The 3 weeks leading up to round 2 of the SES at Fort William didn’t quite go to plan. After racing Vallelujah in the Tweed Valley with an unhealthy shock I also discovered a crack in the swing arm. Thanks to Jake at 2pure, my Ibis frame was good as new within a few days, but the problem with the shock remained. I was left without my mountain bike for 2 weeks longer than I had hoped. A full 3 weeks without a mountain biking, a crazy amount of round the clock work pressure, this left me turning to my road bike for one day and pushing out my longest road ride to date. One of those morning when you just wake up at 6am, get on your bike and go…
Practice day on Saturday was a nippy start to head up to the range for race registration. With some light flurries of snow and a cold wind (& after the weather conditions from Vallelujah still taunting me) I put way too many layers on and headed out to stage 1 with the boys. This was the same as a stage as last year so most of us knew the painful sprint that awaited us come race day. The stage starts off with deceptively flat grassy take of sprint that contains tiny wheel pulling rocks, ruts and wood to zap your energy before merging with single-track , increasing in gradient to hurt your legs that little bit more. After a flat top section, a short loose descent follows before your final climb up and over the last mount to the finish line.
Stage 2 was also similar to the previous year, but had been nicely extended to include some of the downhill track leading in to a blue grade section of trail. This stage was pretty open and just a matter of going flat out on the top section and keeping it tighter on the lower section.
A quick stop at the Nevis Range for food and a quick mechanical check at the Basecamp Bikes stand, then our group headed up to stage 3, a stage I know inside out.
Stage 4 - proved to be the most natural stage, introducing mud, ruts and that river crossing. I loved this stage. There were plenty of rocks to catch you out along the single track, before a tight right over a narrow river crossing and climb out the other side
The next transition, after seeing the route elevation on SES Facebook feed, I wasn’t sure what to expect; it looked very steep and sharp. This was by far the longest and most demanding stage for me.
I knew for the first round I had to let go of my brakes, with so many fast local riders and juniors coming through, the pressure is on and risks were taken. Stage 1 went really well, though after practise day, I could feel my legs hadn't yet recovered.
Stage 2 - I took a few risks, without much confidence in the air for the top section, I had to let go of the brakes and just go for it.
Stage 3 - the top half of the stage went extremely well, feeling fast and controlled, sprinting the flats and the fire roads I was feeling good, but towards the bottom I washed out on a simple section and hit the deck pretty hard. Thankfully only a small section remained to get me over the finish with squinty bars and a gammy leg.
Stage 4 - started great, making it across the river crossing that I struggled with before, I took another moment on the ground shortly after. With squint bars I just tried to get to the bottom as quick as I could. Dabbing the full length of the rut was extremely frustrating given how clean I has ran it the day before, I had lost a good 1-2minutes on this section and thought that was race over.
Stage 5 - with my superman injuries starting to seize up, the climb up to stage 5 was tough. With the wild winds at the top, this stage was now a survival stage. Struggling to stay upright and keep my bike in place at the top, I set of pretty quickly, keeping it steady in the strong headwinds and rolling over the rest. The wind wiped me off course a handful of times before reaching the lower section of trail, from here it was the home straight and all I could think about were the chips at the bottom.
Bikes were washed, chips were amazing, & dibbers were handed in. Spook handed me my result with a smile. With 1st on my slip, I assumed after stage 4's heroics that not all the girls were in, but I managed to hold onto it with a narrow margin. Catching up with everyone at the end of the race is always the best part, hearing how everyone else got on and having a good laugh.