Words: Phil Allum
Pics: Tom Stickland
I’ve just got back from an incredible weekend’s racing at the first round of the Mondraker Enduro Series, formerly known as the Redkite events / Empire Cycles Enduro series. Fancy a read of my ramblings on this Welsh cracker? Want to know more about this Enduro malarkey? Well, get the kettle on, break open the hob nobs, get yourself comfy and read on…
Throughout the winter, teasing pictures of the trails have been popping up on the Red kite events Facebook feed, showing that the trail pixies had been hard at work. The photos looked great, but didn’t even come close to showing how good the trails really were. Upon arriving early on Saturday morning, I had enough time to go for a track walk with a coffee before practice started. The format was this: Saturday 10am – 1pm practice on stages 1 to 3. The timing was live from 1pm, so turn up at some point between 1pm and 4pm to put your timed runs in on stages 1 to 3. Only one timed run allowed on each stage.
A walk up stage 1 then down stage 2 had me feeling all giddy inside. It looked amazing! Both stages were hand cut into the hill, plenty of line choices, steep switchbacks, and roots! Everywhere! Big ones, little ones, on corners, on off camber traversing lines. I never knew there could be so many roots in a forest! Great use of the small quarry on the fire road meant spectators were well catered for.
Too excited to walk anymore, I necked my coffee, legged it back to car and dragged my bike out. A quick squirt of chain lube and I was off up the fire road like a scolded cat. Well, the stages looked fun when I walked them, but on the bike they were immense. Lush, loamy corners so fresh, there was hardly a bike tread in sight. Considering it was a bit damp, there was plenty of grip, but I still seemed to be hanging a leg out too often.
The quarry chute on stage 1 was a bit unnerving first time, but if you took it slow it was fine, it was just made more unnerving by the crowd gathered at the bottom. They were either awe-struck, or more likely, hoping for some carnage.
By now a few familiar faces had arrived, so I was joined by Mike Brazier and James Scott for another run down stage 1, leaving Matt Snelling to help Joe Buck do a quick fork swap in the back of the van. As you do.
A quick blip down stage 2 revealed more of the same; all fresh cut up top but allowing more flow and speed. The quarry section was split into 3 chutes, the middle one being the most precarious. The final part of the stage taken care of by a sprint up a fire road then a bit of stump swerving down the last 300m of the blue trail. A mental note was made to try and take this final section flat out, it certainly seemed possible.
A quick refill of the water bottle on the way up the fire road had become mandatory for me. As all the stages were so close, I had ditched the rucksack and bladder and gone all Enduro with my fanny pack and 500ml bottle on the bike. It certainly felt nicer not having the weight on my back, but I did feel a bit exposed and vulnerable and the same time. A bit like that feeling you get the first time on a nudist beach.
I remember stage 3 from the previous year, but it had some new additions. Up top had some manmade rock gardens and log slices as stepping stones to get you over the worst of a peat bog, before crossing a fire road into the steep section. This bit was particularly tricky and there was quite a group trying different lines to get you down. If I’m totally honest, I struggled. There were 2 tight, steep switchbacks on claggy mud and zero grip (for me). I watched enviously as Joe & Matt flew down it at a ridiculous speed. But it didn’t matter which line I took, it ended up with me sliding down minus the bike. In the end I just gave up and moved on, deciding that I would figure something out come the race. A steep bus stop which was akin to riding straight into a wall followed before finishing across a soft mossy section.
A stop for lunch allowed some bike tinkering for some, whilst others just chilled out and soaked up some much needed sun. The air filled with people exclaiming to have found the perfect inside line and other bold statements.
Time for the timed runs! Stage 1 was a bit messy for me, maybe the giant lunch I had just demolished was the cause, but most of the top section was spent with at least one foot unclipped. The Shimano DX’s have a big enough platform to give a certain amount of grip when unclipped, but it’s not ideal. Down the quarry with ease, but then shortly after disaster stuck! Dropping in after crossing a fire road; it was either a root, rabbit hole, forest goblin or unicorn’s horn stopped the bike dead, and left me with that all too familiar feeling of flying through the air. Scrabbling back up the hill to find your bike is certainly not the fastest way down the hill.
Both stage 2 & 3 went well. By some small miracle, I even managed to ride those two nasty corners on stage 3, not only staying on the bike, but doing so in an almost controlled manner. James came down, clothing containing a small collection of mud streaks with a hint of moss, having had an unplanned sit down at the bottom end of stage 3.
So that was Saturdays riding over with. With the great timing system that was used, once you were done for the day, you can swipe your timing chip and your times were printed out instantly. So I was duly informed that I managed to be in 8th in masters after day 1. I was fairly happy with that considering how tough it was. To turn up and try to race these technical trails with little practice meant that you was not only physically but also mentally shattered, I was happy to call it a day.
My accommodation for the night was the Drover’s Rest (www.food-food-food.co.uk), a fine place which just so happens to be the venue for the pasta party. So that was the evening taken care of; scoffing pasta and drinking ale, reliving moments of both euphoria and terror.
With a good hearty breakfast taken inside me, it was back to Coed Trallwm for the Sunday session. Once again I was there nice and early, so spent the first hour cleaning the bike then waving numerous spanners at it.
Sunday’s format was one timed run down every stage. Stages 1 to 3 same as yesterday and stages 4 & 5 to be ridden blind. I quickly went on a weight saving mission (yes I know what you are thinking, beer, pies, yeah whatever! I don’t want to hear it!) ditching the bumbag, all tools, the pump and even the spare tube. The gloves stayed in the car and the water bottle was only half full. Did it work? Well, the day went well. From the start it just felt better. I spent nearly all day clipped in, rather than waving a leg at every root. Most importantly, I stayed on the bike for the whole day, just. That kink on the top part of stage 5 anyone? Yes the one with the tree stump. I know I wasn’t the only one!
Stage 4 was based on the black trail centre descent with a nice hand cut section towards the end. So (thankfully!) some surfaced trails, manmade jumps and rollers and surprisingly difficult flat corners at the bottom .Stage 5 was the red trail centre descent, fast, flat out sections, plenty of pedalling and again with a nice variation at the end.
With the results in, I clearly had a better day. 10 seconds off my stage 1 time, 4 seconds off stage 2 and somehow 11 seconds off Saturdays stage 3. With stages 4 & 5 going well, I had managed to leapfrog James Scott on the board to finally finish 3 seconds ahead of him in 6th position in masters. Sorry mate!
The results for the MB Swindoners and familiar faces looked like this:
- Joe Buck 2nd
- Matt Snelling 6th
- Mike Brazier 11th
- Antonio Fiore 14th
- Phil Allum 6th
- James Scott 7th
- Gary Allen 2nd
Which considering how stacked the field was, is a fantastic result for everyone.
So that was round 1 of the Mondraker Enduro Series wrapped up. Some of the most technical stages I’ve every raced, but raced in the most laid back relaxing way possible. Great vibes, great food (and banter!) at the pasta party, and even a timing system that was flawless for the whole weekend! What more could you possibly want?
Big thanks to the following for their continued support:
- Red kite Events www.redkiteevents.co.uk
- Hargroves cycles www.hargrovescycles.co.uk
- High 5 sports nutrition www.highfive.co.uk
- Seal skinz www.sealskinz.com
- Photo credit: Tom Stickland www.mbtom.co.uk
- Shaun Rutherford
Next stop on the Mondraker Enduro Series is at Coed Trallwm on 18th & 19th April. See you all there, yeah?