Last year I had my first taste of enduro mountain bike racing. I was more than keen to take part in some of this year’s Polygon Grassroots Enduro Series. I certainly couldn’t say no when the opening round was announced at Bike Park Ireland. I’ve visited the Fairymount Farm trails several times and felt that it would be a great warm up to a summer’s riding. Start on trails that are familiar.
I didn’t wait around too long to get my entry in once registration opened back in February. And in hind sight that was a good move, because the entire round sold out on the first day. Quite a few people, including some of the pro riders, lost out by waiting till the evening.
Considering the weather we’d had in the week leading up to March the 5ft, I decided that I should probably swap my regular fast rolling rear tyre for something a bit more grippy.
On the Sunday morning, it was out of bed early. Grab a quick breakfast and double check everything was in the car. Then mount the bike to the rack before setting off on the two hour drive to county Tipperary. For most of the drive up the weather promised to be bright if not warm for the race. But when I got closer to Nenagh, the clouds closed in. By the time I pulled in to the fast filling car park it had turned pretty foggy and drizzly.
Registration was set to open at 10. However, by the time I’d got my bike down from the car I could see a line starting to form at the bike park office. I made sure I joined it early. Galway MTB had organised much of the registration before hand. All I had to do was sign the bike park disclaimer and registration forms before collecting my timing tag and race plate.
When the stages opened for racing I hung back for a little while, to allow the rush to pass. There were two climbs open on the day to access the stage starts. One was the existing enduro climb. The other the green trail in reverse. For the first trip to the top I chose the enduro climb. The very first time I rode this trail in all my visits to the park.
I decided to run the stages in order. Mainly because stage 1 followed the park’s blue trail. Which is one that I am pretty familiar with and I felt was possibly the least technically demanding. A good warm up run. That familiarity lasted for all of three or four turns, up to the point where a fresh trail had been cut through the trees. This section cut across some very loamy and slippery terrain. At least this was true blind racing as I had no idea which way the trail would go or what to expect. A few roots tried to catch me out but I managed to hang on. I didn’t set any records, but I stayed upright.
After this section the stage rejoined the blue trail all the way down to the finish line. All three stages finished quite close to each other and on the grass. The grass didn’t survive the day. It very quickly turned into a slick and sticky speed and energy sapping grind to get your timing chip swiped. More than a few racers resorted to running at this stage.
For the rest of my runs I chose to climb the green trail. This was a more gradual climb and a little easier on my legs. All three stages started from the same place, the mound where all of Bike Park Ireland’s trails begin. Meaning the transition back to the top was the same between each stage.
I tackled stage two next. This followed the new black trail exactly. Even though it didn’t make for totally blind racing, the conditions on the day were a great equalizer. All the blacks at Bike Park Ireland are natural trails, not gravelled like the blue. With the rain and the number of riders participating this quickly turned to an oozy slimey goop. Great fun to ride as long as you didn’t mind getting dirty, but not great for speed or grip. At least not in my case. I didn’t come off at any stage, but I certainly didn’t carry the speed that I have managed on this trail in past visits.
Stage three, on the race map that was published prior to the event, looked like a simple black run. In reality it had been taped very cleverly. The stage combined sections from all three of the regular black runs, interspersed with freshly cut sections including a leg burning sprint climb in the middle. Some people cycled up this. But I think most, including myself, resorted to running up before remounting for the final blast to the stage finish.
I overheard a few people say that this stage got progressively worse over the day. As I didn’t get to it until close to lunch time I couldn’t really comment. It was a good bit steeper than the other runs, but I didn’t find the grip too bad. That is, until you hit the grass before the finish line. At this point most were going at a good pace, and the final turn on the grass took a few people by surprise sending them sliding. All good fun though.
At the end of the day I managed five full runs, repeating stages one and two. I had the time to repeat stage three. But I was pretty sure that after a sixth ascent and considering the technicality of the stage I was unlikely to improve on my time. Instead, I got changed and spent some time catching up with people at the Mucky Boot Cafe – which was living up to its name on the day.
After speaking to a few people, most seemed to have experienced the same; their first runs were quicker than subsequent attempts even though they felt like they were performing better. Once I got my final times, I found a similar pattern. I only managed to improve on stage two by a single second and not at all on stage one, even though the second time I thought I did much better on both. I’m not sure whether I should blame that on the conditions or on my poor fitness and burnt out legs.
Back home, it only took me an hour and a half to clean all the accumulated mud from my bike. And it took two passes through the washing machine to get my kit clean. Definitely a muddy one.
In the end, my results are not really anything to boast about. 52nd out of 61 in my class, and 116th out of 143 overall. Thats about the same as my first race last year. I blame the conditions personally – nothing to do with my complete lack of preparation over the past two months. There is certainly room for improvement at the next round in April. But it was great fun. And really that is what the Grassroots Enduro series is about in the end. Have fun on your bike and pushing yourself. I’ll, hopefully, get some more time on the bike over the coming weeks and be able to improve for the next event.