That’s a wrap! The 2016 Southern Enduro has come to an end, as has my first season of racing and what an incredible series it’s been. Scott Fitzgerald and the team have created a seriously epic race series with challenges throughout and it’s been great to see so many like minded riders enjoying the atmosphere of what’s been on offer throughout the year.
The final round took place on Sunday 18th September, at the same venue as the opening race, the #brownpow fest that is Milland; a usually sleepy village in West Sussex. As in April, we brought this quiet little piece of England to life. This time, Scott had brought the noise with a great selection of music pumping over a sound system and there was a great vibe in the race village, mixed with an air of seriousness in the riders, each one wanting to end on a high note, myself included.
This final round saw the introduction of separated Womens categories (Womens, Vet Womens and Open Womens) to even the playing field amongst the female riders. Adele Tyson-Bloor (Cannondale) had arranged a training session a few weeks before the race and around 45 Enduro ready ladies rocked up on the day ready to shred. It was great to see so many new faces with such huge smiles, many of whom were racing for the first time. Congrats to you all, hopefully you enjoyed it and will be back for more next year!
I arrived nice and early with my aunt, who was taking photos on the day and caught up with some mates before walking the course to spot some key features for some killer shots. I headed back down and got ready for practise, deciding to conserve energy for the race runs and only practise stages 2, 3 and 4. All went well, barring a few sketchy moments, but I’d stayed upright. At this stage, HUGE thanks to Bird Cycleworks, for the loan of a Maxxis High Roller for my rear, as it turns out a Minion SS at Milland is perhaps not the best choice! I started out the day sliding around, but the improvement was instant; I could actually (slightly) control my bike!
After practise, riders chilled out in the race village before heading off. I got the ‘go’ for stage 1, and immediately messed up the first small rock feature, nearly smashing into a tree. The rest of the run went well, with some great berms, off camber turns and small jumps, before a sprint to the finish on the section I’d helped build all those months ago. The mistake near the top threw me a little, and I pretty much took the chicken lines for the rest of the stage with a thousand yard stare, as Tom Broyd kindly captured below!
Practise and a bit of rain a few days before ensured that ruts and sticky sections were developing already, reminding me of the first round. The positive side to this was that the lines were easier to spot, with the downside obviously being that the bike wasn’t rolling as quickly. Still, it added an extra element to the race and seconds were easy to lose or gain with the conditions on the day.
Stage 2 began with the infamous log drop, before a lung burning sprint into a rocky sender followed by some more tight switchbacks and tricky features over rocks and into deep loamy turns, before racing across a bridge (or north shore, your call) and into the finishing field.
Stage 3; my nemesis in April where I fell in practise. It started the same and although I stayed upright, I did come to a complete stop on the first tight right corner. It was great to watch other riders tackle this section, with superb encouragement on the first jump into a right hand berm. The rest of the stage was good, with a short burst through ultra tight trees and into the freshly built end section, which was a beautiful sprint through flat corners and on to the end.
Stage 4 was the new beast. Practise gave me an idea of how loose this one would be, with the race run being exactly as I’d thought.. crazy, challenging and difficult. An off camber start into a tacky flat section brought you into some small step downs, loose berms and a super sketchy switchback, with many riders opting for an inside line that had developed in practise. Pushing out of this feature with the crowd getting rowdy on the cow bells, I drove forward and through a gnarly tree drop that was just wider than my bars before tackling a tight section of turns between trees, through the final sprint and a cheeky little jump out of the woods and into the finishing field and the end of the stage.
The end was sadly drawing closer with the final climb up the transition to stage 5. Setting off at the top through a fast section where pumping the rollers gave some great additional speed, I came to the majorly loose left turn that I washed out on in April to see the rowdy cow bell spectators again and lost focus, nearly going straight into the tape. Oops.. I carried on, pushing through the burning in my thighs and winding through a skinny enclosed section of trees before smashing the final, brutal sprint across two fields and over the line for the final time.
All said and done, I wanted three things; to finish in one piece, no broken bike and not last place. I achieved all of these thankfully and for the first time in the series, I didn’t have a ‘4’ in front of my final placing… granted there were only 37 riders in Masters, but let’s forget that bit! 33rd of 37, so consistently average will do me fine for the first season against some extremely tough competitors. What’s interesting for me is that my final time at round 1 across 4 stages was 10:11.53. This time around, with the addition of an extra stage, my final time was 9:53.99, so I know I’ve improved over the year, I can take some major positives from the day and series as a whole.
A very big congrats to the unstoppable force that is Chris Doney, who took first place in the pro category across all 4 stages riding either his Bird Aeris, or the new Aeris One20. Francie Arthur, Charles Griffith and Tomas Kupstys all took overall series winner titles too, so Bird Cycleworks had an exceptional series! You can see the full results here, as well as some great shots on Roots & Rain here. Below is a selection of shots I took through the day too, including winners of their respective categories:
In reflection, there is a huge amount to do if I want to improve next year. I need to spend the Winter in the mud, rain and freezing conditions getting fitter and faster but hell, so long as I’m smiling when I’m on the bike, results are a second thought for me. What’s amazing is that even as a lower placing rider, the support I’ve received has been insane and very much appreciated. From Bird Cycleworks always being on hand to help with the bike and provide laughs, Swinley Bike Hub boss Tristan and the team being ever encouraging, Scott and the Southern Enduro Team always being full of smiles and having time for you. Old mates and new I’ve met in this series and on the trails, friends, family and my ever supportive wife Emily; every single one of you has left a mark and made a difference in helping me do my best, so thank you all, sincerely. Anyway, this is beginning to sound like an Oscars acceptance speech, so that’s enough of that.
I’ll leave you with a photo that has summed up my series, which has been full of laughs and one of the best years I’ve ever had on the bike. Thanks to Steve for the shot:
Southern Enduro, you have been absolutely amazing and a great challenge, really helping me to push my abilities and improve as a rider. It’s been a great pleasure to take part. Roll on 2017, hopefully I’ll see you all there.
Until next time, cheers!
Ian @ Stealth Riders