Racing -

POC Scottish Enduro Series | Round 1 – Clash of the Titans

Where did the winter go? It seemed like only yesterday that the first POC Scottish Enduro Series was coming to a close and yet here we were, about to start the 2015 season. The atmosphere was electric, there is nothing like the buzz of the first race of the season – a chance for friends to catch up, elite racers to measure up against their competition and for enduro virgins to dip their toes in the muddy water. This year the SES was also offering an Enduro Lite category for those wanting to give it a go – featuring all the fun without going ‘full crazy’ on the steeps.

If you were not there, you missed something awesome! However, if you want to check out all the awesome action from the day, grab a cup of tea and sit back to watch the official POC Scottish Enduro Series video

Scottish Enduro Series 2015: Round 1 – Innerleithen from Scottish Enduro Series on Vimeo.

This is racing in Scotland - pulling no punches
This is racing in Scotland – pulling no punches

For those that rode the practice loop on Sunday, there was certainly some tired legs on race day morning the course was a monster 28.3km with over 1,200m of climbing. But what a practice day it was, the wind was blowing so hard that fat bikes were banned from the exposed top of Minch Moor in case they blew away like a kid’s balloon at a fairground. Some racers looked confident and fit, ready to test out their long hours of winter training, while others were desperately trying to claw back some summer fitness during the morning practice. Racers had arrived from all over the UK keen to see what the organisers had cooked up – and they were not disappointed, five stages of pure, adrenalin filled muddy gnar.

Again Innerleithen would play host to an amazing race
Again Innerleithen would play host to an amazing race
There were many new bikes on show at the opening round
There were many new bikes on show at the opening round

Walking around the pits on the morning of the race you could be forgiven for thinking that the EWS had arrived a few months early. The depth of talent was simply unreal, the men’s elite field was wide open, Irish CUBE Action Team rider Greg Callaghan, IBIS Factory Rider Gary Forrest, CUBE UK riders Thomas Mitchell and Stuart Wilcox and World Cup DH ringers Ruaridh Cunningham, Adam Brayton and Ben Cathro were all there looking fit and hungry. The women’s field was no less competitive, with defending champion Roz Newman up against local downhill superstar Jess Stone, HOPE technology’s globetrotting Rachael Walker and EWS rocket Katy Winton.

Riders were chomping at the bit to get up on the hill and practice
Riders were chomping at the bit to get up on the hill and practice
The SES has not only created a race series, but also a community.
The SES has not only created a race series, but also a community.

Stage One took riders high up onto Plora rig and was a true classic. Anyone who has raced an enduro at Innerliethen will have sampled the jumbled rock and root of the Alastair Lees track, if you like holding your breath at speed, then you will love this trail. Irish EWS racer Greg Callaghan has been spending a lot of time here in the valley and it shows, pulling out a 5 second lead over the field.

Stage Two gave more than a nod to the Enduro World Series, featuring one of the steepest trails in the valley. The crux being a set of flowing switchbacks that make a mockery of steep, a bit like bungee jumping but more vertical. The elites smashed down it with Gary Forrest taking the win, but then disaster happened! Poor Robin Thomson took a spectacular tumble and broke his humerus and dislocated his elbow and shoulder. The marshals and emergency services were mobilized and did a great job extracting him from the very challenging location. A big shout out must go to all the riders who stopped to help, and gave up their races in order to help extract Robin from the crazy steep trail – get well soon buddy.

The trails were fast but loose, the trick was not to turn upside down.
The trails were fast but loose, the trick was not to turn upside down.
The transitions were typically Tweed Valley, sweeping and gentle views - the trails were anything but.
The transitions were typically Tweed Valley, sweeping and gentle views – the trails were anything but.

With Stage Two now cancelled for the rest of the field, it was back up to the top to get some open heather action on Stage Three, on a trail that has not been raced much before, a flat out heather bomb with some super tricky muddy sections. With plenty of height still to play with – racers were spared another climb and it was into ‘the classic’ for Stage Four. As muddy riders popped out of the bottom, there were many colourful reasons offered as to why this stage got its name ‘the classic’, most of them unprintable. Starting out on well surfaced trail – racers were lulled into a false sense of security before they hit the slippery rocks of the black trail. After some sideways shenanigans the real madness began, a muddy chute that plummets into the trees. Traction here was laughable, and once you ‘stopped believing’ it was tree hugging time!

Racers battled under Larch and Pine
Racers battled under Larch and Pine

It had already been a big day but it was not over yet. One last big haul to the top was needed before the racers could enjoy the grand finale, Stage Five, a downhill megamix of fast and furious cornering on well drained trails. After the slick mud, these trails were super-fast and everyone finished with a massive smile.

On a new bike Katy Winton looked unstopable, and marched onto a clear victory - she is ready for the EWS (photo by Ian Linton)
On a new bike Katy Winton looked unstoppable, and marched onto a clear victory – she is ready for the EWS (photo by Ian Linton)
Speeds were high in the woods, with sniper roots everywhere
Speeds were high in the woods, with sniper roots everywhere

What an opening to the season! The stages were tough for sure, technical in the upmost, but everyone was in agreement, it had been a great day out and the perfect start to an exciting line-up. Innerliethen was always going to be crazy hard and really steep, but with many new venues on the SES calendar this year, there is sure to be some more surprises.

Full Results: For the full results click here

With a field as stacked as it was, it was always going to come down to the line, and after over 25 minutes of racing, the top two spots in the elite mens field were separated by only 4 seconds. But before we get into who won – credit should go to downhill missile Ruaridh Cunningham who won Stages Three and Four, and came second in the first two, had it not been for a puncture on Stage Five he may well have upset the enduro applecart. After swapping top spots all day, amazingly Gary Forrest and Greg Callaghan had identical times as they rolled to the top of Stage Five. One final stage would decide who would take the first victory of the season. In the end it was the big Irishman, Greg Callaghan, who managed to find 4 seconds in the stage and take the overall win. Both guys were stoked to race with such strong competition in a national series.

In the end it was the big Irishman Greg Callaghan who would steal the victory by just 4 seconds.  (Photo by Ian Linton)
In the end it was the big Irishman Greg Callaghan who would steal the victory by just 4 seconds. (Photo by Ian Linton)
Mens elite podium: 1st Greg Callaghan, 2nd Gary Forrest, 3rd Adam Brayton
Mens elite podium: 1st Greg Callaghan, 2nd Gary Forrest, 3rd Adam Brayton

Racing was no less exciting in the women’s category, but this time it was dominated by one rider – Bergamont Factory rider and local superstar – Katy Winton. Katy won all the stages decisively and put over two minutes into a hard charging Jess Stone, and HOPEs Rachael Walker. Katy has been training all winter with Gary Forrest and Greg Callaghan and looks well up to speed for the EWS season kicking off in NZ.

Women's Catagory: 1st Katy Winton, 2nd Jess Stone, 3rd Rachael Walker
Women’s Catagory: 1st Katy Winton, 2nd Jess Stone, 3rd Rachael Walker
Junior Podium, 1st Ruaidhri Forrester, 2nd Angus Hardie, 3rd Callum Grant
Junior Podium, 1st Ruaidhri Forrester, 2nd Angus Hardie, 3rd Callum Grant

We caught up with Katy and Greg to find out how their races went.

Katy Winton (Endura Bergamont Factory Enduro Team) “I had a really good race this weekend, I’m so pleased with my new Bergamont and this course was the perfect way to christen it in the Scottish mud! It’s great to start the season with a win and have a race under the belt before I head out to NZ this week! Thanks again to all at SES for a great weekend, also it was so cool to see so many ladies out racing and loving it!

Greg Callaghan (Cube Action Team) “The race was great for me and perfect to race such a high standard and challenging event to kick start the season. The course was tough but fun and everything ran well all weekend, I couldn’t fault it really. The new bike felt awesome and I felt good too, which is always good at this time of year. No better way to start a new season with a new team than with a win, especially in such a stacked field of elites. It was a shame that Ruaridh punctured on the last stage with it being a close battle between the top 3 all day. Looking forward to getting back to more rounds of the series this year, the SES crew know how to put on a good weekend of bike racing!”

The next round of the POC Scottish Enduro Series will be held at Ae forrest on the 18-19 April 2015. For more information you can check out their website. The POC Scottish Enduro Series would also like to thank it’s sponsors WTB, HOPE Tech, Sick Skill’s, Findra, Base Camp Bikes, Ride Sierra Nevada and http://www.singletrackbikes.co.uk/.

SES-logo-POC

Words: Trev Worsey

Photos: Trev Worsey and Ian Linton