Anna Cipullo takes on The EX Enduro, taking on three days of timed stages and wild transitions through the Exmoor National Park.
This year’s Ex Enduro was the third edition selling out of all 80 places, and it’s not hard to see why. Entry included 7-8 marked and marshalled stages for three days in a row, with uplifts in the mornings, all inclusive food, camping pitch, beer on tap and a fun-filled atmosphere.
Words by Anna Cipullo. Photos by Paul Box.
Some happy campers, including myself, arrived on Thursday evening, so the organiser took us all out for a social bike ride to give us a taste of the trails to come.
What we experienced were long climbs and fast, yet technical, descents, but everything felt very wild and natural; my favourite kind of riding. Back at the campsite I grabbed a hot shower and then filled my plate (and my face) with every kind of meat that was on offer at the barbecue and washed it down with a couple of pints from one of the two free barrels of Bristol Beer Factory ales on offer.
Friday saw the remaining competitors turn up eager and ready for an early start. Breakfast was served with proper coffee at 8am, yoga at 9am, then we loaded our bikes onto the uplift vans and made our way up to Dunkery Beacon, the highest hill in the area.
The first stage was a “friendly stage”, meaning you didn’t have to race it, as technically we couldn’t race on a public bridleway, but it’s the longest and rockiest descent in the area, so it was a good mates’ race to check the bike set-up on, although I seemed to spend my entire time picking up water bottles and puncture repair kits along the way.
The rest of the day had us over on a different hill taking in some of the more loamy and flow tracks, which had me and my Cotic Flare Max in our element, weaving through trees and pinning the fast open sections.
Back at camp, the results revealed that I took a 22 second overall lead on Rachael Guerney (Boost Bikes Co) who had also been racing her Cotic Rocket, so the clash of the Cotics was on, and she promised me a harder fight the following day.
Elsewhere, Jono Jones (DMR Bikes) put a few seconds into Ash Mullane (Boost Bike Co) on all six stages to take a 41 second lead, and Toby Pantling made up third place on the Open Male category for the first day. Oliver Carter (Identiti Bikes) took the day’s first place in the Hardtail category, a mere 2 seconds ahead of Finley Clay (Wild Bikes Ltd), while Paul Mackie (Merida Bikes UK) took a 20 second lead in the Vets Male category.
Saturday: The Big One
Saturday was the big day with around 50km or riding and over 2,000m of descending.
The field warmed-up with some yoga and a fry-up in the morning and then headed out on the uplifts back to Dunkery Beacon.
The 8 stages kicked off with a fast bridalway from the top of the beacon, jumping drainage ditches along the way. Myself and Rachael had decided to race together and take it in turns to lead out, so with her ahead of me for the first stage, I could see how hard she was pushing. I also saw her make a mistake near a drainage ditch, but when I got close I realised I was on a path for the same mistake – d’oh!
We finished agreeing we were probably about the same, and then headed off to the other hill for some tight, twisting single track, but many of the tracks were very pedally, and I knew Rachael had the fitness to push hard here.
I played it safe, a lot, with the intentions of simply keeping my lead, but Rachael smashed the day with a 28 second lead, despite the two of us receiving exactly the same times for two of the stages, and putting her a mere 6 seconds in front of me overall. Oh, now it was on for sure.
Elsewhere, Finlay Clay and Ollie Carter continued a similarly close battle in the Hardtail category, also having two of their stage times come out exactly the same, but Finlay eventually pushed his Cotic BFe into a 12 second lead.
Jono Jones kept his lead with Ash Mullane following in second, but Toby dropped off the day’s podium with Don Howe (Kustom Bikes) moving up into third in the Open Men’s category, while Paul Mackie kept his lead in Vets for Merida Bikes UK.
Sunday: The Finale
Sunday was the third and final day of racing with around 30km of riding and nearly 1,300m of descending.
The uplift service took us most of the way up Hopcott Hill for a boosted start on what would be a day of very fast, loose and steep terrain, including the famous Godzilla; with plenty of off-camber roots and some committing drop-offs into catch-berms.
I knew this was my bag, after spending the summer in the Alps, I felt confident with tight and steep trails, so my plan was to take big chances and hope for big rewards.
All day, this seemed to be working; when Rachael set off I would catch her, and when I set off the gap between us either remained or grew bigger. It seemed in the bag until the final descent; a fast and loose track back to the campsite that simply took my bike out from underneath me and spat me out into a pile of rubble, right in front of the videographer too.
I picked myself up and got back on it with the hope that I’d done enough to secure the tightest of leads, but I was so angry that the proceeding fire road was obliterated, so much so that I even started catching up Seb Stott (MBUK) who’d set off in front of me.
Crossing the finish line I was so relieved to stop pedalling, but I had a massive grin on my face from the racing, and recalling the tracks made me want to move to Exmoor. I washed the blood off my fore-arm and headed into the marquee for the results. To my surprise, I’d pulled out a 40 second lead to take first place on the day and also secure my overall win. Result for Wideopenmag!
Elsewhere, Jono Jones took a 15 second lead on the day, but a few slip-ups saw Ash Mullane drop off the day’s podium, with Don Howe moving up to second place and newcomer, Matthew De Villanueva (Badassbikes) moving into third place. Fellow Cotic rider, Finlay Clay, retained his lead by 6 seconds on Ollie Carter, with Ian Pidgeon (The OC) in third. Paul Mackie dropped to second place behind Andy Sadler in the Vets category.
Once all the dust had settled and prizes were given out to each of the day’s winners, the Overall Winners took the podium.
My 40 second lead on Day Three, together with a marginal gap on Day One was enough to secure First place for Wideopenmag in the Overall Women’s category on my big-wheels-short-travel Cotic Flare, with Rachael Gurney (Boost Bikes Co/Off-Road) coming second on her small-wheels-big-travel Cotic Rocket, and Cannondale Girls’ rider, Adel Tyson-Bloor claimed third place.
Jono Jones (DMR Bikes) obviously took overall win in the Open Men’s category after comfortably securing a win on each day and being the fastest overall rider on every stage, putting over 2 minutes into the rest of the competitors. Ash Mullane (Boost Bikes Co – Rocketbikes) had put in enough hard work on day one and two to grab second overall, with Don Howe (Kustom Bikes) 15 seconds behind in third.
Finlay Clay (Wild Bike Ltd) finally came out on top for the Hardtail category, also claiming 7th Overall fastest rider on his BFe, with Ollie Carter (Identiti Bikes) close behind in Second (10th Overall) and Ian Pidgeon (The OC) in Third.
Despite a glitch on Sunday, Paul Mackie (Merida Bikes UK) made a 12 second lead in the Overall Vets category, also claiming 13th Overall, with fellow Merida rider, Andy Sadler, in second and Rich Freshwater (Pivot Boompods Racing) in Third.
The winners took away a mix of DMR grips and pedals, and some very bling Lezyne tools.