Monday, 7 September 2015

Welsh Enduro Series number 3 - Penmachno

This weekend saw the third and penultimate round of the Welsh Enduro Series – a series based in North Wales and organised by Borderline Events. They consist of one-day gravity enduro races, typically held on a Sunday. For the uninitiated, gravity enduro is a newly emerging and popular format of racing, whereby racers are timed over several descents (stages). They then have to pedal up the ascent (transfer) to the start of the next stage - similar to downhill racing, but with more pedalling. As such, the best bike for this type of racing is something with around 140-160mm of travel. Races can range from pedally trail-centre type trails, to full-on downhill tracks, this round being the former, and as such, this series is a good entry to the sport, the previous two rounds in the series being held at the Marin Trail and Coed Y Brenin.

The borderline races are a lot of fun, and usually have a broad spectrum of riders. You can usually count on them to be held on trails that can be ridden by most riders, but that doesn’t mean they’re boring! Also, due to the way the timing works, riders choose their own start times, which means people can ride with their friends. All this means that there’s a really relaxed atmosphere, and really takes the pressure off racing – though that doesn’t mean that you can’t turn it on if you have to, and you will! These are part of the reason why I’ve ridden all three rounds of the series so far this year, it’s a massive laugh.

Ready to race!

Having had a bit of a rubbish summer, I wasn’t too hopeful that the weather would hold out for the race, but fortunately, the rain held off all day, with just a bit of cloud cover for the day - that’ll do nicely! Though that didn’t stop Penmachno from being fairly soggy in places, as anyone who knows the trail would reasonably expect. Luckily the trail surface is pretty hard, so it didn’t present many problems, and most of us locals are probably more familiar with it in the wet than the dry!

There was a good crowd!

This was the second ever race to be held at Penmachno, the first being a singular charity-event in October 2014. There was a slight change to the stages used this year – the first stage last year was a pretty relentless pedal-fest, due to one of the better descents being felled at the time - this descent was open for this round, so much to everyone’s relief, it was used instead. The first descent was what’s known as the triple-traverse. It starts off with a narrow ribbon of singletrack that winds it’s way through some open meadow with a few small rocky drops and little corners and spits you onto a fire road. It’s then straight back into a high-speed rocky section and onto some newly re-built trail, thanks to the logging and some top-notch volunteer work. There are some awesome flowy corners, and some whoops that can be doubled up, making a fast section even faster! Up onto the second fire road and into the last section of the traverse, the trail drops down into the trees, into a real high-speed section with some banked corners and lumps that you can boost off and fire off into oblivion! Did I mention that this section is FAST?! Finally there’s a short sharp climb to the stage end.

Second stage was the same as the previous year – two descents combined into one. It starts off a bit slow in some dark woods, a little pedally, but after about a minute of pedalling drops off a little into another high-speed section. This one is a lot of fun, there are a few very shallow corners that can be ridden completely off the brakes if you have the guts! Towards the end of this is where the writer of this blog suffered a pinch flat. After a bit of bodging to remove a stubborn valve stem (I ended up having to use a rock to snap it in half in order to remove it from the rim) and a shot of CO2, I was back running again. The next section was newly built for last year’s enduro, linking two existing sections of trail, meaning it cut out a load of fire road. Mostly big smooth whoops and corners, it made a change to the rocky, natural trails of Penmachno. Say what you like, it made a nice break half way down a stage. The riders were then spat out into the final singletrack section of the stage – a rocky traverse, relatively flat to begin with, but with some tricky rock sections with some big holes to catch riders out. This writer almost had a big stack there in practice! After a short uphill, a big left-hand hairpin fires riders into the final warp-speed straight, where some folk could easily be caught out by some tree stumps and narrow sections of trail. Quick reactions are a must!

One short-ish climb, and riders were at the top of the final stage, the start of which was also new in 2014, and again cuts out a load of fire road. It starts out as fairly flat forest double track with some big whoops – it’s hard work picking up and keeping speed here – into some tabletop jumps and out into the open where there some more whoops, rock features and jumps into two huge man-made berms. The berms are a lot of fun – just stay high and try to stay off the brakes and you can pick up a LOT of exit speed! You’re then fired out over a small jump, over the fire road and into the final singletrack. It starts steep but levels out, round some tight tricky switchbacks and into the last long straight. Not too technical but with a few features to keep riders on their toes, the key here is just to keep pedalling and maintain speed. This section really flows with a bit of speed.

Spot any riders up there?!

During the race, we were testing a couple of bits of kit. The 2015 Saracen Ariel 151, this writer (our shop mechanic)’s new bike; it performed absolutely faultlessly. Penmachno seemed to really suit it. Though it’s not the easiest bike to pedal, it’s certainly not the worst, and does better than many in it’s class. Get it up to speed though and it really shines – super stable at speed, awesome in the air, and smashes corners, it’s actually easier to ride at speed sometimes, though this means you do have to really push it to feel like you’re getting the best out of it. It’s a proper race bike, that’s for sure, and when we’re talking about enduro, I’d call that a hell of an accolade. Enduro bikes need to perform well, be light enough to ride all day, and tough enough to last two or three days of racing! I’d say this bike does all of that and more!

We’re also testing some new SRAM Guide RS brakes. In all honesty, there’s only so much I can say about brakes. When they work as they should, you shouldn’t notice them. With 180mm rotors front and rear, there was as much power as I would expect from a set of modern brakes (if anything a little more, as I’m used to running a 203mm rotor on the front), and I didn’t notice myself cooking them on the long descents. Setup and reach adjust is dead simple, and lever feel is great. No complaints here.

Anyway, enough waffle, onto results.
Yours truly managed to average 11th in Senior over the first and third stages, but the puncture in stage two put me back to 51/54 with an overall of 22:06. Oh well, maybe next time!

Ed Roberts came first in elite, with an overall of 13:59, Phil Roberts took the win in Senior and also fastest time of the day with 13:58! Joe Barnwell won Juniors with 14:23, Andy Weames in Masters with 13:59, Ben Baddeley in Veterans with 15:09, Tegid Humphreys in Grand Veterans with 15:38, and Sian Roberts in the Women’s category with 16:47.

Big thanks go to Mike and Bud for organising another awesome event, the marshalls, medics and all sponsors for putting on another cracking race. If you’ve not tried gravity enduro before, give it a go! The Welsh Enduro Series is a great way to start – put it on your list for 2016!

Quick post-race pub stop. What better?

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