EWS Tweed Valley, Scotland

What a weekend! Im not sure if this is a report on a marathon stage race, a downhill race, an xc race or a sprint eliminator – I think we did them all.

Day One – Innerleithen, 55 km, 1500m climbing, 4 timed stages

Having ridden 85km in the two days prior to racing in order to practice the course I set off with already tired legs into a 1.5 hour transition to the first stage. The distances were big and the transition timing wasn’t generous, there was no hanging around. The terrain is like Ireland on steroids, the same kind of rooty, pine needle type trails but everything is bigger, steeper and longer. Despite amazing sunny weather on race day, the week leading up to the race had been very wet so today’s stages were not just really steep and long but also wet, muddy and slippy. Apart from some short sections of fast trail centre the tracks were mostly through the forest full of roots, rocks and slippery mud. It was hard to keep the momentum going, dabbing at the wrong moment could cost massive amounts of time.

Stage 1 was wet and greasy with a horrendous uphill fireroad that I couldn’t attack on because my legs were already too full of lactic from the physical first section of trail. I made too many small mistakes but no major disasters. Stage 2 had a long section of very steep, greasy rocks that switchbacked down the mountain. I’d ridden it fine in practice but made a mistake in the race at one of the steepest parts and couldn’t get back on so ended up running a couple of corners and soon after binned it on another. This was nothing short of downhill racing! It was pushing my limits way beond what was comfortable to get down the trails at a half decent pace, I rode far to tensed up and on the brakes leading to more mistakes and lactic filled muscles.

Stage 3 I was dreading, I’d had to practice it alone and chickened out on several steep sections which I knew I’d have to ride on race day. As it turned out it was fine, hitting one near vertical slippery switchback after the next was easier with some flow during the race and even became fun. I got down it all apart from one wipeout on an off camber root at the bottom of a steep chute. Wish I could do the stage again but faster now I have the confidence to know it was rideable. Stage 4 was less steep and scary and more enjoyable with great crowds cheering us on coming into the finish.

Overall I was glad to survive the day, although it felt more like just riding than actually racing for bits of it. The weather and Scottish scenery were amazing and it was fun racing with loads of fast girls. I was totally destroyed afterwards, the mental energy required to concentrate for such a long time on something so challenging cannot be underestimated, I struggled to keep my eyes open all evening.

Day Two – Glentress, 35 km, 1500m climbing, 4 timed stages

I was more confident and less uptight coming into this day.  In practice there had been some really slippery muddy sections but they were slightly less steep and in between there was plenty of pedaling and some trail centre sections where I hoped to dig out my old xc legs and make up some time. The stages blur together a bit but generally things had dried out a lot and each trail left everyone buzzing and full of enthusiasm. Highlights were some incredibly fast and loamy newly cut switchbacks on stage two with supporters cheering like crazy, followed by the longest section of xc type trail centre pedaling you can ever imagine. I had a great time pedaling flat out and throwing the bike around twisty corners until I dropped my chain and easily lost 30 seconds stopping to get it back on. After that I gave it absolutely everything to get to the end with lungs exploding and legs burning. Gutted though, could have had a good stage time on that one. I can’t remember much from stage 3 other than being totally buzzing afterwards!

The last stage was a monster from the top of the mountain all the way back to Peebles village. A flatout 500m stretch across dry rooty moorland felt like the fastest I’ve ever ridden a trail, on the pedals as much as possible hitting the odd unexpected drop at full speed, amazing fun. After that was a section of twisty pedally trail centre where I lost my chain again and wasted more precious time (will be buying a chainguide this week!). Then came the climb. A disgusting 30 second, super steep fireroad that left my eyeballs popping out and my head spinning, worse still it was straight into a slightly downhill fireroad where you had to get the pedals in to get up to speed before it kicked up again for a final uphill killer power sprint. Filled with maximal lactic we dropped into some deadly tight, damp switchbacks through the trees with a few sketchy drops and finally a fast, rooty blast to the finish where I collapsed gasping for breath but full of endorphins. Awesome.

Overall a very challenging but fun weekend, learnt a lot and have a clear idea of where I need to improve. The event was perfectly organised, the scenery beautiful, the people fune and it was extremely impressive to see such a booming mountain bike scene in Scotland. Great to have some family support and to catch up with the Irish crowd, the lads had some top results!

Interview on Redbull Ireland before the race here

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Bluegrass Enduro – Rombach, France

Bilger Lionel_Dabo

Fork unlocked, shock unlocked, gears shifted, saddle down, full face on. Ready. 3, 2, 1, Go! Pedal, look ahead, arghh whats that i cant look up, shit forgot to put goggles on and they’re in the way behind my head, should i stop? faff faff loosing time, ok stop and sort it, panic panic 30 seconds wasted, right forget about it, back on it, focus, corner, on the brakes, look ahead, shit thats steep wasn’t expecting that, yeaow this is fun, drop, watch out for the rocks, off the brakes, more steep corners, legs burning, wheels drifting wow these tyres are amazing thought i was a gonner, flat bit – saddle up, pedal…!

Read at high speed and you have an idea of stage one of the Bluegrass Enduro in Rombach at the weekend.  Another trip to a random little village in the depths of the forest covered hills of Alsace in France and another fun enduro race on awesome trails with cool people. The trail builders in this area have a very definite building style, the courses are always full of tight steep loamy switchbacks and bus stop features. In Rombach the trails were steeper and more technical than Dabo, one section we rode twice finished in the centre of the village with the track switchbacking down what looked like a cliff face when you looked at it from below. In the race there was no time to consider how steep it was you just have to get on and do it, and riding it in a downpour the second time made it even more fun.

The stages were long, 2 of them around 11 minutes and when you’re trying to be 100% focused its a long time to concentrate and also an absolute killer on your legs since you’re standing on the pedals the whole time. I still haven’t get my head around blind racing, I felt like I rode large parts of the race well but lost far too much time making stupid mistakes and finished 6th. Overall a great event, plenty of chance to chat to other riders on the liasons and it was cool to see loads of girls from all over Europe there this time.

Nice video of the race here. Thanks to Bilger Lionel for the photos. 

The next round is in Ireland with a separate race for the girls, will be savage – do it!!

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Adventures around Frèjus

I spent Easter weekend with friends down in Frèjus in the south of France. Six days of exploring dusty, rocky trails beside the sea. We knew of some trails already but they were a bit xc style and I was keen to find more enduro type stuff. We hit the jackpot one day bumping into some locals who pointed us in the direction of the course of an enduro race at Theoule sur la Mer. Awesome tight steep switchbacks, rock slabs, jumps, bermed corners, dusty flowy singletracks. Happy days. We came back with a map covered in trails named after events that took place on them – death trail, puncture trail, the schizzle, rockhopper and porn trail.

Even managed a cheeky stop off in Finale on the way home for a couple of descents and a beer on the beech. Rad.




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New Team: Velo Elsener-Specialized

Velo Elsener 125

I am excited to be representing Zurich bike shop Velo Elsener  this season on board a Specialized Enduro 29er offroad and occasionally a Specialized Tarmac on the road. I cannot imagine a faster or more fun bike to ride and am grateful for the mechanical assistance from Zurich’s most reliable bike workshop ;-)

Check out the team webpage here.  Updates there to follow will be a test of my German skills…!

P1010412

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Bluegrass Enduro – Dabo, France

Bluegrass Enduro DaboLast weekend was the first round of the Bluegrass Enduro Tour in Dabo, a small village in the Alsace region of France. Having done some of this series last year I was keen to go back, the races are great fun and well organised but also offer a cultural experience and chance to get an inside view of rural France. The course was a 35km loop with 6 timed stages and 1900m descending. As with all of the Bluegrass series it was raced blind so no practicing or checking out the trails the day before.

Bluegrass Enduro Tour Dabo

The area is a biking paradise with a rabbit warren of biking trails running through the forests. Most of the course was through loamy pine trees with plenty of roots, switchbacks and the perfect spring sunshine  on race day even bringing some dust. The organisers had put in a huge amount of trail building work and some of the freshly cut sections switchbacking through deep, soft pine needles and moss were amazing fun to ride. Other sections were more rocky and although in general the trails were more high speed than technical, there was plenty of variety to keep you on your toes.

The transitions between the stages were also great to ride, often passing through tiny villages or farm areas with views of the surrounding hills and lots of little singletrack climbs. Infact there were some positively adventurous sections, we had to do some via ferrata style rock climbing carrying bikes at one point! The time limits were generous so there was plenty of time to chat and enjoy the relaxed friendly atmosphere. After the race oven cooked pizzas were served beside a lake for all the competitors – love the French attitude to making these events so sociable and fun!via ferrata transition stage

I was really looking forward to getting underway with racing and putting the new Enduro 29er to the test but didn’t have the greatest of races. Not a total disaster, I finished 5th, but can do better! I can’t exactly say why, it was just a frustrating day where things didn’t come together and I got to the end of each stage thinking I should have been much faster. Brakes not fully functioning, terrain I’m not used to, a minor crash, head not in high speed gear – all excuses, will ride faster next time!

Race video here – I’m worse at interviews than I am at riding bikes.

feed station

finish, Dabo

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Spanish Training Camp

Despite the mild winter in Swissland this year there is only so much mud, bike cleaning and kit washing I can take. A week in the Alpujarras in southern Spain was the perfect solution. Epic climbs and even better technical rocky descents, warm sun, good food and of course rocket fuel coffee. The Enduro 29er passed the Spanish switchback test and scared me a few times with the speed it wanted to be ridden.

Suffering major withdrawal symptoms but spring has arrived in CH and the racing season is on the way…!

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24 Hour Track Race

BMC track machiene

Yes you read it right, a 24 hour race in a Velodrome. Until now I’ve avoided any long distance races like the plague, they go against everything I enjoy about racing and I’d much rather go flat out for a short time. But I have persuasive friends and decided to be open minded and give it a try.

First was the slight issue that I’ve never ridden in a velodrome before so I found myself on Monday evening at the new track in Grenchen to learn the ropes. I had Fiola to teach me and quickly realised I just needed to turn my brain off an follow her so after a few minutes I’d forgotten about having no brakes and we were shooting around at the top of a 45 degree slope at high speed. I finished the evening buzzing and almost looking forward to the 24 hour thing.

I did the race for the Big Machine Club with four others who all happen to work for BMC so I was spoilt with a super pimped out bike for the day. Our strategy was 35 minutes on, 35 break, 35 on again and then a break of 3 hours with a total of 8 times on the track each. So really it was 4 sets of 2 x 35 minute intervals spread over 24 hours. Easy right? I was expecting 24 hour races to be a bit slow and lacking in adrenaline but our team strategy meant we were riding flat out fast for the full time.  Breakaways came and went, sometimes you were on with strong guys and it hurt like hell, legs burning counting down the minutes until a teammate took over.

Riding a few laps following someone you trust is a bit different to jumping into a high speed bunch race but by the time I was up it was a case of sink or swim. It was a bit freaky riding at 40kmph being boxed in front and back with people riding just above my head knowing that i had no brakes but I tried not to think about it and got more comfortable as time went on. It certainly wasn’t boring (maybe because riding the track was still a novelty to me), you had to concentrate hard, stick to the wheel in front, watch for riders flying past above, decide to jump and keep up with faster guys, sprint to close gaps as others lost the pace, bury yourself with a turn on the front.

In the long breaks there was time to shower, eat and get an hour or two of sleep so that you recovered a bit for the next interval. Riding at 4.30am after an hour sleep was the hardest for me mentally but the most painful were the last two intervals to finish of the race at 7pm – there was no winding down at the end, the speed went up and despite burning legs, sore hands and problems with sitting on the saddle it was totally eyeballs out, full gas racing until the end. Luckily I had the loudest spectators in the velodrome cheering for me making it easier to give it all before collapsing at the end!

We finished the 1st mixed team and 2nd overall with an average speed of over 42kmph over the 24 hours (results here). Great event, very well run and I’m surprising myself by saying I would recommend it. Now seriously considering how I can justify getting myself a track bike…

 

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What Winter?

It turns out this year there was no need for psyching myself up for embracing snow sports in order to survive a freezing cold snowy Swiss winter, winter has been cancelled. Before Christmas it was cold and snowy but since then its been mostly above freezing with hardly any snow in Zurich. Suits me, lots of muddy biking! the problem is one day of snow can can stick around a week or two and on the trails quickly turns to unrideable sheet ice so sometimes the road bike is a better option but thats nice too when you’re surrounded by snow.

Pictures below from a crazy January adventure in the Alps where we had to go to 1200m to find snow and after a short mega avalanche style snow descent we were riding dry sunny trails all day. Awesome.

The nights are slowly getting lighter, the race season is fast approaching – exciting times ahead!

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Happy New Year!

xmas run

A belated happy new year / gutes neues Jahr! I thought I was escaping the cold Swiss winter with two weeks in Yorkshire and Scotland over the Christmas break. I was wrong. Scotland is the most cold, wet and windy place you could ever imagine but it made for some fun mountain biking on the steep tracks around Innerliethen and gave me a good excuse to search intensively for the best coffee shops in Edinburgh.

Now back in Switzerland where it should be like living in a freezer at this time of year…

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‘real’ Winter

All of a sudden muddy grey autumn turned into sunny cold winter. The snow has arrived and there is plenty of fun to be had. Skiing on a bike in fresh powder is one of the most fun things ever, xc skiing to keep fit, DH for an adrenalin rush and to feed the mountain addiction. Hope the novelty lasts until spring…

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