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Enduro – time once again to have a crack at this second offering
from the Welsh Trail Riders Association (WTRA). Unlike the Snow Run
where I’ve had mixed results but mostly good, the Drovers is one
of those events where my luck seems to run out for some reason. This
year my main focus is on the South East Enduro Combine championships,
but I fancied another crack at the Drovers as I would have got a half
decent results in the Snow Run had I not crashed heavily (twice) in
the last attempt of the special test. I decided to give it a go in the
Clubman A class this year. Two reasons for that, one was I fancied a
bit more of a challenge and secondly I wanted an earlier start time.
bikes lined up in the pits
but to start we had to push them up the hill to the main start area
and away we go!
Going into the event having just secured a second class win in the SEEC series I was confident but realistic, so all I was hoping for was a top ten in the class and wasn’t putting myself under too much pressure. That didn’t stop me from having a very poor night’s sleep for some reason, I must have gotten up four or five times in the night to pee! It was cold in the morning but nothing like the last time I had a go at the Drovers, when it was something like minus six. We had a high hopes for the weather as it had been getting steadily warmer and milder in the week with cloudy mornings but lovely sunny afternoons.
of me at the first untimed special
On the way into Wales from Hereford the sky was lit up red from the rising sun. By the time we had pulled into the carpark at the venue the sun was already shining and standing in the sun while getting ready it was quite pleasant. Signed on, times written on bike and soon we were ready for the start. Standing about waiting for the off a little voice said that maybe I should pop a few spanners into the camelback? Nonsense, what for? Well you never know......so I relented and slipped a 10mm and 8mm spanner in my bag along with a fold up torx bit set. This was to save my race later on! Time to go now, but we had to push the bikes up the hill from the pit area to the start. Not sure why it was laid out like this, but it certainly got the blood going.
We set off on the first lap heading down the fire road and turned off into the little gully as usual, that brings you out at the stream where we crossed the flowing water – me with my feet up over the rad scoops to keep them dry, even if it’s just for a short while. A quick blast up some more fire roads and we turned into the woods for the first time. This first taste of the woods set the tone for the day, it was going to be tricky that was for sure. Under the trees the ground was still quite muddy but claggy at the same time so it filled the tyre treads quickly and made for interesting riding.
The tracks were already quite cut up and it wasn’t long before the roots and sticks got up to their tricks and I got the back wheel stuck for a moment, long enough for the guys on my minute to slip past.
time for fuel and clean gloves
Now and again the woods would end and we’d drop down on a track but within minutes we were back into the woods again for more battles in the dark, fighting roots and ruts. It was very easy to tumble off but most of these were a result of slow speed cross rutting or roots, logs & sticks washing the front wheel out. I tried to keep going at a reasonable speed as I wasn’t too sure just how tight the checks were going to be, but progress was slow due to the conditions. I did manage to pass a few other riders but for the most part I was on my own.
Three quarters of the way to the first check the going changed a little, to slightly more open tracks but they were still a little tricky due to be so claggy and by now I’d taken a fair few dives into the undergrowth so took these tracks a little on the steady side. It opened up completely onto the side of a hill were we had to traverse the slope on an off camber track, a real opportunity to wash out the back wheel. More woods followed and then we got to the tracks up the top of the mountains that you can get a fair bit of speed going – at your peril! Yep these tracks contain some tank swallowing puddles so you really need to keep your eyes open. Most of them puddles can be ridden through as long as you don’t go too fast. Too quick and you end up covered in icy water - wet gloves and goggles isn’t nice. Going through them is often quicker than taking the side routes, however some of them as too big and deep and the only option is the side track, the last of which contained its own deep crossing but the xc made it through without a hitch. Boy I was glad I’d left the little sponge sections in the airbox breathers, this helps water flowing into the airbox if water splashes up.
Eventually I got to the first check and was please to see I had a few minutes to spare. We’d had about 52 minutes to get here and the next check was only 18 minutes, so we were nearly done for lap one. Setting off again it was pretty much more of the same ie tracks and a few woods and in no time at all we arrived at the start of the special test. On the first lap it’s not timed so I took it calmly, looking at the layout. It was the sort of test I like, not too technical (by that I mean rutty woods) and quite fast with open going. It did however have several quite tricky parts to it. The first was a thick muddy section (not too bad), and this led to a downhill turn, an easy place to out brake yourself. A few climbs and out into an open field which was the next tricky bit as it was off camber and very easy to spin out the back tyre. Out of the field and back onto nice tracks that went up and down the hillside but these same tracks contained the worst bits – fast downhill sections followed by braking and turning ...... sooo easy to out brake and overshoot. At the bottom of the hill the track looped back round the hillside slowly climbing back up the side before doing a 180 deg turn and going back the way we’d come and back down again. One final climb with a more direct route up the hill had several tightish turns in it and the test was over.
First half a lap on video
A short woods section later and we were back in the pits, time enough to fill up on fuel, change my gloves and set off again. The next lap was two minutes shorter at 50 minutes and despite the tracks and woods getting worst ie more cut up I made it to the first check ok. I had a fair few tumbles though and had been peddling in the woods for miles as it was hard to get up enough speed to stand up. The narrow ruts and sticks/roots also made standing a tricky affair and all the sitting down was hard on the butt! I was just making up some time on a rider up ahead on one section when all of a sudden my leg got jammed by a stick and I got pulled off the bike at the bottom of a slope. The second bite at the test went ok, not overly quick as I wasn’t really ‘in the zone’ so to speak but one of the downhill braking turns did nearly catch me out and it was touch and go for a minute as a panic braked to make the turn.
Third lap – things were looking grim now. I had to go another two minutes quicker now but a lot of the woodland tracks were hard going with plenty of roots sticking out high in the ruts. Alternative routes were the order of the day in several spots. A lot more sitting down and either paddling or skiing while negotiating ruts. Eventually I got to the open tracks high on the mountain and was going well, on time for my check. Suddenly the gear change felt odd. I looked down and the gear lever flopped down, hanging useless. This was quite a surprise as I’d cleaned it and the threads out with a tap and wire bush during bike prep and locktighted the bolt on too. I pulled over to survey the problem, hoping the bolt was still there, it was! I reposition the lever then pulled the 8mm spanner out by bag (thanks inner voice) and tightened it up. I bit flustered I cracked on and got to the check one minute down. Not good but considering the problems I was actually relieved it wasn’t more.
The special test went ok but on one of the downhill brake zones the back wheel hit a small rock and as I was braking so hard it kicked the back wheel into the air, a bit of a moment for sure but I made the turn. Once again I wasn’t too happy with the way it went and coupled with the loss of time in the check I was a little down (mood wise) as I pulled into the pits. Nicky was there too and she helped me do a quick turn around with fuel/gloves etc. I made it to the check point on time but as I’d dropped a minute earlier I now had to add a minute to my next check time so the guys on my minute set off and I waited.
second half on video - including the special test
Lap four – the hard one. Yep the woods hadn’t gotten any better and neither had my butt as it took a hammering from sitting down for most of the lap as we skied ruts and clambered up snotty climbs. Apart from struggling with the conditions and fatigue there were no major issues on the last lap. Thankfully the gear lever stayed put on this lap and I eventually limped into the first check but was now 4 minutes down which didn’t help at all. The special went ok but again not great. Nicky had been there on the last few laps so by the time I finished that last lap and clocked out I had enough time to bring all the gear back to the car. I stretched out for a rest on top of the trailer while I waited for her to make her way back to the pits from the special test area. It was quite nice there in the sun and the rest was very welcome after four laps in the Welsh woods!
believe it or not....that was so comfortable in the sun
I was pretty knackered on the drive back to my sisters. I wasn’t expecting any sort of result so any thought of a top ten was out the window, but the following week I got a nice surprise. I managed a 6th place in Clubman A! Happy days!
|©2015 John Muizelaar|