"If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done"
RACING ABROAD - PART 1
Written By Team Rider 'Mcbainer'
For the first time since I began mountain biking in 2014 the opportunity to race abroad arose at probably the most difficult and strange time possible. After losing my Job at the start of July it was a tough time for me to see past what I was going to achieve for the later half of the year as uncertainty was always on the horizon.
With just under two months before the first round of the Enduro World Series in Zermatt, Switzerland there was a plan unfolding right in front of me.
After lockdown in Scotland, my local sponsoring bike shop Bennachie Bike Bothy and Bird Cycleworks Provided me with a top specification 3rd generation Bird Aeris AM9 (the bike rips by the way). I was in a weird way incredibly grateful for being put onto furlough till July as it allowed me to really focus my time on training, riding, and building. Everything felt like it was happening for a reason and I made sure I was taking advantage of it. I dedicated a lot of time to training hard on the Fit4Racing program in the off-season and I continued till mid-way through the year before tapering so I could focus my time on setting up the new bike. By the start of August I felt like I was in the best physical and mental position I have been in since I started mountain biking, so there was no better time to go and finally enjoy some racing in 2020.
The trip to the Swiss alps started from the mountain bike mecca Aberdeenshire in the north east of Scotland with my friend Calum Orr. (We both managed to acquire a job as a trail builder) in Slovenia for Mountain Bike Nomads so that was our last destination of the Euro trip. 1200 miles and a £60 parking fine later, we arrived in Morzine to spend a week getting used to riding in a foreign country again. We got lucky with the weather, so the riding and van life was a breeze up until the moment of Saturdays practice for the EWS in Zermatt.
Arriving at the campsite just outside the local village of Tasch, 5 miles down the valley from Zermatt on the Thursday night we were confused to see that there were not many privateers like me parked up. It turns out that the weather forecast wasn’t very promising, a massive temperature drop and high levels of precipitation were on the menu. However, Friday was a great teaser to what it could have been like so me and Calum number two made the most of it by getting our lift passes and heading up the funicular and gondola. A class time was had, soaking in the most amazing views of the Matterhorn with taps aff weather and then we got to ride some of the world’s best natural trails for 1000m of descent. This was one of the moments that made me understand right there and then how good life can be if you work hard for the right things.
With spirits still high, waking up to the sound of a heavy patter on the van roof and the feeling of cold as I got out of the sleeping bag sure made me feel like I was back in Scotland for the first downhill race of the year. I used my positive energy to get me through the weekend and make my first race of 2020 not so daunting. This was a big event, and I was a long way from home. There were Four stages for practice, all longer, more technically and physically demanding than any Enduro stage I have competed in at home.
Practice went as well as it could of. A small crash to start the day off right on stage 3 left we with bashed ribs so it made breathing at altitude even more of a struggle. Stage 2 was next after a small transfer pedal. This stage was my favourite of the weekend as it was high speed, technical, had fresh bike park berms and it was super physical for both arms and lungs. By this point in the day, I was soaked through, felt near hypothermic and had a 800m climb after the stage 1 descent. This climb was super hellish once exposed, almost unsafe for a privateer like me as I had been cold and wet since 9am. I was climbing up alongside Greg Callaghan and a few others so it kept my pace high and body temperature just warm enough so I could function for Stage 4, the Queen stage. Even though my hands were completely numb and had no idea when I was applying the brakes it was a super cool experience to have just made it to the bottom and finish the day feeling fast and comfortable on the bike.
Unfortunately, restrictions the week before I left home stopped Clark from Bennachie Bike Bothy, my support for the race weekend to make it out. So it was a long gruelling Saturday night cleaning my kit, prepping my self and the bike for race day. I didn’t feel well at all after practice finished, I was physically done in from the relentless cold so I was super appreciative when I finally got sat down later that night to have my pasta (race fuel) made by the hero Calum Orr. It had been a tough day made tougher by elements that were out of my hands. To make race day a more comfortable experience I was to learn from my mistakes from today and give it my all.
Race Day. After not racing in a year it was a magic feeling getting butterflies in the stomach again. An early start to the day turned out to be un-needed as the snow, thunder and lightning and heavy rain postponed everybody’s start times by over 2 hours. After getting the train to Zermatt, I had to wait in the only dry and warm place I could find, the locker and toilet rooms underneath the train station (factory AF). After news that one stage was cancelled another was cancelled not long after due to the severity of mother nature. At this point, it felt like racing was just not meant to happen in 2020. Against all odds we got two stages to race, £130 for a stage isn’t that bad right? Conditions were not meant improve so I knew it was going to be a brutal day in the saddle. Getting off the funicular to stage 1 was not a sight much racers wanted to see, a covering of snow and heavy sleet pouring down outside but it was one I was willing to embrace and begun the half an hour pedal up. The main priority for me was to have functioning hands for the descent, I hid my hands all the way up underneath my jacket under my arm pits one hand at a time. It worked! I was ready to drop into the first stage of the day.
Stage 1 complete, and I got to the bottom feeling good. Unfortunately, being a newbie to EWS, I was seeded terribly. I caught three people on my first descent losing a good chunk of time but I rode so composed and loose which was ideal for the conditions that laid ahead. I finished that stage in 4th position in the EWS100 category. I knew if I could ride like that for the final stage and not have to deal with sloths on the track I could hopefully finish top 20. That was the goal I set myself.
Stage 2 awaited, conditions were far from ideal as I watched heavy snow fall while waiting inside the gondola with my 90’s hip hop turned all the way up. I was in a good mental space and knew that sometimes when its hard you just need to have fun and make the most of it. Happy is Fast and I was so happy to ride my bike in negative zero temperature with Public Enemy, He got game playing in the back of my head. Funnily enough it was biggest race of my biking career so far and I wasn’t nervous, I knew that I had put in the work at home so I just had all my focus on the right things before I dropped in. Finishing stage 2, I had massive smile on my face but I was breathing out my arse. I gave it my all with minimal mistakes and only catching 1 rider this time meant I put my self in good contention for a worthwhile result.
Handing my dibber back, I was anxious to see what times I had produced. I saw that I was currently sitting in 5th overall with a few riders left. The time held its position and I was so happy to finish my first EWS100 less than 1 second off the podium with over 17 minutes of racing. A bittersweet finish knowing it could have been a possible second place finish if I had not caught riders on the first stage but that’s Enduro racing. I left Zermatt Monday morning with some validation of how hard I have worked over the last year. A huge win and big step forward for me personally in 2020, a year full of ups and downs. Hopefully, this is the start of a lot more adventures and my progression towards racing at the top end of the EWS field.
A Massive Thanks for the continued support from all my sponsors.