A few weekends ago saw the Gravity Enduro National Series make a comeback for its fifth round at the mysterious Woodford Island.
I had just gotten a bigger travel bike (my rocky Mountain Altitude: so good!) and was looking to adventure, so Aido and I decided to go to ride some fresh trails, and take friend and coached athlete Annelie down to taste Gravity racing for the first time, too.
Having coached several Gravity athletes, I know what the physiological demands of racing are like. I had raced a couple of ‘proper’ (ie: not lady enduro’s) gravity races around five years ago, before an entire category of bikes had been created for the discipline, and rode a 26″ 120mm bike (which was terrifying), so I had a taste of what gravity courses could be like in Australia, too.
The season where I did some gravity marked quite a shift in how I ride, and what I could ride, and my riding back on XCO turf.
So a few years later when winter is snapping at my heels and endurance and intensity work (or…you know…training) isn’t very appealing, I thought ‘what the heck, let’s get a bike and do some jumps’. So I got a bike, rode it twice and headed down to the Island.
We were fortunate to get some tracks in prior to the race, Annelie only rode a couple the morning of the event and rode the hairy trails of Woodford Island pretty blind. Being under the pump time wise, Aido and I just rode through most of them the day prior, missed out a few bits, and certainly didn’t stop and session everything. I have learned there is definitely value in doing this sessioning when riding with the right people, and I will endeavour to do this if I chase any more enduro racing.
The trails had just been cut in. If you conjure up a vision of an Island with trees on it, you’ll probably get a good idea of what the riding consisted of; it was super, super steep sand, littered with sniper rocks and bigger rock gardens, and blown out corners you just hope will catch you (but it’s kind of 50/50). Zero Pina Coladas, unfortunately.Most of the girls racing elite were all like ‘WTF is this!?!’,
Most of the girls racing elite were all like ‘WTF is this!?!’, however the hilarity in throwing yourself down the sketchiest steepest rock chutes and drops meant that we all had a pretty good time.
Stage 1: The machine built stage I am guessing, started with a long pedally traverse followed by shale-y off camber rocky dusty corners, a couple of drops and a rock ledge into the finish. I didn’t pedal too much as an act of self-preservation, staunchly believing my experience at the race was just that; and experience, and I wouldn’t try and get caught up in squirrel-brain race mode.
Stage 2: Significantly steeper, quite off-camber, with perhaps the sketchiest, steepest switchbacks I have ridden (very steep and about a metre and a half wide; sliding in is the only way and they were just lol-worthy in their sandy constitution). Good run, a less pedally stage, I just kept it smooth which worked well.
Stage 3: Stage three featured a bit of a traverse with a few little hucks at the top. I was secretly excited for this stage because I thought it suited me but ended up being the worst, as I lay it over between rock gardens on the flat and twisted my bars sideways. Cue getting back on, moving bars back, pedalling, then sliding down a drop into a hairpin (also made of sand), losing it again then not being able to get back on and just like “wtf’ hollering down a chute, very inefficiently. 10/10 for hilarious misadventure.
Stage 4: Sand corners and steep chutes marked the start of the stage, followed by a gnarly rock garden. I hadn’t practiced this and as such did some kind of awkward ungraceful dismount and snivelled down most of it, then rode the remainder of the steep sand chutes and drop to the end. Lost a lot of time here but wasn’t worried in my non-race, race mentality.
Stage 5: Another challenging one, slow speed rutted sand corners and a bunch of small jumps over logs opened up to a technical sand rock garden which I hadn’t ridden up until race day. The biggest rush came from nailing it during the race run, a small victory amongst so many stuff-ups, when the rest of the field except Ang struggled on it.
Stage 6: Stage six was pedally at the top, off camber and loose like the rest of the stages. It featured a long and sketchy rock garden, which was a bit straighter than the one in stage 5. With some confidence gained throughout the day I nailed this stage and felt pretty good!
The liason stages consisted of a lot of pushing up vert goat tracks (or not really tracks at all…), thus the race was much more of a multi-stage downhill than others I have participated in!
In a way, just riding and not worrying about it, and being a bit vague on the stage details without sessioning stuff was a good way to minimise expectation, and though I beat myself up a little for being a kook (mainly stage four) I exceeded my expectations with a two stage seconds and one third; unfortunately this consistency didn’t continue for the other three stages and I blew out just off the podium with my various misadventures. It was the kind of race in which everyone seemed to have a slide out or a silly off, it’s just the nature of such a fresh, loose trail.
Annelie did very well, throwing herself down the stages; most unseen, and keeping spirits lol-ing despite an almost 1:1 crash:stage ratio.
If I was to take it a bit more seriously I would ensure we had enough time to practice all the tricky bits rather than just getting through the stages, and I would probably work on the top end and some race runs in training, as I was reluctant to pedal too hard because of the squirrel brain that occurs when you push the limits without precedent.
All in all; would do again, I enjoyed riding the fresh trails and entering a race that was so different to what I usually do, and just riding to complete and have fun. 10/10 for the race coffee van, too! I am not sure I want to devote my life, time and devotion to the sport, but I enjoy the challenge and am up for a few more days of runs.
I could see how it could become a sport you train for and dedicate yourself to, but I am pretty happy just lining up for fun gravity racing at the moment; I enjoy the challenge and am up for a few more days of runs.