Race Report | Bluegrass Enduro Tour Glencoe – Into the Unknown
I’m not sure if it was the 4 AM start or the industrial strength coffees that I had drunk, but I was buzzing with excitement as I drove up the A9. As I made my way North, towns and villages were soon replaced with endless heather covered moorland and remote peaks started to dominate the horizon. The sun had risen to reveal a spectacular day in the Scottish Highlands, but it was the event I was heading to that had me wired. The 2015 Bluegrass Enduro Tour had returned to Scotland, my favorite race of 2014 was back! Blind racing down an open taped course on one of Scotland’s most rugged and challenging mountainsides, it was going to be wild!
This was the second year that No-Fuss were to host the Bluegrass Enduro Tour, and after attending in 2014, and declaring it my favourite race of the season, I could not wait to see what was new. The bonkers format would be the same, three stages of open taped racing, with only small orange flags and the occasional race gate to mark out the course. No practice was allowed so racers would have to think on their feet, and of course there would be the legendary mass start race at the end – and this year the snow was lying thick and heavy on the upper slopes.
After the great feedback from the previous year, the event was a sellout, over 120 riders had turned up to do battle on the rugged hill. Excitement in the carpark was high and everyone was stoked that Bluegrass had supplied free gloves for all the starters. Riders of all abilities had turned up to race and everyone seemed game for a good laugh.
Glencoe is a busy ski resort in the winter, and there was plenty of snow hanging around on the upper slopes, an observation that was getting more than a few tongues wagging. With the elevation being mainly reached with chair lifts it sounded like an easy day, however with super physical ten minute stages and a big bas@:ard hill in the middle of stages One and Three, it was going to be a beast.
After getting well fed and caffeinated at the Glencoe resort cafe, we started the journey up onto the hill, starting with a plush two man chair, before getting on the perfectly named ‘cliffhanger’ one seater. As we slowly ascended one by one, dangling on what seemed like a garden chair designed for a small child, clinging onto our bikes, we all sensed it was going to be a day filled with adventure.
Stage One was a return to the popular stage of last year, after a short traverse off the line, riders hung a right and, letting gravity take over, down the open mountain flank. There was a good line in the middle but ‘in the heat of battle’ most riders strayed left and right and had to deal with the seemingly endless fly offs, and mini hucks through the rocks.
The fact that there was no tape made it brilliant fun, trying to aim for the little orange flags while careening over boulders and hidden holes! Then came the real crowd pleaser, ‘heartbreak hill’ a considerable hill that just kept getting steeper. This was where the fit racers did their damage, while the rest pedaled, ran, then inevitably gasped their way over the summit, before wobbling off down the other side, desperately trying to reinhale their lungs.
After crossing two cheeky bridges it was onto the Red Route down the mountain face, a giants causeway of boulders and loose rock. There were a fair few small gap jumps as well and as fatigue brought ‘1000 yard stares’ down to about 30 cm, many racers got some unexpected air time. After dibbing out at the bottom there was plenty of time to refuel and share stories of misadventure before heading back up on the lifts.
Stage Two was a little different this year, and the taping team had developed a very sharp sense of humour. The start was certainly hilarious, as the first three snow fields were clearly visible to the queuing riders, so every ‘out the front door’ moment was met with joyous cheers and heckling. After watching the fast lads who demonstrated a fair amount of megavalanche experience, hitting it brakeless and fully committed – it started to get a lot more comical! Slip followed slide, credit to the guy who crossed the snow field flat out before punting over the bars where it rejoined dry land!
Back onto the grassy mountain flank, numerous axle deep bogs lay in wait for the unwary, and after negotiating the many blind bogs it was back onto the Red Route for another hammering. The weather was stunning and racers fought for seconds under the backdrop of sweeping views of the Glencoe Valley.
And then it was time for the main event, the coup de grâce to an amazing day of racing – it was time for the mass start. As riders gathered at the top of the second chairlift, an ominous orange No-Fuss flag fluttered in the wind high above on a steep ski piste. As soon as all the racers had cleared the lifts we started the push up to the start line, over 100 riders swarmed slowly up the hill, pushing, carrying or dragging their bikes up the steep slope.
After 25 minutes all were at the top, and as each rider crested the summit bravado wilted as they looked down the the steep ski piste full of snow. Racers were lined up according to their times from the first two stages, nervously staring from the steep plummet ahead to the building crowds of riders behind. No-Fuss and Bluegrass had brought the megavalanche to Scotland, and the atmosphere was electric.
When you race enduro – riding against invisible opponents with just the unknown ticking away of seconds in your transponder is certainly exciting, like having adrenalin piped into your veins. Well, mass start racing is like being whacked in the face with a bucketful, after it has been frozen! There is simply nothing like chasing people, or being chased to get the heart rate spiking, it’s like racing fiercely with a buddy, then multiplying it by hundreds. Every race should feature a mass start – it changes everything, no longer are you racing against the clock, you’re racing against the racer in front. This is racing at its most visceral, pure and exciting.
3-2-1-Go! The next two minutes cannot be put into words as it was just a carnival of snow, racers and crashing, but pretty soon everyone was off the snow and onto the mountain flank. Riders were everywhere and crazy overtakes, contacts and mad challenges were coming thick and fast. The fast lads were up and over heartbreak hill as if it were an inconsequential bump, while the rest huffed and wheezed their way over the top. There were four racers keen for the win, Chris Hutchens, Joe Barnes, Liam Moynihan and Fergus Lamb and those guys were giving it everything for the win. In the end Chris had the fitness to charge to victory after almost 10 minutes of racing, closely followed by Liam, Joe then Fergus only seconds behind. In the women’s race it was Scottish Champion Roz Newman who did enough to take the win, with Hannah Barnes and Fiona Beattie in hot pursuit.
If you want to experience the action of the mass-start, check out racer Johnpaul Cunningham’s Go-Pro footage!
Everyone agreed that it had been an amazing day and the Bluegrass Endurotour had been a huge success. It was great to see it sell out this year as the event is such a unique race on the racing calendar. We would like to give a collective thanks to the No-Fuss team and all the marshals for putting on such a great day, Bluegrass for bringing the format and the Glencoe Mountain Resort for providing the perfect location. We all hope it returns in 2016!
For the full results check out here:
For more information on the next rounds of the Bluegrass Enduro tour, check out their website
Words: Trev Worsey
Pictures: Trev Worsey and Catherine Smith