The Golden Gnome Challenge is a motorbike competition held every year at John’s place near Belmontet. All credit and masses of thanks to John and his team of volunteers for setting up and safely and smoothly managing the whole event.
The event is run over the entire weekend with three competitive elements each of which is scored and the points added at the end to decide the winners.
Trials : 8 sections ridden individually at low speed with the objective of not putting a foot down (or falling off). Each foot down (dab) scores one point and falling off scores the maximum of 5 points. this total is then subtracted from the points gained in the other events.
Motocross : Four riders at a time, race for three laps of John’s motocross circuit. 9 heats and three finals.
End of Day 1 barbeque (Toulouse sausage and Merguez kindly supplied by Roland)
Enduro : Le mans start and then complete as many laps of the Enduro course as possible in 2 hours. Each lap is c3Km and takes about 7 minutes.
All finish by midday to comply with Sunday noise regulations (this is France after all!).
This year there were 12 riders split into 6 teams. I was partnered with 15 year old Adam who is dangerously fast, which I hoped would make up for me being the slowest one out there. My expectation at the outset was to finish last as I am probably the oldest and least experienced of the group…
Most people were riding full size Enduro bikes – typically with the grown-ups riding newer and bigger machines and the young-guns riding battered old 125 two strokes.
Two extremes were Roland on a 2019 KTM 450 monster and Gaby on a very tired but light weight 125 – and they ended up finishing first and second on points!
Which just goes to show that it’s not the bike it’s the rider. A point further emphasised by Paul who turned up with an ancient Honda trials bike… great for the trials part of the competition but for Motocross or Enduro – not the best choice, or was it….? One of the competition rules is that you have to use the same bike for all three events.
8 sections, ridden one rider at a time in order (decided by drawing lots). Sections were short, mostly quite steep up and down and very tricky on enduro bikes.
I thought I would be OK at this and should have done better because this is the one discipline where I have had some practise.
What let me down…
Apart from a general lack of competence, most of the sections were on slopes rather than flat which required balance but also very precise throttle/clutch or brake control. Not so easy with my two stroke as there is little very low speed torque so you have to keep the revs up and rely on precise clutch slipping, but too much drive and the back wheel spins. More practise needed for next time but should be able to do a lot better. I was placed 7th out of 12 after the trials. I did manage to beat gung-ho Adam and (rather surprisingly) Paul riding his Honda trials bike.
My expectation was to finish last and that’s what happened. It was all new to me. Based on the recent outing with Doug and Mark for the VINCE it seems my normal “brisk” trail riding pace is pretty fast (by trail riding standards) and I was generally going faster than them. However, even going “fast” on the trail you are only using part throttle and part revs. Racing is a completely different ball game and quite alien to me on this bike having hardly ever used full throttle or maximum revs! My instinct is to back off as soon as the rear starts to spin or slide, but that is most of the time in MotoCross so I was just pottering round at the back.
I did get faster with each race so was gradually getting there. Very slow around the banked corners. Embarrassed to be beaten by Paul on the trials bike, but he was nailing the banked corners flat out and getting a slingshot onto the next straight. In the C final he finished first !
Finished Day 1 in last place overall but with 5 others only a few points ahead. Our team also last.
2h continuous running around the enduro loop – partial lap of the MotoCross track then through the woods in and out of trees – mostly second gear. c 3Km lap about 7 minutes per lap. This is a test of sustained speed and concentration – the gaps between the trees seem to narrow as the speed increases and it becomes more dangerous – hit a tree with the end of the handlebar and you’re off! In addition to the riding skill required to weave between the trees at speed there were also some steep and slippery descents and the rock strewn stream bed to cope with. Doing one lap is not too hard but doing it non-stop for 2 hours is also a test of fitness and endurance.
The Enduro race features a Le Mans start – bikes lined up 30m in front of the riders. At the whistle, run to the bike, jump on, get it started and go !
I was one of the first to my bike and it fired up straight away – my plan was to follow along at my pace and try to pick off a few people and rely on crashes to get a better than last place. But having got the bike running I just set off and was 3rd into the first corner!
Overtaking opportunities are limited through the woods section so having held third for a while I moved over to let the fast guys through half way round the first lap. They all vanished into the distance so I just kept going at my speed – none of the trailing group caught up but I was lapped by the leaders a few times.
No serious injuries but there were some casualties…
Adam’s bike had blown up before the start of the race so he couldn’t take part.
Paul retired after a couple of laps on the Honda Trials.
Einar crashed out – hit a rock in the dry stream bed, handlebars caught a tree and he was off but landed on his ribs on an exposed tree stump – Ouch! He retired badly bruised.
Alfie did the same on his last lap but didn’t fall as badly, ripped the clutch lever and master cylinder off his bike and had to complete the lap with no clutch.
I had a few close calls going through the trees – touching hand guards and body armour but no offs, I did stall several times but the electric start on my bike got me going again.
Near the end Simon overtook me (for the second time!) – exactly the same bike as mine except his is a 125 – but I stuck with him for the last 1.5 laps, right on his back wheel and even going round the MotoCross track I was right with him. I suspect he was getting tired and had slowed his pace – to lap me twice he must have been running about 10% faster than me for most of the race. On the other hand I was not too tired and was possibly getting faster – definitely faster on the MotoCross – so who knows? When we stopped he seemed to be completely exhausted (he’s a stone mason so strong but maybe not fit?), I was OK to keep going. I did suggest we should make the Enduro 3 hours next year to give me more of a chance but everyone else was too knackered to agree to that!
I was 7th in the Enduro, which brought me up to 8th overall on the individual scores. Our team still last as Adam didn’t compete in the Enduro.
What a fantastic event – completely different level compared to what I’m used to and I’ll clearly never be one of the front runners so have to settle for trying to be the best of the rest (who are in a minority in this company).
The Enduro was won by Roland with Gaby second. Roland won the individual prize with Simon and Gaby taking the Golden Gnome Team Trophy home.
The winner Roland was second in the trials competition despite riding the biggest and most powerful bike at the event – remember it’s not the bike it’s the rider…
Looking forward to next year….
PS. To see how motocross should be done you can see my team mate Adam performing in the A final..