Exclusive | EWS Round 3 Tweed Valley – Local Knowledge
With the season now in full swing, many racers are getting ready for an exciting trip to Scotland for the third round of the EWS. The Cannondale Alpine Bikes World Enduro is almost upon us and the ‘Valley of the Bike People’ is gearing up to welcome visiting riders from all over the world. Last year the Tweedlove team put on a spectacular show that redefined the bond between the elite athletes and the riding community, and showcased the diverse trails to the world.
Those diverse trails led to surprises in the results too! Some of the biggest names in the game just couldn’t get their heads around the tight technical trails, legends fell off the pace and many were left scratching their heads (or digging foliage out of their visors). In the end experience won out and it was the big hitters who took the podiums, but local wildcards dominated the stage results, in fact Stage 2 was won by Ruiridh Cunningham on a bike he had borrowed for the day from the local Alpine Bikes store. The unique trails of the Tweed valley demonstrated the importance of local trail craft and experience, and that sometimes to go fast meant going slow.
If you have signed up for the EWS, in order to help you get a head start we headed out with some of the fastest riders in the valley, IBIS team rider Gary Forrest, CUBE UK team mates Stuart Wilcox and Thomas Mitchell, Silverfish sponsored Chris Hutchens and RADON Flow rider James Shirley, to get some tips on how to approach the race, spares, helmet choice and the quintessential question – what tyres to run?
But first let’s look at what’s new for this year. Even after extensive headlocks and hair pulling, the course is still a closely guarded secret, but we can reveal a few exclusive snippets of information. The biggest change this year is that there will be no difference between the E1 and E2 category courses, everyone will ride the same stages. This is great news for those who want to compare times with the pros without having to worry about lots of ‘in stage’ pressure. It will be a big weekend too, four stages a day spread out over a 93km course (58 km on the first day and 38 km on the second) with over 1300 m of climbing each day. Before you start looking for an E-MTB, a lot of those kilometers will be on a flat bike path heading out to the hills, but expect some tough climbs too. Excitingly, the course will also feature new sections of trail that have never before been raced on.
There will also be a staggered opening of the stages for practice this year, four stages will open up on Wednesday then closed as the remaining four open on Thursday. The entire course will open again on Friday morning for last chance line deliberation, but this will be an unofficial practice time and there will be no marshals or medics on course. The best way to get trail info is to check out the awesome free event guide with course maps and stage info, these will be available from the Monday before the race and can be picked up from one of the Alpine Bikes stores, the Tontine Hotel or the tourist information office.
Even if you cannot find an event guide, you will not go far wrong Thomas explains “The Tweed valley is known as the valley of the bike people and if it’s your first visit or you’re a seasoned visitor you’ll be welcomed with open arms. Ask a local and they’ll point you in the direction of the best trails, better yet they’ll probably get out and ride them with you.” And it’s not just the Tweed Valley either; Chris adds “make the most of the number of people at the event. Find out some of the hot riding spots in Scotland if you’re visiting and try and leave time after the event to ride elsewhere.”
This year the EWS Expo on Tweed Green (in the center of Peebles) will be even bigger, and full of traders selling kit and tyres, with tech support tents should things go wrong. There will be bike wash on site too. The EWS Expo is the hub of the event, it’s also a mini festival with loads of entertainment for the kids, and live music and a fully stocked bar – it’s the place to be. When it comes to getting spare parts there is plenty of other choice in the Valley too. Thomas adds “You can’t go far wrong with Alpine Bikes in Innerleithen or Glentress. The staff are super friendly and knowledgeable. There’s not a trail in the valley that deputy manager Neil doesn’t know about and there’s no problem with your bike that head mechanic Nic can’t fix.” Stuart adds “I’d recommend i-Cycles in Innerleithen too. It has a good range of things like tyres, and Steve is always happy to help with bike setup or tyre choice for the local trails.”
With super tight trees lining the stages one hot topic last year was bar width, with many riders getting out the hacksaws to shave off some centimeters. Most of the locals run between 740-760 mm, Stuart still runs pretty wide bars “I personally run 780mm bars, but this is as wide as I would go for the tweed Valley trails. Many of the trails are tight and twisty and at 780mm it can be a bit of a squeeze sometimes!” Team mate Thomas laughs “handlebars are very much a personal preference but if you come to the valley with a set of 800’s you’ll get stuck between the pines.”
It has to be said that they make riders out of tough stuff in Scotland, even with the savage descents most of the locals still opt to run open faces no matter how tough the trail, and the race rules allow the use of either. Now helmet choice is always a personal thing and even the local specialists are split in opinion. Gary keeps it simple “I will be running a half face lid as the speeds are lower here” and James agrees “It’s a BIG lap so I’d suggest that an open face helmet would be sufficient, I’d also highly recommend using goggles. It may be muddy out there but you’re also riding tight in the trees with small branches poking out everywhere.” To add a different perspective Stuart counters “an open face is perfect for riding the area, but I’ll choose to race in a full face. I raced last year in an open face but at race speed with so many trees nearby there isn’t much room for error!” With two very different days of racing expected we would strongly advise bringing both helmets so you can make your choice after practice.
Then came the tough question, the weather in Scotland is notoriously unpredictable, and conditions could be anything from super grippy dust, to hilariously slick and muddy. Most of the locals will be watching the forecasts carefully before making tyre choices . James explains “tyre choice is tricky, there will most likely be mud but there will also be fast rolling hardpack sections too. I’ll probably use some 2.2″ Trail King tyres but if it’s really manky then the Continental Barons will go on instead. Thomas added “tyres can make or break a race weekend and in the ever changeable conditions getting it right on race day is crucial. Schwalbe is my tyre of choice and I often go for an aggressive tyre on the front, something like a Magic Mary with something a little faster rolling on the rear, like a Nobby Nic. If it rains I may change the rear to a Hans Dampf, but beyond that my set up will stay the same, wet or dry. Gary had similar advice, “the race will either be dust or mud and you need a tyre that will cut into the ground and give you grip. For me if it’s really wet I will run a Magic Mary front and Nobby Nic rear, but some places in inners are gripper in the wet so it will be a tough choice.” We imagine there may even be tyre swapping between the two days, as the trail differ in character so much.
And lastly what about race tips, what wisdom can be passed on that may help visiting racers during practice. Thom had some Scottish gold advice “my number one tip for riding in the valley is slow is fast. What I mean by this is don’t expect to ride these hand cut trails at the same speed you would your local trail centre loop or open alpine trail. The tracks are technical and tight. Being in the dense trees you don’t get the same sensation of speed you normally do when riding a bike. So slow down, you are going fast! Don’t override the trails. Focus on smooth and controlled movements and picking smart braking points. Use the corners on the trail to control your speed and stay centered on the bike. Getting loose and wild on the trails here will only lose you time. What you want is smooth, consistent and measured efforts. That how Nico Lau won the race last year and that’s how you’ll go fast.” Gary is in agreement there, “People always say it’s tight here but because I was brought up here I don’t really know any different. You just have to pick your moments to attack, then be smooth the rest of the time. A top tip for riding the natural stages is to use the corners to slow down in especially when it’s steep, It sounds daft I know but it definitely works.
And it’s not just about slowing down, Chris adds “Last year there was a savage hill sprint in the first stage, if you did the race you will never forgot this. Doing some sprint efforts before the event might just make take some of the pain away if a similar climb is included. And be prepared for changeable weather; we were super lucky last year with a week of sun but sadly Scotland doesn’t always deliver temperatures in double figures.”
If there was one thing everyone agreed on it was the Coffee. “Enduro riding doesn’t cut it if coffee and cake post ride isn’t involved. You might not see Graves tucking into a juicy carrot cake but for most of us it’s justified after a big day in the saddle. Check out No 1 café on Peebles Road Innerleithen”, Chris enthused
With the clock counting down the race will soon be upon us, the Valley of the Bike People is ready to host another memorable weekend.
If you are heading to Scotland, don’t forget that Tweedlove is a huge festival, with many more awesome events to fill your schedule. For more information on the other exciting events going on check out their website.
Words and Photos | Trevor Worsey