November 2012 saw the first ever round of competition at ‘God’s own trail centre’ of Kinlochleven with the inaugural This is Enduro Now race organised by No Fuss and the Dudes of Hazzard. Given the success of that race it was a surprise to see only around a third as many riders at the Bluegrass International event this weekend – June is typically a more user-friendly time of year to be outside in the Highlands. The usual suspects were all there though, and aside from a few moments of midge infestation over the two days, conditions were ideal.
After practice on the four special stages on Saturday, at 7pm the riders made their way up the steep road climb to the Mamore Hotel and along to the ‘secret’ prologue stage, which used the classic West Highland Way zigzags to drop sharply down to the road. A heavy rain shower just in time for the start gave the rocks a certain polished something to add to the minefield of water bars and loose corners, and looking round at the start there were a lot of race faces being put on. I felt as though I backed off a lot in the unpredictable conditions, and still managed to lose the front wheel in the first of the loose corners, sending me through the tape and rolling in with a relatively slow time. Sunday was going to be a day of playing catch-up. Many had even worse luck, and although the prologue was a short stage the puncture tally was racking up early, with Chris Hutchens among the casualties.
An evening meal in Glencoe’s famous Clachaig Inn fixes almost any problem, and as Sunday dawned bright and breezy even the midges were behaving. At 9am, riders began to set off up the steep land rover track out of the village towards the Blackwater dam and the infamous Ciaran path. Having been voted amongst Britain’s best trails several times, the Ciaran path is well known to many riders, but had never been raced on before. The first stage announced itself with a brutal uphill sprint early on before dropping into a boulder field that sent me bouncing from side to side. A total of three stages had been taped out on the path, and as they returned to the village they became more pedal-intensive, but no less involved. In the short transition sections it was a toss-up between getting a breather before the next round of rock-wrestling and escaping the midges, which were always lurking nearby. Stage 3 was a real lung-buster and tested riders fitness hard, with several short climbs and pedally straights into yet more rocks. Finishing on the bridge made it all worthwhile though, as the barbecue was fired up and the haggis rolls were flowing freely. I felt stronger on stages 2 and 3, where fitness seemed to be most important, and hoped that I might have made back some time after Saturday’s poor start. Every other rider seemed to be plagued by a mechanical on the path’s unforgiving rocks, and Ruari Watt was unlucky enough to rip off his rear mech in the transition between stages 2 and 3. Getting through clean seemed to be the dream. Stage 4 was the classic ‘kennels’ trail from the Loch Eilde track. In the sun it had dried out a lot from the previous night’s rain to become loose and dusty; some wild corners made for exciting times on the final descent back to the Ice Factor.
Even with a puncture on stage 3, Joe Barnes smashed the win in Pro, ahead of Orange’s James Shirley and fellow Dude Liam Moynihan. Stu Thomson hasn’t slowed down a bit and took the win in expert on his Five 29er ahead of local Gary MacDonald, while it turned out I’d done enough extreme pedalling on the Ciaran path to place 3rd. Ben Miller rode his Five to glory in the Junior category again, and Katy Winton stood where she normally does, on top of the women’s podium beside Fiona Beattie and Fay Cunningham. It was the perfect way to bring enduro to the highlands, and with another successful event will we be seeing a Scottish enduro series sometime in the future?