SixSixOne Gravity Enduro - Eastridge
This year saw the start of a new UK Enduro series of events founded by Steve Parr and David Tallontire. Similar to the popular Enduros in Europe and previous events like the Saab-Saloman Avalanche trophy in Kielder, the SixSixOne Gravity Enduro series comprises of several stages of timed fast technical descents which are linked with non-timed cross country transitions.
Now I had entered and placed mid-pack in the Saab-Saloman Avalanche Trophy in 2008. I was asked by my mate Neil Williams and his group which I ridden with before, RaveRacing, to come along and try one of the events. Eastridge seemed on the map to be a small riding area but having gone up there a few weeks before and tried out some of the trails and descents, found that it is an expanse of steep wooded climbs and very steep natural descents.
Practise day and we got up fairly early in the morning, my nerves were starting to kick in as we set off to the event. I’m not the fastest at technical downhill by any means and this type event wouldn't be what I'd call a natural comfort zone. As we pulled up to the event grounds Steve Parr was just starting to warm up the PA system and the reality of it all was kicking in. We signed in and got our numbers and timing sticker and headed off to get changed.
My Orange Five has somewhat migrated from being a lightish XC build to a more AM orientated bike, but the lack of seemingly obligatory chain device and bash ring was making me nervous as I looked around the field looking at the other 140-160mm AM bikes with dropper posts and big burly rims.
We all assembled and rode off as a team to go practise. The others in my group were sectioning stages and picking lines as we rode through the loamy steep descents of Stage 1, and the twisty, rooty and dusty hairpins of Stage 2 and 3. I manged a handful unintentional dismounts through the morning but nothing serious and you can't beat a gentle tumble or two to settle the nerves.
Stage 5 was the qualifier and was not without its difficulties. The first section was fast and flowed well with just a few roots and jumps. The middle section however was sketchy at best. Loose steep hairpins made going hard, almost coming to a halt, aided by some foot dabbling to bring you round. The last section was great. Initially the steep jump I made with intrepidation following thorough to a low double and long table top as you entered the arena. I tried rolling the double but was chastised with a kick back from the rear. I was encouraged to go back up and after getting some decent air of the top jump I gritted my teeth, let go of the brakes and hey presto cleared the double and the table - Wooo hooo!.
The qualifier came up quickly after a well earned, if not expensive, cheese burger (not my usual race fuel) and the nerves were kicking in as we pushed up the final slope to the start. Race Timing Systems were there with their beepy Laptop and were counting each rider down every 20 seconds, with the odd penalty for those a bit eager to set off.
My qualifier went well. I was cheered by other team members standing by as I started off. As I came into the event ground I popped over the double and the table and was happy to finish with a clean run. I checked my position and was about mid pack overall (but towards the back on my cat - Masters).
So at the end of the first day I was in one piece apart from a bruised thigh and a cut on my ear, thankfully the bike had survived despite my best efforts to achieve otherwise. Neil's partner Nicky made pasta and a lovely goulash washed down with a pint, setting us up for the next days punishment. Sleeping was difficult as my mind was sessioning the various lines we'd been perfecting (or not) all day and focusing on what was to come!
Morning came at 7am. We got down the the event with plenty of time and signed on to see the squint-eyed campers stirring from their tents. We hung around till 30 mins before our set start time then slowly made our way up to the start line for stage 1. We were all looking agitated before we set off and then in turn setting off peddling like a hamster on a wheel to the bellows of encouragement from team mates and randoms behind us. Stage 1 was my most feared with the steep loamy section, cut into the side of the hill, but I managed to get round with some nifty foot work. The transition stages were arduous but times generous, some in the saddle and some pushing up trying to get traction with my XC shoes.
Stage 2 came and went without issues with the transition to stage 3 coming quickly. Stage 3 however was met halfway with a comedy slow motion crash as I face planted into a beach worth of sandy soil on a steep left hander. I got back on faster than my body could clear the dirt from my mouth, nose and eyes, finishing the stage blind and coughing. Chatting to the guys in front and behind me became the routine as they commented on my 'new tan' and laughed.
Stage 4 was my favourite. More rock and singletrack than any of the other stages, just like my home turf of Dartmoor and was looking forward to it. I went off fired up, saw the small rock garden and went in hard. PSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. Tyre burp and instant deflation of my tyre and my heart. The tyre was slashed and the tubless was out. No time to repair - sprinted it down some lovely drops and burms to the end - what a waste. I thought I had enough time to put a tube in but took a while to get the tyre off. I saw 6 other people who flatted at that exact point in states of repair as I ran it down.
I rode as fast as I could to the last stage with 1 minute to spare (not ideal), the guys I had been chatting with during the transitions welcoming me back into the queue. I set off with gritted teeth and blowing out my arse. I rolled the small double and jumped the small drops to make the right hander where my team mates were queued. PSSSSSSSSSSSS - there's a CNO1 theme going on here. The air was blue with the four letter words erupting from my normally good tempered mouth. I tried to ride through it but the squirm of the rear was too much and I dismounted, chucked the bike onto my shoulder and ran it as fast as my legs could take me - all the while trying to avoid the riders coming up behind me a break-neck speed. I (literally) jumped the last jump and ran over the double into the arena with some pleasing cheers as I styled it up with a leprechaun-like jump on the table, sprinting into the finish.
I ended last but avoided a DNF, but somewhat gutted and saddened all the same. Looking at my earlier completed stage times I was hardly on for a podium, but it's a competitive event and you like to give it your all and see where you stand, so it was a touch disappointing in the end to finish like that! The rest of the RaveRacing Team did well, the best placing 5th and 9th and 12th in Vets and 27th and 35th in Masters (biggest cat). The full race results can be found on the Roots and Rain website with all the images taken at the event including those by Iain McConnell. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who gets a buzz out of technical descents and a good burly MTB bike - even a hardcore hardtail!
About the Gravity Enduro Series
We took time out to ask Steve Parr, one of the main organisers, about the Gravity Enduro series.
CNo1: What inspired you to start the Gravity Enduro series Steve?
SP: After I stopped organising the NPS, I swore that was it, no more organising, but 2 people approached me about Enduro and said they would sponsor it. Soon got the cogs ticking over in my little head, had already been to the Avalanche events in the UK and thought how good they were, the rest is history!
CNo1: How have the last stages been received with the entrants?
SP: Unfortunately, numbers have'nt been great for our 1st year, but we have a great title sponsor in 661, their marketing guy's have been outstanding, but anyone who has raced has gone away with huge grins and the desire to come back and improve, which gives Tally and Me great satisfaction.
CNo1: What have been the best and worst bits about running the events?
SP: The only bad bit about the first 3 rounds has been the weather, oh and a certain miserable landlord at the Kielder event, there have been far to many good bits for 1 article, some unprintable!
CNo1: Whats the plan after Afan Round 5 for 2012?
SP: Tally and myself intend to get drunk and then go race our bikes at the Italian Super Enduro at Finale Liguire.
For further information on the Gravity Enduro Series visit www.ukgravityenduro.co.uk
Georgina from the FC says, “Eastridge has been a location for DH and XC events in the past. The Forestry Commission and the ETP have been working together for the past 2-3 years to link up the best bits of trail in Eastridge woods into the single 8km long Revelation Trail. Currently there are no plans for further development to the trails. The work at Eastridge has been slow as funds have come out of existing budgets. This is why racing would not be back in Eastridge without the input of local riders especially Alex Langley of Leisure Lakes Bikes, Sandy Plenty and Jason hartwright."
“Another slow-burn project has been the new cross country loop in Hopton Woods, South Shropshire. We are hoping phase 1 (approximately 16km/10.5 miles) will be ready to ride in the Autumn.”
For more information on Eastridge Trail Partnership visit their facebook page.
For more information on the Forestry Commision in the area visit their website.
Midlands XC (contact James midlands ) are coming to Eastridge in early September and the FC are discussing bookings for next year.