Sometimes Enduro racing can be a cruel sport – laughing in the face of all your planning, preparation and training. This weekend saw my number come up after 2 very successful and incident free seasons – it’s one of those inevitable facts that we don’t like to talk too loudly about, but when you repeatedly spend weekends plummeting down steep, rocky, rooty tracks at insane speed, the laws of physics and probability guarantee that at some stage, you’ll end up wrong way up. This time it was my turn!
As we packed the van to make the pilgrimage to Tweedlove for the first ever EWS round in the UK, I was feeling sharp and ready for action – this was to be my second Enduro World Series race and I knew that I had to expect savage stages, physically demanding transitions and some very, very fast competition – this was after all the top 300 Enduro racers in the world! As my phone pinged Facebook, Twitter and Instagram updates from Peebles, one update stood out and shook me – Italian SuperEnduro series champion and friend Manuel Ducci had crashed in practice on stage 2 and broken his ankle! In between laughing at his brilliant “waiting room” pictures with a skeleton he had found in the hospital, it dawned on me that this was a supremely gifted athlete with outrageous technical skills – and just practicing the course had ruined him. Clearly I was in for something pretty gnarly!
Tweedlove was not only a big one for me as a racer but also for Bionicon – the event had been tagged as the ideal place to pre-launch the forthcoming new bike, the awesome Edison Evo! Having seen behind the scenes as the bike was developed over many months, I couldn’t wait for us to pick up Basti Schub from the airport with a pre-production version, in all it’s 650B, variable geometry & travel Enduro tastiness!
Trade stand set up and some catch ups with various friends & contacts done, it was time to get out and practice – I joined my friend and former team mate Russ Turner (now riding on his new team Yeti SB66 from Rockets & Rascals) to hit stages 3 & 4 for the morning – there was no messing with the Innerleithen stages for day 1, seriously steep and gnarly chutes, full of mud, drops, switchbacks and roots to catch you out! In fact I was caught up by Life Cycle/Ibis rider Valentina Macheda while I hugged a tree on 3 – certainly the strangest “ciao” I’ve ever said to her! It was obvious that the aim of the game for day 1 would be survival – the stages were steep, rooty and slippery, and would definitely be taking no prisoners come race day!
Race day came round and I woke up feeling good & strong, having got a good sleep, plenty of food (sorry to the hotel for that!) – it was time to go! A nice little on stage interview from my old friend, SuperEnduro and EWS co-founder Enrico Guala (looking good in his kilt!) and it was time to get my race started. A long transition to stage 1 in surprising heat had us all suffering – in fact the only highlight of a long slog was seeing a certain Gary Forrest’s 12 year old graffiti on an old reservoir wall. Seeing the top guys coming back round to go to stage 2, with broken bikes, obvious crashes and all suffering didn’t help with the realisation we were in for something serious.
I got to the top, padded up and changed into my full face, got in the zone and revved myself up nicely – the rider in front of me had dropped out, so I had no 20 second man, just a 40s gap to try and close. The eternal wait for the starting countdown was hard as ever to bear – but finally it came. 5-4-3-2-1-GO!!!!!!! Straight on the gas, pedalling hard across a seriously fast moorland track! Ruts made it lethal so I stuck to the left out of them so I didn’t risk catching a wheel and flipping out (which I later heard Martin Maes had done!) before even hitting the woods.
As the flat out approach stage dropped into the mega-dark woods, I caught sight of my 40 second man – I must have been tanking it to close that gap! That was it – time to hunt. This section was seriously steep with turns, roots, drops and hollows everywhere, with the roots polished and slippery mud everywhere. I was making nice progress when around a third of the way into the stage, I slid on a root, clipped my wheel on a stump and highsided – what happened next is a bit of a blur. I remember wrapping myself round a tree really hard, and feeling the instant deceleration forces rip through my head, neck and shoulders. Instantly I knew it had been a big stack, but instincts took over and I jumped back on. The second I got back on the bike though, I knew I was out – the best way to describe my feeling is a mix between sea sickness and 10 pints of wife beater – I was wobbling all over the place and could hardly stay upright! A very nice marshall helped me down to the fireroad and that was it – my race was done. As I waited to check myself out properly and let them know I was out of the race, I saw the rescue truck coming down with Cube Action Team rider Scotty Laughland with his arm in a sling – I’d already heard that stage 1 had taken out Graves, Maes and now Scott – how many more had it scalped?!?!
Rolling back one handed through Innerleithen I bumped into Manuel Ducci and Jerome Clementz at a café – Manuel’s description of the live timing as a “war bulletin” reinforced just how wild it was out there – and seeing the grace and acceptance which these two top riders viewed crashing and injury made me realise that you can either get upset & angry or accept is as something that’s going to happen when you do hundreds of high speed runs in a year.
Back at the team tent it was time to tell the guys about my crash and get sent to the medical tent for a check over – luckily my collarbone was ok, it was just whiplash type strains on my neck & shoulders with a bit of bruising as well. Some serious mansize painkillers and doctor’s orders to “relax and have a few beers tonight” eased my mind & put paid to fears of any serious season affecting damage!
Later in the day as we saw results coming in, tales of crashes, smashes, DNFs and injuries filled the arena – day 1 was described as the hardest and most technically challenging EWS round so far and believe me, they weren’t wrong! Over the last few days, lots have people have asked “are you angry at crashing?”, “you must be so annoyed” etc etc – while it’s always a shame not to finish, it’s inevitable when racing at this level that you’ll crash at some point – and when there are tracks like this, it’s a matter of when not if. So I’m cool with it – it goes with the territory, and the key thing is not to get angry but to refocus, learn from it and carry that forward to the next race!
This week’s goal is to rest, recuperate and try to loosen off the soreness in my shoulders so I can compete next weekend at Bristol Bikefest where I’m hoping to shake up the XC crew on my Alva in the 3 hour race – and luckily there’s nothing like the steep madness of Innerleithen to contend with!
Big thanks to everyone for their support – Bionicon for an awesome bike, Onza & Silverfish UK for my supremely grippy Ibex tyres, Carbonal for pimp rims, One Industries for the helmet and pads that saved my bacon this weekend, Vizion Goggles for keeping my eyes safe and Trail Head for skills and race coaching – here’s to a great season coming up!