“You looked like a startled rabbit caught in the headlights” – this is how my newfound buddies for the day later described my facial expression as I kitted up at the car on arrival. It is also how I felt! Though the UK enduro series events are also still new to the scene it felt like there were much bigger crowds at this race and with the fantastic setting in the grounds of an old private boarding school I was feeling a little overwhelmed. Luckily I didn’t realise until afterwards that the likes of Katy Winton, Greg Callaghan and Kye Forte were also racing or I probably never would have got out the car!
The main reason for my nerves this time was the different format of the event. The race had 7 timed downhill stages which you can ride in any order. The stage opening times are staggered though so it really made most sense to me to ride them in order. As is the point of Enduro you have to ride the transitions between stages. For the one day event each track had to be ridden ‘blind’ i.e with no practice run. You were allowed to walk down the side of the track for a look first if you wanted to but I personally felt that would just waste energy and increase my worry. However the idea of going as fast as I could with no idea what was round the corner was giving me some cause for concern.
Luckily the friendliness of the mountain biking world came to save the day once again. Before I had even hit the first climb I had was chatting to one guy and by the top of Stage 1 I had befriended the group of Welsh guys from the vans parked opposite me. They probably just took sympathy on me having seen my obviously terrified expression when I arrived. Whatever their reasons were, I was sure happy of their company and had a great day riding around with them. Their constant mocking of each other and string of tales about various crashes and places they have ridden soon had me chilling out. Before long it just felt like a day out riding with your mates with lots of laughs and some flat out bits inbetween. This is always what you hear about Enduro racing and now it has been a pleasant surprise to experience the truth of it myself.
The tracks were all brilliant, just the right mix of challenging without being unrideable. There was a good mix of flowy berm filled sections, a bit of pedalling, off camber, tricky corners and steep sliding everywhere mental sections. I also liked how they organised the day so that the tracks got progressively harder as the day went on so that by the time you got to Track 7, which I felt was the hardest you were flying high on confidence and could just go for it. I had a great run down that track, there were lots of people walking it that cheered you on. Being the tomboy like girl that I am I took great satisfaction in hitting all the jumps and skidding round the steep corners as fast as I could to big cheers of surprise as the guys clearly thought I wouldn’t do that being a girl. Inside I was having a heart attack and was mightily surprised to still be on the bike at the end but somehow or another I pulled it off!
Unfortunately by the end of the day Stage 7 had to be scrapped due to a big group of guys doing a protest run together, straightlining all the corners to make a point about lack of tape. Apparently this has all been sorted out now and steps have been taken to work with the riders for a pre race walk next time so this won’t happen again. Stage 3 also had to be scrapped due to some complete moron stealing the timing transponder at the bottom of the run. This was a real shame as that was a great fun run with a bit of everything in it, luckily I got to ride it anyway and had a great laugh chasing the guys I was with so not all was lost.
At the end of the day when the results came in it turned out I had won my class! Sadly there were only 2 of us in it which took away from the achievement somewhat. I later found out that comparing my times against all the others including the times from the 2 day racers (excluding the elite) I would have come 2nd out of 7. I was really happy with that as I had been having some frustration feeling like I was getting stuck in the rooty sections all the time and thinking I must be so slow!
As I stood around chatting with the very small group of other female competitors we tried to understand why are number were so few here today. Through going to these races and women’s ride days I have been meeting many female riders and all the fb groups I find as a result show there are a growing number of us ladies out there riding. So where are they all? I later discovered there were also several other races on that same day, perhaps better communication between race organisers could have prevented that? There does also seem to be a false idea amongst women that they are not good enough or nerves get the better of them. I can sympathise with that as it’s something I use to think and nerves are still a problem but the only way to improve is to ride. Racing makes you push yourself and I am constantly surprised to find how much I can do when pushed. The sense of achievement when you ride on the edge of control and nail it is unbeatable. Failing that it is a great chance to meet new people, chatter lots and do lots of laughing at yourself trying and failing to ride like a pro – that was pretty much the summary of my day anyway!
Many thanks to photographer Dan Wyre for the use of the podium picture. For more much better quality pics of the day and other events around the UK check out his site