At the time of writing this, I am sitting at home on the sofa with a concussion and a directive of no cycling for two weeks in case of another head injury. More on that later but the good news is that I had fun getting here. The Mini Enduro is a series of races held in and around the Welsh Borders. The events are organised by Naked Racing and are designed to be open and easily accessible to all skill levels, with the tracks having multiple lines which get harder the faster you ride them. The loop was around ten miles in distance with four stages, three of those being raced for the first time at this event.
Upon arrival, I signed in and collected my number board and transponder and did all the usual faffing that occurs when you’re about to go for a ride. Thinking I had raced this particular course twice before I was looking forward to the course: the trails are off piste gems with an ample portion of loam to keep things interesting. I was about to set out on the practice loop I knew from the previous two races when I learnt that we were in fact travelling across the road to some trails that the local riders often use but which had not previously been raced – this was sure to keep things interesting. Once I got over the road and onto the fire track I couldn’t stop staring at all of the gorgeous loam tracks that had been cut into that hill, but sadly those tracks were for another day.
I arrived at the top of stage one and was ‘stoked’ to throw myself down some loamy goodness, perhaps a little too ‘stoked’ though. I pedalled like a madman and went flying over a blind crest into a bomb hole – rookie error – I found a tree right in my path and did an unintentional stoppie into it. After that close encounter, I went slower and made more calculated moves not to destroy myself before the race. After crossing the first of two fire roads, I quickly picked up speed and forgot about my previous incident. The loam was surprisingly dusty for mid-October, so there was less grip than I was expecting, and to add an extra bit of spice into the mix, this was my first race on clips. I was on a steep learning curve. I went into a corner with an obvious inside and outside line choice, foolishly took the outside and lost the front wheel in the soft corner. It was at this point that I wondered if I had shot myself in the foot by switching to clipless! However, I carried on down the stage and really started to enjoy the trails again, especially the flat corners at the bottom of stage one. I finished the stage, took a quick breather to think about how I would ride it on my race run, and then was onto the next one.
Stage two was a good mix of steep technical drops and chutes in the top half, with some ‘thread the needle’ moments though trees and onto a rock garden which I duly overshot and said hello to some not so soft trees – not the last time that day either. After that small mishap, I carried on to the more physical bottom section of the stage. Despite my quick greeting with the tree near the top, the rest of the stage was uneventful. After finishing the stage, it was about a mile to transition back over the road and onto a section of push-up track which rises about 80m in less than 200m distance, which was not the nicest when you had to do it four times. Once at the top, it was a short ride to the top of stage three.
Stage three was my favourite stage of the weekend by a long-shot. This stage was the only one they kept the same from the previous race in the spring, but thankfully they cut out the top 30 seconds of the sprint at the top, which was a nice touch by the organisers. This stage was fast and wide-open at the top before it crossed a fire road and into the steepest set of switchbacks of the weekend, where the Euro ‘on the front wheel’ turn had to be deployed to get the desired high line. Once I got around the switchbacks, the terrain levelled out and the speed increased again with the trail dropping onto another fire road for a quick pedal and then into the final couple of corners of the stage.
Once stage three was done, we went back up the push-up track and along past the start of the stage and also the e-bike uphill stage. As you might have guessed from the title, the main sponsor is Haibike, meaning that this series is very open to e-bike racers, and it is one of the few race series in which e-bikes can compete. There is a budding e-bike category which has good entry numbers and it is nice to see grassroots races embracing e-bikes.
Back to the regular stages and stage four started in very much the same way as stage three, with a sprint, but it had a trick up its sleeve. At the end of the sprint, there was a twenty-second uphill portion which sapped all of your speed and reduced you to a hot mess with your lungs in your mouth. After this nasty uphill, the route dropped into the lower section of Sheep Skull (one of the famous downhill trails in the forest) for the only man-made section of the race. It finished with an exciting step down that, come the race runs, had the crowd baying for blood.
Being in the junior category means that after practice finishes at 12:15 there is quite a bit of waiting around to do. During this period, I stuffed my face with some of the great food available at the venue. But soon the time came when I had to set off for my first race stage. I arrived at the top of stage one with plenty time to spare and many of the juniors had done the same thing and were waiting about as well. After 20 minutes of waiting, my start slot came and I readied myself. Those that have raced will understand the feeling, for those that haven’t, it is a job of calming yourself down while at the same time getting ready to pedal like hell. So when those beeps came, I did exactly that and pedalled like hell. I avoided another incident in the bomb hole and was going well. I soon got to the corner in which I had crashed earlier, I set up wide and took the high line and cleared it! But then I slipped on a root and went off-track. After this incident, I struggled to clip back in and was bouncing around all over the place. But, eventually, I got it sorted and was back in the hunt. Once I finished the stage, I was annoyed that I had messed up but hey, there’s no point in crying over spilt milk, as they say. On to stage two!
After a few minutes of waiting, I was at the start line. Beep, beep, beep, pedal, pedal, pedal. I was in the mood and on pace. I hit the sections faster than I had done in practice which led to some hairy moments but all was good. I got onto the flat section in which I could let my endurance do the talking and after pedalling for what seemed like an eternity, I got to the end of the stage. I took a few minutes to recover and collect myself for the transition.
I arrived at the top of stage three feeling surprisingly fresh and up for it. Maybe that was down to the caffeinated energy bars I was taking, who knows… Anyway, I was at the start and there was pumping music out a speaker and I was getting ‘pumped’ for my favourite stage of the day. I pedalled furiously out of the gate, quickly picked up speed and was hucking little gaps from root to root, feeling good. I was cautious going into the steep section as I didn’t want to make any stupid mistakes. Stupid mistakes were avoided and I was going faster than ever, so much faster that I flat-landed onto the fire road and gave myself a shock. Within a few more seconds I had finished the stage and was happy to have had an uneventful run.
Onto the final stage. I was at the start line ready for the pedal-fest that was about to begin. I went off the line like a scalded cat and gave it everything I had as I had nothing to reserve my energy for. I was puffing like a steam train going up the climb but I was going well, as far I could tell from the crowd. I felt good I thought to myself. I was on the last corner of the track when I lost the front wheel, went down like a sack of spuds and smashed my head on a tree root, breaking my helmet in the process, I probably lost twenty-seconds in that confused moment but I rolled down the final section and it was over. It turns out that the crash gave me a mild concussion and some whiplash. The sofa seems the best place to be right now!
Despite this crash, I thoroughly enjoyed this race and would recommend it to anyone in Wales or the Midlands that is looking for a good entry-level race to get into the sport of enduro!
Results can be found here: https://www.rootsandrain.com/race5625/2017-oct-15-haibike-mini-enduro-3-forest-of-dean/results/