The day I’ve been working towards is now over. My body is aching, my mind is tired, but most importantly I am stoked beyond belief; I finished my first ever competitive race with both me and my bike in one piece!
Masters was a super tough category with an incredible group of riders, so a final place of 49th (of 57) is something I cannot grumble about. Hell, that’s a top 50, I’ll take that. You could argue that I was the fastest rider on a black Bird Aeris on the day… (Yep, just me):
The day started off early with a brew and some porridge, then I was on the road, en-route to Milland with the sun shining and music blaring. It had been raining periodically over the previous few days, so the parking field was a little moist, to say the least.. Honda Civics are not best suited to driving in a field and a broken belly plate confirms this! Sliding all over the field, I parked up and did have a quick ponder on how I’d get out at the end of the day! Can’t worry about that now though, it’s time to get the race face on!
I met up with Steve White, a good friend and riding buddy and talked shit for a while, before going to register. Due to a little mix up, I was down as race number 242 in the Fun category, but even though he was crazy busy, Scott Fitzgerald, the organiser of this incredible series, quickly got me sorted and into Masters, with race number 100. Tidy.
I wandered around, catching up with the people that have helped me progress my riding over the past year; the Swinley Bike Hub crew that I ride with each Thursday night, and the team at Bird Cycleworks, whose stealth black Aeris was going to guide me around the 4 stages. The bodge of the day goes to Dan from Bird, for using a RaceFace chainring as a percolator holder… pure engineering genius:
The riders (around 200 in total) assembled for a briefing from Scott before practise, and it was time to check out what the rain had done to the trails I rode 2 weeks ago in the dry. I hung back for a while to let the other riders bed it in for a bit, then headed up to the start with 2 fellow ‘flockers’ (Bird owners), Mark Hemmings and Ben Biggs, who were racing in Hardtail and Masters Categories respectively. Mark eventually took 11th spot in the Hardtail cat and Ben came in 36th in Masters. Top work, lads!
The transition, which was pretty muddy on a good day, was bogged, so I opted to push up and chat, rather than wasting energy wheel spinning to the top! I decided to check out stages 1 and 2 for practise, skipping 3 and 4 to conserve my legs.
Practise was fantastic, despite it being super muddy and rutted, it helped me see line choices which practically railed you around the corners as opposed to sideways drifting 2 weeks prior! I did have a slight wash out on stage 2 practise; a simple mistake at low speed that left me and a marshall both laughing!
I headed back to the race village, made my way through some red bull and coffee, and waited for the main event to kick off. At this point, the Swinley Mob were tooling up; fully automatic Nerf guns were awaiting riders out of the start gate which made for a hilarious beginning to the race! Riders were called by number and the main event kicked off:
(Apologies for the portrait video, I’m a monster, I know)
“Numbers 97-100”. That’s me, time to rock up. As soon as I rode out, the Nerf darts were flying and I was under way. It’s at this point, I’ve got to give a special thanks to Michael Wilson, Swinley Team rider for some great conversation on the transitions through the day. Despite Michael and I both being a little held up on Stage 1, he finished a very respectable 14th in Masters; nice one fella!
So stage 1 – I set off, tearing down the starting sprint and into the first corner, now familiar again with the lines and knowing what was coming. I was held up a little by a rider in front, but I didn’t worry too much; it’s my first race, I’m here to have a laugh and do my best. It all went smoothly through rutted berms and loamy turns, small rock drops and out of the final sprint.
On the transition, I moved forward a few riders to ensure a clear run and set off on stage 2 straight into a log drop. I felt a lot faster twisting and turning through stage 2 and finished with a big smile; the ‘north shore’ bridges at the end of the stage were as fun as last time, with BigMacPhotography (the legend that is Dave McFarlane) taking amazing photos and shouting some great words of encouragement!
Back up the transition, to the start of stage 3. I remembered this one from the test day, as this is where I had my little tumble before the road gap. Don’t mess up now Sutton, you got this. Guess what? I took a shit line into the same corner and although I remained upright this time, I lost too much speed to hit the road gap (although that didn’t stop Tristan Taylor, Swinley Team Boss, offering some brilliant words – “ride it like you want to rip the fu**ing cranks off son!”, or something along those lines)! Stage 3 finished with a tight twist through a coppice running out into a super muddy exit. Nearly there, back up the slop to stage 4!
The fourth and final stage was great; after an initial grind though some mud, I started fast, feeling strong and determined to end on a high. By this time, the stage was really torn up, which made for some very sketchy line choices, especially in the off camber corners near the start! Coming into the final forest section, I almost washed out straight into a tree, but just managed to hold on, getting some great encouragement from Jack Tate of Team Swinley going into the final field sprint to finish, which sapped any remaining energy I had left!
That’s it, my first Enduro is over! Time to wait patiently for my placing. I tucked into a burger and a beer (well earned, I’d say!) and then headed up to cheer other riders on. Walking back up the stage 4 finish, I bumped into Swinley rider Cassie, who unfortunately took a big spill and did a bit (ok, a lot) of damage to both herself and her bike, but took it like an absolute champ and carried on smiling for the rest of the day.
As I approached the woodland to cheer on other riders finishing up, I could hear whoops and cheers. I knew exactly who was getting rowdy and bringing the noise; the same team that had been the life and soul of the day:
(Apologies again for the portrait video!)
I wandered back to the race village to check my results and found out Chris Doney, Tomas Kupstys and Charles Griffith from Bird had all finished first in their categories (Elite, Masters and Under 18’s), which was awesome news and a superb result for Bird on the day – great work guys!
You can view the full race results, times and a wealth of photos on Roots and Rain here.
I’ll be honest, my result wasn’t quite where I’d have wanted it to be, but overall I was stoked and looked at things optimistically; I finished top 50 in my first ever race, in a group of extremely talented riders, despite some early setbacks. I caught up with other riders for the next hour or so, before sliding my way out the parking field and back home to wind down with a well-deserved curry and a bottle of merlot with my amazing, ever supportive wife.
Here’s an edit of my questionable lines throughout race day, showing the good and bad of stages 2-4. It’s my first attempt at using the GoPro studio, so go easy on me:
One thing I learned on race day – I really need to work on my power over 2-3 minutes; near the end of each stage, I felt burned out, so will focus on this for the next few months at my local trails and a few bike parks, hopefully ready to get a better result at Tidworth on June 12th.
Finally, a huge thanks to everybody on the day; Scott and the Southern Enduro team for putting together an outstanding event, the Swinley Mob for bringing the noise and being ever encouraging, Bird Cycleworks for the laughs, support and for producing such a great bike, BigMacPhotography, Hannah Crossley and all the other photographers for making me look half decent; Mark, Ben, Steve, Sam, Michael, Laurence and anybody I may have missed. The final thank you has to go to the marshalls and fellow riders for making it such an outstanding, well organised day. How am I feeling for the rest of the series? Buzzing. Absolutely buzzing. Tidworth Freeride, I’ll see you soon.
Ian @ Stealth Riders