August means it’s time for the ‘Ard Rock again, so Rik and I headed back up to Swaledale to chuck ourselves down hills with hundreds of other lunatics. I entered the enduro proper this year, after having a go at the course as part of the ‘All Mountain Challenge’ last time. There were a few changes to the stages, 1 and 4 in particular having much longer lower sections, and the additions were excellent, challenging bits of trail. Riders got the opportunity to preview these on the Saturday as part of an entertaining practice course, the other three stages being tied up for a mini-enduro event. Saturday’s weather was glorious, sunny and calm, and we finished off the course reconnaissance with a pint at a very local pub.
The rain mainly held off on race day in spite of threatening clouds and wind, and I was most glad of this in the wooded section at the bottom of stage 1, which would have been horrendous in proper mud. As it was the piles of dusty earth covering the steep chutes in this part of the course hid an entertaining selection of lurking roots, and although I managed to get down cleanly both in practice and the race itself, I didn’t manage it with any great style. The rest of the course was much more to my taste, crossing open, bleak moorland quarries on trails of loose rock and grass, through spoil heaps and gullies with the odd hairpin and occasional fearsome cliffs to keep you on your toes. All the stages were brilliant fun, and I reached the bottom of stage 5 positively buzzing (although I was annoyed to discover afterwards that I’d somehow completely missed a really entertaining little jump halfway down).
Outside the tapes we made our way round at an extremely leisurely pace, walking most of the steeper hills to conserve our energies for the racing, and clocked up a total lap time of over 5 hours. Rik was unlucky enough to suffer a puncture on stage 4 so he came in a few minutes behind me in the overall, but was faster on all the other stages and would have beaten me had he not had his mechanical. My timed stage total came to about 22 minutes and I ended up about 2/3 of the way down the field, which is respectable enough for pack-fodder like myself. The fast lads were up around the 16 minute mark and frankly I have no idea how they achieve that level of skill and speed.
The event itself had clearly grown considerably from the previous year, with around twice the number of riders in the combined events, and a much bigger, better organised event village, with almost the feel of a little festival. There was a better choice of food to be had, more easily, and a proper mobile bar too. It was busy but not unpleasantly so, and they had hired enough toilets this time. We saw quite a few people we knew, the weather was much better, and overall we had an excellent weekend. Oh, and we also made it into the official video – blink-and-you’ll-miss-us but we’re at about 4m59s, me and Rik doing a cheesy but (honestly!) spontaneous high-five at the finish line.