Now that the dust has well and truly settled on the Transcend festival and the next Scottish Enduro is nearly upon us, I thought it would be as good a time as any to reflect on what was a very special race for me.
The Transcend Epic was the UK’s first multi-day, uplift assisted enduro race. Racers would cover no less than 4 of the Tweed Valley’s best-known forests for mountain biking over two days of white-knuckle racing against the clock.
The Epic was one of a number of events which made up the Transcend Festival, a weekend of bikes, music and good times in the Tweed Valley. If Glastonbury and a bicycle race had a love child, the Transcend Festival would be the result.
Whilst there were many events as part of the festival, the one for me was the Epic. Ordinarily, when people see the words “uplift assisted” they assume that it automatically makes the race easier, but that was not the case. Whilst parts of the Epic were to be uplift assisted, there is only so far a bus and a trailer can go into the forest. So, a lot of climbing was still to be done to access the start of each stage and, due to the uplift, the stages were longer than you’d normally be accustomed to if you were using pedal power alone. We are talking two big riding days, on the most physical and demanding trails in the Tweed Valley. If you thought it’d be easy, you thought wrong.
My plan for the race was to ride smart, smooth and take each stage as it came. After all, there were 13 in total over the two days, so I was in no hurry to try and win (or lose) the race on the first stage. I made my way through most of day 1 without incident riding at a good pace which I knew I could maintain throughout the two days. I was leading the race after 3 stages until disaster struck. On the longest stage of the race, a near 9-minute-long stage from the top of Glentress to the valley floor in Peebles, I went for a gap and upon landing, went down hard. I should mention at this point that the weather had been utterly horrendous with heavy downpours making conditions difficult and changeable. My bike was torn from beneath me, like a rug being pulled from under my feet. I smashed into the gravel head first, my bike scraping the ground. All I could hear were the screams of a nearby marshal who perhaps thought I had just rendered myself unconscious. But this was the Epic. This was the race I had targeted all year. I was not going to give up.
I picked myself up as fast as I could and rode to the end of the stage, still some 5 minutes away. My rear brake lever was badly bent from the impact with the ground but after this stage, there would be a break for lunch and a chance for me to fix it as best I could. I found a large spanner at the feed zone and bent my lever back as best I could and continued on with the race. I had now gone from leading the race to trailing behind in 2nd. The rest of day 1 was simply damage control, trying to stay in touch with the leader and not lose too much time. I finished day 1 over 4 seconds down on the leader.
I lay awake in bed that night knowing what I needed to do, envisaging what I wanted to do for day 2. What I needed to do. I wanted to win this race more than anything. I started day 2 with renewed focus, drive and determination to overturn the deficit.
Day 2’s stages suited my abilities perhaps more than day 1. Day 2 was more technical than the physical punishment inflicted by the stages which made up day 1. I attacked each of the remaining stages with focused aggression but knowing that putting a wheel in the wrong place here, over -braking there, or crashing could spell the end of my chances. It can be immensely difficult to ride on the very edge of your abilities, knowing that one false move could spell the end for your podium hopes. I managed to ride each stage well but did have a few mishaps from pushing so hard. A few impacts with trees and small crashes chipped away at the time I was making up.
Unbelievably, after nearly an hour of timed stages, the race came down to the very last stage. Situated in Traquair forest, the final stage took me down several of the famous Innerleithen Downhill trails. Glory or heartache would await me at the bottom. It was up to me to decide which. I gave everything I had to the last stage. Tired from 2 days of hard racing but knowing the end was near, I crossed the line and headed back to the arena and waited.
Slowly but surely, the results rolled in. At the top of the leader board, illuminated in the dusky twilight was my name. Seven seconds clear of 2nd place. Winner of the first Transcend Epic.