The Interview | Neil Delafield on his 2016 British Enduro Series
As any enduro racer in the UK knows the sport is suffering somewhat of an identity crisis at the moment! No sooner had the announcement dropped about the demise of the UKGE, two separate organisers press released their plans to become the main BES (British Enduro Series) for next season. What is even more confusing for the British racers is that both these proposals were announced in the same week, with neither of the organisers knowing that the other was planning to go with the name British Enduro Series.
The competing organisers are Neil Delafield director of the fantastic Mondraker Red Kite Events and Simon Paton director of the BDS (British Downhill Series). In this two part series we hooked up with Neil and gave him a good grilling about his future plans (a video interview with Si Paton is coming soon). Will it be fisticuffs at dawn between these two guys, as it would seem neither are planning on bowing down with running the name BES
So Neil tell us a bit about your past in organizing events, including your recent step over into the world of Enduro racing.
I initially got involved with events as a downhill and trials rider and then working for John Lloyd on his MTB marathon events as a motorbike marshal. We have been organizing events for a number of years now. In the early days we concentrated on MTB challenge/marathon events where we gained a reputation for tough challenging routes. We have also been running some very popular road sportives, there is a surprisingly big cross over between MTB and road now days. The enduro format has appealed ever since its emergence. I suppose it is the ex-downhiller in me raising its competitive head along with my love for real mountain bike events.
I spent 2012 and 2013 going to, and riding, as many races as I could to see how other organisers ran their events and learned a lot – good and bad – along the way. We then ran a much loved Enduro Series in 2014 which then evolved into the Mondraker Enduro Series this year. All along, we asked questions of riders and took on board their feedback to help us further improve what we offer. The whole event experience is important to us and we firmly believe that these events should be fun, challenging, chilled and relaxed with a ‘ride with your mates’ feel. Of course, at the sharp end, it’s still a serious race so we need to cater for both the serious rider and the rider just looking to enjoy a challenge and have some fun. The feedback from our Mondraker Enduro Series suggests that we managed to get this balance just right. We’ll continue taking this feedback as, in the end, we do it for the riders so want it to be right for them. The ‘Spirit of Enduro’ is in safe hands with us!
What made you take the leap over to wanting to run the UK’s main Enduro series?
We have been running our regional series with great and increasing success. The riders love our format and our ‘chilled out, ride with your mates’ feel. We have experienced amazing rider loyalty to the series and fantastic media reviews so we figure we’re definitely doing something right here. I now want to take that to a national level. It is something we have been thinking about for most of this season and, as such, we have been busy planning and sourcing the very best venues since earlier in the summer.
I feel we can step up to the mark and organise an excellent series by bringing what we know works well and adding in a few extras such as more sponsors, more spot prizes, an event village and courses for all. I have spoken to a number of riders, from all levels and categories, and they are very supportive of my plans. The last few days of social media chatter have also proved this. My passion for the sport and the enjoyment of running my series for the riders has motivated me further to see it grow. I feel it is time to get there.
As you know you have competition on the front of organizing the future BES events from BDS’s Si Paton, how did you feel when there was a press release out at virtually the same time from Simon about him running his version of the BES, do you think two organizers claiming to be the next BES could be seen as making a mockery of UK enduro racing?
It isn’t a good position and I do not think either of us were aware of each others plans. It is certainly not a mockery on my part as I love the sport as an organiser and rider myself. Ideally it would be better to have one British Series but I guess that we will have to see what happens over the coming weeks and months. I will be pushing our series forward and hopefully the riders will see that we are genuine riders with a love of the sport and a desire to deliver the best possible event experience for them.
Our sponsors and industry partners are also fully committed to our series and that will show with the level of support we will be getting over the coming months, and also at the actual events in 2016. I, as do our sponsors and riders from our previous events, feel that we have a great format and that we will do an excellent job delivering the series. We are going ahead. I personally offered a Si a chance to compromise over the situation but he declined my offer.
How could you promote your series as being more attractive than his?
First and foremost, it is for the riders to decide which is more attractive to them. These are their events with their input. We just run them.
By highlighting the key features of the events and holding them in interesting and aspirational locations, we hope that riders will see we have designed the Series for them and for the sport of MTB Enduro. We already have great support from really good sponsors, and they are keen to be actively involved in our promotion and our event experience for the riders. We have also enjoyed some much appreciated early support from the media too. Our team is very strong and well connected in the industry so we are in a good place. We have recruited a dedicated marketing company and a leading international branding company who are working hard behind the scenes.
We will be seeing the work they are doing coming out in the next few weeks. We think you’ll like it! Our aim is to make everything as slick and seamless as possible. This year we have delivered some great venues with some very challenging tracks as part of the Mondraker Enduro Series. As a DH racer from the 90’s and early noughties, I am very inspired by the old Dragon DH series, and I feel that myself and my trail pixies have an eye for building new stages. You have been to my enduro races Jim so you know what we are about. In my opinion we are possibly the toughest enduro series in the UK. For 2016, we will build on this with a range of tracks suitable for a wide range of abilities whilst offering a true challenge to the Elites and Experts. When riders see what we are doing, we are confident that they will like it.
It’s a big step to go from organizing marathon races and small regional events, as you know Si has run the very successful BDS for a while now. Do you think you can step up to the mark from organizing smaller events to something that could be considered the UK’s no.1 enduro series?
With the experienced and proven team I have behind me I am totally confident that we will deliver a series that is worthy of a national series. The BDS with BC’s support is not the same as an enduro event. Also the sponsors we have for 2016 and beyond are totally behind the series and they will help in making the events the best they can be. Of course with them all turning up to the rounds and other bike industry companies already having expressed a strong interest in attending, we will have a proper event village feel. We are investing more money across the board so that we can develop our rider experience, marketing, tracks and all other areas of running a successful event series. Having said this, we will not be charging the riders for this. Our entry fees are set and will be very fair indeed for a weekend’s riding on purpose built trails.
Would you take advice from a third party with regards to health and safety regarding tracks?
Of course, I have always been open to outside advice and I always will be. Actually I welcome it. As an organiser it is sometimes easy to become focused and blinkered. My team is not afraid to challenge me and others involved in the series also contribute to making the series better and safer. We are also planning to appoint a small group of riders who can feedback before, during and after each round as to where we need to improve things. It is an ongoing process of open communication for us.
One thing that race promoters can be criticized for is not listening and taking note of the wants and needs of the racers, are then any issues you think you could address about how you run races that would make your races spot on for UK participants?
I feel that we are very open and we talk to the riders a lot. Ultimately my races are for the racers so their input is extremely important. I am sure Jim you have seen me talking to the riders at our events over the last year. I am always talking, listening and taking suggestions on board. If an idea improves the series we will take it on. For example after the first round of the Mondraker Enduro Series I spoke to a local MTB figurehead and asked his advice. We talked openly, I listened and most of his suggestions were taken on board for the next round. We also see social media as being far more than just a communication tool.
It is a quick and easy way for riders to interact with us and each other. We will always engage in the conversations and take on board all their thoughts. I think we also need to look at how entries are processed. For teams, for example, making individual entries can be a pain. It doesn’t need to be. Team entries, easier admin and much more will be built in to our series. Above all we will cater for both the rider who wants to win the series and someone taking their first step into Enduro. We are open and we are keen to work with the riders and the bike industry to help Enduro grow in the UK. We have the team, the contacts and the know how to make this happen.
When it comes to tracks and loop sizes will you be aiming mostly at Elite racers, or will races be aimed more towards the standard skilled riders?
The tracks will be ridable by your average rider, but we will have sections that will have everyone thinking and pushing them beyond their comfort zone. We have had some seriously fast and accomplished riders coming to the series this year and I feel that we pushed everyone’s boundaries. One thing we will be doing though is building in B lines which will be slower but easier than the A line. These will be clearly signposted as you approach them and will make every stage of every race enjoyable for all abilities.
We will not be putting in large gap jumps or step-downs for example, we will leave those for the downhill boys! We are aware that our riders need to go to work on Monday and being injured is not an option. So all the features on our courses are rollable and if they are scary we will have B lines in place as I said. So it will be fun for all with the odd challenge thrown in to challenge the experienced and help newer riders progress.
What about the format of your races, transition times, start times, helmets, insurance, timing, amount of rounds etc?
The format isn’t changing from the Mondraker Enduro Series as it worked so well. We need to explain the one day or two day format better, and we will get resolved on the new website that is due to be released on the 9th October. We will not have timed transition times or seeded start times, without these the races have a more ride with your mates feel. Personally I feel this is important. We all want to have fun and ride with our mates with a fair bit of banter thrown in. The feedback from the riders this year totally supports this format. Helmets, a tricky one this. Our insurers have okayed us to allow the riders to have a choice. Personally I think it should be the individual rider’s decision which kind of helmet to wear. We will be describing the stages in the rider briefing and grading the stages to help them decide. I personally would recommend a full-face helmet on all stages but ultimately it is the rider’s decision.
At the moment we are not imposing it. If British Cycling ever recognise the Enduro format then I am sure they might impose full face helmets, but that is a number of years away at best. It certainly is not something BC is going to do anytime soon as hinted at by another organiser and BC board member. We will be covered for third party liability insurance to cover ourselves and the land owner. The riders will have to make a choice whether they want to cover themselves for injury or loss of earnings. We have partnered with an insurance company that can offer this cover. We will not be benefiting from this arrangement but it is just there as an easy go to solution. The riders can of course find their own provider if they wish.
Our timing system has worked exceptionally well this year so we will be sticking with the tried and tested system we have been using. The company we use are simply superb, reliable and cannot be faulted. EWS, PMBA, Southern Enduro Series plus a few other organisers use them for the same reason. They know Enduro! The timing system allows us to have flying starts and finishes. You can download your stage times after each stage if you wish to see how you are getting on the live display at the event HQ. We can also produce a final and accurate set of results as soon as the last rider finishes the course. As for the number of rounds being planned, I wanted a genuine British Enduro Series.\
We therefore need to cover all areas of the UK. With our seven rounds I feel we have down this. I would have liked to have had a South East round, and maybe even an extra Scottish round, but for next year we are struggling for a suitable venue. However, I am looking into this for 2017. I would also like to see Ireland involved as well at some point. For this year Ireland would have a been a step too far for us, organising a round is not a just a case of just turning up on Friday and setting up. It takes numerous reccce vists, meetings with land owners, trail building etc. However, if there is an organiser willing to put a round on we are happy to talk to them and look at working together to make it happen.
Will you have in place sufficient marshalls, catering, first aid etc?
Yes. These are some of the basics of a good event and we should also add toilets to that list! Rider safety is paramount to us so First Aid provision is one of the very first things we implement for any event. We have a number of Rec. 2 first aiders (carrying comprehensive first aid kits) on the team and at every event. Rec 2 first aid is dealing with likely outdoor injuries in hostile environments. We will also have the rest of our core team trained in basic first aid prior to the first round. Additionally to this we will have contracted in medical units with proper first responder vehicles. The whole team is in contact with each other via radios so that we can respond to any issues immediately. We have marshall briefings, excellent risk assessments and evacuation plans drawn up prior to each round and every member of staff will be briefed before the event and also carry a copy of these with them.
The number of marshalls is decided for each event and recruited from a contact list of experienced people ahead of time. Food wise, our current food providers Drover Cycles have committed to doing the mechanical backup and also be the food provider for next year with their stunning hot and cold homemade food and drinks. If needed I am sure the Drovers Rest crew will be able to help them out. Our pasta party is already the stuff of legends and we’re looking to build on this at the British Enduro Series. Peter James from The Drovers Rest who with his team has run all of our pasta parties this year has agreed to be our food/pasta party consultant for 2016. Peter is an award winning chef and his role will be to ensure that each race venue has a good home for our Saturday night pasta parties. This may also involve some beer for the not so serious athletes. We are also aiming to have some video action from the Saturdays racing playing at the venue.
What about sponsorship, it’s great that you have picked up Marin as the title sponsor for next season, do you have anything else set up for the future with maybe prizes for race winners etc?
Personally I feel that any prizes from sponsors should be given out to the average rider. Hence this year we have done a couple of raffle/throw the prizes into the crowd sessions, cans of Muc-off etc flying through the air. Maybe we should have full faces on at podium time! A sponsored rider doesn’t really need something from his own sponsor or from a rival company. I feel that the average rider though would benefit from this, I guess this just reinforces our ride with your mates vibe. Of course we will have some kind of trophy/medal for the podium guys too and cash prizes for the podiums will also be discussed prior to the season starting.
We are really pleased that Marin approached us and wanted to get involved with our series, I believe they are going to bring a lot of benefit to the British Enduro Series. We also have some other great sponsors signed up and we have agreed with them to drip the information out over the next few weeks so that we can build some hype around the whole thing. Each one of them has committed to the series and we will have a proper event village at each round and some great prizes to give away.
Lets talk about events, you’ve been pretty focused around the Mid-Wales areas before now, do you have some good venues set up for next year?
Yes we have been Mid Wales focused up to this point and our legacy is that we have left some cracking tracks behind because of it. However, I can assure you that we have some equally good venues for 2016 nationwide, Ever since we decided to launch a national series earlier this year, I have been busy out and about recceing venues. We are not going to use the same old venues UKGE used, we have sourced our own venues (except maybe one) so that we are fresh and the riders have new tracks and venues to look forward to.
As you are aware I am happy to push the boundaries with technical tracks, and this will continue through next year, and we will also have some more pedally tracks so that we can find the best all round rider for 2016. I feel that enduro is a test of fitness and skill, our series will bring that out in the winner. Our tracks are certainly not XC-esque in anyway, without being disrespectful to the XC crowd. If you are trying to get my venue details out of me though you will have to wait until the 9th October just like everyone else. Only me and the marketing team know all the venues at this point. It has been quite fun watching people second guess the venues on social media this week though.
OK some of the criticisms of the UKGE may have been the enforcement of insurance, camping costs, all rounds to count for overall result and a lack of an Expert category, what are your thoughts on this and how will you be approaching these issues?
As for the overall result, we have seven rounds in 2016. We are going to allow one round to be dropped from the series – whether that be the riders worse result or one they cannot attend due to injury or other commitments and so on. So basically your 6 best rounds out of 7 count. Camping is a difficult one to please everyone with. If possible we will have camping on site otherwise we will advise riders to find a commercial site. Personally I feel that camping should be charged for, not everyone camps and to provide camping is very expensive – additional insurance, security, showers and toilets, fire precautions – it all mounts up. This cost is either added to the entry fee and everyone pays or we only charge the people who use it.
I think this is the fairest solution for all. We will have and male expert/elite category. Under this will be an open sport category. Hopefully we will have enough female riders to warrant the same categories for them as well and we will be working hard to try and encourage more women to come and have a go. Additionally we have junior and 40+ categories. However, if a junior or a 40+ rider wishes to race in expert/elite they may do so after consulting with me.
I can’t stress this enough though. IF THE RIDERS HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR THE SERIES THEN PLEASE SHARE WITH US – THE SERIES IS YOURS AS MUCH AS OURS. We want the riders to feel that this is their event series so please talk to us. So finally we are trying to deliver what we feel the riders want from a British National Series #BES2016 and, importantly, a fun weekend/season of riding. We are going to deliver a non-elitist series for you the riders. Hopefully we have come across the right way and we will attract more riders into our sport of Enduro.
Thanks to the Enduro MTB team for the chance to explain our position and our plans.
Our first Mondraker Red Kite we attended earlier in the year- here
There is one more Mondraker Red Kite event left this year if you would like to check this out to make your own mind up (bear in mind this is still currently run as a grass-roots regional affair) check here- http://www.redkiteevents.co.uk
Words: Jim Buchanan
Photos: Enduro-MTB archives