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Southern Enduro Rd 4: Milland V2

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!

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Rider Kirsty pinning stage 5. Photo: Jane Hodges

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!

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Stage 1 chicken run. Photo: Tom Broyd

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.

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A shot of the log drop from Rd1. Photo: BigMac Photography

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.

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Stage 4. Photo: Jane Hodges

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 hereBelow is a selection of shots I took through the day too, including winners of their respective categories:

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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:

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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

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#Swinduro Race Report

Update – If you want to read the version on Wideopenmag.co.uk, you can do so here

The dust has settled and the ground nesting birds have now retaken the forest. The inaugural Swinley Forest Enduro is now over, and what an incredible event it was. Before I get started, I wanted to give a massive shout out to Swinley Bike Hub main man Tristan Taylor for organising such a brutally enjoyable event, as well as the riders, marshals, spectators and sponsors, who ensured the day was one to remember for all the right reasons. From strangers, new faces, old and new mates, it was awesome to see you all!

The Swinley Forest Enduro (or Swinduro as it was known on the day), consisted of 7 timed stages between a minute and 7 minutes long, with a loop of around 20km on the day including transitions. As these are some of my local trails and the fact I’ve been on the Hub night rides for the past year gave me some idea of which trails were going to make up the stages; I knew there would be some timed climbing, which suited me well. Having a home advantage also made the fact that there would be no practise much easier for me, as I knew the trails, and knew them well. It had pissed it down the day before, which meant the trails would be tacky and grippy; my Bird Aeris with Maxxis Shorty/Minion SS combo was going to love it.

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I turned up nice and early to get signed in, get my race card (#116) and catch up with a bunch of mates that were there on the day. This one really felt like a social gathering with the amount of familiar faces. The MTB world is a small one; a community of like-minded shredders all up for a laugh and a healthy dose of competition.

Categories were called, with Masters setting off at 10am. I rolled off the start line and headed to stage 1. It started from Blue 3, which consists of some massively flowy berms cascading down the side of a hill, then a sharp right into Blue 16 (Helter Skelter); a monster of a climb on the best of days, but knowing you were being timed upped the ante massively. Blue 16 finished with a few small jumps and another set of flowing berms. By the end of stage one I was busted; it was definitely a good stage to get warmed up on!

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Photo: Brett Shelfer

Stage 2 was an off-piste affair through what’s known as New England. Tight corners, rooted sections and a neat little sprint to the finish. Although my legs still felt a bit battered from stage 1, I got through pretty quickly and sped on to stage 3, which was the killer for me on the day. Starting by Blue 5 (Stickler), riders went down the old route and through off camber roots and tight trails for what felt like forever, before coming to a small double drop just before the finish line. A few unfortunate riders had a crash here, but I luckily sailed through.

Stage 4; Red 15, one of my favourite marked trails at Swinley. We lined up and put the power down through fast turns, big berms and a cheeky double, before rattling through some roots and smashing past the finish. Bosh.

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Stage 3 . Photo: Victoria Dawe

Stage 5 was a quick run through one of the red sections of the Labyrinth area which has many names; ‘Berminator’, ‘Bermasaurus’, or on Strava, ‘Does my berm look big in this?’ As you can guess, it was a constant bermfest, tightly sweeping through the forest with a few jumps thrown in for good measure. This was the preface for stage 6, and after climbing back up K2 (affectionately named because it’s a bitch to ride up!), we queued up for the longest stage of the day; the old Deerstalker trail into the winding roots that make up the Labyrinth. The old Deerstalker started with a small drop that I got wrong and had to put a foot down, but the rest flowed without an issue. I managed to catch up to the rider in front of me, which gave me some confidence that my times may be alright! Stage 6 over and I, along with many other riders, collapsed on the floor to get our breath back after a lung-busting 6(ish) minutes of hammering the pedals through this stage.

Almost over, stage 7 beckoned and I headed towards the final hurdle; my favourite blue graded trail, blue 14. It started with a blast through the woods, pumping anywhere and everywhere I could to conserve energy before a short uphill and into the downhill section; 2 hips to send, then a bunch of fast flowing berms to the finish. Swinley regular Lynn was at the bottom of the run, catching some great shots of haggard riders, so naturally I had to pose like a knob.

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Suits you, Sir. Photo: Lynn Funnell Warr

Race over, back to the race village to hand in the timing chips. I genuinely couldn’t believe it when it said I was sitting in 10th place of 33 finishers… holy balls! I knew it wouldn’t stay that way, but that still made me smile massively. All said and done, I ended up in 16th from 58 finishers in the Masters category, which I was immensely stoked about, that’s top 20 which is by far my best result so far!

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Photo : Harris Photo

All in all, the climbing was tough when against the clock, but this added an additional challenge to the course and I loved every second of it (I’m one of those weirdos that loves a climb, thanks to my old XC days) and the loop was put together so well by the team. I’m already looking forward to the 2017 event and will be seeking a top 10 there for sure.

Bird Cycleworks had another successful day, with Francie Arthur taking 1st in Women’s, Charles Griffith taking 1st in U18’s and Chris Doney taking 2nd in Elites. Local rider Mark Hemmings took 2nd in Vets too, representing the Stealth black Aeris crew… top job my man! The full results are here, with photos available on Roots & Rain here. You can see an overview of the race circuit on Relive.cc here.

It’s well worth mentioning the race village again too; chilled tunes and a hog roast from Pig & Rig made for a super relaxed atmosphere, allowing for all riders to catch up and chat about their results, bike setups and general shit-chat. The Marin stand was great too; I picked up a neat pint glass and mudguard and even met a quality little tortoise! One thing was evident; the amount of smiles and laughs proved that this was definitely an event to remember, and I, like many others, finished the day in high spirits. Here’s a little slideshow of some snaps I got through the day:

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After the podium presentations, a few mates and I headed back out for a 7 mile leg stretcher and to session a little drop we’d found on the previous night ride, which was a good laugh (Thanks to Vlad for the vid below). Heading home after, I was all smiles, listening to some tunes up loud. Arriving home, there was a giant pizza waiting for me, which I reckon was thoroughly deserved.

No time to rest for Stealth Riders, as the final round of the Southern Enduro is fast approaching on the 18th September… time to put the power down and do what I can to finish my first series on a high note. Swinduro, you were awesome, thank you for having me.

Until next time, cheers!

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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