Down But Not Out – my comeback at SW Kenda Enduro
As the world goes into lockdown, you’d think I’d have had more time to sit and write my race report for the first, and probably last enduro of 2020; the South West Kenda Enduro held at Haldon last weekend. However, home schooling and sick cows have kept me from my laptop for anything but work – oh, and Joe Wick’s PE lessons – you can’t miss that!
Lockdown seems pretty much normal for me this year. It feels like I have just emerged into the sun from a winter of unknowns as to whether I’d be able to ride my bike how I wanted to again or whether I’d be fit enough or fast enough to race this coming season. The plan was to race the National Enduro Series this year, especially as it’ll be my last year in Masters (for normal enduros anyway) but that slipped away very rapidly when I lay in a drainage ditch at Dyfi Bike Park, having nailed myself on a root (of all things); fracturing and dislocating my right ankle.
So this race was the test as to whether I was fit enough or fast enough, or able to ride my bike how I wanted to again…..
My morning started abruptly as I took a phone call at 5.45am to visit a sick cow on a farm miles away from any route towards Haldon! I thought I was organised the night before when I had “dressed myself into my bucket” in an attempt not to forget my shoes or my helmet… again! However, as I ran around the house that morning with an arm full of clothes, and, thankfully my waterproof jacket, I was not as quick out the door as perhaps the cow would’ve liked me to be!
Having treated the cow, I then set off on an epic mission across the ****ing moor, to go and pick up Rob; my brutally honest, unofficial coach who always calms my nerves through a mixture of coffee, sarcasm and poor humor – oh, and a really dirty McDonald’s breakfast!
Meeting Rhys and Sarah at McDonalds and changing into my riding kit in the disabled toilet, meant that we weren’t as swift getting up to Haldon as perhaps we should’ve been. Matt, my tight to schedule brother had been on the phone countless times asking for an ETA and even parked like a… pillock in order to save us a space in the car park (that we missed anyway). I do apologise to all those people who stood in a very wet queue for about an hour, just to have Rob, Rhys and I jump in with Matt to collect our transponders so that we could all ride practice together. Not cool. Soz!
Practice was a slop fest. It did not stop raining the whole time we were out and everything we were wearing was wet through. In my rush to get out the door that morning, it did not enter my head to pack a change of riding kit, not even a spare pair of gloves! Its not as if I’m short of stuff – I’ve just received my epic new DHaRCO kit from Flow!
Stage one was the most horrendous stage I think I have ever raced in my life. Memories of my previous fitness made it even more painful than it actually was in real life! The top section of twisty corners and humps was a crank smacking grind over bumps and roots that made it feel like you were going nowhere, despite trying really very hard! Then to top that grunt, there was a horrible uphill nip that I got the wrong gear for both in practice and in the race, only to descend straight onto a very long, very painful and for me, very noisy uphill “sprint” along the fire road! Goodness knows what the spectators thought to the elephant like grunt that I was producing with every pedal stroke! The final part was the original stage one from last years enduro. You know, I really wouldn’t have minded if that was all of stage one again this year as we enjoyed some fairly fast flowy berms with nippy little high lines and cool little gullies. I reached the bottom and collapsed over my bars, joining Ella and Andrea who both looked much the same (although perhaps for not as long!)
A very sociable transition led us up the fire road to the start of stage 2. Roots, turns, a horrible left hander that if you took too wide would leave you in the tape, a nice hump over a wall that I’m sure I had the speed to jump last year, but could hardly get over thanks to all the mud this year and then the (lorel) chute – I do love that most of my friends are foresters and seem to have time whilst they speed down the hill, way faster than me, to not only admire the trees we’re riding through, but also name them. I remember one particular ride where someone shouted “watch the hazel” only for me to get slapped off my bike by a branch seconds later. Who shouts that for pity’s sake?!
I digress – there was a horrible corner after the chute that if you took too wide sent your front wheel sliding out on the fireroad. Thankfully I narrowly missed this happening in my race run only to hear that a lot of other people had not been so fortunate as the conditions worsened with the more riders through. I quite enjoyed stage two. Mainly because most of it was downhill and there was no fireroad sprint…!
After a short pit stop at race HQ for Mollie (well, the mechanic on site) to re-index her gears and me to get a drink, we then headed over to Cafe Side. All of us much preferred these stages in practice as they both were fast and flowy with a fair bit of tech mixed in.
Stage three had a horrible sniper root after the first couple of corners that threw me over the bars in practice. Unfortunately then, I was unaware what had caught me, but when I felt my bike slide out in the exact same place in my race run I spotted the little blighter. Foot out to right myself (slightly scary as that’s how I broke my ankle), I carried on through the rock garden and into the fun little corners. This stage was fast and flowy with the only tricky bit being the newly cut in final corner that came up a little bit too quick for my liking!
Stage four was everything an enduro stage should be and probably the main reason we’ll all fight to race again next year. It had everything you could ask for; jumps, drops, swooping berms, drops onto chutes that if you weren’t too careful, sent you over the edge of the fire road instead of around the sharp left hand bend. However, it also had a few tricky corners at the end, especially the last one that had me off my bike and running for the line as I slid down the off camber exit and into the tape!
I couldn’t say that was my best race ever raced, and stage one proved to me that my fitness is way off where it was prior to injury but I had a great time with Rob, Rhys & Matt in practice and then Ella, Mollie and Andrea throughout the race, even if I could’ve wet myself and not noticed! I was hoping for a top 50% finish which would’ve put me in 3rd if I was lucky but more likely 4th. I was amazed to see, when I handed my transponder in that I’d come in first out of all the finishers so far, but Ellie Wharton (World Masters DH Champion) and Katie Wakely (UK National Enduro Champion and basically undefeated EVER) had yet to hand in their chips. When all were in, I’d managed to bag 2nd behind Katie, with Ellie in third and I couldn’t have been happier! Results wise, I was where I would’ve hoped to be throughout the season last year although there’s definitely more speed to be had once I get fitter and less susceptible to the sight of scary roots!
There are so many people to thank for getting me back here racing; Trailmunki for their ongoing support and a last minute gear index before race day, Flow for taking a punt on me again this year despite injury, the NHS for upping my percentage of titanium body parts, Ged at Sandy Hill Physio for wobbling my foot until it moved again but most of all Chris Chew at CC Professional Fitness for putting up with my strops and tantrums as he rehabbed me back to cycling. I also have to thank him for pulling me off the trail (alongside the Atherton family) when I nailed myself. Ollie, Ella, Phil, Conrad, Matt, Rhys and Rob have also played a massive part both on the day it happened and in my recovery; restoring my confidence quicker than I ever could’ve hoped and keeping up my moral when I was properly down. Thanks must also go to Whippet, the husband, for picking me up from Aberystwyth and putting up with a very demanding version of a usually demanding me for 3 months whilst unable to ride my bike! And a final thank you to Sarah for the most epic flapjacks I have ever tasted (and my lunch substitute as I’d left that in the fridge!)
Thanks dudes! Lets hope we all meet on the trails again soon!
Thanks to our 2020 team sponsors DHaRCO, MTB Instruction, Corley Cycles.
2020 team kit: