Author: Ian Cation, Photos: Nick Moor Photography
Sunday the 2nd of October 2016, the date that brought the close to a long season of MTB Enduro racing in the North of England. Seven events that started back way back in March at Gisburn, the Spiritual home of the PMBA. This year however, Grizedale with its extensive forest in the Southern fells of the Lake District stepped up to become the stable race arena for the series with three visits if you include the January Day-Night Enduro (remember that one… it was a tad wet!).
Any one who has raced a PMBA event in the past will know that head honcho stage manager Kev likes to put as much fresh cut and natural lines in all the events, this guarantees a new challenge even when in what seems familiar surroundings. For those keen racers Saturday allowed a bit of extra practice on the final two stages to be run during the Sunday’s racing, did this offer any advantage over the single day racers? Most likely not, as the wet and boggy conditions in many places were changing so much with each set of wheels passing through it was a lottery if you would retrace your previous line exactly.
Now no English race report can be written without a mention of the weather, hell not even a trip to the shops can be mentioned with out a weather report. What with rain and high winds hitting the Lakes particularly on Friday the ground was bound to be on the squishy side of soft, good job all the bedrock and tree roots are in the area helping to keep the forest floor in one piece hey. Sunday came and would you believe it so did the big yellow fire in the sky, considering we are now in October we aren’t doing to bad with the weather really, ok granted, the guys camping were met with a heavy cold morning dew but that cold soon lifted with the sky’s clearing and stayed bright blue all day.
With an 8am sign on to get their transponders and afternoon race start times sorted, riders were setting off on their practices lap hitting the technical lung stretching and leg burning climb straight out of the visitors centre by 8.30. If you didn’t have an idea of the lay of the land around Grizedale, then by the time you cleared the top of this 1st climb you most certainly did.
With most people making a full practice lap, the return to the visitors centre meant a clean of bikes and kit, any mechanicals were getting fettled by the guys in Grizedale bikes, I think they always do well with tyre and tube sales when the PMBA train arrives onsite, with some refuelling available with the thanks to the café providing a choice of some free lunch the afternoon’s racing was upon us.
Stage 1 – Deerhunter
After a couple of miles of fire road transition a narrow rocky, rooty and plothery climb introduced you to the three main ingredients that would make up the days racing, the sight of the stage start in a narrow little cut through the trees on the top of Brook Crag a guarantee of getting even the calmest racer revved up for the trails ahead. Rather than the usual smooth run in before the Dibber beeps to announce your entry onto the stage, here you were track standing on the edge of a root just dying to tuck your front wheel from under you. Once clear of the first couple of metres of tech the speed built. Bottle and minimal braking were the key here to been fast and smooth, look at all the rocks you were dancing over and a mistake would follow, look ahead and imagine the bike was a hovercraft and you would be setting good time. A couple of sharp corners lower in the stage and bit of a sprint to the line had you either psyched or petrified about the rest of the day ahead.
Stage 2 – Satterthwaite DH
After a bit of wet rocky single track climbing and bone dry fire road you arrived back at the junction which lead to stage 1, turning off left lead you into the dark narrow path through the trees into the clearing where a Marshall awaited. This stage was almost a carbon copy of the opening stage of last years visit to Grizedale. A drop off a couple of rocks and roots quickly got you working the slippy steep corners this stage brings, a mixture of great techie woodland and fast open single track demanded concentration and precise bike handling. A slip here would cost a lot of time as every corner dropped you steeply down the hill side.
Stage 3 – Footpath Dash
To get to stage 3 a traverse across some marshy lowland fields in the valley bottom lead you back to the more familiar west side of the forest, a steady climb up through the forest brought you to the wide open start area of what now will be pretty much burnt into riders minds if you have been doing the PMBA. This stage is arguably the easiest of all the stages raced around the big forest, that though does not mean it is a steady roll down the hill… in fact it has the potential to bite you if you relax to much and don’t treat it like the race track it is! Just to shale things up a little a few of the memory etched lines had been taped off and little chicanes round root embossed corners cut the speed down on a normally flat out stage. With a steam crossing and some final corner berms to rail through you were spat out back onto the fire road ready to head to the next stage.
Stage 4 – Viking
Coniston Water, it’s a beautiful lake you know! That’s why stage 4 pretty much makes you want to throw yourself in the water to cool off after or just throw your bike away in disbelief of even finishing the longest stage of the day. This is actually 3 stages all run in one, or that’s what it feels like as each of the sections between the couple of forest road joining sprints have their own character. Starting in a dark dense wood with rooted corners coming up fast one after another demanding the best handling you can muster to stay upright. Sprint round the corner and drop into section 2, MotoX rut riding skills pay dividends in here because you are practically chancing your way through the unknown until the next drop onto the 2nd fire road effort. The 3rd section is fast, rewarding the brave with its open hard packed rock path, of course the log drop and final tight corners don’t let you ease off one bit. A regroup in the car park on the edge of the lake lets you recompose ready for the last climb of the day back up past the old farm of Lawson Park which is an Art project surprisingly nestled 200m up in the forest.
Stage 5 – Tight-brown Bluebell
The last stage of the day is always something of a relief no matter how well or bad you have been doing on your previous stages. However this stage wasn’t going to allow even the strongest most skilled rider rest. Straight out the start the power remaining in your legs was called upon, a slight rise of gradient isn’t normally an issue but after a long day of practice and racing the top of this stage is making you work for the finish line. Laying it down in the loose corners you dropped onto the fire road and did a hard right instead of the usual cross back into the trees. Hard is the appropriate word here as the next minute or so had you screaming with pain as your legs started knotting up and your chest falling towards the handlebars, I mentioned early the last climb was to get up to stage 5, well no the last climb was mid stage, OMG that hurt. Compose yourself for a few brief moments as you slide through the corners off the edge of the fire road and the now familiar rock slab drop loomed ahead, this time the ‘easy’ route was the only way through and was more Rooster line than Chicken line by the end of the day. Drop out onto the North Face Trail using up the final dose of energy left in your body in the half mile sprint down the valley to the end of the days racing.
After a hard days racing results for both the days stage times and the seasons overall results were calculated and the following results stood – Big thanks go out to Hope, Orange, Datatag, O’Neil, Ride Slovenia, Lazer Helmets, KS Dropper Posts and Kirby Lonsdale Brewery for providing support and prizes to the series, the podiums have been well stocked with swag this year.
The end of the day
So there you have it, the end of a season of closely fought racing in all the categories, what has arguably become the premier race series in the country has delivered spills, competition, friendships, challenges and most of all fun. A massive thank you has to go out to Mike Marsden, Kev Duckworth and the whole PMBA Enduro team for organising faultless races for every level of rider to enjoy.
The marshals all need a big pat on the back sitting out all day in what has on occasion been horrendous weather or melting conditions through the year. Without you guys we wouldn’t have any racing and I think I speak on behalf of all the racers when I say you’re time is very gratefully accepted. The timing guys at Sport Ident deserve praise for running what has seemed a faultless system, something that can make or break even the best events!
The folk that I personal want to thank and to most go unseen during the events are the medical team. Having called upon your care and assistance at the frantic round 6 back at Gnar Bike Park following my close encounter with a very solid tree. Remote Medical Services provide life-saving support to the events and I am very grateful to them for that. I’ll also apologies to all my fellow competitors for holding up your runs at round 6, I hope I didn’t break your flow to much guys and girls, if I could of got up I would believe me!
If you are wondering who I am, I’m the one giving ION Products and Hope Technology a plug at every opportunity… well there’s my blatant plug of the best bike components and Cycling kit in the world, in my opinion anyway.
A final mention to you all about the upcoming PMBA Day-Night Enduro at Gisburn Forest on the 26 th of November, get your lights changed up and look for entries going live this Friday (7th October).