After the stormy start to the season at Nevis Range six weeks ago, the Poc Scottish Enduro Series travelled south at the weekend to the established venue of Innerleithen, home of long, physical stages and a local scene full of quick riders. With round 1 winner Joe Barnes only here for Saturday practice before leaving for Chile and the EWS opener, the series lead was wide open and sure to be chased by local Gary Forrest. We left the dusty desert that is currently Aviemore for the bright lights of the borders on Friday night with hopes of a dry weekend, semi-slick rear tyre fitted and looking forward to some long days out up the hill. Turns out the North-East climate doesn’t apply down there though, and Saturday morning dawned looking decidedly moody as rainclouds threatened.
Someone muttered something about the ‘spirit of enduro’ though, so at the relatively leisurely time of midday riders began to head up the long climb to Minch Moor, to see what the volunteers at Innerleithen MTB Racing had set out for us. Stage 1 was a proper festi-pedal to warm up dozy legs, veering between wind assist and wind battle as the trail centre run twisted and turned down from the summit through jumps and berms. Stage 2 was virtually the opposite, starting near the Alastair Lees trail and forcing riders to pedal and pump through low-angled roots and ruts to maintain speed, before a punchy fireroad climb lead into the bottom of the dreaded ‘Mince Baby Mince’. Mince was running faster and better than usual following some crafty trail maintenance, and the feeling seemed to be that these two stages provided a good opening and a representative taste of the rest of the day.
Stages 3 and 4 each took in portions of the classic DH trails with short pedals to break up the descending. Stage 4 hid a sting in its tail though, as it dropped into the steep rocky corners that are Pete Williams’ ‘Corners of Doom’. On Saturday we saw a lot of bikes and bodies not going where they were supposed to as man and machine failed to agree on just what exactly was going on. Every thirty seconds or so a heap of bright colours and fashionably-sized wheels would plop out of the trees and on to the bridleway at the bottom, but luckily after this there was one more climb up to the uplift bus turning circle where stage 5 awaited! This was the longest and most physical stage, using the fresh (and now very churned up) ‘Not for Poofs’ which, if survived intact, gave riders the chance to burn their legs off on the longest fireroad pedal of the day. Dropping off the fireroad was no relief though, because the roots of Jane’s Lane lead into more pedalling if you wanted to hit 88mph and go back to the future down Caddon Bank. Not too bad for a day’s endooro!
Sunday was just as moody, and even as we made faces for the camera in our groups at the race start it was clear that rain waited for us 400m above on Minch Moor. I was very, very glad to be able to set off in the second group of 5 riders, meaning that there was no queue to endure at the first stage start, which was even windier than the day before. Having felt a bit lethargic on the climb up, it blew some focus into me, and the rest of the stages went by without incident, feeling steady but controlled, and even quite strong on the pedally sections. Before too long I was dropping in to stage 5, hitting only the one tree on the way down, and giving the last of the beans as I pedalled towards the finish and a cup of tea.
Gary Forrest was in tough competition with Greg Callaghan for on the day, but ultimately it was Greg that topped the pile, a crash on stage 4 not helping Gary despite the home advantage. The two of them put a decent gap into the rest of the field though, with Mark Scott being the only rider to clock a sub 24 minute total time and completing the senior (and overall) podium.
The only controversy of the weekend seemed to be the more adventurous racing lines that were ‘discovered’ on stage 4 in particular. Two schools of thought seem to be emerging: one that takes the ‘race to the tape’ rule very literally, and another that veers closer to the ‘spirit’ of the event. Both have some pretty incontestable arguments, and as enduro racing becomes more and more competitive disputes like this might only be avoidable if course taping is looked at even more closely before practice begins. That’s not to say, though, that IMTBR didn’t do a fantastic job of organising and running the race. Unlike the feeling of doing consecutive full runs of the hill that is sometimes associated with enduros at this venue, the route felt like a more flowing circuit of everything on offer at Innerleithen, which means things are looking good for the EWS’ visit to the Valley at the end of May! Other Tweedlove events have gone on general sale in the last week as well, so make sure you’re there!
Thanks to the team for putting on the event, and to the marshals for giving up their time to sit in the rain and keep smiling at us lot!