"Underdog? what underdog? The term, supposedly, comes from days of yore when lumberjacks and other wood workers would get the new, young and inexperienced guy to stand under the log they were sawing in half lengthways. He would take the bottom part of the saw whilst the experienced and older journeyman stood atop the log with his end of the saw. The "underdog" being the guy underneath had cramped positions and a lot of sawdust and sweat continually dropping on him making his job all the more harder. After a blinding last few months of racing I think I can maybe climb out from under that cumbersome log and let any newcomers worry about being the underdog.
I’ve learnt a lot in the last 5 races and enabled me to put that knowledge to good use. The first was a locally held "Blind" enduro race (no practice allowed) back at the steeps of Dunkeld. Whilst not truly a "blind" race venue anymore, due to the popularity of the trails, it was still exciting to head straight into race runs without actually having seen how they were taped. They did have one trick up their sleeve though with a brand new trail called "Pinkfloyd" which only a handful of people had ridden.
The start of this trail saw riders tickling the slow side of 40mph........remember that’s blind and on singletrack!! - it was terrifying at best!!! a crash on an awkward and super loose rock garden saw me lose valuable seconds and just miss out on the top spot of the podium by a few seconds. 2nd place I’ll happily take. That race also marked the advent of a stunning 2 months of dry weather.
Next leading onto the world series race in Ireland with more sunshine and dry dusty trails prevailing. The Irish round has to be one of the most exciting races I have ever competed in. The crowds were beyond insane, revving chainsaws in memory of Steve Smith the WC downhill rider who tragically died in a moto cross accident earlier that week.
Whilst a small hill, race day covered 5500ft of descent and a lot of pedalling up the same fire road. The tracks were stupendous in the dry weather, making it very easy to carry speed and thus, the rider with the most commitment would be the winner here. Speaking of which. A committed decision to follow the fastest enduro rider in the world down through the infamous "carnage corner" having never even laid eyes upon it, was possibly the most foolish thing I have ever done.
Richie Rude #1 in the world, went at it like a man possessed and slightly over cooked it crashing hard on the apex of the turn with me 20ft back, dropping off some awkward rocks on the steepest part of the hill, crying like a baby, unable to stop and having to ride over his back wheel to make the corner. It left me wondering, if should start looking before leaping. Thankfully all turned out fine Richie gave me his goggle wipes to dry my blubbing tears.
The race itself was intense with the crowds cheering and intimidating everyone. My goal was to make top 70 but a crash on the fastest part of the fastest stage, saw me lose a large chunk of time. Finishing the weekend in 103rd place out of 300. Looking back however, I must concede that a top 90 would have probably been more likely than my previous lofty goal.
The following weekend was round 2 of the Tweedlove Triple Crown. Unfortunately I decided to go out midweek - with barely any rest from the world series race - to go and steal umpteen Strava KOMs from my local riding spot due to the outstandingly dry and sunny weather. That I did, but at the cost of not giving me anywhere near enough rest time between the world series race and the tweedlove race.
I entered the two practice days feeling very flat, and race day 1, which was mainly a pedal fest for the XC riders out there, proved that. I finished the day in a very unsatisfactory 13th place, despite no crashes or mistakes....just very tardy feeling legs. Day 2 was thankfully a wholly different beast, with some of the techiest trails in the valley getting used to my advantage. I clawed back up to 7th place. Whilst the weekends racing did not go to plan , it was fantastic finally getting to meet Hannah and Ben from Flare and chowing down on some excessively large burgers and onion rings.
My next race was important; rd 3 of the Scottish Enduro series. It was at Glen Livet, a venue known for its smooth trail centre style and extremely pedally nature. Having learnt from Tweedlove, I took a nice big break from the bike the preceding week, and the preceding month I didn't ride the enduro bike much, but I did go out on the Road bike and put in a ton of spew inducing efforts on 10mile time trials and "little method" sprint sessions. The Wikipedia entry for "little method" training states that it is not suitable for the general public due to its extreme nature. Wikipedia does not lie!!!!!!!!!! if yer still able to see after the last sprint then you ain’t doing it right!!!!!
All I can say is, it worked! I won the first stage which was the only technical stage, the rest being super pedally. I also won on the 3rd stage. I figured early on that this was the crux stage - at about 9mins long for the average rider. I guessed that it was this unusually long gruelling stage where a lot of time could be lost or gained. Wisely, I decided not to sprint any of it all but just sit below my max sprint pace the whole way. And, it worked. I took the win in 8:17mins, 20secs clear of my nearest rival, matching several elite rider's times and giving me a huge boost for the overall for the day - 1st place again, and a thoroughly important one as it has given me a very comfortable lead in the overall series.
My last race marking the end of the amazing dry spell in Scotland was at Comrie croft. A fantastic bike festival (Cream of the croft) near Perth with a million things going on for kids and adults alike. Keep your eyes peeled in future years as I reckon this could be Scotland’s answer to the famous "sea otter festival" in California. Yet again the longest stages of around 4mins were where I succeeded and stole the win despite a minor crash and getting 2nd fastest overall time of the day 4 secs behind Radon's elite Rider James Shirley. Funnily enough I rested the week before I did this race too.
Plenty of life left in this 38 year old and a lot to be learned from the past 2 months. The biggest lesson being - to make sure and rest before a race! oh! and never follow the fastest rider in the world, blind , into a track......at least not whilst in another country !!!!!!
I have 7 weeks until the next race, which means I can spend a month enjoying the trails with my friends and no pressure of timing gates or baying crowds. This is what mountain biking all about. Being out in the country, seeing new sights, riding till you drop, forging new friendship and strengthening existing ones. It’s the reason I love Flare clothing company, they have a relaxed attitude focusing more on enjoying the ride than marketing spin. The new kit is being wheeled out as we speak and it’s fantastic. I'm gonna love the next 7 weeks