Hopetech womens’ Enduro; Gisburn
This weekend saw me attempt my first ever Enduro race, which is a mountain bike event with a number of timed race sections and some transition sections in between. I’d picked this as my first Enduro race as it was a womens only race aimed at all levels from beginners to elite riders, meaning I was hopefully not going to be too out of my depth! My only aim was to survive the race; I didn’t care where I came in the results. I knew the transition sections would be tough and hoped to find other girls of similar ability to tag along with to keep me going. The added incentive was I’d booked a demo bike from Hope who were sponsoring the race and I managed to get the brand new Hope HB160; a bike that you basically can’t buy yet, which has a £7.5k price tag! Surprisingly all they wanted from me was my driving licence and it was mine to keep all day and use in the race if I wanted to!
The race was due to start at 12pm, and we were going to be set off in small groups until 2pm. The problem was that when you signed on you had to pick your start time, with their advice being slow ones go off first, and fast ones go off last! I decided to go for 1pm and hope for the best. Once I was signed on and got my timing chip, they gave me the very expensive bike and I was sent off to practice the timed sections. This is where I made my first mistake! I don’t know Gisburn Forest at all so in order to find the timed sections I had to follow the race signs, so ended up doing a 2 hour ride with 1000 feet of climbing as my practice run.
The first transition to stage 1 was tough, lots of technical climbing on a bike I wasn’t used to. I was getting annoyed with the bike as it was so different to mine and I just didn’t get on with the brakes or with the way it climbed up and over rocks. I could have happily left it there and walked home! I got to the first timed section and anxiously waited my turn, asking the marshal to give me plenty of time before setting off the next rider as I really wasn’t getting on with the bike and didn’t feel confident. I soon discovered that the minute you point the HB160 downhill it comes to life! Section 1 was 95% downhill, all natural and very technical. It was also very wet, and had deep muddy sections to navigate on tight single track. I got the bottom in what felt like seconds, with very little memory of what I’d actually ridden, I pedalled as much as I could between corners and drops and started to love the bike. I still hated the brakes though!
Next came transition to stage 2. The first half of this transition was the big climb of the day, but thankfully all on fire road or less technical rocky sections. The bike performed much better on these climbs and I made it all the way to the top without having to push up. I took the opportunity at the top of this climb to ask a marshal if he was any good with hope brakes, and thankfully he was! He set up the brakes to my preference and it was like riding different bike! The route then joined the red route and again became very technical. This was by far the most challenging part of the route, and I was tired by the time I reached stage 2. Disappointingly, stage 2 started on an uphill, and had a lot of pedalling sections between short technical or downhill bits. There was also a puddle the size of a small swimming pool which when you hit it at speed created a wave that came up to your waist and onto your lap meaning I was soaked through and freezing by the end of this stage. Because this stage was using a new part of the red route only opened that day, some of the berms were still covered in loose gravel so I made a mental note to take this section slowly given I wasn’t used to the brand of tyres on the bike.
Transition to stage three was all fire-road climbs which I was grateful for as it gave me a bit of a rest. Stage 3 was ‘the Hope line’. This is the only part of Gisburn I have ever ridden before, and I was sure it was all easy and rollable and said this to the marshal I was talking to at the top (the nice man that sorted my brakes!). He quickly corrected me and told me that there was a big slab drop about a quarter of the way down, but that if I went into the corner carefully and slowly I could go around it. So off I went, on my final practice. This is the most fun section, full of jumps and table tops that I could play on all day! However by the time I realised I was coming up on the drop it was too late to think about taking an easier route and I just rode straight off it! It was much bigger than I thought, and I only just landed it but excited that I’d survived I jumped everything all the way to the bottom of the section and rode back to the start. This ‘practice’ had taken me 2 hours; I was exhausted, soaking wet and freezing cold. I also didn’t have any lunch with me so filled up on bananas and chia flapjack and honestly didn’t think I had a race run in me.
Finally at 12.45 I put a dry jersey and gloves on, and went to queue with my start group. The transition to stage 1 seemed easier this time and I got there quite quickly and joined the very long race queue for stage 1. I had to queue for about 15 minutes and got talking to the girls around me. They were all deciding whether to take the harder A line or the B line which is easier but takes longer. I couldn’t remember seeing a choice in practice, but it turns out I’d taken the direct A line! I decided then that I might actually be a bit better at this than I thought as not many around me were riding the A lines, and my new aim was to finish about mid pack rather than just to survive. In my race run stage 1 felt very fast and the bike felt amazing now that I trusted the tyres and brakes enough to ride more aggressively. I pedalled hard between sections and got to the bottom in one piece with a pretty fast time.
The transition to stage 2 was really tough on tired legs, but I got there! Stage 2 felt better this time, and although we’d been warned to go through the giant puddle slowly and not at speed, I refused to lose time on the stage I found hardest. I hit the puddle hard and was absolutely soaked! On the final bit of this stage I’d forgotten about how loose the gravel was and my front wheel washed out, but thanks to the extremely light bike I was on, I saved myself and somehow avoided hitting the deck!
Transition to stage 3 seemed to go really quick, but my legs were so tired now. I just wanted it to be over. I got to the top of ‘the Hope Line’ (stage 3) and decided that I was going for all the A lines again, and that I would jump everything I could to keep my time down. The cheering in this section was so loud in the woods, which spurred me on. I took the drop at the tightest but biggest point and landed well. I jumped everything, including a drop between some trees which I would never normally plan to jump and scared myself a bit! I was finally finished and could fire road it back to the start.
I handed in my timing chip, really hoping I was about half way down in the results, and was shocked to find out at that point I was in 7th place in my age group! My final result was 22nd place out of 68 in my age group, meaning I finished in the top third. I handed back a muddy bike which although is very nice, is not the bike for me (saving myself a fortune!).
This was by far the most enjoyable race I have ever done, but the most exhausting. I was so nervous going there because although Jason was marshalling, I was going to have a full day of racing to do on my own. However, I think it’s safe to say I’m hooked and next year I’ll be doing the full series of races. Main lessons learned are not to ride the full course in practice, and to aim for a good finish position not just to survive! The only picture I have of the day is just after the giant puddle on my practice run, where my face shows exactly what I was thinking at that point… I don’t think I can do this!!