Last weekend was round four of the Welsh Enduro Series, at the Gwydir trails near Llanrwst (formerly the Marin Trail). I have a history of racing bikes, by which I mean I did one cross-country race in 1999, i.e. half a lifetime ago. The race format is a loop of around 20km, which is mostly taken at your own pace, untimed, apart from four relatively short predominantly downhill sections, which are timed. It’s only the timed sections which count towards your result.
Practice lap was on Sunday morning, and after a 25 minute climb the first descent scared me witless. It’s a while since I’ve ridden at Gwydir and I’d forgotten how slippery things get in a downpour. After 20km including the four timed stages, I had 45 mins before my race start time. A full change of sodden muddy clothes for new ones, and a hot chocolate, and I was ready to go again.
Despite being listed as eighth on the start list, no-shows meant I was third on trail. I passed two others between stages one and two, meaning I was first into stages two and three. You’ve probably realised that this means I wasn’t exactly saving energy on the un-timed transition stages – I was so wet and muddy I just wanted to get to the finish! Between three and four someone had turned one of the waymarkers through 90 degrees, so I went 1.5km in the wrong direction before figuring out that something was wrong and turning back.
Eventually I reached stage four, and as I finally got some kind of flow going in the swamp-like conditions, I hit the ground hard coming out of an easy corner into an easy straight. Fortunately there was no major harm to me or the new bike, although my ribs are still sore as I write this a week later! I destroyed my helmet, but at least that means it did its job.
This race was always going to be a steep learning curve, and everyone was fast so I didn’t expect to be towards the top of the results. In my class I was 39th, 38th and 39th on the first three stages, but then 47th on stage four. All of this out of 49 people! The crash meant I dropped to 44th in class, and 158th out of 186 overall. I think the most obvious areas for improvement are in doing the practice lap the day before, instead of directly before the race run, and in taking your time on the transitions. Obvious, but maybe I should go back and give them a try at some point.