Scottish enduro pinner Michael Clyne is aiming to take the 2019 Enduro World Series Masters championship off his own back.
Northstar Bike Park was a new addition to the 2019 Enduro World Series and boy did it pack a bite. The dust was all-consuming and the rock gardens were some of the gnarliest riding on the circuit in a long time.
Racing a full Enduro World Series as a privateer is mostly unheard of, let alone going for the biggest scalp of them all, the championship overall.
That is exactly what Michael Clyne aims to do, and he’s going to be checking in to let us know how he’s getting on throughout the year.
After round 6 in Whistler going far from plan, I’d hoped to recover some lost ground in the ski resort of Northstar at the 7th round of the Enduro World Series, situated at the north end of the stunningly beautiful Lake Tahoe, California.
The area is already at an altitude of 6000ft and so I arrived early to help acclimatise and got myself some chilled out paddle boarding and a good week’s worth of long rides in. With one ride getting me to the dizzy heights of 9500ft. Unfortunately, acclimatising to the altitude was the least of my worries.
Heading out on the famous trails in the area I soon found out that what they made up for in scenic value they severely lacked in technicality. Most of the trails I rode seemed to be not much more technical than canal paths. At the local bike shop I was recommended a technical trail which I read wrongly on the map and ended up cycling up 99% of this 2500ft high double black rated trail, then rode back down it.
Essentially all the trails in area are of the very old school xc and trail riding style, and not the new wave of forest road-accessed enduro trails, whereby they can be ridden both ways and were designed primarily as either log flume runs or walking access paths. In Lake Tahoe’s defence the area is so dry that anything beyond a 10% gradient would just disappear in a cloud of dust the moment someone pulled a skid .
The day before practice I lucked out and got in with some locals and was shown a very secret area away from the lake with some outrageously fun trails. Don’t expect to find these ones on Trailforks or Strava though.
I was treated to some incredible Californian high speed flowing singletrack and a variety of river jumps and canyon gaps. Once they got past 20ft though I started to lose my bottle and could only look on as the young guns hit the 40ft monsters.
Come practice day I was fairly confident that it would be a walk in the park, especially with Wideopenmag’s very own Christo Gallagher joining me in for several days. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were treated to what I consider the hardest trails yet in this year’s Enduro World Series. The tracks were a combination of high speed dusty, blown-out tracks and extraordinarily long and complicated rock gardens. I likened them to a Rubik’s Cube of death, one wrong move and your weekend would be over. And so the deadly dance began, tire pressure increased to 30psi from my usual 25psi , dust masks brought out and some serious considerations to line choice were made.
My sneaky plan of following Christo down the trails for some pointers was quickly laid to waste as it was impossible to stay on his tail with the plumes of dust arising the moment wheels started turning. Finding a few minutes gap between riders to move on again safely was a difficult job. Something else I never expected was the extreme bright light.
For several reasons, I don’t wear goggles. However I eventually had to give up and go buy a pair of tinted goggles so I could actually see the ground I was riding on, not just to be fast but also to be safe. Without the goggles it was nigh on impossible to tell what was lump, bump, hole or rock. Come race day neither I nor Christo felt comfortable on these tracks, muttering the mantra “it’s just like riding the mud” did not help one iota.
Day 1 had me in 10th place at the end, which I wasn’t particularly happy about as I was losing valuable points to a few key people that would push me out the top 5 overall if I wasn’t careful.
Day 2 served me no better, I struggled badly on the flat terrain going far too cautiously on the blown-out, dusty berms, and hit the rock gardens in a mass of confusion taking zigzag lines down them as just could not remember one rock garden from another.
The only stage I felt I excelled at was stage 4, a stage I came last on. The stage entry was a terrifyingly loose and steep technical rock garden leading into some big jumps and then back into more loose steep terrain. I loved it and might have actually put in a reasonable result on it were it not for over-cooking an uphill feature, airing out the top of it and catching my front wheel on a rock upon landing, causing a full on front flip. Luckily I never hurt myself, however, once I got back on the bike, I had to dismount and straighten my bars as there were too far twisted to ride on, a good 30 seconds lost in a cloud of dust
I would love to say that being a UK rider used to the mud had me at a severe disadvantage. However fellow Masters riders Nigel page and Dan Greenwood put in good shifts, showing me that I had no excuses really. I was out-manoeuvred and out-gunned at this race for sure.
I finished up in 12th place and as a result I am sitting in 6th place overall now, with some huge ground to make up in the final round at Zermatt, Switzerland.
Speaking of which, my bike is still in San Francisco, having never joining me on my flight, I have about 18 days to get it back before flying out to Switzerland. I know it is at SFO airport due to the GPS device I have in the bike bag. However the baggage companies seem at a total loss in recovering it despite me giving them several precise location coordinates. Wish me luck folks it going to be a very stressful week ahead I think…