In keeping with my rather diverse season I headed to the hills of Shropshire to take part in the final round of the UK Gravity Enduro Series. I was very kindly lent a superb steed for the weekend, the new Whyte G150. It is their Gravity Enduro specific full suspension mountain bike and it meant that I was going to be the envy of the paddock no matter what happened. I also had the company of Anna Glownski who is owner and designer of Ana Nichoola (as well as a presenter on the Cycleshow and a pretty fast bike rider!) It was nice to go to an event not completely on my own and I knew it’d be a giggle with Anna along.
The Whyte G150 - Proper job!
We got up to Eastridge early on Saturday for practice. Unlike the World Series round I did recently this event allowed you to have all morning practicing stages. There’s a very fine line between learning the stages and practicing so much you tire yourself out. Seeding is in the afternoon so I opted to practice each stage once and use my GoPro to record them so we could watch the stages in the comfort of the B&B later that evening. The stages were short compared to the epic ones in Val D’Isere but full of steep rooty sections with a few rocks thrown in to catch you out. It was definitely going to be an event that favoured those with more of a downhill background. I enjoyed each stage and there wasn't anything too scary it was just a case of me trying to hit sections faster than I normally would in an XC race. The Whyte helped me out immensely and gave bags of confidence. A quick stop for lunch and a check over of our bikes and we were back up the hill for seeding. The stage that was used for seeding was also going to be stage one and six the following day although the time you registered in seeding also counted towards your final time. No pressure then! It still feels strange going through the start on my own and not having to fight to get into the first corner. I feel my starts are slightly lethargic because of this, one of the many things to work on during the winter. Anyway back to seeding, I hit the first jump well and tried to settle into a rhythm while trying to push harder and faster than I’d been before. Then all of a sudden I found myself heading headfirst into the dirt. Even now I cannot tell you what happened; I imagine my front wheel hit something and brought the bike to an immediate halt while I continued on without it. I was a little bit shocked to say the least and it took me a moment to realise what had happened, as usual the panic of losing time kicked in and I jumped up and ran back to pick up my bike. A quick check over and all was fine, phew! I hopped back on and continued down the track, getting more and more cross with myself for having such a nothing crash. I got down without further incident but I’d lost a chunk of time and was seeded last in my category. Anna had also had a little off but was so quick she managed to seed fourth in her category. It was going to be a fun race day. We heading off to our little B&B for some well earned rest and analysis of the day armed with the videos from the practice runs. We were joined by Andy Walker, my former team mate. He’s very experienced in Enduro so showed us lines we hadn't even thought of and some little tricks so we’d be super fast the next day.
We were greeted by sunshine on Sunday morning. The trails would be perfect and I was so excited for a day of racing. Unlike XC you have to be completely self-sufficient, this means taking spares, food, drink and tools with you. My new Osprey Pack made it easy packing having pockets to stow away tools, jackets and my supply of Sponser go-faster energy bars. All riders have a start time for each stage; if you miss it you incur a 60 second penalty so you really don’t want to late. I had a much better run down the first stage than the day before; I felt far more relaxed which in turn meant I rode a lot better. The transition to the next stage was quite a climb and the time to get there turned out to be quite tight. It was not going to be a day of standing around gossiping we were going to have to push-on in between stages. With each stage I grew in confidence and I hoped to build my speed. I noticed that I tended to ride the tracks in a very XC like manner and forgetting what I’m riding. I don’t let the bike do the work for me and keep thinking I’m on a super stiff hardtail with a saddle so high I get a gentle reminder every descent (if you know what I mean). Again this is something to work on over the winter, making use of 150mm of travel and a slack head angle plus being braver and therefore faster. Before I knew it we were at the final stage. With everyone being so friendly and the riding so enjoyable, time just flew by. I wanted to make sure I had a clean run down the final stage and that I did. It wasn't the fastest but I didn't hit the ground and finished with a mega happy. I finished sixth in the Elite Women category; I think it’s a good base to build from for next year where I hope to do more of the Enduro format races. It really is good fun as well as being technically and physically demanding. Anna missed out on a podium spot finishing fourth in the Senior Women’s category as did Andy in the Senior Men’s (although he did finish second in the series). I just have one race left this season, I’m going back to Guiyang, China for the same event I did there last year. I’m hoping all this scaring myself will pay off and I’ll ride well back in XC!
As always a huge thank you to all my sponsors; Xcracer.com, Mt Zoom, Velocite UK, Sponser UK, Mavic, Schwalbe UK, Whackjob Jim, Firecrest MTB, MB Coaching and Working Bodies. A special thank you to Whyte Bikes for lending me such a great bike and Osprey UK for providing an ace backpack. Finally, thanks to Anna Glownski, of Ana Nichoola fame, for being a great travelling companion and fashion advisor.
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