I arrived at GNAR Bike Park near Penrith unsure what to expect from the somewhat unorthodox format of round 6 of the PMBA Enduro Series, but as it had been two months since our last race, I couldn’t wait to get a timing chip round my wrist again and hurl myself down some unfamiliar trails faster than I probably should. As the trails at the newly opened centre were fairly short, the race was to consist of three laps of a 2.5 mile course with six short stages that were all accessible by one push-up track.
As seems to be our usual form, we arrived later than most for practice, but unlike last time, managed to just squeeze in a run of each stage before the start of the race. With 250 people circulating within such a small area, it all felt a bit chaotic initially, but somehow it all kept flowing and there were very few hold ups.
Stage 1 was particularly short and featureless, and left me feeling a little less optimistic about what was to come. It had also rained most of the previous day so the once dry and loamy trails were now pretty slippy. Fortunately the stages got better as we went on, and by the time we got to stages 3 and 4, I was feeling pretty good about the prospect of riding the course a few more times. Although short, stages 2-5 were fun to ride and packed full of jumps and drops.
Stage 5 was arguably the most difficult, featuring a pretty big gap jump and this round’s ‘KS Drop’. I’d had advanced warning of the gap on Stage 5, so knew to stop and scope it out rather than just sending it blind. I’ve been told, by a man, that it was a 12 foot gap, but as they may be prone to exaggeration when it comes to such matters, it may have been a little less. Nevertheless, it was a sizeable gap. However, more challenging than its size, was the fact that it was also a bit of a hip, so if you sent it straight, there was a high chance that you’d end up wrapped around a tree. Fortunately I managed to avoid that, but I did come close to being taken out by an awkwardly positioned stump and associated roots on a couple of occasions.
Stage 6 was the longest, although with most people completing it in around a minute, it was by no means long. It had been built especially for the race, and had a definite PMBA feel to it with plenty of roots, tight corners, a flat pedally section and muddy bog!
Rather than being split into groups that started at different times as with other enduro races, this time we all started at the same time, but on different stages, and moved round the course sequentially. Typically, we’d inadvertently chosen to start on the most difficult, Stage 5, so didn’t have much time to warm up before hitting the big gap, although as I’d only just finished practicing, it didn’t make too much difference, particularly as most of the stages were over before you knew it anyway.
Although the potential for delays and timing mix-ups seemed high, amazingly it all flowed perfectly. Or at least, it did to begin with. After completing our first lap we headed back to the start of Stage 5 only to find a massive queue had formed. Unfortunately the gap had claimed its first victim, and appeared to have chewed him up pretty badly. We had to wait for around an hour for him to be moved safely off the track and helicoptered off to hospital, by which time everyone was waiting to ride Stage 5. It’s never nice to learn that someone’s hurt themselves, particularly when it’s serious enough to require a helicopter, and the longer we waited there, the less enthusiastic I felt about carrying on. Not only was I getting cold, but despite having ridden it a couple of times already I was starting to get the fear about the gap jump, particularly as the person who’d crashed was a very experienced and capable rider.
Eventually the race got going again, and after a few star jumps to get the blood flowing again, I found myself hurtling towards that “12 foot” gap again, and was airborne before I even had a chance to think about taking an alternative line. Fortunately I landed rubber side down and managed to keep it that way to the bottom. It didn’t take too long for everyone to disperse again, and normal service was resumed pretty quickly. And, as far as I’m aware, there were no further casualties, or at least not serious ones.
Without a doubt, the hardest thing about the race was the push up, and by the time it came to pushing my bike up it for the 25th time that day, I was ready to drop, although sadly not in the way that was required to finish the race. Having ridden the course without mishap up to that point, in the final seconds of my final race stage I managed to crash on a drop that I’d landed successfully on each of my three previous attempts. Not only that, but having scraped myself up off the deck and crawled back on my bike I realised that I didn’t have enough speed to hit the next drop without the risk of a slo-mo OTB, so had to clamber off again and negotiate the obstacle on foot, like a total noob. Whether it was down to tiredness or complacency, or both, I couldn’t believe I’d managed to, quite literally, fall at the last hurdle.
There was no doubt that my farcical finale lost me a lot of time, but whether or not it affected my overall ranking, I don’t know. Eighth out of sixteen wasn’t one of my best results, but given the stacked field of female riders in attendance – Martha Gill, Abi Lawton, Claire Bennett and Rachel Simpson, to name but a few – I was quite prepared for that.
Round 6 was definitely the most unusual race I’ve ridden so far. If I’m honest, I’d had my doubts about how good it would be, but it turned out to be another great event, and everyone I spoke to on the day seemed share the same view. Mike and Kev’s continued effort to use new trails and push boundaries with the PMBA races has not only kept things interesting, but helped to raise the profile of some awesome new venues.
As always, massive thanks to everyone who helped to run yet another awesome event, with a special shout out to the marshals and medics, who were needed more than ever this time. Fortunately Ian, who crashed on Stage 5, managed to avoid serious injury, and by the next day, he’d even managed to write a blog post about his ordeal, which is something I’ve never managed to do, even with only minor scrapes and bruises to contend with! You can read Ian’s blog here.
The seventh and final round of the series will be held at Grizedale on Sunday 2nd October, and this time I have no concerns whatsoever about how good it’ll be. I’ll just have to hope I can stay on my bike until the end!