Having ridden the first Queen Elizabeth Country Park enduro last July we returned to the venue with the same team (D’Andy and I), the same blazing hot weather but in a new race format for the May 2014 event.
I gather that the trails they really want to showcase are within the trail centre but they are not allowed to close it to the public during the day, their solution is to run the practice in the evening and the race after dark.
We assembled in the late afternoon sunshine, Andy on his new semi-fat Instigator and myself on the Spitfire. This was a bit of a reversal, since last year I had run the race on a hardtail – of course you could run any bike but with a choice I would take the bounce every time for the extra grip and to get away with bad line selection which will happen dozens of times in a race in the dark. With a new ghetto tubeless installation Andy couldn’t get his tyre pressures as low as he needed to exploit his high volume 2.75 setup so I think that is a bike that will be faster when it matures.
Having the time for a full practice run is a huge bonus in a race although we certainly sweated for it with 500m of climbing and descending in only 14km ridden and a 20 degree average temperature. The course was dry with good grip in most places and Andy easily outpaced me – I wouldn’t see him again until the end of each downhill run.
In the race each rider must complete the full course, but the results are simply the total time for the 4 downhill stages, the uphill transitions are not timed but must be done in time to hit your next start slot. So the practice went well, it was fun apart from some trepidation (from me anyway) about what would be around the next corner, but everything was rideable.
I had thought from practice that this was the most technically difficult trail I had ever ridden. I was released from the start 20 seconds behind Andy and immediately lost power to my bar light and ran the rest of the stage with head torch only. The rider 20 seconds behind me caught up and passed on the long very steep section where I knew I was slow.
Andy was unexpectedly waiting on the first fireroad since his dropper post was malfunctioning and kept on trying to tip him over the bars on the steep bits. I failed to make the turn on soft ground after the next roll-in and ploughed my own route down the hill before I could stop and regain the course. I am a bit uncertain as to what happened after this, there were a lot of riders around us, I think I messed up again somehow, there was a pedally bit then another steep bit before the end.
After transitioning back to the top of the hill I worked out which part of my light was broken and Andy very kindly lent me one of his 2 bar lights which I could run on my battery pack. This stage was more to my liking as it made use of the altitude rather than giving it all up in one plunge!
It is surprising how a lit up rider can disappear in 20 seconds in the forest but I saw nothing of Andy until halfway down the stage when I started to catch glimpses of his lights meaning I was catching up (he may have had a small incident). After an almost vertical roll down I had a much better view of him stacked at the top of the surprise rock garden – he may have been distracted by the fairy lights!
This stage was the sort of thing I could ride all day, good quality singletrack with a gradient that would keep you rolling at whatever speed you pedalled to so long as you could still make the corners. I had the impression of a rider being behind me before he dropped away again then I caught Andy as he stalled after the roll in to fireroad which seems to be a common feature. We finished together.
We spent a few minutes before the transition tightening the mount on Andy’s bar light which had worked loose (didn’t work, fell off during the stage) and by the time we had done the climb there was less than a minute to spare before the stage began. Stage 4 was the most simple and shortest, after a bit of off-camber pedalling to challenge my low bottom bracket we dropped into a real trail centre section. I was really on the hunt by this point as I knew I was reeling in the 20 second gap to Andy who I caught on the last of the berms. There was no way round his wide tyres on the sprint to the finish but I certainly did try.
In the final standings I placed 57th out of 82 sport riders with a total time of 20:17 albeit only 66 actually finished the race. Technically my best stage was 4 where I placed 45th in category.
Andy finished 64 seconds down in 61st position. Technically his best stage was 3 where he placed 57th in cat.
Having the most technical stage first let me relax later and I came to really enjoy the racing. It is definitely more fun being on the chase than being chased down yourself. I have very little experience of night-riding but I do notice a certain special quality to it, and it worked well in the racing context. Obviously light reliability would be a huge benefit, Exposure were there renting out units which is something to consider. I found that the route taping was better than last year but not everyone would have agreed – on our last transition some riders appeared behind us.
“Who’s that?” I called since I thought we were the very last riders on the course at the time.
“We’ve just done stage 4 and we are riding back to the arena” was the reply
“Umm…the stage 4 finish is IN the arena”…