Race Report: X-Fusion/Enduro1 - RD 2 Haldon Forest20 May 2014 | By billy1979
Since becoming a contributor for MoreDirt.com it has become apparent that there are easier races to re-account the days proceedings and there are the hard ones. The easier ones being where other people do really well and I'm really chuffed for them; the harder ones where I do really well and I have to try not to sound like a smug git! Today's race ended up with lots of good riders doing themselves proud…
Haldon Forest, sat one valley away from the edge of Dartmoor, is quickly becoming a well-loved Enduro venue in the southwest for riders and organisers alike. With quite tame and family orientated official trails, it's the off piste that gets more challenging. Whether you are racing for the podium or just with mates for a laugh, the mixture of roots, ruts, rocks and loam keep most types of rider on their toes. The scorching week leading up to the event had left almost the whole forest bone dry with only the odd muddy patch or stream to dampen things down.
Although most of the known trails only drop two or three hundred vertical feet, Carlos (the organiser) had been very clever with his route to make the most of the hill both for getting the longest stages he could and making the whole loop as challenging as possible. One transition took you down another couple of hundred feet right to the very bottom of the forest and back up just for the sheer fun of it! He also used a few nice pieces of off-piste trail to link back up with the main trail centre transitions, making it much more fun than just constantly winching up fireroads. With 5 stages, three of which were over 3 minutes, there was going to be enough leeway for a small amount of rider error but consistency was the aim of the game which the dust, gravel and speed sapping roots wanted to put a stop to!
Stage One started right on the edge of the racers carpark and kicked off with a sprint through some younger trees, weaving its way to the steeper bit a little lower. After crossing a very loose, slidey gravel walkers path you traversed the hill before a number of tight rooty switch backs. From there it was over a tiny bridge and into more densely packed trees, round stumps and over a myriad of roots. Again after another fireroad crossing the stage darted down one of the existing off pistes but with extra wiggles taped in and the straighter lines taped out. Even locals had to take lines that normally they wouldn't have dreamt of, riding over hefty roots and round some sizeable stumps.
Stage Two again started from the edge of the riders carpark but took riders along one of the most notoriously rooty and pedally singletracks on the hill which regularly gets used for XC races. This then dropped you into 'Old skool alley', a mixture of awkward turns, roots, rocks and gulleys to navigate through whilst keeping as much momentum as possible. Parts of it were barely handlebar width and it was a blessing that the routes were dry otherwise it would have been a lottery as to whether it stayed rubber side down! The last section saw you chatter down a rut over some mega roots, over a bank and then on the pedals for a short section, weaving round a whole load of stumps to finish right by the blue trail.
Stage Three saw a return of 'Bird of Prey', a stage used by MiniEnduro back in 2013 but with an added bottom section to extend it a little and test the poise as well as legs of the riders. The top is a super cool mix of rutted, loamy turns, highly eroded roots and tight switchbacks. The middle became a bit of a pedalathon over the whoop-like christmas tree ruts and down into some sweepy flat turns that could really slow you up unless you hit them just right. The final section took you over a bit of a bog, through two stream crossings, before a tight little climb and a pedal down a rutted foresting track to the timing gate.
Stage Four took you all the way over to the Exeter side of the hill to the 'Quarry Run', a trail regularly used for all Enduros on the hill. The top section had been used back in March for the MiniEnduro, which saw you pedal flat tap whilst weaving through the trees in a strange little gully. Banking the bike over and preparing yourself for the tighter kinks was the secret to the top whilst looking for slight inside lines just below that paid dividends. Instead of joining the red trail like we had in March it was back down another tight gulley and round a fistful of switchbacks before hitting the fireroad. It was from there you sprinted into the recently re-opened black trail & fired at warpspeed through Haldons nastiest rock garden before getting on the gas, round some real drifty turns and back on the legs up a slight crest to the time gate.
By the time you hit Stage 5 you had done about 12 miles and just under 2000 feet of climbing. The last stage had been planned to be Carlos' brutal little present for the tired legs and heads. It shot you off into some recently forested woods, again dodging stumps, roots and logs before taking you into another Christmas tree section, known as 'the tunnel'. For the vertically challenged this part was fine but those over six foot tall were not so keen on squeezing through such a wiggly diddy trail. However you were soon out in the open again and faced with a couple of hundred metres of fireroad climb and another couple hundred of reasonably flat fireroad. My dropper post was in full action here as although I knew the steeper bit had to be sprinted, the flatter bit was perfect to spin the legs and grab a bit of composure before the next technical section. Bucking the trend and not using the regular steep trail on this part of the hill Carlos took us down 'Ring Ring' or 'Steepy's cousin'. With roots everywhere, criss crossing underneath your wheels, keeping the power down was quite tricky at times but once into the switchbacks below things became a little more gravity fed. More tight trees to wiggle through led you out to the bottom, more open section where there was a bit more gas needed to power through the last flat section, over a table top and round a nice swoopy turn to the final time gate.
Junior winner Joe Harrison (UK Enduro Scholarship rider) and Leigh Johnson who won the first round in the juniors are the UK's next Enduro hopefuls on the world stage!
With no practice before race runs it was hard to tell who had the pace to be up on the podiums. Although it was a given that with so many people riding the stages blind, those more local racers who had probably ridden most of the stages in the past would be a distinct advantage. That being said, with mates out on course watching the racing and then catching up with us every now and then between stages we did get a little bit of a low down on who was looking rapid. Rob 'Box' Cooksley was called out as THE fastest rider round the top switch backs of stage 3 but unfortunately for him a puncture or mechanical towards the bottom of the very same stage saw him out of contention. Chris Keeble Smith who was leading out on every stage looked so fast off the start line everytime; obviously lightweight carbon sleds do have their advantages!
The team competition only saw three teams at this round so it was guaranteed podiums whatever happened. In the end Control the Chimp took third place, Team Leisure Lakes in second but the familiar faces of MB Swindon Gravity Team took the win by nearly two and a half minutes. It was really nice to see a few more women come out of the woodwork and jump on their bikes for this round. In the end though it was Sally Evamy in third, seven seconds behind Robyn Walton in second. However storming ahead for the girls win by a minute and a quarter was Traharn Chidley.
The smallest of the competitive categories was the juniors, usually full of up and coming talent but strangely quiet for such a sunny day; they must have been off at the beach chasing girls! Taking the third step was Jack Delbridge with Austin Salmon ahead of him but on the top step was the Marin Enduro Scholarship rider, Joe Harrison, almost two minutes in front! The grand veteran class also saw a runaway lead from the top rider. In third we saw Alan Wakely, David Brown in second and it was Velotive/West Coast Mountainbiking's Tony Hicks who stormed into the Grand Vet first place.
The Veteran category saw some familiar faces returning to the podium. Graham Sheldon rode well enough to secure third whilst Bad Ass Bike's Andy Sadler skidded his way into second. However a reshuffle around from the previous round's results saw Chris Ames take the win with a comfortable 9-second lead. The Masters category saw less than 50 seconds over 15 minutes of racing separate the top three and a new face to the podium taking third place, Francois Damseaux. The top two places were solidly secured by the local Plymouth based distribution company Silverfish; their marketing man Pete Drew rode well enough for second place whilst Mondraker UK's expert DH rider, Ashley Mullane took the win with a nice 30 second margin.
As usual, Carlos had creamed off the fastest three riders of the day to make the overall win category and as these were all riders from Seniors, it meant that the next three riders down the results stepped up for the podium. That saw Ben Moore taking third place only four seconds behind Joel Chidley in the silver spot. However the shift around of results gave the big friendly giant, Matt Snelling the senior category win; giving Carlos great pleasure as Matt has been one of the series' greatest supporters since it started.
The overall top three saw the first case of riders being too consistent and too close to each other for the timing system to handle with two riders on the same second after 14 minutes of racing! Taking joint second saw my riding buddy, local boy Tom Dunn riding for Hot Pursuit cycles/Centrax/BikeGloveStore.com, match the time of Marin's Elite category rider Chris Keeble Smith. Both were pretty stoked! Chris for the fact that he was riding it blind and gunning it round at a hell of a pace whilst Tom more for the fact that it was the first Enduro at the his local haunt that he had managed to stay on the bike! However to my astonishment, I had only gone and done it! I had given it enough beans, even up the mid stage fireroad climb, to take the win by a nice healthy 17 seconds for team Banshee/One Industries/MRP/SouthforkRacing.co.uk. Local knowledge again paid dividends for the winners of almost all the categories.
It felt quite weird having everyone round the route, back to the venue, results logged and the podiums done but 3pm. There was talk of barbeques down Tavistock way, people heading home to get out in the garden and for me it was back home to head over the dirt jumps for a wind down pump track session. Enduro1 had yet again smashed an ace event and it was hard to find an unhappy face on the hill. Roll on round 3 at Grogley woods in Cornwall on the 20th of July!!!