What's mountain bike enduro all about? At the recent Diva Descent Enduro taster, top downhillers Tracy Moseley and Helen Gaskell coached 16 beginners in this fast-growing super-fun branch of racing. Tracy takes up the tale.
As I have got a little older I have been able to look back and see what an amazing journey the world of mountain bikes has taken me on. I want more people to join that journey and more women especially, as there are so few of us out there having fun compared to the guys.
When I was approached by Mags Turner to help run an all-girls enduro event I didn’t hesitate. I have done some coaching for Mags a few years ago with the Scottish downhill women’s group, so I knew that she was passionate about getting more girls involved in the sport. This time Mags was teaming up with Sarah Muir from Diva Descent to put on this event.
Sarah came up with the idea for Diva in 2010. “I enjoyed spectating at the national and international races and recognised the lower level of female competitors," she told me. “I also really wanted to get into working behind the scenes in the bike world and so I started to think about how I could go about it.
“In 2009 I took part in an all-women's Freeride event and couldn't really believe how much my riding improved in a weekend after a bit of coaching and riding with other women. So at this point I identified that I could create an event that would provide a downhill training arena for women which would hopefully encourage them to go on and race at the larger events, increasing female participation."
Diva Descent is now in its third year and Sarah has done a few really successful girls’ downhill races, holidays and coaching sessions. She really is creating a great network for girls to help them get together to ride and have a go at racing in a fun, non scary environment.
For the first ever enduro day I suggested teaming up with Helen Gaskell who I have been racing with since Helen was about 15 years old. We are now battling it out together in the UK Gravity Enduro Series. Helen also runs her own coaching business and is a local to Hamsterley where we chose to run the day.
With Helen involved we were all set to offer a day of enduro riding to 16 willing newbies. The idea was just to do this one to gauge what the interest might be. In less than an hour it was full and Sarah had to set up a waiting list.
I decided that it would be really good to put on a day where people had a chance to experience how an enduro race would work, how you should practice, what equipment and spares and so on you should carry, and what the feeling of racing a stage would feel like. To make it feel real, we decided to run the day just like a race day.
An enduro race involves a series of timed stages, connected by transitions that you still have to complete within a time limit in order to make your start for the next section. It's a test of skill, pacing and organisation, as you also have to carry all your spares and gear with you - just like the early days of mountain bike racing.
After the girls had signed on at the start, we then just had a quick chat, bike check and a simple warm up and then split the girls into two groups and headed out to the stages.
We chose to use three stages that were used here in the UK gravity enduro race back in May last year. I wanted the girls to realize that by the end of the day they would have completed over half of a national enduro race. I hoped this would give them confidence in what they had achieved and show them that doing a race might not be as daunting as they first thought.
We spent the morning riding the three stages we would race in the afternoon. We looked at being efficient in your riding, not only during the stages but also riding between stages. We covered subjects like making sure the seat height was right for optimum pedaling and making sure the girls were using their suspension correctly using pro pedal, or lock out to make the climbing easier.
I talked about nutrition and the importance of eating and drinking regularly to maintain energy all day. We also the looked at time management of the transitions, using the practice to make note of how long it took to get to each stage so you knew what pace you would need to get to the stages on time in the afternoon. The idea is to be fast enough to be on time but not too fast to use up energy and then have too much time to wait at the start and get cold.
There are so many things to consider in an enduro that it’s definitely more than just riding your bike as fast as you can on each stage.
We rode each stage, did a little coaching on line choice in a few spots but mostly just rode the stages and tried to remember a few key details of each stage ready for the race in the afternoon.
Once we’d ridden all three stages we returned to base for lunch. At 2pm we regrouped and set off together to ride all the stages in one go. We lined the girls up and set them off at 30-second intervals and did some top quality stopwatch timing.
We regrouped at the end of each stage and I gave the girls a time that they would need to get to the start of the next stage by. Even with a puncture we all made it in time for the next stage. Again I just wanted to highlight that the transition stages are not at race pace. You do have time to have a chat and spin your legs.
Just over two hours later we had all completed the three stages and we had 16 very muddy, tired but happy looking faces. Most of the girls had never done a race before so I was really impressed as we had been riding most of the day and for many of them it was all new, so I know how tiring that can be.
After a small glitch with lack of our mathematic capabilities we soon had the results up and our podium was set.
I really enjoyed introducing the girls to the world of enduro racing and hopefully the day encouraged them to take the next step and have a go at one later in the year.
A massive thank you to Mags and Sarah for organizing and to Helen for coaching. I hope it’s a day that will be repeated again and another 16 newbies will go away have started a new chapter in their bike riding journey.