Race report – QECP Trail Collective – Alex in Fun
3 times lucky with the weather for the QECP Enduros – you’ll know why this matters if you live on chalk! We even had the temp and humidity turned down a notch for us: still hot, but not stupidly dangerously hot like all of last week. Perfect. The water at the top tasted as good to me as the beer at the day&night enduro. Given how loose the trails were, those little chalk marbles that get pulled into the corners, it’s good to hear no serious injuries this time either. It made for some wild 2 wheel drifts if you had the confidence (nope!). I soon learnt not to get too close behind another rider on the transition to avoid a face full of white powder…
I couldn’t go to last summer’s enduro and my first surprise was how many brands/tents/people had turned up. OK, this looks professional. We’ve got bikes, frames, tshirts, icecream, banners, bbq… I had my Enduro grips and I was ready. I should give a small disclaimer here: I’m local and have helped with prep (course-work) for all 3 QECP events, but this is the first Enduro i’ve ridden in ever. Races make me nervous. I knew after doing the XC (about 20 minutes for entire loop of Head Down!) that with nearly double time i needed to slow way down on the climb and save it all for the stages. But once we got to the top, where i was way back in Fun class felt more like a good Sunday ride with friends and timing and marshalls to scrape you up if things go wrong, than a serious race (maybe this was different in Pro and Sport? or just the same but faster?). No hassles, everyone more concerned with giving their best and finishing than trying to pass each other. 30 seconds might not sound much for 3, 4, 5 minute runs but the gaps between riders (10 seconds more than the day&night) and better ordering meant we hardly saw any “trains” (riders bunched together), coming out, good as it can be frustrating for the guys behind. The all important “atmosphere” over both the start and finish lines seemed superb though with everyone swapping stories, things they’d seen other riders do, what marshalls had said (some unrepeatable) and most just pleased to have done it without or despite hitting the many varieties of tree we have on this hill.
Just in case anyone thinks the locals might have a huge advantage, the Collective had made sure to switch things around and not tell me, for example Stage 2 was bits of 2 “old” trails and a new bit i’d never seen. So i had no idea of the final lines until the night before, chose not to practice, and had never ridden the final difficult root drop until the race! Mainly because i was scared of hurting myself before i started. (went to have a look at lines here during my last transition and immediately saw an OTB, oops! Got a good tip from a guy watching though – staying high and out of the rough is generally the rule).
Stage 4. The end was where most of the spectators were, for good reason… was fully expecting to crash in front of a photographer and had that in mind all the way, the long way down Stage4 (for SE England over 5 minutes for Pros or 6 for normal people is long!). Good thing though as i can make up what i lack in skill with some endurance here. Day&Night enduro put the hardest stage first so people could do the steepest in the light. This time had to be hardest bit last to have everyone end on adrenaline. This end was tricky – last year several riders walked, so of course they’d made it even harder by criss-crossing the roots, ignoring my whining :). This is it, don’t think, just ride, and excuse the language folks as i slid out several times and had to dab feet all over. It was ugly, but not too slow! I admit again i was wrong, you all were right, it was not too hard, it was pretty fun. All ridable for someone with average red trail skills (wet would be a different story and we’d have taken out some rooty bits. Want to test people not hurt them). Talking of this, only trail error i saw was a branch at end of S3 which at race speed as you were sprinting for finish suddenly appeared behind leaves and took many by surprise including me – so apologies to anyone who hit their helmet/backpack on that. With so much trail it’s hard to get it perfect, it’s never going to be totally “safe” anyway right?
Funnily enough Stage3, a flowy pedal-y number with loads of blind flat corners – normally a favourite trail, known to locals as WiggleWaggle or MoneyTrees – was my worst, maybe overconfidence or fatigue, setting off in the granny ring (doh!), braking into corners, having to pedal to regain speed, forgetting where the trail went around the race village, generally riding like i’d just started MTB (i’ve been riding badly since the late 90s). You have to relax, to ride a bike. There were some really good Pro riders here and they all sound really normal so you wouldn’t know ’til you see them ride, no bragging or nonsense. I’ve noticed the same thing in Downhill. Wish i’d been able to watch more. Ali Mclean – still better then nearly everyone despite being ill, get well soon! Lots of really good veteran riders too, so much so we’re thinking about adding Super Vets (50+?) next year, the 40-50 year olds are just too good. Gives a 30-something hope, that.
Stage 1 was pretty much a local classic not much to say other than i love it, great trail rides brilliantly and i had nothing to do with making it (wave to John). i’ve never seen it so dry and dusty, steps were getting knocked out, and some new bus stops stopped locals from just doing it on autopilot.
I hadn’t been passed and seemed to be gaining a bit on guy in front but bonus was finishing up near the top of Fun, very unexpected. It was all really close and well matched within categories. if i’d known i was anywhere near the top i’d have pushed that bit harder (all losers say this right?!). And probably have crashed too. The dropper post, my new toy, really paid off, when i managed to hit the right button and not change gear instead. Actually I’d been told not to win (a joke, no chance!) in case it looked like an inside job so i’ll just pretend that i tried to come 4th or 5th :). There was a running joke about five times the crew told me i was disqualified for various made up things, haha. Thanks Jamie helpful 🙂 The bike (my El Guapo 26er with coil shock at about 170/140 travel and the new proper sized 2.3 minions) was ideal, plush, low and i felt could have gone a lot faster with a better rider on board.
If you just want a great day’s riding with fun people, nice spectators, natural flowy lines, some tricky bits, good food and drink laid on, give it a go next year! I hope we’ll be able to do this again. What’s the chance of another dry race? Special thanks to Rups (needs more credit, does all the maps, timing, paperwork, meetings etc.), Spencer (great use of the hill, someone complained Stage4 was too long?! no, more please!), Scott for being Scott, Neil (brilliant on start line), Jamie and all the other Collective guys, Jesse, Matt, Craig, Pete, Rob, Martin who gave up their weekend and much longer in many cases, for zero pay to make it happen. Thanks Ollie (rider #1) for finding a dangerous bit of wood and crashing there so no one else had to, and then winning. Chris and Peter, the guys either side of me I didn’t know were great company (you start every stage in same order so you get to know people a bit! Flipside though is you never see half the field). Sponsors were generous with the prizes too, i’m not bitter about not getting one. Really. Thanks for letting me ride this time guys, we were tight for marshalls and i owe you all one 😉 If you were there riding and want to go back, or you just want to check out some trails, please help us keep it going by not annoying local residents, checking signage, and picking up your litter! Come to digs and ride with us on Wednesday afternoons if you can. Hope everyone had a good time and that’s it from us for this year, enjoy the rest of your season!
Words – Alex Smith – QECP Trail Collective
Pic – BigMacPhotography