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Rachael Gurney @ Forest of Dean Mini Enduro

Rachael Gurney @ Forest of Dean Mini Enduro

Hot on the heels of her successes at UK Gravity Enduro Round 1, On-one sponsored rider Rachael Gurney rode the Forest of Dean Mini Enduro last weekend. The weather meant that it didn't go 100% to plan for any of the competitors, but Rachael still came out with 2nd place! Here's the lowdown from Rachael:

What is the point of Enduro practice? On a Saturday practice session I usually try to get the following things done:

  1. Suss out exactly where the track starts and ends
  2. Get a feel for the conditions and how they might change
  3. Get lines sorted for each tricky corner or technical sections
  4. Make sure I know what is round each corner (even if I haven’t a clue how to ride it!)
  5. Identify where to sprint

 

I don’t think that in enduro riding it is possible to know every nook and cranny of a course as you can in downhill but it is entirely possible to be able to visualise each part of the track so nothing surprises you. You can also gain enough knowledge of the tracks to have a fair idea of how to keep the flow and push it in places.

So, it does come as a bit of a surprise when you head off the start, racing your first stage, and you are thinking “Am I even on the right track?!” I think a lot of people who entered this weekend’s Mini Enduro, especially in the later categories, will agree with me – the track changed indescribably from practice to race! Halfway through Stage One I failed to recognise the track, let alone the ‘line’ I had earlier chosen for myself! Gathering at the end with the other ladies, we all stopped, regained our breath and said “Why did we bother practicing?” The great British weather had once again done its worst. Heavy rain in the days preceding the race had softened the ground admirably. Riders practicing on Saturday had dried out the track and created some grip, then overnight it rained! On Sunday we were met with heavy bursts of rain which lead to the carnage and complete destruction of the tracks! It was one of those days that more consistent rain would have been preferable rather than the slimy gloop we were left with. Whatever the weather I was well prepared, flat pedals were order of the day along with waterproof socks and an emergency pair of gloves.

The start of the race afternoon didn’t exactly go to plan for me. I had had a hefty crash during the morning's practice resulting in a bent wheel. I had also managed to fall hard enough to bend my bars. So with the spare wheel on my bike, my cockpit slightly off centre to take account of the wonky bars, and bruises to parts of me I can’t discuss on the internet, I set off for the start of Stage One… an hour early as the start times had been printed incorrectly!

Feeling like the world was slightly against me, the timer counted down my last 10 seconds and I was off! Wheel spinning through the mud in the long first sprint down to the first corner of Stage One. Eyes up, I concentrated on finding the lines I knew were once there through the woods. Dropping down, across the fire road and down again, the track soon became very off-camber. This is the point when I first felt as if I may have been in completely different woodland if it wasn’t for the course tape showing me the way! Getting off line and slowing to a stop, I opted to pick up the bike and run. Like Bambi on ice I skidded my way across the mud. I jumped back on to face the blown out switchbacks, down the steep chute to the mud-fest at the bottom. Miraculously I stayed on and cranked my way across the line! Watching the other ladies come down, I heard I wasn’t the only one to opt for feet over wheels in the off-camber section. One of the other girls also had a problem with mud clogging in her front fender stopping her wheel completely. I am happy to report no such issues with mine!

I pedalled up to Stage Two with none other than Tracy Moseley. Tracy had previously helped me out by giving me her opinions on Women’s Specific Bikes for an article I have written for Enduro Mountain Bike Magazine (read it here). This was published on Saturday so was a great topic of conversation and meant I could thank her in person.

Stage Two was definitely my favourite of the weekend. The top consisted of a flat pedal - well actually it was a slip and slid through the slop to a drier, more flowing section with plenty to keep you on your toes! A rouge branch had me tumbling to the floor as I tried to stay high out of some mud in the middle of this stage – serves me right for trying to be clever! The spectator on this corner heard my anger and shouted the following advice as I hastily picked my bike up “Take a deep breath….. Now PEDAL!!!”. Whoever he was, thank you! You did really help! I need this guy every time I fall off!

A quick push up, took us back to Stage Three which started very close to the start of Stage Two. Stage Three had a much longer pedal, taking us off the plateau of the hill we were on. This was where riders would be finding out how fit they actually were! The track started to go downhill and steeply at that! The track also threw at us a few more off-camber corners (who doesn’t love those little gems?) and a final very muddy sprint into what was basically the edges of a bog! Stage Three was slippery throughout; with the women being the last category down the hill, we definitely got the worst of the conditions! The 29er wheels on my On-One Codeine served me very well in the mud, big is definitely better where it is deep or rough going. I also fared pretty well on the tight corners, the bike felt light and nimble. I felt comfortable and confident that no surprise ruts were going to stop this bike in its tracks!

So, bearing in mind that the women rode the tracks whilst they were in the worst condition, it was with trepidation that I returned to the top of the hill to run Stage Four (Stage One repeated). By now all of the 300-odd entrants would have been down this track TWICE! There were just 6 us waiting nervously at the top… beep, beep, beep… Not waiting for the last ones I set off. I managed to stay on my bike this time, getting ever closer to the large, heckling crowd standing at the lowest, muddiest part of the course. I saw them there when I cycled up the hill, they were like starving animals, hungry for the riders to hit the deck! I really didn’t want to be their prey! I am glad to say I wasn’t; it’s amazing how concentration can shut these things out. As I headed down the chute and into the slop I was so completely focused on what I was doing and where I was going that I didn’t hear them at all! Maybe they cheered, maybe they were just silent. I was 18 seconds slower on this stage then the first time I rode it, it is a possibility that running was faster? I have never been more relieved to get down in one piece staying rubber side down! I think every racer shared this sentiment. One thing for sure is we all improved our skills in riding in the mud and there is not one rider that wouldn’t have perfected the use of ‘the tripod’ style of riding!

With results up, I learned I came 2nd to Tracy Moseley, with Liz Simmonds in 3rd, and we took our respective places on the podium next to the World Champ! Pretty sweet, huh?

6 May 2014