You might have heard that the Naughty Northumbrian enduro was a bit of a handful at the weekend. Here’s Neal Jarrett’s race report from the trenches…
Wowzer I feel like I’ve been run over by a tractor then dragged through a prickly hedge. I’m aching everywhere and my arms and legs are covered in cuts and grazes from a few too many encounters with trees and muddy wet roots. I’ve just had a lovely weekend at the Naughty Northumbrian!
I’ve been attending Northern Downhill races at this venue since 2010 but never thought I’d see such a big event with so many riders, partly due to the geography. It was billed as a backcountry enduro and it feels like a backcountry enduro just driving to it – winding through the country roads of the Northumberland hills to the Coquet Valley near the small village of Alwinton. You seem miles from anywhere.Your author Neal gets his dab on. (JWDT Photography)
Also the nature of the tracks here might put a lot of people off. To say they’re techy would be an understatement, they’re not everyone’s cup of tea – and the number of people who decided not to race on the Sunday was a testament to this.
To those who did, well done. I’m sure the super-fit and technically gifted at the sharp end of the field may not agree but to us mere mortals making up the majority of the field it was a real challenge to do two such physical days and still have the energy to race some of the most technical trail you will possibly ever race on.
For the record, the race was fought over a 20-mile loop with around 1,200m of climbing and six timed downhill stages.
As I’m sure with many reading this, the real race was the race within the race – the mates’ race. Ours (Mackerel and Laphroaig) is no different. It’s not serious but its part of the craic and banter of the weekend. And it’s what pushes us to do those slightly crazy things you’d only do in races which make for the talking points after each stage.
And there was plenty of talking points after these stages! Along with M&L regulars myself (Neal), Chris, Pete, Ian and Andy K we were also joined by a friend of Chris’s from back home Lizzie and new friend we met camping at the race – Gavin spent the whole weekend with us.
The weather was nice on Saturday for practice and we set off up the hill to stage one. As with stage six, this was basically just an open grassy hillside with a track taped down it. Pretty much completely untouched by either tyre or spade. I thought it was actually quite fun and didn’t feel like I was going fast until I got into some of the grassy corners which then seemed sketchy. Barring mistakes, times on here would be close as it was fairly straightforward.
Stage two, part of the original Kidland downhill track with an extra section built at the top of the hill through the felled section and a deviation around the very steep middle section for a slightly more trail bike-friendly alternative. This and stage five which started from the same point and pretty much ran parallel to each other were my personal favourites, they’re the type of tracks that seem a little techy but fast so you feel on the edge, kind of like the downhill trails of Innerleithen. Real good fun!
Ow ow now we’re into it. Stages three and four were possibly the tracks that sent people packing and were likely to be the two tracks that could influence the out come of the race. They were a muddy, rooty mess with not just off-camber rooty sections but off-camber, tight, rooty corners. I’m trying to claim I rode both of these come race day as most of the way down I was sitting over the bike and had at least one foot on the pedals, although the other foot was sometimes pushing me along. Got to be honest at time it didn’t feel really skillful as I just aimed for a rut and stuck my foot out, but it worked.
Hmmm, stage six this was a peculiar one taped down a steep, grassy hillside. It was fun and fast at the top before coming to that right hander. Did anyone manage to get round it? For those not there it was a wide sweeping right hander on a steep part of the hill if it had been dry it wouldn’t have been a problem but in the wet it was like a bloody water slide.
At one point I was braking but seemed to be getting faster. If nothing else it was worth a laugh as pretty much everyone had a story about it at the bottom and nearly all of it was watchable from the finish and camping area.
Race day and as I ate my porridge in the morning it started raining. I’m sure there was plenty of people starting to wonder what the fuck they were doing and was it really worth it – and occasionally the thought passed through my head, but generally I was looking forward to it. I love testing myself on the technical stuff, part of the reason I keep coming back here I suppose. I was trying to convince myself it didn’t matter about beating my mates and just make sure I got round and enjoyed it.
I know what you’re thinking: What happened in the Mackerel and Laphroaig race? There’s very little between our group and on any given day pretty much anyone could win. We also had the unknown quantity of Gavin who seemed very comfy in the mud, and should be seeing that his local trails are Innerleithen.
The rain had made stages one and six even more greasy and three and four more muddy, I didn’t think it was possible! As I suspected three and four played a big part, everyone including myself made a lot of mistakes but Ian had a big crash on stage three bending his disc rotor and Pete had a big OTB on stage four.
Chris emerged victorious in the end beating myself by .02 of a second. He was on 16.38.11 and I was on 16.38.13. I couldn’t believe it! It made us 25th and 26th in masters out of about 100.
Gavin was 11 seconds back with 16.49.63 and 14th in vets then Pete 10 seconds behind him with 16.59.41. Four of us within 21 seconds in 16 minutes of racing. Ian’s crash and trailside repair put him out of contention or it would probably have been five of us within roughly that time.
Andy wasn’t feeling it today as he hadn’t been on the bike much lately, due to renovating a house and admitted to feeling completely rinsed after Saturday. He looked broken after stage four but made it round. Lizzie did well after having her doubts on Saturday and finished 4th in the senior women.
All in all a challenging but good weekend and I’m sure I’ll be back to this venue again.
If you’ve found this post useful or interesting, please follow the blog on social media via the icons at the top of the page.