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