Dragging my weary legs out of bed for Vallelujah practice on Saturday morning, I started to question whether a week snowboarding in the Alps and had been the best preparation for my first race of the season. After keeping my fitness up relatively well over the winter months with regular cycle commutes and mountain bike rides, I should’ve been fairly ready for race season. However, a week of contorting my body into an infrequently adopted sideways stance, combined with a diet consisting largely of fromage et bière, had left me feeling far from athletic.
Fortunately, the organisers, Tweedlove, were breaking us in gently for the first round of the Triple Crown, with a course that was slightly shorter and a little less gnarly than the other rounds tend to be. That said, there was nothing tame about the 25km course with 1100m elevation, and four long stages on some of the valley’s finest trails.
This year, the action all centred around Glentress, on a mixture of trail centre and classic off-piste sections. Despite my body’s protestations, I was super excited to check out the course, so after collecting my number board from the event base at Peel cafe, I set off up to the start of Stage 1, near the top of Spooky Wood.
When I first started mountain biking, I used to ride the Spooky Wood descent on a regular basis, but hadn’t been down it for ages. However, on arriving at the start line, I quickly realised that this was a different take on the trail that had got me hooked on mountain biking, when the tape steered us off track, before joining the familiar swooping berms and small tables of the classic trail centre descent. Near the end of the Spooky descent, we were guided off again to join yet more big berms on a section of the blue trail centre route that I’d never ridden before, Betty Blue. After a fast blast, we popped out onto the fire road for a sprint and unwelcome climb to start of Brown Trout for a more technically challenging end to the stage. Having ridden this nadgery off-piste descent a few times, I was familiar with its awkward rooty dips and tight corners that require a fair bit of work to retain any flow, and knew that it was going to be a testing end to an already long and physically demanding stage.
And what better way to recover from a lung and leg busting stage than a pedal up to the mast that marks Glentress’ highest point! Stage 2 was on my favourite Glentress descent, “A Trailfairy Plan”. This epic descent has been used as an EWS stage and is everything you want an enduro stage to be: fast, long, techy and steep, and by the time you drop down the precipitous chute at the end, you’re grinning from ear to ear.
From here, it was a brutal transition straight back up to the mast, then down Carl’s Lane to the start of Stage 3. Three started with a fast pedally section, which turned into a bit of a climb before dropping into the thick forest for another off-piste favourite, “A Five Year Plan”, with its steep, sharp corners and big steps. With arms and legs burning, the trail spat us out onto the fireroad for a long pedally stretch that would be un-timed for the race run, offering the perfect opportunity to recover before hitting the endless corners of “Mild Panic”, followed by the fast, pedally finale on “Deliverance”.
The final transition took us up to the top of “Ewok Wall” for Stage 4, on some of the trickier sections of the trail centre black route: Double X, The Bitch and Ponduro. At this stage in the day, this flowing, gravity-oriented stage was just what was needed, assuming your weary limbs could hold it together for the steep, techy final section.
As I slid down the narrow chute with its awkwardly positioned roots and rocks, I was reminded of the first Tweedlove enduro that I did three and a half years ago, which ended with the same section of trail. Back then, I felt totally out of my depth on these challenging trails, and had barely slept the night before the race, worrying about getting down them in one piece.
Fortunately, my riding has come on a bit since then, and the course was all well within my comfort zone, so I was able to get a good night’s sleep this time. Considering how my legs had felt the previous morning, they weren’t faring too badly after practice, and I woke up raring to go, particularly as it looked like it was going to be another glorious day.
As one of only five seeded female riders, I found myself lined up next to three-time World Champion, Tracy Mosley, and Team Scotland rider, Isla Short at the start line. She may be mountain biking royalty, but Tracy is one of the nicest, most down to earth riders you’ll ever meet, and it was lovely to ride round the course with her and the other girls, chatting about everything from bikes to juggling races with a one year-old child.
Despite being forty, and having recently had a baby, Tracy is still by far the fastest woman on the British Enduro circuit, so we made sure she went first when it came to the race stages, as none of us wanted to have her buzzing our wheels on the way down.
Instead I had British XC champion, Isla chasing me down Stage 1 – the most pedally of the stages – which certainly gave me a push! Needless to say, I let her go ahead on the rest of the stages.
Of all the stages, two was my favourite, and despite not having my fastest run down, it was good enough. In fact, unusually enough, all of the stages went without a hitch, and I finished feeling fairly happy with how it had all gone.
When I handed in my transponder, I was stoked to be sitting in second place behind Tracy, but Masters was by far the biggest of the women’s categories, and most of the ladies were still to come in. Choosing to seek refuge in the cafe, rather than stand out in the cold scrutinising the leader board, I was blissfully unaware of my final position until just before the podiums began, when I snuck a peek in order to manage expectations! After an agonising wait for my category to appear, I discovered that I still had a place on the podium, but had been bumped down to third place by another former British champion, Karen Van Meerbeek, who I hadn’t even realised was racing.
Standing on the podium alongside Tracey Moseley and Karen Van Meerbeek was a pretty awesome end to a a fantastic first race of the season, although I did experience a touch of imposter syndrome.
Tweedlove always put on a great event, and Vallelujah 2019 was no exception. The next round of the Triple Crown is the Transenduro in June, and I’m already signed up!