Words by Shaun Hook, Photos by Kasia Fiszer
Following a successful first round in Crychan Forest the UK Enduro series marched on to Triscombe, Somerset for round 2. This popular riding area in the South West is well known for its technical and steep tracks all dug and maintained by the local riding community.
Rich Parkes and I were again competing in the Senior category, this time joined by Carl Crowley in the Juniors for his first UKE race. The lead up to this race wasn’t ideal for me with a heavy previous weekend; on Friday I travelled to our suspension sponsor, Mojo, to sort a minor issue with my X2 and get some tuning advice before squeezing in a couple of runs at FoD. The Saturday I did the classic “The Gap” ride in the Brecons and then rounded my weekend off competing in the excellent first round of the MaD Enduro at Ebworth Park. Unfortunately the physically tough stages of that race allowed a chesty cough/cold to get the better of me! I then spent the week trying to rest with only one short evening ride to try and keep the skills sharp!
I headed down to Triscombe on Friday night to meet Rich and other friends at a static caravan we were renting for the weekend. Although it wasn’t the most insulated of structures this was a major step up from the camping we had all suffered through at Crychan! It rained persistently from sunset to bedtime, promising us damp tracks the next day…
I woke on Saturday feeling absolutely awful, fortunately a coffee and some medicine from Rich got me back on track somewhat and after a quick breakfast we headed over to the race HQ at the excellent Quantock Lodge facility. Being relatively early we managed to bag ourselves a hard car parking spot which made setting up and changing a bit easier. Although the sun was out by now it was still pretty cold so everyone stayed layered up til the last possible second.
We were joined by Carl and headed out to practice the 4 stages that were to be raced that day. We rode over to S1 first, the transition was a little frustrating as it dropped a chunk of altitude before climbing back up; we easily resolved this later since UKE allows you to do the stages in any order you like. After a quick push up a steep fireroad we found the stage and cracked on.
S1 opened with a couple of turns before a slightly uphill sprint, long enough to get the legs burning. After cresting this rise it swept along the top before hitting a flat left, being greedy here would put you into soft dirt on the outside. There was then an absolutely flat out traverse, most riders opting for a couple of sprints before speed tucking to the fireroad crossing. Here, riders hit a small bank so fast that getting air wasn’t optional! There was a straight line through the bracken and stumps straight after this that kept you out of the muddy rut forming on the freshly cut main line. You then hit a flat right onto an established trail, this was widely taped and allowed for some braver line choices over roots to gain precious fractions of a second before hitting the finish line.
With everyone rounded back up we headed to S4 as it was furthest away. This stage would use the bottom of the new ‘Stumped’ trail dug by the locals. A quick sprint start in the open then jinked right into the woods, there were some pretty massive cut lines on the next few turns before the trail headed out onto an off camber detour that took you over to the new track. This new section was a firm favourite with all the riders, even when greasy and wet as it was that morning! Stump drops and roots in abundance, this challenged everyone’s nerves to keep the brakes open and rewarded those who could commit to the slippy catch turns.
It was during this intense stage I noticed my illness was really affecting my ability to focus, I couldn’t shake the ‘fuzzy’ feeling in my head and knew I might struggle with ‘race pace’ later.
Onwards to S3 which was used last year for the UKGE event. The top started with some great technical twists and turns, diving into a gully before spitting riders out at full speed over carpet roots! The next section tempted you into throwing in hard accelerations but you really had to conserve energy for the long, long pedal that came after; a steady uphill singletrack with a few fan roots and turns eventually led to a fireroad traverse. This wound along the hillside before reaching the final section: a steep as hell gnar fest! Here it was important to carry speed out of the catch turns; stalling would leave you floundering on the flat linking sections and cost you a lot of time. Battle your way down here and you’d hit the finish in quick order.
Many riders decided to hold a little back on the sprint to ensure they had the focus to keep control on the steep finish.
The last stage we practiced was S2. The top section was the same as UKGE’s final stage but with a much improved finish. Riders loved the flowy and fast top section but a few struggled with the steep end to the stage; a couple of turns required you to battle back uphill on greasy off cambers before tipping the bike back over again.
We all headed back and had lunch before prepping for racing. A quick scraping off of mud and a clean of my drivetrain had my bike ready to go. I had planned to experiment with caffeine this weekend and with my aforementioned fuzzy head decided I’d go all-in on the dosage! I threw some tabs in a bottle and chugged that before preparing another one to take out with me. We set off for S3, planning to get the worst of the pedalling done first.
Starting the stage it was evident the caffeine had definitely done the trick; as soon as I picked up speed I didn’t struggle to spot my lines and react to the bike like I had earlier. I did make one mistake early on ending up on an inside line that meant I had to square up a turn that exited on to an uphill. I put as much into the sprint as my sickly lungs allowed, tapering my effort as I approached the steep finish. I flew in and nearly lost both wheels as I hit off camber roots! I managed to tidy it up and the, other than stalling a little on a fade-away right hander, rode it well.
S1 was next, I could have put a bit more into the initial pedal uphill but my illness and the next day of racing was in the back of my mind. I managed to hit all the tricky lines I’d spotted in practice so felt I’d made up for it.
We headed to the excellent S4 next. I rode this well with no major incidents, just perhaps not carrying enough speed onto the bottom sprint.
We finished the day with S2, the top section was running really fast and was great fun to race. I had some good speed on the bottom section but did overshoot one turn costing me some time. Rich went for a pretty wild cut line under a low tree but he managed to make it work!
After heading back and checking in I found out I’d managed 13th for the day. I was dead chuffed to get near the top 10 and Rich was up there with me too. Carl had made some good time on the pedalling of S3 and put himself 6th in Juniors.
We headed back to the caravan and refuelled on pasta, everyone was pretty bushed so we got an early night. The next morning we packed up pretty quickly and headed over to HQ early to bag decent parking spots again. With plenty of time, getting ready was a relaxed affair and we enjoyed the chance to catch up with friends. I made up some more caffeine bottles since it had worked so well the day before.
Once again we headed to S3 first but this time our day didn’t start so well; there was an issue with the timing equipment but, after a long course hold, they sent us down for our race run. On reaching the bottom we found out that the issue was that the timing equipment had been missing altogether and we’d smashed out a stage with a long sprint for nothing! This was mega frustrating with such a long day ahead of us but hopefully it’s something the organiser will make sure never happens again. Carl was particularly let down, his fitness is excellent and he would have made time on his competitors here.
We then tackled S1 which went similarly to the day before although Carl had a bit of a moment on the first turn!
S2 followed, I had a better run this time with things going smoother at the bottom. Rich went for his tree-ducking line again and got an even better time for it.
We then broke for lunch, I decided to switch my rear tyre to a Rock Razor semi-slick since the conditions were drying up and the remaining stages had harder surfaces. I stuck with a slightly lower pressure to make sure I didn’t lose too much grip though.
Heading out to S4 I was beginning to feel the effects of being ill and the hours of riding already completed, fortunately my legs seemed to loosen up again as we approached the stage. I rode it pretty much the same as Saturday however I had a massive moment, losing the front wheel on a hidden root. Luckily the Dune’s stability helped me bring everything back in line before I hit the next turn! Rich had a real nightmare though, he blew past a turn where someone had broken the tape and had to turn around to get back on track losing a bunch of time.
S7 was next in the plan, it was a long technical stage so we wanted to hit it early with full strength. When we reached the top we found out it hadn’t opened yet and the queue was simply enormous. We had a quick walk of the track and spotted some ludicrous cut lines at the top before heading over to do S5 instead.
This stage was an absolute blast, flat out top to bottom, using existing downhill tracks but switching between them to keep you guessing. A massive bog near the start required some careful line choice, I totally failed here and really regretted not jogging down the trail and checking it out; I hit it at top speed and still nearly stopped dead! I got on the power and fishtailed my way out of it and onto the rest of the stage. As Rich, I and other friends regrouped at the bottom, a little shell shocked by the speeds we’d just hit, we realised Carl hadn’t yet appeared. We then began to hear on the radio that a rider had gone down and became pretty worried, especially when we heard they’d hit a tree! We asked the marshall at the bottom to confirm our worst fears and, sure enough, Carl’s race number was read out. Fortunately, somehow, Carl had emerged relatively unscathed after apparently riding flat out into a tree on the side of the trail. He was given a rerun and joined us at the bottom, absolutely buzzing about his lucky escape!
We then headed back up and joined the queue for the now open S7. Watching a few riders go down it was clear there was a big split between those who had spotted and were using the massive shortcuts and those who hadn’t bothered walking the top section. I felt a bit guilty using it myself but it was within the rules and other riders could already be seen exploiting them! The rest of the stage was brilliant and characteristic of Triscombe trails; rooty, rocky, fast and technical.
With that stage done we headed up for our last stage of the day, 6. This had similarities to S5 but felt a touch less frantic to me. The finish booted you downhill at warp speed into a flat right hand turn and even though I felt like I stalled the hell out of it, it was my best stage placing at 8th! It was good to see my pace up there for the technical stuff!
HQ was a bit of a ride back from here but we modified our route slightly so we got one last go down the top of S2, one of our favourites! The atmosphere when we got back was excellent, everyone was buzzing about the quality of the stages. Several riders protested Stage 7 due to the severity of the cuts made on the top of the course and the organiser decided to cancel the stage. I’m not sure I agree with the decision (especially having lost one stage I’d raced already that day!) but it seemed to keep the majority of riders happy, reflecting UKE’s tagline philosophy of being “for the riders”. Once the modified times finally came in I found out I’d finished 14th, I was super happy to be so high in the top 20. Rich also defended his top 20 despite the time lost on S4 and wrapped up in 18th. Carl had been consistent all weekend and put himself 6th in the Juniors.
Despite the organisational hiccups on Sunday, overall the weekend was brilliant. Neil and his team put on a fantastic race that really made the most of Triscombe’s terrain, existing trails and new sections; something I think other organisers have failed to do.
Special thanks to Lee Carter and other locals who have dedicated a huge amount of time to help the UKE team find and use the best stages, Adam Wight and Rachel Gurney for cooking a great curry Friday night, Rich’s girlfriend Kasia for the spag bol on Saturday, cake and snapping some brilliant photos all weekend (check them out on Roots&Rain!), Brook Mitchell for giving us the low down on the sections he’d walked on Saturday night and of course to Slam69 bike shop and our team sponsors Mojo Suspension, Oneal and Mudhugger.