Five or so years ago, #ENDURO exploded on to the scene and redefined mountain biking. By offering a race format following most people's preference to "plod-up and thrash-down", the industry finally put its finger on the pulse of the everyman (and woman). I entered my first Enduro race about five years ago and enjoyed the new format, then put racing on a back burner while starting a family and my businesses.
Keen social media followers will have seen a lot of steep technical trails on my feed, thanks to landowner and event host Rhys kindly inviting me to preview his trails. Feeling confident in fitness and local knowledge, I decided to give the Dyfi round of Welsh Enduro Series a shot.
A mostly dry week with just a hit of rain had left the trails solid underneath, with a slick layer on top. Opting for an early start (to get back to my stand), practice was lively but the bike felt good after a few subtle tweaks to pressures and rates.
After lunch we set out into blazing sun for a very literal hot lap. Stage 1 (Sparrow Hawk) went smoothly, and after a short push we were at the top of Goshawk, something of a nemesis. A layer of mud made the roots slippery, but the ground was firm between them. The tight top section needed a couple of dabs, but I entered the sprint intact. Hard on the brakes to drop into the second technical section, I glanced over my shoulder to see Rhys gaining ground. Turning back to the trail, I looked hard at a tree on the corner exit, only to ride straight into it and over the bars! Focus on the line, not the hazard! Rhys piled in on top, and moments later Tom arrived to find the heap on the floor. Jumping out of the way, Tom continued his run with Rhys following on fast. Sorry lads!
Realising my time was now up by at least a minute, I hopped back on the bike thinking "I'll just roll this out", only to ride the rest of the stage without fault. It's much easier once the pressure's off.
Spinning up the long fireroad climb, others admitted to tumbles in the upper section, and it seemed all was still to play for. Battling through the midges into Heaven and Hell, stoke remained high and I kept my bars neatly between the tight trees with a tidy run. Others were less lucky, and we saw some spectacular clips and saves.
A short transition lead to the highlight of the course, "Steep". Tucked in Rhys's private forest, this is the host's personal vision of enduro racing. Other names he could have chosen include "Tight", "Intense" and "Awesome"! Hanging on hard through a damp mid section, I made a tidy run to finish upright and happy in Rhys's garden.
Looking at the times showed a bottom-third placing, which may have been more mid-pack without the crash. But who cares!? My main memory of the day was great riding in a great field of highly competent and friendly riders. If this is Enduro Racing, I'll be entering again!
(Massive thanks to: Budd and crew for event organisation and allowing me to donate a spot prize and have a stand in the field. Rhys and Mr&Mrs Butler for creating stunning tracks and excellent base in his riverside field. Sian and Family for the VIP finish area with cake, squash and a trampoline to lie on!)
(Lead image purchased from Roots & Rain)