Benromach 10 at Kirroughtree: A Rider’s View from Stu Thomson of MTB Cut…
No Fuss Events are always a regular on my calendar; over the past few years I’ve filmed and produced event videos at most of their major events. 10 Under the Ben, Glen Nevis River Race and the Endurance Downhill, I’ve been to them all, filmed a video and met a lot of great people along the way.
The Benromach Whisky sponsored 10 at Kirroughtree 2010 was different though, it was time to leave my comfort zone as the enthusiastic and admiring onlooker and step up to the plate and take part. I’ve always enjoyed the ‘thought’ of Endurance Mountain Bike racing, particularly as a team (the solo thing confuses me). But spending a day on the trails and hanging out with your mates seems like a good way to spend your weekend, it can’t be too hard can it?
(All pictures by Michael Bonney)
So a couple of phone calls later I had formed team ‘3 Feet High and Rising’. My next-door neighbour and Mountain Bike Guide Colin Bull (our secret weapon), myself and MTB race virgin and a local club rider Mark Nicols. Being a former Downhill racer my bike selection was looking a bit on the heavy side, consisting of Downhill and Jump machinery so a quick phone call to the good people at Orange bikes and I had the loan of a brand new Orange Crush, no excuses now!
Choosing the Kirroughtree race for my venture into endurance riding was both a tactical and educated choice. The 7 Stanes trail centre, based at Galloway Forest Park just outside the small town of Newton Stewart, is in my own humble opinion the best trail centre in the UK. The trails are some of the most technical and flowing terrain I had ever ridden so I knew the course would be a beauty. As much as I had ridden there a handful of times I wasn’t prepared for was the twist in the plot. This was delivered by both the No Fuss Events team in the way of some challenging new natural sections that made up easily 25% of the course and also the wonderful Scottish weather that immediately put paid to my image of shredding some dusty trails.
With the race-taking place on Saturday we had all organised to slack off work early on Friday in order to enjoy the full No Fuss experience by arriving in time for a dinner (included in the entry!) and a few beers with the guys from Orange.
On arrival we were faced with an already bustling campsite and race arena with many participants and their families arriving to spin out a lap of the course, register for the race and most importantly sit around enjoying a few pre event refreshments!
In hindsight (which is such a wonderful thing) it probably would’ve been better to have less beer and go to bed earlier, but that just never happens. After much discussion about wearing a midget clothes (don’t ask..) and persuading Mark that he wouldn’t be the slowest person in Saturday’s race we all hit the hay.
Sleeping in the back of a van listening to the constant drone of rain throughout the night left me a little apprehensive about what we would be faced with in the morning. Luckily enough for me I was given plenty of time to survey the race day conditions thanks to a 6am wake up call from No Fuss head honcho Frazer Coupland… Thanks Frazer!
Just after 7am my fellow rain warriors emerged from their tent and a plan was constructed for the race. It was decided that there was no holding back our secret weapon, Colin would be unleashed right out the start and after he put in a Contador style effort on the climbs Mark and myself would be left with an easier spin round the course in less traffic and out of the main field as it spread out over the opening laps. Great Theory!
After a 9am race briefing in which participants are given instructions on course conditions and told ‘not to try too hard as the prizes are shite’ Colin lined up for the start. With over 600 competitors in total the start was always going to be a difficult test. As Colin disappeared out of site during the rolling start behind a police car he was comfortably sat in the mid field and gradually working his way forward up the road climb that was only used on the first lap.
With the opening lap slightly shorter than the standard 10-mile lap used for the rest of the duration the leading riders began to pass through the transition area after around 45 minutes. Our confidence in Colin was unwavering, unfortunately for him, being his next-door neighbour I am well aware of his unrivalled enthusiasm for training and riding on a daily basis so the pressure was on! So as we got closer to the hour mark and having much of the field pass by we began to figure that Colin just wasn’t trying hard enough… or maybe he had a problem but we decided to go with the first option….. Finally he arrived back cursing a ‘f***in puncture.’
With a quick changeover of the timing chip (that you have to carry round each lap) followed by a lame attempt at a wheelie out the arena I was on my way up the first climb.
Climbing isn’t really my cup of tea, the only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that having tried my hand at a fair amount of downhill racing over the years I might be able to make up a few places on Kirroughtree’s fantastic technical descents. The beauty about this Galloway Forest park loop however is that the terrain is so undulating; it is a plethora of short climbs and descents. The constantly changing terrain kept everyone smiling and was enough to keep you motivated to keep pedalling your way round.
The No Fuss Events crew had produced a complete blinder of a course… I couldn’t see a thing for all the mud. Nevertheless the loop included some magnificent rooty technical terrain to test everyone, separated by some of the most flowing singletrack you will find anywhere.
My lap was a struggle, I suffered my way up the climbs with the aim of trying to claw our way up the field a little on the way down was made a bit more difficult with traffic on the first lap. The natural sections were very tricky and everyone was finding a few of the sections to be a bit of a lottery. The one steep section about 20 minutes in was always entertaining; it has since been accurately dubbed the ‘slope of doom.’ With bodies and bikes littered all over the slope the challenge was to not add to the collection…. I proudly avoided adding to the pile of victims on the way down, not so much the tree at the bottom though.
About midway through the event, as our team hit our 5th lap there was a huge downpour. The conditions on the course, although tough were a huge amount of fun and the rain only added to the camaraderie among participants. If you haven’t done a No Fuss Event before the thing for me that stood out more than anything is the atmosphere out on course, these events are not really for competitive racers; they’re for the rest of us… Sure, everyone does try their best and there are a few sketchy moments passing or being passed on singletrack, but when you are in a forest covered in mud, in the pouring rain and with your lungs on fire and you’re still grinning ear to ear something must be right!
In between laps we’d been lucky enough to blag our way into the Orange Bikes pits, complete with awning, food and sizzling Halifax humour we were living in luxury! Possibly the funniest moment of the weekend was sitting listening to John Chennels from Orange describe his hilarity at finding the only mega serious competitor on course behind him. There are many categories of racing so we don’t know who this guys is, but listening to John describe how he was bordering on the edge of control over some roots and mud only to be shouted at from behind ‘race leader!!! race leader coming through’… John then proceeded to catch the guy in front of him and holler ‘race leader’s biggest fan coming through!!’… Whatever happened to ‘can I squeeze past when you have a second mate’ or ‘on your left’ I have no idea. Regardless John’s stories left us all in stitches in between laps!
With the weather conditions being at their absolute worst and light conditions in the trees fading massively, much to everyone’s relief the No Fuss team decided to cut the event an hour shorter to 9 hours. By that point, despite an athlete’s diet of 4 SIS energy drinks, 2 gels, some chocolate, super noodles, and a Red Bull I was still struggling. With the cut off time at 7.30 I arrived back from my last lap at 6.15 giving our racing newbie Mark 1hr 15 to complete his last lap. By that point Mark was burst and its fair to say he didn’t have much left in the tank. We had a quick discussion about either myself or Colin doing another lap to try and make the time but it was decided Mark would give it a shot as we didn’t care that much about the result just all of us completing the day.
Unfortunately Mark came over the line 3 minutes after the cut off time. This didn’t damage the spirit though, everyone had given it their all and a fantastic time was had by everyone. As Benromach Whisky are the title sponsor everyone receives a dram when they finish. After a brief session of high fives and drinking whisky around the camp we wound down by checking out the trials demo by Ben Savage, that guy is incredible!
For me, No Fuss Events truly grasp what Mountain Biking and Outdoor sports are all about: We spend the weekend with great people, in a superb location and riding laps of a fantastic course. The rain, mud, and crashes were just all part of the experience. I will be back next year for sure.
A big thank you to all the guys from Orange Bikes for looking after us over the 2 days. Also to my team mates from team 3 Feet High and Rising, Colin Bull and Mark Nicols, and to all the guys from No Fuss Events… For more info on their events check out www.NoFussEvents.co.uk
And for Stu’s latest goings on, check out: www.facebook.com/mtbcut