Team Wideopen’s Chris Hutchens returns to Dunoon for stage three of the Scottish Enduro Series – he found an awesome weekend of big, tough racing!
words by Chris Hutchens / photos by Trev Worsey
New venues are always exciting and it was Dunoon in 2016 that made a massive impact on the Scottish Enduro Series. It’s fairly unique location, on the main land but for most accessed by a ferry, gives it an extra sense of adventure. The trails also take racing back to the 90’s! There are no trail centre stages here, just pure unadulterated technical bliss! This is mountain biking at it’s most stripped back, a defiant middle finger up at easy.
It’s also one of the only races on the Calendar in 2017 (maybe the only one?) to include a Prologue. The short town stage on Saturday night pulls in the crowds, brings Enduro to the town and showcases a little of what goes down on Sunday high above the town.
While it’s a little easier than the technical trails in and around Bishops Glen it’s not all simple! With a DJ, food and other entertainment put on the Saturday night spectacle is such a good way to show locals what this Enduro racing is all about.
As a kid I would have loved to see racing in my home town. It was Ben Cathro who would put down the fastest time, just short of breaking 50 seconds to put himself in the driving seat for Sunday. My run was going well until I got a little close to a wall on one of the wooden up ramps. This would see me bend my pedal pretty severely and start on the back foot having lost a load of time heading into Sunday. More and more the racing leaves little room for error.
After the first stage prologue the Sunday brought five more stages. These were definitely longer and certainly a lot more physical and technical. The wetter weather on the run up to the weekend wasn’t what the locals were wanting and unlike Pitfichie the sun didn’t bless the 300 riders racing on this occasion. Thankfully the prima donna’s, mostly, remained in Fort William and Leogang and got on with the job.
While some stages, namely 3 and the top of 6, might have been a challenge they were ride-able. Wet and muddy but ride-able! They were brutally hard to be honest but this sort of stage mixes things up, tests different riding abilities and techniques and sorts the men from the boys. Crash…..get up and keep pushing on! Crash…get up….you get the picture.
Stage 2 was the ‘easy’ stage, nothing technical, but to push fast on this walking track took courage, an ability to trust the tires and to keep a very high average speed. I opted to go for conti mud kings thinking my success from Ireland on those tyres could be matched in Dunoon. In hindsight this was probably a poor choice on this occasion and the fast rolling and multiple road sprints during the day we’re not optimal! I dropped plenty of time on this one over 10 seconds back from stage winner Lewis Buchannan.
Onto stage 3 and some trench warfare. This fresh stage took a hammering. The heavy rain before the weekend turned much of this stage to a clarty mess. It was clear a lot of work had gone into this stage and while it was all ride-able it was a major challenge.
As it evolved, or transformed, most of my lines where gone. Thankfully I had my spikes on, which helps for a lot of it but once the thick mud had clogged the thread pattern it didn’t make much different on the slow trail. I’m confident though that this will be an incredible stage next year and if it had been dry would have been an absolute blinder to race. MTB Strength Factory rider Sam Flockhart took the stage win a fraction of a second a head of me.
Stages 4 and 5 were pretty similar and utilised previous stages raced in 2016. Stage 5 depending on both fitness and skill with a harvested forest technical pumptrack to begin followed by tight singletrack weaving through the sapling trees. This section was sandwiched by some fire road sprints to let your body remember you had lungs. It was Buchannan who came strong on these stages taking a few seconds out of the 2nd fastest riders Flockhart and Christo Gallagher on stages 4 and 5 respectively.
The final stage was over 6 minutes of technical onslaught and leg busting pedaling. Again Lewis took the win just a few seconds in front of 3rd place overall rider Christo Gallgher. The times dropped back from there and to those who blundered in the mud. I started strong but suddenly found myself attempting a front flip into the mud in the top section with a sensational OTB. A move quickly mimics by Gary Forrest. A few seconds separated 3rd to 7th on a time around 6 minutes 40 seconds almost 20 seconds back on Gary and Lewis. It was here that Lew firmly sealed his round win, the 3rd in a row. While he was certainly not dominant on any particular stage he was consistent and made it count on the long stage.
Elena Melton showed her full potential putting in an incredible ride to finish top of the females overall. It was then local rider, Niamh Doherty, having only started racing Enduro this year that took 2nd in the overall. Both who were riding in the under 21 category slotted in front of winner of the senior women’s category Janey Kennedy.
I was glad to climb up the table from 12th in the Prologue to 5th overall on some seriously hard trails. It’s so key to learn from each race and look at the season overall. So far it’s been one of my best ever.
Times were pretty tight across the day on each of the stages but consistence was key, something with is fundamental to success in Enduro. So, some insight into my post race tyre choice reflection. If the forecast was to have brought rain on Sunday the spikes might have been a good gamble however the rain didn’t come. The spikes weren’t the tyre of choice! The tyre of choice would have probably been a Baron up front and a Der Kaiser on the rear. This would have made the fire road and sprinting sections far more manageable while providing good grip on those muddy sections given the thread clearling ability of the Baron. Isn’t Hindsight a wonderful thing!