With two weeks having passed since the last round of the PMBA Enduro Series, and another week to go until the next, I was starting to get race withdrawal symptoms, so as Dan and I both had the day off, and the weather was forecast to be glorious, we decided to squeeze in a cheeky wee extra race and gatecrash round 2 of the Welsh Enduro Series at Penmachno. We’d heard that there were still entries available so all we had to do was rock up and pay our entry fee to race.
Since racing in our first ever enduro there in November 2014, we’d been back to Penmachno several times, and it’s become one of my favourite places to ride. I was, therefore, keen to see how I’d get on now that I knew the trail a bit better and had a bit more race experience under my belt.
It was already incredibly warm when we left the house at 7am, and as we drove along the North Wales coast, with the sun blazing down on a perfectly still sea, it was clear that it was going to be a scorcher.
By 10am we’d set off on our practice lap, and half way up the initial climb I was already sweating like a [insert sweaty thing of choice] and cursing myself for having forgotten to bring a change of clothes to change into later. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden at Penmachno without getting absolutely soaked, and despite the baking hot temperatures, this was no exception. Heavy rain the previous day meant the trails were still pretty wet in places but also bone dry in others, making them a little unpredictable, and it was hard to tell whether I was damp from sweating or puddle splashes.
As we’d only decided to enter at last minute, we hadn’t seen the route map in advance, but it was pretty much as we’d expected, taking in the three main descents on the Dolen Machno loop. Although there were only three timed stages, they were all pretty long with a combination of fast descents and pedally sections in each.
Stage 1 was on a section of trail that had been closed when we raced there last time, but had since ridden a couple of times. It started with a fast undulating section of singletrack that traversed the steep open hillside, with jumps, drops and rocks to add to the fun. It’s a narrow trail with a sharp drop on one side, which doesn’t leave much margin for error when travelling at speed. In practice I put that to the test by going a little too fast, which resulted in a little unplanned “rest” on the side and some spectacular rippage to one of my knee pads. After a bit of a climb back up to the fire road, the trail plunged straight back down into another fast traverse, but this time through the trees. The stage ended with an uphill sprint, which left my legs and lungs screaming.
Stage 2 was on the area’s longest, and arguably best, descent. A fallen tree a few hundred metres from the intended start meant it had to be brought forward a bit, sparing us a bit of pedaling, of which there was plenty later on. What remained of the top section was a fast, rocky section of singletrack through the trees, which soon merged with a much more manicured swoopy new section. After a series of pump track style turns and whoops, you crossed a fire road and into another fast rocky traverse across the open hillside before entering the woods again for a seemingly endless, energy sapping pedally stretch. A hairpin bend marked the end of the flat traverse and from then on, it was downhill all the way to the end of the stage.
A relatively short fire road climb brought you out at the start of Stage 3, which started with another stretch of new pump track-esque trail. After swooping through the trees for a while you emerged into the open hillside for a short but tiring climb before dropping into two massive berms, which gave the legs a chance to recover before hitting the next section. After a short fire road sprint it was back on to narrow rocky singletrack that wound down the hillside via a series of tight switchbacks before a long traverse through the forest with plenty of rocks and drops, to the end.
This time I finished in fourth place, which is my highest ranking to date, although typically the Welsh series only has a three-place podium, so I celebrated my small personal victory from the sidelines with a well-needed beer.
A big shout out to the organisers, marshals and everyone who raced, especially the overall winner, Phil Roberts who absolutely smashed it… on a hardtail! Although not as technical as some of the recent PMBA races, it was a fantastic event, and good warm up for the PMBA Northern Champs, in more ways than one!
Dan Struthers Photography also produced a fantastic edit of the event, which you can view here: http://www.pinkbike.com/v/embed/446273/?colors=c80000