the edge of a cramp addled bonk (not as sexy as that sounds) the clock was against us.

“Theres a really good chippy in Dunkeld”

” That sounds magic”

Stage four was a series of linked trails with the odd fire road sprint mixed in for good measure. One last push, soak up the cramp for one last trail then limp back to the carpark, thats all I had to do. One. last. run.

Dibbing in after Jonny I was hoping for a clean cruisey run, not far in Jonny got taken out by a sniper rock, hidden deep in the mud. After making sure he was OK I was back in front. I tried (as always) to keep light and let the bike work, to take it easy. The quality of the trail however encouraged me to push, I should not of pushed.

As the gradient began to mellow out and the end felt within reach, the fire in my thighs tipped over what was tolerable and my legs more or less locked up. Not being able to absorb the ground or counteract the bikes movements, everything became sketchy and painful. Rolling off course I lay down and my legs curled into my chest. “I’m fine keep going!” was my pained answer to everyone coming down behind me. Crawling back onto the bike I rolled through the time gate and lay back on the ground letting the lactate acid drain slowly out of my legs. Breathe.


Now a few hard lessons were learnt that day;

  • I have lost fitness.
  • Just because its cold and wet, doesn’t mean you can’t dehydrate.

But my primary objective of beating Jonny, against all odds had been achieved, somehow.

ME25:16.11
Jonny26:13.49

But the disaster aside, I took some positive things from the day, my riding felt good and the bike worked well, with no issues or mechnicals. My goal of landing mid-pack in the results wasn’t that unrealistic either. While the Lite Enduro was a smaller field, when going through the results on Roots & Rain I was solid mid pack until the disaster of stage 4. With a 4th on stage 2 being my best stage result of the day. There is however, always more to work on and definetely one to redemn myself on next time.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2017

No one is speaking anymore.

We have all staggered out, finding our rhythm as we pick our way across the peat bog. We have climbed past the point of making banter and conversation with our fellow riders, now we all just want is to pass the cairn and make it down to the bothy. The mornings rain is easing, but the effects on the course are fully felt underfoot. On passing the cairn everything is greased with a slick mud that makes the usually predictable granite an uneasy exercise in slipping the rear wheel round large loose rocks.

The staccato nature of what is rideable takes its toll, with the constant mounting and dismount burning through my thighs. My right leg is making a damn fine attempt in trying to cramp. Experience has taught me that once it has, it will become a constant feature for the remainder of the day.

No one likes the goat track, when people tell others about this race, the hike-a-bike is what they talk about, but I don’t remember it being like this.


6 hours earlier,

I was here for the 2016 edition, but when the weather was looking to be especially mental, I thought caution was the better part of valor and pulled out. Back for redemption in 2017 I was eager to run the race differently than I had before, going with a long travel full suss and pack-less over my previous attempts on a XC hardtail. This time I would be going full enduro (note, never go full enduro).

20171007_171453

Assembled on Fort William High Street, the customary rain fell lazily on 230 riders of all stripes. It is a self seeding event, so everyone is casually looking for riders that look a bit like themselves, in both bike and attire. Milling around with an air of sodden tension, we all await the start.

 

After a brief pre-race speech from on of the organisers atop a bin, we are informed that the river crossing is open, this is good news as the full course will be raced unlike the previous year. The pack tightens up as the trials bikes position themselves to escort us to the road in a rolling start.

I keep to the right of the peloton to avoid be snagged up by parked cars as we break off up the first climb of the day. The course starts on single track roads which quickly build in elevation as we make our way towards the West Highland Way. The pack starts to thin out but it is not until we move off road that the race really staggers out.

 

My strategy for this year was to go easier on the whole course and make up time and points on three of the special stages. The Kinlochleven decent, the climb to Eilde Mor and the final special stage on the Nevis Range single track. I knew that this would be a very different race with the bike I’d chosen (a Banshee Spitfire). I felt it was a strategy that could work well, if I was able to kept my average speed up where I knew I could maintain it.

Tour De Ben NEvis No Fuss Events Stravaiging 12

This started well with the mix of climbing and descending resulting in me hitting my target average speed of 12.9 KM/H perfectly. I may have reached the start of the first special stage later than in previous attempts, but the queue was shorter.

 

Feeling fresh and ready to go I dibbed in and cranked hard out the start gate. The bike felt great, floating over the loose rocks and tracking perfectly, hopping the water bars that have claimed so many riders in their time. I had forgotten how steep the trail was, keeping the bike light I built in speed and confidence. I was just passing my third rider as I approached, the corner. If you know this trail you will know the corner I am talking about.

He panic braked with all the anchors he could muster

It is a tight left-hander with a drop onto shale covered slab with a few water bars just before the treeline. It is usually typified by two or three riders standing to one side fixing punctures.

As I made the turn, in front of me was a rider who may well of been an experienced rider, he may have been a novice, regardless, was not expecting the trail to be like this. He panic braked with all the anchors he could muster, stuffing his front wheel into a water bar. This threw him out the front door and down the slope, his bike flying through the air and into the centre of the trail. With no where to go without running into him and crashing myself, I hauled hard on the brakes. With all my effort going into not crashing I hit the water bar that had swallowed his front wheel, I managed to lift my front wheel but this just meant my rear tyre took all of the force. Pffftt, sealant sprayed everywhere as it ripped a centre knob on my tyre, well thats my race strategy scuppered.

An inner tube it is then.

In what felt like deja vu from the first time I ran this race, I was shouldering the bike and running down the trail, as there was no point trying to fix it mid stage. The clock after all, was still ticking. Finally dibbing out the stage probably couldn’t have gone much worse for myself. Thankfully the guy that had crashed was unhurt, but he had snapped his front brake lever.

Vainly hoping that there was enough sealant left that some CO2 cartridges could re-inflate my tyre and let tubeless work its magic, I pushed my inflator onto the valve stem. With the rain coming on heavy frost instantly built up around the cartridge, the tyre was halfway there and another blast of CO2 would surely be enough. Engaging the inflator a second time resulted in the rainwater that had worked its way in whilst changing the cartridge freezing instantly and the inflator exploding under the pressure. An inner tube it is then.

With the help of one of the frankly amazing roving marshals, we fitted a tube and got my bike moving again.

One stage was done, but there was still opportunity to make up time and my place in the field, I would just have to push a little harder. Replenishing myself at the bountifully stocked feed station at Mamore Lodge, I made my way to the start of the second stage and the climb up to Loch Eilde Mor.

Taking a deep draft of magic potion, (High5 gels decanted into a small flask) I locked my shock and pushed in as high a gear and cadence as I dared. Knowing how long the climb is and therefore, how hard to push is a big advantage on this stage. My constant steady pace led to me working past 9 riders before the sweet little descent at the end of the stage.

The next job was to get to the river crossing and make the ascent on stage three, the infamous hike-a-bike. The trail followed the shoreline of Loch Eilde Mor, the standing water on the track was frankly insane and felt more like multiple river crossings. Climbing slightly higher lifted me out of the wet and I looked forward to the rowdy little descent down to the river. Not far into descent, I remember that I washed out my front wheel here in a previous race, as if the thought had been a curse, I felt the unmistakable feeling of a rear puncture.

Laughing at the predictability of it I thankfully wasn’t sitting for long before the same marshal that had helped me before rocked up. Within minutes the tyre was back up and at a ridiculous pressure to ensure it wouldn’t happen a third time. I was also informed that there were roughly 25 riders behind me, how on earth did that happen!

Descending like Bambi on ice, I make my way to the river counting riders as I pass them, each pass is a small psychological boost after the rain and setbacks so far. The river is flowing strong and deep, but it is a quick crossing. once at the start of stage three I pause to eat and get let my legs have 5 minutes of rest before what is the most physically demanding part of the course.

The stage kicks straight up at a ridiculous gradient, before mellowing out to a leisurely average between 10% and 20% incline. None of this is rideable, the sodden boggy hill side broken with burns turning into peat hags, making the hike feel like half an hour of attrition.

No one is speaking anymore, we have all staggered out, finding our rhythm as we pick our way across the peat bog. We have climbed past the point of making banter and conversation with our fellow riders, now we all just want is to pass the cairn and make it down to the bothy. The mornings rain is easing, but the effects on the course are fully felt underfoot. On passing the cairn everything is greased with a slick mud that makes the usually predictable granite an uneasy exercise in slipping the rear wheel round large loose rocks.

The staccato nature of what is rideable takes its tole, with the constant mounting and dismount burning through my thighs. My right leg is making a damn fine attempt in trying to cramp. Experience has taught me that once it has, it will become a constant feature for the remainder of the day.

No one likes the goat track, when people tell others about this race, the hike-a-bike is what they talk about, but I don’t remember it being like this.

Crossing the final stream before the dibbing out, the usual collection of partially broken bikes and riders are huddled around the bothy. The final feed station has run out of barbeque but still has plenty of other provisions. A quick feed and a refill of my bottles  was all I need before cranking hard into a headwind for the riotous descent down the Lairig Leacach. This is a fast 7km section of LRT, it is perfect for making up some time and to get drifty on some wide loose corners. Its all over too quickly though, even with the headwind, before entering the trees of the Leanachan Forest for the final stretch of the tour.

 

11.5 km of good fire roads with a modest overall incline were all that were left before the final special stage. I just have to keep the pedals turning to get there. I had made the mistake in previous attempts of not eating enough during this leg of the race. Having burnt all the reserves on the hike, the tank is running pretty low. The possibility of bonking on this stretch is very real, but thankfully my frame bag still held enough flapjacks and jelly babies to get me comfortably to the next dibber.

 

The final special stage consists of some classic sections of single track, Blue Crane and Cackle (those who know, know). I have ridden and raced these trails before, but there is always the question of how much is left in the legs after 60km? Thankfully, knowing the stage, helps with managing what effort I have left to give.

The clock was ticking loudly between my ears and I was keen the press on

The first section starts steep and rocky, with awkward rooty corners and tight lines between the trees before opening and speeding up. There are a few steep technical sections to keep you on your toes and it was on one of these that I found two riders off their bikes. Standing in the centre of the trail and not really going anywhere, my first thought was that a bad off had occurred just around the next corner. Waiting at the top long enough to ascertain the trail was clear after them, I politely called (to their mutual surprise) “Rider“.

With them stepping aside I dropped in, the clock was ticking loudly between my ears and I was keen the press on. The middle of this stage is a flat pedal heavy sprint, this is where to go full gas and max your heart rate one, last, time. Passing another rider during the sprint was another wee boost just as I made the start of Cackle. This trail is a lot of fast flowing fun, it has some board walk sections as well, but grip is in abundance. I was flying into the finish, having caught two more riders just at the end, we all dibbed out and let our heart rates come back down.

The final few KM are a smooth return to Fort William via the North Face car park and Torlundy. Most this is on quite roads or pathed cycle paths, that doesn’t mean that this is a gentle cool down. Most riders (myself included) find the temptation to sprint what is left in you, out of you, for those final few minutes too much to resist.

 

With the final dibber dibbed, it was time to stretch off, rinse the bike down and see how badly the whole affair had gone. I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t looking forward to dissecting my times, I knew I had been slower than I thought I would be. The punctures had slowed me down and caused me to lose some descending confidence in the middle of the course. But I they where not going to explain away a lack of preparation compared to previous attempts.

Much to my surprise, I had improved my placings on all the stages apart from the Kinlochleven descent! I had also jumped 200 or so in my total points. The biggest surprise was that the 32lb enduro bike was only 29 seconds slower on stage 2, who says big bikes cant climb!


Ultimately this is what the Tour is about for me.

I’m not going to bother the fast boys, I’m never going to break the top 10. It is a personal challenge to race against myself, to push hard on a demanding and challenging course that tests all aspects of my riding. It is a measure of where I currently stand as a rider, both within the MTB community, but most importantly against myself.

Will I race it again? If I do I will take what this years race has taught me and remember the lessons of past races and come back better prepared. Because however well you do, you can always better yourself at the next race.

Tour De Ben NEvis No Fuss Events Stravaiging 7

 

Comrie Cream O the Croft

Comrie Croft is a privately owned trail centre and campsite, with a focus on sustainability and serious green credentials, it is also the home of a surprisingly tough enduro.

The Cream O’ The Croft is a three day bike festival held over a weekend in June, the highlight being a 9 stage enduro race held on the Saturday. Muckmedden Events was the race organiser, their Fair City Enduro being such a fun event and with Comrie being two hours from me. Well, it would be rude not to race.

Arriving on site I was immediately struck by the atmosphere being more like a boutique festival than a mountain bike race. The camp site had as many families and kids running around as hardened racers and privateers. That isn’t to say that there wasn’t a stacked field in attendance, brought home to me as James Shirley’s Radon Factory Racing van parked next to me whilst getting the bike ready. This was going to be a serious day on the bikes.

Registration was a quick affair, no queues here, leaving plenty of time to take in the event village. The festival meant there was plenty of attractions for those not racing. Indoor and outdoor bouncy castles, face painting, Segways and a 60 foot slip and slide were just some of the family friendly attractions. This and the food and beer all added up to make the day a great one for little and big ones.

I was in the fourteenth wave which gave me plenty of time after the briefing to stretch off and warm up before my start time. The waves left like Swiss trains, and without delay we left the village and started up the climb to stage one.

wave set off

After a social climb stage one had the usual queue, people shifting and squeezing tyres. All whilst trying not to make it obvious that they were watching every rider leaving the gate to watch for the best line

Stage One

Starting from the highest point on the trails, and with a big audience watching, it was hard not to go full gas straight from the off. Large exposed slabs of rock were punctuated with water bars, loose rocks and punchy climbs. It was a long stage and the pace of the start was hard to maintain, I’m still not pacing properly on stages!

I made a few little mistakes and it wasn’t long before “RIDER” was being called from behind. Approaching a group of stationary riders and taping, I could let the acid in my legs ease as it was the end, or so I thought. The stage crossed the start of stage two, I was only half way through! Digging in I passed a few people on hardtails on the descent and made it finally to the end.

Stage 2 Enduro Comrie croft scotland

Stage Two

Making my way up to the start of stage two was a quick affair, were I found that I wasn’t the only one caught out by the physicality of the first stage. The banter was drowned out by people coughing loudly and producing substantial lung biscuits at regular intervals.

The second stage was the “XC Stage”, sharing much of the character of the first just with more climbs and prolonged pedaling. This stage had many man made rock gardens of the type that look like stepping stones, the kind specifically designed to rob you of momentum. Keeping light and popping over the water bars the fatigue started to build. I started relying on the bike more and more, and once more, “RIDER”. With a rabbit to chase more depth was found in the legs as I tried to keep him in view till the end of the stage, I failed but I found more speed for the last leg!

Crieff Comrie Croft Scotland Nature
Stunning views graced every climb.

Whilst the day started overcast the clouds soon boiled off and with the mercury rising, keeping fluids up was quickly becoming a priority.

Stage Three

This stage was the blue trail, flowing with small drops, berms and moguls to work through. It was a fast and fun stage, bone dry and easy to wash out in the dust if you let your concentration lapse. I had a clean stage except for one thing, the start. I fumble trying to clip in and took what felt like an age to hear that reassuring click and was finally able to get the power down.

My goals for the day were to focus on body position and ride clean, aiming to land in the top 50% overall. One thing however was becoming apparent, I need to work on my starts. I was losing to much time trying to dib in and get shifting, I was struggling to clip in and wasn’t getting any power down as I was trying not to slip a pedal. Not good, and definitely room for improvement.

Stage four

This was the climb stage, it was a single track slog that led to a fire road grind. It used the climb that was the spine of the days route and I cursed myself for not paying enough attention to where the stage actually ended. This resulted in me leaving to much in the tank, with the end of the stage coming up sooner than expected. Frustrating as climbing is usually a stronger area of my riding, live and learn.

Five and seven shared a starting point, one went left the other right. The site is compact for a trail centre with it making best use of the available hill, but this compact nature meant every stage had a queue. Not necessarily a bad thing as you had plenty time to recover, as long as you kept yourself stretched out.

Stage five

This was easily my best and favorite stage of the day, a sentiment echoed by many of the other riders. Starting in tight trees with narrow rooty and rocky trail with serrated rocky drops and chutes. Before breaking the treeline and opening up onto warp speed trails that scythed through the long grass the before dropping down the hillside to the shared end point with stage seven.

I finally got a good start, clipping in and getting good power down from the off. I went smooth but not full gas, as it was all to easy to clip a bar or get taken out by a sniper rock on the narrow rutted trail. Keeping momentum on the short climbs as the light started to grow, the trees thinned out and I let the bike run whilst cranking hard. The acceleration was immense, few trails combine tight technical terrain and high speed hill side, and this one was just immense.

Dibbing out, I was breathing hard and knew I’d done well (for me) and left little still on the hill, it was onwards and downwards to stage six.

Stage Six

This stage presented a total change of pace and a test of handling skill, a line of table tops joined a pump track. The stage was two laps of the pump track, you could pedal up to the first jump, then it was pump and jump for the two laps of the track. A 15 second time penalty for any pedaling after the first jump kept things interesting.

Stage 6 Pump Track Challenge

I (like a good number of riders) got a few laps in on the pump track before the race briefing, so I was confident that I would be able to make the two laps without penalty. Sprinting hard out the gate to get as much acceleration whilst I could, I was cleanly over the jumps and into the pump track. It went well but I lost some momentum towards the end of the second lap, still, no time penalties.

Blue Skys Comrie Crieff Scotland

By now the sky was a deep azure, with the thick heat and sound of crickets  chirping their song along every trail, you could swear we were racing on the continent. Back up the climb that was a recurring feature of the day and to decision rock.

Stage Seven

Whilst waiting my turn in the line, word came up that someone had crashed at the first feature, a rocky chute with drops almost immediately after the start. This prompted half the queue to go for a short track walk to see what the sapling trees were hiding from us. It was a nasty rock garden with the smoothest line ending on a massive awkward stump waiting to grab your front wheel. Forewarned is forearmed, so it was back to the line to await my turn.

The stage was similar in character to stage 5, it had a big unrollable drop half way in and some sharper climbs but a similar style and mix of trail. I got a good start again and made a clean job of the first few features, they were similar to my home trails and fun to ride. I made a total mess of the first sharp climb, losing all momentum and in a totally wrong gear it was faster to get off and run. Clipping back in for another rocky chute it had cost me time, placing 17th on stage 5 and 25th on the seventh. Still making mistakes that I don’t have time to claw back time on, it was over the drop across the hillside meadow before crossing a stream and over the line.

Stage Eight and Nine

The final two stages were two laps of a duel slalom course, swapping over so you raced both lanes. Randomly joining up in the queue with a female rider with a rather serious looking Giant I knew she’d be quick.

Stage 8 9 Comrie Enduro Duel Slalom

The start was like the run up to the pump track, flowing brakeless jumps, berms and moguls before a series of flat turns on freshly cut grass. I won the first round, it is probably fair to say she won the second but it was close racing both times.

James Shirley and Mike Clyne gave a lesson in dibbing out on the final stages and posted wins in their respective categories.

The party atmosphere was building in the event village with the beer flowing and the side “races” kicking off, like the kids granny ring drag race or the adults balance bike drag race. The weather had played ball and the organizers, sponsors and local producers had covered themselves in glory, top day.

With the racing over it was back to the registration desk to get my times and see where I currently stood. I’d landed at 33rd overall when I checked out, a time I wish I could pretend would stick. In the end I was 71st out of 172 overall.

I’d achieved my goal for the day of being in the top 50% overall and had improved on my previous enduro result. My other focus for the day will still need work, but with new things learned at every race there are always things to carry forward to the next one.

Next stop, Tour De Ben?


Elsewhere

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Fair City Enduro Racing

The Fair City Enduro offered a change of race discipline in a low pressure race to test myself again.

I haven’t raced this year, not properly, more important family matters where at the front of my mind with the arrival of my son. Once bitten by racing though its a tough itch to scratch, so a one day enduro an hour 30 from my house provided the right opportunity and hard to resist.

Having made it through the spring and summer with less riding and gym work than previous years, my fitness was a slight concern. I hadn’t gained weight but my base level was down on what I was used too so training would have to be tougher and concentrated to get me race ready.

Santa Cruz Heckler 5.0 Classic
Noble steed

This, thankfully, was enduro, so a new approach to training was on the cards anyway. With my weekends happily occupied by the wee man it was the gym at work, so short and regular sessions focusing on strength training and sprint intervals on the spin bike. Gone were long training rides at 3/4 gas in were brutal visits to the pain cave pushing 100%, why does everyday feel like leg day? reminding myself that it wasn’t meant to get easier I was meant to get better.

I was however, very aware that my pace would be down, I had been at skills coaching sessions at the start of the year and felt that my pace was up in the spring, but time off the bike I knew had dulled that edge, by how much we would find out. The night before the race brought on rain of biblical proportions, so as I loaded the bike up in the dark and dreich I like many of the riders was unsure of what conditions would await us on the hill.

as I loaded the bike up in the dark and dreich I like many of the riders was unsure of what conditions would await us on the hill.

Callum Kellie Fair City Enduro

The event was organised by Muckmedden Events, they put on a fun easy going race with an encouraged fancy dress dress code, apart from the usual bottle neck on the first lap/stage you always have with races with 300 + riders the event was well run and supported. With only the occasional issue with taping on transitions causing some pilot error on my part inbetween stages, I enjoyed cutting the tape and “enduro lines” that this race format can be infamous for being on the transitions rather than the stages.

The first stage had the usual nerves but I shook them off as there was long sight lines and the dibber was manned by a marshal so it was fast out the blocks. It was flat cornered and loose but not particularly steep, having been told this race hadn’t had much tech in past years I was expecting this sort of terrain. all was going well when on a soft going sprint section boosh, I slipped a pedal.  Struggling to keep momentum and clip back in at the same time I cursed at forgetting to adjust the spring tension on my new SPD’s and battered on to the finish. My prep had let me down showing how easy it is to loose significant time on a short stage due to the tiniest of things.

The climb up to stage two was a sociable affair which is probably why I didn’t notice how much height we had gained. Lulled into a false sense of security by stage one I dibbed in and sprinted hard out the start gate, keeping light on the bike and off the brakes hopping over roots and building speed when suddenly the trail flew into a tight left and into a steep loose chute, I was not expecting this.

If this were horse racing I believe the term is refusing the jump

I slipped out and essentially half tripod half slid down the chute, clipping back in I was well aware that this stage was done for me (as was the race) but I was determined not to be overtaken by the rider 30secs behind me. My expectations well and truly adjusted for the days trails I dropped into a bike park section with some berms and tabletops before drifting to the end of the stage.

Callum Kellie Fair City Enduro stage 2 StravaigingThat was fun but my race brain was still not thinking for Enduro, I reminded myself this was not a lapped course; this was not a point to point raced over hours and there simply was not the scope to gain back lost time, with this in mind I moved onto the next stage.

Stage three shared the same start point as stage two it was just the other side of the hill, spinning hard off the start popping over roots and working the bike to keep momentum I now knew if I couldn’t see the exit of the turn it was probably a drop and it was. Prepared for it this time I dropped in and down seeing a climb immediately after I smashed through the gears and kept my speed up the climb. I closed on the rider in front of me and made it past them during the climb, swooping into the downs again a marshal shouted “rider down”, I knew they were ahead of me but I didn’t know where.

Checking my speed but not wanting to lose too much when it was going so well, I kept on the gas feeling the acid build in my legs as the trails turned bone dry and dusty. I passed the downed rider on a flat sprint before dropping back into tight trails drifting the last few pine needle covered turns before dibbing out.

I was absolutely beat breathing hard with fire in my legs it had been an incredible stage, I was the last rider down before they closed the stage to clear to injured rider which gave me ample time to recover whilst waiting for my riding buddies.

Transition to stage 4 5 6 Fair City Enduro

The transition to stages four five and six was the longest and most scenic with the weather having a dramatic change of heart over the course of the day, with glorious sunshine breaking through the technicolour forest canopy, it was a great day to be on the bikes.

Transition to stage 4 5 6  Fair City Enduro

The top of stage four was open ground with some rock slabs before the tree line, the marshal said that there was a corner just as you entered the trees, it was flat, grassy and wet and everyone was sliding out on it so watch yourself. The open start gave lots of free speed which continued into the trees With the crash corner ahead I scrubbed my speed, swung my hips and carved perfectly round the turn. Letting loose the anchors I cranked hard enjoying the playful feel of this trail, as I braapped through a speed section before approaching another flat turn.

Scrub, Swing, Sideways, slide on my arse, the marshal hadn’t told me about this corner, but why should he this was blind racing after all! What had been perfect before led to me sliding out and tangling my foot in my chain. Starting from zero on a wet sprint I made it to the end without further incident.

Back up for stage 5 and to bit of a queue who were having a pow wow about how best to start this trail, on the right there was a smooth line to the right with zero tech, not particularly fast and a good bit longer than the main line. To the left was a greasy steep rock chute with plenty of scope to grab a wheel, this set up straight into a sweet speed section before you disappeared into the trees.

Stage 5 Rock chute  Fair City Enduro 2015

A number of riders wrote it off and went right thinking better of the slick rock, to be honest it wasn’t a particularly techy section and was very similar to parts of my favorite home trails.

I spotted my line clipped in hollered “ALLEZ” and with a few crank turns the rear wheel buzzing my shorts I was down and whooping through the trees. This was a fast trail with slick muddy grass everywhere, the flat turns of stage 4 fresh in my mind I scrubbed speed and drifted turns trying to not get too rowdy. At the bottom with a clean run I was happy but knew there was still one last stage and it was going to be a long one.

On the climb up to stage 6 I wound my Fox Talas down from 160 too 120 and powered my way up, the queue at the start was short so I started eyeing down the trail before it was my turn to drop in. Sprinting into the broom that flanked the narrow trail as it ran along the cliff Tops, with flashes of exposure to my left weaving through the trees the trail was fast, grippy and absolutely prime.

The first steep chute had a sweet catch berm at the bottom, getting over the back wheel flowing into the drop the front end was twitchy and vague as I wrestled the bike through the turn. The handling felt very odd just then but shaking it off as just loose dirt I cranked it as the trail started to climb and contour the cliffs. Another steep chute with a drop to pop off approached, pre-loading the bike the front end wandered understeering over the drop, this was getting strange.

My confidence in my usually unshakable steed well and truly shook I took the remaining trail with less commitment than was needed and less speed than previous stages, frustrating as the trail was amazing and the dirt prime.

Dibbing out I hung my head leaning over the bars, looking down I saw the cause of all my woes, my Talas was still set to 120mm. If the head angle was any steeper my bike would of fallen over, never mind robbing the fork of any hard charging abilities severe school boy error.

Severe school boy error.

Rolling back into town the bonus stage awaited us, stage seven consisted of a flat sprint course with wooden rollers and berms as obstacles, it was in the event village so the spectators where out in force as was the heckling from the commentator. Falling over the finish line in a surprising amount of oxygen dept I handed over my dibber to be given my stage times and a flapjack, I don’t even think I saw the flapjack it was eaten so quickly.

It had been a great day of racing but it had been a school day, I knew exactly where my pace was compared with myself earlier in the year, comparatively this was probably my worst placing within my category. But I knew a change of discipline would be a hard one to manage, with a few years of lapped and long races worth of training and strategy wired into the legs and mind the days results where always going to weaker than previous races. With a few key repeat offenders on my events to do list for 2016 I think there will be at least one enduro joining them.

Bring on next year and more Enduro.

Callum Kellie Fair City Enduro stage 7 Stravaiging


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Tour De Ben Nevis – 2013

First time on the tour and the weather had been playing against us in the weeks and days leading up to the race, the day itself wasn’t looking to hot either.

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging

Waiting for the rolling start to kick off I was wondering if my decision to stick with my XC rubber and to not go with mud spikes had been a good idea. it was to late for that now as the pipe band were warmed up and the procession down Fort William Highstreet that marks the start of the race had begun.

Reaching the start point the pace accelerated quickly as racers didn’t want to get caught by slower riders or parked cars.

Pipe band Tour De Ben NEvis 2013

The pack started to thin as the first climb was long road haul out of Fort William and towards the West Highland way, this road section rose and fell and rose again. The road was wet and slick with a few moments of two wheel drift on the fast descents as we finally went off road and the real work began.

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging 13

The rain had washed out the already rough West Highland way turning it into a rocky river bed, some sections had flowing water moving over the trail which retained a surprising level of grip if you trusted your tyres. The peaks of the hills that towered over the route were lost in cloud and fog, whisps of rain drifted down the hill on the race going on below them.

Reaching the queue for the first special stage (stage 2 stage 1 is the complete journey) I dibbed out so the wait wouldn’t affect my overall time. Taking a breather and a feed I nervously dropped my post as I started to notice the number of 140/160mm bikes around and worried that my 100mm HT was going to be under biked at some point.

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging 20

Reaching the head of the line a marshal counted me in, charging blind down a line that would be technical for me in normal circumstances, I had no idea what was round the corner. I was not expecting the waterbars gouged so deep in the rock that they could swallow a 29er whole, or the loose shale over everything. Picking my way through the rock minefield (rock garden is to gentle a term) pleased not to have been over taken, seeing the tree line up ahead it happened, I’d flatted the rear.

With the clock still ticking I shouldered the bike and made like this was cyclocross and ran the rest of the way. Passing a marshal who said something to me which I later decided was “your my hero” whilst being passed by several Orange Fives, I also ran past people wrestling with tubes in the driech conditions. finally reaching the end I dibbed out and looking around there was at least a dozen fellow riders fixing mechanicals and flats which I joined and performed a puncture repair at F1 pitcrew speed.

The game had changed, the flat had effectively ended my race but for the overall time, changing strategy I had to go full gas on the transitions and not do to much damage to my time during the remaining special stages. Easier said than done as the next two stages where climbs, tough climbs.

Having lost all our elevation in one not so swift descent it was now a prolonged climb out of Kinlochleven past Mamore Lodge, made all the more interesting as climb was the third special stage.

making steady progress on the climb and passing riders who had flown past me on the descent, I started to appreciate the wide spacing of my 8 speed cassette, the water washing the mud and grit from my drive train, it never skipped a beat the whole race. The now considered narrow ratio also necessitated a fast climb as there was no 36 tooth to fall back on, that said the granny on the triple up front saw plenty of action.

The race was starting to feel like a shared ordeal that only riders who had raced this year would truly understand, riders had the middle distance stare of a true physical ordeal. The full gamut of mechanicals where starting to rack up along the route with more and more riders dropping out, I even saw a race ended by a snapped Renthal single ring.

Reaching the end of the climb and the stage I could see I was mid pack and was keen to try and maintain my position. Clouds were still rolling off the hillsides with misting showers drifting over the route. The next transition was a straightforward and fairly flat landy track to a river crossing and the next and toughest special stage, a hike a bike up a peat bog.

Cresting a rise the river came into sight with a undulating descent to the river bank, letting the bike move beneath me and enjoying some free speed a sniper rock suddenly shot out the front wheel beneath me. Sliding out side ways a fairly substantial rock came towards my face in slow motion, “well here it comes” was the surprisingly calm thought that drifted through my head as I hit the dirt like a sack of spuds.

Abandoning their bikes other racers huddled round me, no doubt expecting a bloodied mess and a broken face. To everyone’s surprise I was completely unscathed, my wrist was a little sore but nothing that would stop me holding onto the bars. Checking the bike was fine it was onto the river crossing and the dreaded hike-a-bike up the goat track.

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging 14

Fording the swollen torrent the bank on the far side was no more dry or inviting than the river itself, the trail leading to the dibber and the start of the stage was a muddy unridable mess with pushing the only reasonable option. This was to be the theme for this stage, once committed to the climb it was a slow jog uphill with the bike on my shoulders, here the XC bike made sense as I was able to make good time with the lighter bike. The climb was without flow over a saturated and flooded peat bog. Hints of granite slab teased at what would become the descent as the vertical metres were slowly counted up.

Topping out the climb transitioned into a sprawling delta of narrow rocky ruts charging down towards the bothy and final feed station. A barbeque for a feed station is a fairly unique feature for any race, so a quick feed and change of socks before getting back to it.

After an incredibly fast storm down a drifty fire road it was onto a traverse through the wood land leading to the Nevis Range and the final special stage. This would be a fairly uneventful clocking of kilometers if it wasn’t for the second puncture of the day. Another fast tube change and I was back on in, but something was up, having had so many free kilometers on the fireroad I had forgotten to eat and I was starting on the road to bonking.

I knew it was coming, I could eat now but it would get worse before it got better. Forcing myself to turn the pedals the fireroad just went on to the horizon, the incline went back towards the heavens and the emotional breakdown and numbing of the full on bonk was in the periphery of my vision. Then finally, I reached it, Shangri-La, the promised final stage and a rest to allow the feed to kick in before the final sprint.

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging 6

With my emotions returning to a harmonius state and with some more fuel in the legs the last stage awaited, this “Enduro” style trail incorporates some of the Nevis Range classics. Starting off with Blue Crane, Bomb Hole, Cackle and Drop and Nessie all making an appearance with a straight out fire road sprint in the middle. This 1.9km greatest hits mix tape has become a trail classic in itself and having visited it again on the big bike the red mist of a run between tape has always resulted in my PB time.

leaving the North Face car park and the final few KM to Fort William, you could catch your breath and allow your legs to recover but that wont happen as this is still racing even after 60km+. A small pack of similar paced riders had gathered together and none of us wanted to be the last over the line, it was purely pride making us hurt ourselfs on this final leg as the points system meant it was irrelevant who actually came first out of us. But right now that didn’t matter.

Rolling onto the opposite end of the High Street from which we had left that morning the circle was complete, Sven was done, I was done, it was done.

time  position points
 Stage 1
05:36:04  140 461
 Stage 2
00:11:17 290 111
 Stage 3
00:19:46 122 279
 Stage 4
00:59:13 168 233
 Stage 5
00:09:21 247 154

Total Points: 1238

Overall: 95

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging 16