by Thomas Mitchell
If there is one thing you are always guaranteed of in the Tweed Valley, it’s rain. A visitor to the Valley for the first time will immediately notice the lush, vibrant and green forests dotted around the hills. How, they might think, are these forests so green, so lush and so vibrant? Rain, my friends. Rain rain rain.
Many riders this year for Vallelujah were praying for some sun – and in the two weeks leading up to the event, the valley was experiencing a spring solstice with lighter nights coming around quicker than usual. Dust even appeared for a short time and everything was set for an awesome Easter weekend. However, all good things must come to an end and by the beginning of practice on Saturday the skies had opened up and things were about to get wild.
The course took in 32km of the Valley’s finest singletrack with an emphasis on ‘fun’ instead of the ‘death grip induced fear’ that most enduro events these days head towards. The course was very similar to that of the 2014 King of the Hill event, which many remember as a classic in the Tweedlove back catalogue. With 3 stages at Glentress and 2 stages at Cademuir, a welcome return for the forest situated on the West side of Peebles after extensive storm damage and felling works had gobbled up most of the trails.
With a start list 500 riders strong and people coming from far and wide to sample the trails and atmosphere of a Tweedlove event many were pleased to see an inclusion of something for everyone. Racers ranged from seasoned masters to junior newbies, there was something for everyone to test themselves against.
After the rains on Saturday, the tracks had cut up a lot, and lines were changing all the time. Race day on Sunday brought with it trepidation of the unknown. Riders set out in groups, two by two by two as if they were boarding Noah’s ark to help them survive the trails. It was wet – really wet – cold and just what you expect from Scotland during ‘spring’.
Riders were taken on the long winding fire road climb, which hugs the outskirts of Glentress. Up to the mast atop of the black to start the day. Greeted by a wave of hail cascading from the skies, riders huddled together like Antarctic penguins, desperate for any kind of warmth. With numb fingers and cold muscles riders started stage 1. A quick crank out of the dibber station we were greeted with a succession of flat corners, punctuated by baby head rocks. These could easily catch you out if you were angled too far over. A few choice pedal strokes and a well-deployed speed tuck could carry you all the way to the entrance to ‘Zorro’ as it is known locally. Down the gully at warp speed it felt like you were on a bobsleigh track hitting the banking berm at the bottom, and pulling a lot of G’s. Snake down the trail, around the tricky switchbacks and smash the pedals onto the straightaway through the firebreak. Dodge the trees and carry the speed onto the fire road, quick speed check to tackle the steep turns with grace and poise to finish. Goggles covered, useless from this point onwards, adrenaline pumping, blood flowing and lungs left somewhere up on the hill. This was stage 1 of Tweedlove Vallelujah.
Stage 2 took on a well-known trail at Glentress, ‘Zoom or Bust’. Riders were free to enjoy the swooping turns and flowing nature of this awesome piece of singletrack before readying themselves for the punishing uphill climb which lay in wait for those who hadn’t quite shifted the excess winter weight. Local Valley resident Tom Nash gave us his take:
“Today was tough.. Stage two was always going to be physically hard but i believe the inclusion of stages such as this, a good mix of technical and pedalling, is important to keep it as an endurance event and not just a masked downhill race. I was mega chuffed with this stage as I took on a rock drop with full commitment rather than rolling it as I have done in previous races. Caught in traffic for the last descent was frustrating but, hey, that’s racing.”
Many riders were riding new lines or features previously thought impossible and this was great to see.
A transition through the picturesque town of Peebles saw the sun come out for a brief period. Rainbows could be spotted over at Cademuir; would the pot of gold be in these hills? It certainly was. Cademuir has suffered terribly at the hands of the numerous storms that ripped through the Valley over the winter. A lot of trails had been lost to felling and the storms so it was great to see the work that had been put in by the army of volunteers. The trails had been revived – better than ever. Stage 3 took in the infamous ‘quarry’ before diving into ‘vinyl justice’, a tight and tricky trail. Those with wide bars are probably still up there somewhere wedged in the trees. Caution was advised on the steep and technical trail.
After dibbing in at the bottom riders were treated to ‘the last supper’ feed station, complete with cake, bananas and water aplenty. Refuelled and reenergised, riders began the long slog up the penultimate stage, The Resurrection. A fitting name as the stage had brought back the old ‘Cademuir DH’ trail after extensive storm damage. Back better than ever, too. With clear vistas Peebles could be spotted and riders could look back to Glentress to see how far they’d come, but also how far they still had to go. The start had churned up a lot of mud and riders were obviously tired cranking off the line. The crunch of gears, the heavy breathing, the howl of brake pads as riders hit the first steep, root-strewn corner. All in a days work for local shredder Calum Grant who smashed the fastest time of the day on this stage with a 3:08, leaving elite racers in his wake. Calum would go on to take the junior win and 2nd overall.
One last run through Peebles and back up Janet’s Brae riders could sense that the end was near. Broken bodies and bikes littered the climb with many opting to push up and save the legs. People were tired, it had been a long day but the common theme was everyone was still smiling. Jokes were still being told and stories of missed lines were still being spun.
Stage 5 started above the famous Glentress 7 descent taking in the classic ‘bomb hole’ before following the wall down and onto the red descent, Falla Brae for those who like reading trail centre maps. The stage followed Falla up until it splits between black and red options. The stage took in the black before spitting riders onto the greasy dual slalom field. When I say greasy, I mean this field was like ice. A thin layer of mud interspersed with just the right amount of sheep poo made for a slippery end to the day and many ended up on their backs.
As the rain shower turned up the power to ‘full blast mode’ and riders ran for cover, a small sliver of blue sky could be seen. Up high and beyond the clouds a glimmer of light gave everyone a reason to smile. These Tweedlove events are always about having fun with friends and making new ones. Everyone I talked to had nothing but good things to say despite the rain, the mud, the wind and the testing conditions; everyone had a fantastic time. It is credit to the Tweedlove team to be able to turn a potentially disastrous weekend into a huge success. As always, the army of volunteers and marshals made it all possible – they are the true heroes.
Roll on the TweedLove festival in May! Hopefully we’ll have some sun by then.
For full results, click here
Tom rides for Kona