I had only heard positive things from those who entered last years Erlestoke Enduro. I have raced at the venue before – but only through the mud, snow and ice of January's Salisbury Plain Challenge. With the weather forecast predicting the week long heat wave to continue into the weekend I was keen to see the venue in a different light! At 8.30am the temperature was already rising nicely as we struggled to wrestle three 29ers into Ian's car. I would be riding the 6 hour solo while Ian and Fay were entering the Mixed Pairs.
It was great to see a large turnout of South Downs Bikes riders to greet us in the car park, all sporting new 29ers!! There was just time for an early lunch of ham and jam sandwiches before joining the huge starting grid that formed for the Noon start. Numbers were undoubtedly swelled by the glorious weather – with 80 riders in the Solo male category alone!
There was a short starting loop to spread the field and then it was out onto the course proper. After a flowing descent into the wood the course emerged onto an undulating, strength-sapping grassy traverse across the fields to the foot of the hill. The climb started as wooded singletrack but then opened onto a steep gravel road. Having reached the top there wasn’t time for a rest as the route headed out across the open hill top into a strong headwind. The field was well spread by now but I was still riding close to the front and slipstreamed a group of riders onto Ian’s wheel and then followed him down the descent back to the arena.
As we rode past the campsite Ian took his eyes off the trail for a moment to check his watch and missed a little depression in the path. From my viewpoint it looked like somebody had tossed a doll into the air! When I reached the scene Ian was a bloody mess with road rash on arms and legs. He slowly made it back to his feet while I retrieved his bike and then uncomfortably remounted telling me to continue. He handed over to Fay and was patched up by the medics and rode another 4 laps. But I bet he was sore this morning!
The descent from the top of the hill was a belter. It was fast and flowing, twisting and turning between the trees on the chalky soil I am familiar with at home on the South Downs. Even after 6 hours I was still really enjoying myself, throwing the bike down the switchbacks!
I managed to keep the laps ticking over just under the magic 40 minute mark, completing my 9th lap with a couple of minutes to spare. My favourite race of the year - a combination of sunshine and great trails!
4th place on the day was my best result of 2012 and one of my strongest race rides ever.