As you may know by now, I’m racing in the Southern Enduro this year, with the first round at a closely guarded location in Milland, West Sussex on April 17th. A few weeks ago the event organiser, Scott Fitzgerald, put a message on various social media sites asking for volunteers for a dig day. I signed up without hesitation. Firstly, as we all know; no dig, no ride. I wanted to get involved more in the background, helping to shape the trails I’ll be racing on. Secondly, I figured it’d be good to get the lay of the land to truly understand what I’d let myself in for.
What I didn’t know when I signed up to dig, was that Scott had planned to invite volunteers back for a pre-race test to check the finished product out and to help bed the trails in.
Sunday, 3rd April rolls around and I’m in the car heading down the A3 blasting some questionable music (those that know me, know my music taste is eclectic… and that’s putting it kindly!). I arrived in Milland to meet Laurence, Sam and a few of the other volunteers that I met on the dig day and we waited for the rest to arrive; more volunteers, event organisers and some headline sponsors, including the guys from Bird Cycleworks; Dan, Dave, Josh and Tomas.
Once everybody had arrived, we set off on a small ride to the venue and immediately headed up the transition to stage 1. It had rained the night before, so the transition was super muddy, slippery and all round hideous, which I thought would be the shape of things to come. How wrong I was. I won’t give too much away, but anybody entered into this is in for a real treat!
We got to stage 1 and buzzed down through a mix of tight, loose, loamy singletrack and some nicely packed rollers to end the stage. Stage 1 was easily the flattest of the 4 stages, with a lot of pedalling required. Hopefully the miles I’ve been putting in over the past few months will pay dividends on this one!
Heading back up the transition to stage 2, I was feeling stoked – my first enduro stage completed (albeit slowly) and I was still in one piece! This isn’t going to be too hard… yeah right. Stage 2 began immediately with a drop into a tight berm, with super loose, off camber switchbacks making up most of the stage. It was like riding on a slip & slide, drifting, holding on for dear life. This was my kind of stage though.. loose, technical and flowy. Great stuff. It’s worth adding at this stage that the first practise runs were at a gentle pace to scope the trails and pick my lines for the second runs.
Another sloppy ride up the transition to stage 3. This is the stage I helped shape on the dig day, but I only saw the bottom of it. Once again, the loam was fresh and the berms were loose. I was sauntering down the stage approaching a road gap and was so busy focusing on that, I totally missed the drop before it and went sketchy into a berm, wiping out in an instant. No biggie. Dust yourself off, get back on and ride. Stage 3 ended with some insanely tight singletrack through a coppice and a nice little jump into the finish, which was great fun. Here’s how not to ride a bike:
Back up for the final climb to stage 4. The final stage was short, fast and flowy, with some amazing rollers, doubles and high, tight off camber turns the left me giggling like a child, leading to a sprint finish through a field to the end. Cracking stuff, time to do it all again!
The second practise runs were much better. I’d scoped my lines and approached with more speed, although my front tyre always wanted to go a different direction to the rest of my bike. Tyre choice will be invaluable on the 17th. Most importantly, I remained on the bike throughout all stages on the second attempts, which gave me a huge confidence boost. The day wrapped up with a nice cold pint of Guinness at the local pub and some post-ride banter.. perfect!
The pre-race testing was more valuable than I could have ever imagined. I thought I was progressing well with fitness and, going into the day, I felt I was pretty fast on the bike. How wrong I was! Some of the guys there made me realise that I have a long way to go, with not much time remaining. I’ve got the speed, but technique requires a lot of work if I don’t want to be in the bottom of the pack. I know for sure I’ll not be standing on any podiums on the day (barring any miracles!), and currently feel like the middle of the table will be a great result.
Two weeks to go until the big day, the actual timed race. It’s time to put the miles in, work on my sprints and, most importantly my technique, especially on off camber switchbacks and drops. Will I do well? Will I suck with more force than the latest Dyson? Who knows. What I do know, is that I am super excited to head back to Milland, to give the first round my absolute best. Mind over matter, it’s time to smash the Southern Enduro and give it my all.
Lastly, I just wanted to say a huge thanks to Scott for inviting me back, and also to him and the whole team at QECP Collective, fellow volunteers, diggers and anybody else invoved in the Southern Enduro – the venue is amazing and if the other rounds shape up like Milland, this is going to be one hell of an Enduro series!
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Ian @ Stealth Riders