Sliding into, or rather, out on, the first corner of Stage One of the Tweedlove King & Queen of the Hill enduro course, I had the sudden realisation that I’d forgotten how to ride muddy trails. After such a prolonged period of hot and dry weather, I’d become accustomed to riding, and racing, on dry and dusty trails, rather than the type of slick mud chute than lay before me. Standard Scottish summer conditions had returned for the third and final instalment of the 2018 Tweedlove Triple Crown Enduro series and the trails were running very differently to how they’d been for the British Championships and Valleluja earlier in the year, and even Ard Rock two weeks previously. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long to readjust to normality, and after a tentative first few turns, I got back into the swing of things.
The change in conditions made practice on the Saturday worthwhile in itself, but checking out the 30km course with 1330m elevation and five stages that were certain to be testing, was the main objective. Despite having ridden the trails at Innerleithen a fair bit and competed in a few Tweedlove races, there are still many I’m yet to ride, and there were a few sections of the course that were completely new to me. The most notable of these was Stage Three, which started up on Kirnie Law – an area of the Golfie that I’d never explored – on a trail known as Jawbone, which has previously been used as an EWS stage.
After scoping out Stages One and Two, I headed up to Stage Three, however, no sooner had I set off than I encountered a group of riders walking back up the trail, bearing the bad news that the stage had been closed further down as someone had had a bad crash on the tricky steep section.
As it was already fairly late in the day, I knew there was no point waiting for it to reopen, so, after gleaning as much information as I could about the trail, I decided to at least check out the top section and perhaps have a look at what was in store lower down. A gnarly rock garden and long twisty steep section that had already claimed one victim, didn’t sound like something that I particularly wanted to ride completely blind. On arriving at the rock garden I had to dismount, but the marshal was happy for me to walk down with my bike to get to the next section. This was easier said than done, but I eventually managed to scramble down, deciding that it would definitely be easier to ride than walk. Fortunately the poor lad who’d crashed was in safe hands, with the medics on the way, but it’s never nice to see someone hurt themselves. The last section followed ‘Walk or Burn’ down to Walkerburn (see what they did there?) and was also pretty tricky in places, so I was grateful for at least having managed to ride that.
Stages Four and Five were across the valley on the Traquair side, and having raced here quite a few times lately, and slogged up the usual climb more times than I care to think, it was nice to take a different route up to the top.
Stage Four started at the top of Cresta Run, and pieced together sections from Cresta, Round 2 Track and Bart’s Run. Some of the sections were familiar from previous races, with others not so much, but the resulting medley provided an awesome techy descent through the forest, which was riding surprisingly well.
The transition to Stage Five consisted of a short but steep push-up, which, at that stage in the day, was a bit of a killer. Five was another mash up of some classic Inners trails linked together with some cheeky little lesser-known lines. Starting in The Tunnel, the sweet descent took in parts of Better Than Luge, Gold Run and Deerhunter, before a sharp sadistic climb, which ultimately dropped us in to the bottom of Cresta Run for an awesome grand finale down some steep ‘n’ deep fresh cut berms.
By the time I rolled into the Inners car park, I felt pretty drained. It was also getting fairly late and I suddenly became aware of how little recovery time I had before having to do it all again, and in anger. After a thorough bike clean, which had been requested by the organisers, in order to prevent the spread of P Ramorum disease in the area, I headed home, had some dinner, then hit the sack.
No matter how tired I am, I rarely sleep well the night before a race, and the sound of rain hammering down outside was far from soporific, mainly because I knew the effect it was having on the trails.
Although it had cleared up by the morning, I was fairly certain that the damage would already have been done, and pedalling up the fire road to the top of Stage One, my suspicions were confirmed when I saw the first wave of riders emerge from the end of the stage looking as though they’d just crawled through a swamp. If I’d thought the trails were slick for practice, I was about to experience the true meaning of the word.
Conscious of my previous day’s efforts in comparatively less challenging conditions, I set off down Stage One pretty tentatively, just trying to stay on, while my bike slipped and slid its way down, with me as a passenger. It wasn’t pretty, but I managed to hold it together, give or take the odd dab. The trail did become grippier further down, but I still never really felt like I got going properly.
Fortunately Stage Two had held up much better to the rain and, despite some slick sections and an abundance of wet roots, I was able to pick up some speed and find some flow. It was all going great until I caught my bar on a tree, just metres from the end, and was spat off the bike and down an embankment. Annoying
Having not managed to ride it properly in practice, and knowing it was a toughie, Stage Three was the one I was most anxious about. However, other than a bit of a stumble towards the end, it went without a hitch. Fortunately I managed to pick a decent line through the rock garden, hang on down the long steep chute, and negotiate the tricky corners on the lower section without any issues, but by the time I reached the end, my arms and legs were begging for some respite. At this point my composure started to slip, resulting in a bit of a wobble and power dab, before collapsing over the finish line.
With a long transition ahead, and not a lot of time in which to get to the top of Stage Four, there was no time for a breather before pushing on. There was, however, a feed station near the start of the climb, with some delicious cakes, which helped get me up to the top.
Stage Four started badly, when I took a bad line on the first corner, putting me on the back foot from the off. Fortunately I managed to get back on track and find some flow for the rest of the stage, which went ok.
By the time I’d dragged my bike to the top of Stage Five, I was starting to feel the effects of two big days in the saddle, and was looking forward to this final descent, not least because it was a banger. Fortunately my body managed to hold it together long enough for a decent run down, with none of the mishaps I’d experienced the last time I’d raced that final section!
Crossing the finish line brought the usual feelings of euphoria, and sudden craving for beer. After handing in my transponder, I was sitting in second place in the Elite Master Women’s category, but as us seeded riders had gone out first, there were still a couple of hours in which that could change. Most of that time was spent trying to clean my bike, which was absolutely caked in mud. By the time I’d managed to restore it to an acceptable enough condition to put it in the van, and hose myself down in the process, it was time to check the results again. To my delight, I was still second, with the indomitable Roslynn Newman taking the top step once again, and Lucy Follett in third.
The titles of King and Queen of the Hill went to Danny Hart and Bex Baraona, while the winners of the overall Triple Crown were Polly Henderson and Sam Flockhart.
Always impeccably organised, with fantastic stages and a great atmosphere, the Tweedlove enduros are undoubtedly the highlight of the UK race calendar for me, and I was delighted to be able to compete in all three races this year. The icing on the cake was finishing the series 2nd in the Master Women’s category and 5th female overall, which considering the level of riders it attracts, felt pretty awesome. And, now that the series has drawn to a close for this year, I’m already excited for next year’s races, which will no doubt be announced before too long!