Race Report - Dunkeld Enduro 2015

Firstly this is unashamedly a longer article than a normal race report as it complements the Enduro for beginners articles elsewhere on the site. Fear not – other reports will be significantly shorter!

So: to the race:

This was the third Dunkeld Enduro, and definitely the slickest one so far. I’d been weather watching closely all week, and I was hoping that heavy showers on bone dry trails would just add a bit of tackiness rather than sloppiness.

The day didn’t start very auspiciously when on arriving I discovered that my last minute change of front wheel/tyre resulted in me bringing a QR axled wheel with me to fit a 20mm fork. Mindbendingly luckily Laurene was heading to Perth for the Day, and hadn’t yet left, so I managed to talk her into bringing a wheel that would fit the bike - what a lifesaver!

Finally made it top the top of stage 1 - only 15 minutes behind Ali - some serious looking bikes here

Now some time behind fellow RWR rider Ali, I raced to the top of stage 1 aware that there were very few people behind me in the paddock (ie I was starting at the back) and one of those was the Top Chief himself Joe Barnes, who was, let’s face it, going to scream past me at some point pushing me even further down the running order.

I beasted myself to the top of Newtyle hill arriving to find some serious looking pros, and at least one EWS competitor in there too, so I really felt like the odd one out. Then I got to the launch platform to find a couple of cross country riders who were looking seriously worried. It looked like they’d entered with little understanding of what was about to befall them, and had looked about from their 120mm hardtails at all the 160mm full-suss riding full-face helmet wearing speed merchants, and then down at the start (and it’s a bit intimidating) and realised this wasn’t what they were expecting. Fortunately Adam from Progression Mountain Bikes was on duty at the top and he gave them plenty of space to get going before setting the next rider off.

Very soon I was away, and I was instantly taken by how well the open loamy turns went and how much directional control I had (anything is better than the ‘none’ I had last year at times). It was great to be out on the open hillside and running some quality off camber trail. The slate is never very deep, and so pretty often a shaly turn or traverse popped out, and in places this initial section was really narrow with some little drops on it that really needed you to pay attention. The cross country riders were walking by the time I passed them, but on a techy little set of drops I managed a “thank you” – after all it’s difficult to know what you’re letting yourself in for until you try your first one.

Off the very narrow off camber trail, you’re then suddenly on an open straight traverse on a fast fast trail interspersed with little hummocks. At speed these need to be squashed or you’re airborne, but the section beautifully delivers you into the Quarry section at speed. The Slate quarry is just a bit bonkers really – no longer sliding on prime loam, you’re sliding on quality slate chips, and there were plenty of steep tight turns to negotiate in here. At this point I realised that I could see the person in front and at approximately 20 second intervals at the start, this usually means you are doing okay. Really happy with my smoothness, no nasty moments so far, no punctures in the slate and feeling really good about the levels of control in the loam. The weather had definitely prepared the course well and I was pleased with my riding so far.

Ride - or push - or both - just get to the top

The bonus was that Ali had had a break at the bottom for about 30 minutes and had been comfortable enough to wait for me, so we were now 2 – team RWR reunited, so we didn’t hang about, and set off for ‘the mast’, and stage 2.

One of the great things about the Dunkeld Enduro is the fact that the timed sections are all over the area, so riders traverse the village on several occasions between sections. The journey from section 1 to 2 took us half way along the high street before pointing perilously straight up a narrow side street with a ridiculous gradient, and thus began the climb. Getting to the top of stage 2 was pretty brutal with several sections only ridden as a challenge or by the fittest. Most riders walked significant sections of the forestry track, especially in the upper reaches.

This time the queue was a little longer, allowing for a feed and a couple of clothing adjustments. Last years stage 2 was now stage 3 and we were about to ride a completely new stage. I was immediately caught between the scared excitement of truly riding the stage on-sight, and the realisation that if stage 3 started here too, then I’d have to come up that hill again!

So after a slow rolling start (the contactless dibbers were awesome) off I set into stage 2 and literally the unknown. What can I say about stage 2? It was the most bonkers, amazing, steep, amazing, brilliant, flowy, crazy thing I have ridden in the UK. I switched instantly into alpine mode (which I didn’t realise existed until the first turn) and flowed down the trail. It was so well built it even had little pre-turns before the tight switchbacks to initiate ‘Scandinavian Flicks’. Some of the switchbacks had the most amazing views –tracking the trail ahead you realised that the next exit was almost vertical, and on more than one occasion I rode on sheer faith that this must be rideable as there wasn’t a pile of bodies at the bottom. This stage was truly fantastic and well worth the journey to ride alone – a superb piece of trail building, and thanks really go to the locals who built it. Ali was so chuffed with it that he took the final jump straight on in celebration.

Re-contact with Ali at the bottom of the stage saw us both grinning ear to ear, and swapping stories about the last time we rode something that mad together – almost elated enough to head off not thinking about the climb ahead: back up to the mast.

Second time up we were still buzzing so much from stage 2 that the climb wasn’t too bad at all. We discussed the stage ahead: Last year it rode a lot better than the previous, and so with the evident tackiness abounding I was optimistic about it. Ali was letting air out of his supertacky very aggressive 2.3 inch tyres – he wasn’t taking any chances.

Time had served this stage well, and in my humble opinion it has matured with age. It was beautifully flowy, steep and occasionally technical with some cheeky wee drops on it, all bringing the speed up as you rounded a berm into the chute and realised that it was infinitely smoother than previously, but then infinitely faster too, and with a significant amount of slate in there, with dubious braking qualities.

Knowing the exit I knew it would be okay and I tried to use the brakes as little as possible. Seat up I raced along the fire road until the tapes lead me off to the left and again into the beautiful narrow singletrack of a quarry area, loam, slate, loam, slate, roots, loam, finish, brilliant. A few worried moments as I realised that the flash of flouro orange that I’d seen wasn’t a spectator, but the riding partner of another stage finisher who had evidently come off part way up the stage, were followed by his steady emergence down the track and more than a little relief, and then Ali appeared grinning from ear to ear – he’d ridden his nemesis ‘the chute’ and was really pleased with his performance despite a shaky start in the tree stumps in the first section.

A wee snack and adjust, and we were off again toward stage 4; up in the Craigvinnean forest. We knew it finished in the paddock at the bottom of the Dunkeld DH course, but where it started we didn’t know. Checking the time, we realised that our training had been paying off as we were well in advance of last years’ times and feeling pretty okay with only one hill to climb.

Traversing the giant zig-zags up toward the top of the DH course, the legs did start to complain a little, and there was more than a little standing for relief on the shallower inclines, but our concerns were for nothing as we came round the corner to realise that stage 4 was effectively the same as last year, with the last 2 sections of the DH course straight into the paddock.

Feeling good from three steady and smooth stages I pushed a little harder on this section and lived to regret it a little. The start was a steady descent through rocky gaps and over tree roots, then uphill through trees to a good muddy turn and into proper downhill mode. The trail here is littered with trees and rounded rocks so as well as hitting hard, they often push you about, so a loose style works best here, but that’s just the theory. In practice you’re a bit of a human pinball. Choosing a straight line I suddenly realised with a photographer’s flash why there was a less straight line as I shot off what felt like a 3 foot drop off back into the rocky rootiness and into pinball mode again.

Finally the pins got the better of me and ¾ of the way down I lost directional control and hit a waiting tree. It was one of those completely predictable crashes you can instinctively see coming, and fortunately I managed to eject at about 90 degrees and stumbled quickly back on my feet. Aware the tapes were pretty narrow at this point and not wanting to get in Ali’s way I dragged the bike to the side and quickly assessed the damage. As I was able to stand and drag the bike to one side I concluded that I must be okay, so what about the bike? Well the wheels turned round okay, but there was an odd pinging sound as the rear rotated, the saddle needed corrected, and I quickly grabbed the front wheel between my knees to straighten the very twisted bars, and checked the trail behind me. All this was done in a flash, and as I looked up I realised that I could jump back on again where I came off the track and get going just before I got in Ali’s way.

Not a new type of 'natural' tyresealant.     

Jumping on again, back into the pinball machine had me regretting getting in front of Ali as I did the last few metres to the dividing fire road really badly and had to have a word with myself, but once back on the track with momentum up I was off again until I realised the front wheel didn’t look quite right. At this point the race head switched off and let a big dollop of caution in. Heading down the last 100m of the Dunkeld DH course with a potential slow puncture was not something to be taken at full speed, and so I slowed a little and picked the cleanest lines down to the last drop where I let off a bit and rode into the paddock a little shaken but in one piece and bar the last 150m having been really pleased with my riding.

Ali finished soon afterward, equally wide-eyed at his unexpected launch into orbit by the cameraman, having had a great ride too. Finishing in the paddock was as ever great, with a bustle of other riders and folks in their gazebos it was great to catch up briefly with Jules Fincham, and steal some of his delicious cake, and also great to be around for the prizegiving for the youth events going on in the forest at the same time – a great piece of organisation on the part of Highland Perthshire Cycling.

The bike? – well the funny front wheel turned out to be half the forest that had made itself between the rim and tyre when I crashed sideways into the tree, and the pinging was the gear cable from my rear derailleur hitting the spokes after the hanger had been bent, other than that pretty unscathed. And the results? Never going to hit the podium, but very pleased with a 21st place in the Vets category, and most importantly still walking, and still with a serviceable bike for next week’s fun and games. Ali scored a 43 for his second ever enduro in the packed and very competitive seniors in which Joe Barnes came 3rd.

Team RWR.    

Thanks go to the organisers of the event, to the Marshalls who did a great job of keeping us on-track (I didn't end up on the A9 this year!), to the other riders who were as ever friendly and supportive of eachother, and of course to those absolute stars who put all the effort into creating stage 2.

See you in Glen Coe!