Jim Topliss gives his race report from round five of the PMBA Enduro Series at Kirroughtree.
By Jim Topliss
For many, PMBA’s return to Kirroughtree was an anticipated and welcome one, with 2015’s event being one of the most popular of the series. With a record number of riders making the journey up to the Scottish Borders trail centre, renowned for its abundance of loam, fresh-cut and classic Scottish slabs, expectations were understandably high. After what was for many a long, scotch-pie fuelled drive through the beautiful villages of Dumfries and Galloway, we pulled into the packed field outside the Kirroughtree Forest Centre. The centre, operated by the forestry commission and co. is part cafe and part bike shop, ably servicing the needs of racers and eager spectators alike. During sign-on it was obvious many were intrigued as to the contents of the five freshly concocted stages, with some citing the tight, technical, trialsy, flavours of the previous year’s event, while some quiet locals murmured between themselves, spreading rumours of ‘this slab’ or ‘that steep’. After a full Saturday of practice it soon became obvious that Kirroughtree, however clichéd it may sound, had a bit of everything.
Stage One – Doon Hill
Rolling into Stage One, after a welcome warm up along an undulating singletrack climb, riders were immediately greeted by a flat out loamy wiggle to loosen any rusty elbows and headsets alike. The smile factor was immediately taken care of by the fast, natural top section, pushing both experienced enduroists and grassroots beginners alike to hang on and lay off the brakes. With a spot of welcome line choice, the tight winding line of loam crossed its first fire-road, and dropped onto the race’s first section of trail centre. Riders expecting an easy lull in the pace were quickly put back to work with some sweet rock slab hops and a punchy sharp climb before spitting you out into the final loamy finish. Largely brakeless and weaving through ruts, the stage ended on a wide, flat out right hander, closely observed by an officer of the local police force! After a stage with as many sweet complex flavours as a Kirby Lonsdale Ale, we were left with even higher expectations for the remainder of the course.
Still buzzed from the loamy delights of Doon Hill, we dropped into the trail centre top of Stage Two, intriguingly named Syd’s Dell… After being somewhat lulled into a rhythm by the flow gravel turns, the familiar Scottish rocks reared their slabby heads, and the battle for grip and line choice began. The trail soon resembled a section of the M6 with riders quickly mounting and dismounting to pre-walk the icy mudstone slabs. The track threw up feature after feature, requiring some inspired braking, as if you were driving an old banger with no ABS. However, those who tackled the tech were rewarded by a fantastic fresh-cut dirt singletrack, with some amazing turns. It was clear that whoever Syd is, he’d done a righ’ sound job on the spade work! The huge selection of conditions was calling for many riders to alter pedal and tyre choices, I personally opted for a Continental Baron Projekt cut spike up front, paired with the classic Trail King on the rear to keep things rolling speedy. To finish, it was back onto the rocks, skipping across the looser slate surface to break the finish beam.
Stage Three – Doon Drop
A quick push back up to the Stage One trail-head, and we were faced with the loam-concealed boulders of Stage Three. At first glance similar to the flat out top section of One, the trail instead threw up some interesting root sections, more akin to last year’s tree wiggling. After a super tricky left hand drop onto the fire-road, it was back on the gas and back off the brakes. Dropping into the final section, similar to the familiar rutted out woods of our Peak District trails, we were greeted by (many a rider’s highlight of the weekend) a huge wide-taped chute, with multiple high commitment ruts for riders to plant their rubbery hooves into. This caught more than a few riders a-cropper, many attempting to push the boundaries of the established “speed to grip to tree-wiggle formula”, but once through the only real challenge was holding back the grins in the last few berms to the beam.
Stage Four – Ferret Finisher
Due to tree work and some unfortunate high winds the previous week, the Forestry Commission unfortunately had to call off the original Stage Two and Three in the interest of rider safety. Luckily, Kev Duckworth was on hand with trusty hoe, spade, and track tape, with trail dog Freja to assist in the creation of a fresh stage. The solution Kevin revealed was a flat out sixty second blast down some super steep, fresh cut loam corners. During Saturday’s practice the turns into the finish chute were, as one rider pointed out, ‘slicker than an oiled otter’, but thanks to the overnight Scottish winds and a lucky dose of good weather, they were positively dusty by Sunday’s racing.
Stage Five – Breakpad Blast
The final stint was a welcome sight for many riders, not solely due to tiredness, but also due to the trail being a favourite from last year. The first straight into the trees swallowed you up, and spat you back out at the arena in sight of some much needed tea and bacon butties from the Kirro Cafe. Starting with some challenging yet now very familiar off camber wiggles between trees, the trail swoops round via a beautiful gemstone sculpture by Kirroughtree’s lake, and after ducking through a rooty grove, it was back in the loam (which gradually shifted to fast trail centre) and off the anchors, flat out virtually all the way to the finish.
The stage’s name seems somewhat ironic, as you could get away with riding nearly the entire track death-gripped, no use of brake pads required
Rolling into the finish area, ear too ear grins still going, we got a nice snapshot of rider’s responses to the course.
The highlights of the day seemed to be the fast dirt and fresh-cut sections, and for others, the challenge of the slabs. Personally, I felt the balance between fitness required and technical skill was bang on, with the race shaping up to be the finest of the series so far. It was obvious many riders had felt their limits pushed and challenge, but everyone seemed to have something good to say, and left the carpark with a grin. For my teammate Callum, he walked away with a brilliant result as 1st ProMale, and had this to say: ‘The tracks were amazing … not too flat and with plenty of lines and plenty of pumping’. All in all a brilliant weekend out on the bikes again as per usual with the PMBA crew! On to the next round at the enigmatic Gnar BikePark, see you all there!
For more reports from the Hope PMBA Enduro Series click here.
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