So that’s the first race of the SES over and what a belter it was. with most of the tracks running dry, speeds were as high as the stoke. I’m sure I even tasted a touch of “hero dirt” on stage 3. I had planned on writing this race report on Monday past, but as you can see from my photos I had a big fish to fry which was getting my awesome new bike from Marin built up and modd’ed to my satisfaction. more on that next week back to the racing.

I came 10th in elite, and 11th fastest of the day. Not too bad for someone eligible to race the Veteran category, which I’m pleased to see I would have won by a minute. and whilst im still in a similar position to last season, i’m a lot closer to the mix of the next 5 riders than ever before.

Practice day went well enough, perhaps spending far too much time looking at lines on the classic black route of stage 4. A trail that I already know pretty well. however I did pick up a sweet line up the top at the first right hand corner, and I also figured out how to approach the last right hand super slow hairpin before diving off to the natural stuff. That hairpin is the bane on my fun at Laggan, so I was pretty chuffed in figuring out a way to hit it and keep momentum flowing. For those wanting to know, it was just basically going super wide on the entrance onto the grass over a root and using the same root to assist with bringing the real wheel round, allowing me to basically use almost zero back brake. Impossible to describe, makes much more sense when you see it.

The rest of the stages practiced well, I picked out the bits on the natural side that I thought would change on race day and figured out different ways of approaching them, such as the entrance to stage 2 after the first fireroad crossing and the lovely sneaky cut line at end of the top open section into the trees also in stage 2.

Preparation is key they say, and when I got back to my digs I felt like I didn’t need to clean my bike, but my OCD got the better of me and I’m glad I did, as I discovered a crack in my chain. so I duly changed it to a used but in good condition chain – never take unnecessary risk, especially when you’ve invested so much time and effort over the winter to perfrom well.

On to race day with its glorious first spring sunshine ……… with stage 1 being so close to the venue, I felt my legs weren’t quite warmed up yet so I put in some hard pedal strokes and SNAPPED MY CHAIN!!!!!! all I can say is thank goodness it happened 200m before the start and not 1 metre into the first stage. Once the panic dissipated, I calmed down, fixed the chain and prayed to a few deities for it to hold the rest of the day and that it did.

Stage 1 was a loamy short track, very much like my home trails of Pitmedden forest, and so felt at very at ease on it. There was some nice line choices to be had in here if you kept your eyes open.

Stage 2 -was the brutal “moby dick” trail from the radio mast with an additional tricky double track atthe beginning onto the first fire road. The trick here was to get on the right side of the double track as quick as possible before being trapped into the far greasier left side with its much harder turn onto the fire road. The only real issue I had on this track was my beautiful sneaky cut line at the end of the top open section had been cut off by the organisers at the end of practice day and I had to take a new line that I hadn’t practiced. resulting in taking the corner far too wide and stalling in the heather before getting back in to the super slippy tree section.

Stage 3 – was a hybrid of an old track and a completely new track, and man alive it was awesome. a great mix of tight, flow, speed and fun. I rode the track brilliantly until one of the last corners in the tight trees and found myself on the wrong side of a tree hauling my bike out from the pine needles losing a good 5 secs. HARRUMPH!

Stage 4 – was the classic red into the black route with the high speed natural finish, and whilst I got all my well thought out lines perfectly, I felt like I was fighting the bike more than usual the whole way down. That said It was my best stage of the day with 9th fastest of the day and a tickle over 5 mins

Stage 5 – was the other classic of the main red descent to the café carpark. I knew I this would be my weakest stage as I’m awful on flat corners, however I held my own and improved my strava times down it by over 10secs. achieved (I think) weirdly but logically by going into the coners slower. Am sure Ben Cathro would approve

so all in, a pretty good weekend. winner of elites was the awesome Joe Barnes with Lewis Buchanan in 2nd and Joe Connell finding good form in 3rd. Chris Hutchens was a likely look in too, until he had a “far from fun” day of disasters relating to his chain. next time dude, next time!. New comer to the elites Jamie Todd also had a bad weekend with multiple punctures and 2 ruined tyres, and a bag of nerves to juggle with come race day. Take it easy bro, I was the same last year, you are a bloody good rider Jamie, you just gotta try and chill – easier said than done. Brad Illingworth took the masters win again showing he’s still got it and pipping me to take the 10th fastest time of the day. Fastest woman of the day went to an always on form…. Elena Melton in juniors… with Louise Ferguson taking the senior womens win. Junior mens was a real battle with top 3 boys all putting in various stage times worthy of elite. Callum Thornley keeping things calm and collected the most and taking the win , calum johnson doing the same for 2nd. however Shaun Sangster put in 3 stage times worthy of elite but lost ground somewhere on stage 5 costing him that win. Senior male went to Scott Aisthorpe. Lastly, the hardtail category where my heart still lies, went to Lewis Kirkwood who put up a good fight to take the win away from Ian Churchill.

The next round innerleithen, and as awesome as Innerleithen is, I always get my ass handed to me there. Here’s hoping for better than usual results for that one. The next race for me is Dunkeld highland enduro and will be my first race on my Sixth Element carbon wheels. having had a test day in less than ideal conditions, I can tell you they are crazy fast, but my brain now needs to play catch up to match the wheels.

Michael Clyne

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