Read about the preparation for this event here :
Our team was called “Old School” – which is the name of Dougie’s house in Yorkshire. Our team members were my good self, Dougie and Mark. Fitness levels were questionable…
Dougie had broken his leg in three places earlier in the year and this was the first real ride on his bike for over 6 months. Mark was recovering from a shoulder injury and had not ridden his enduro bike since November last year.
I was last together with the guys when we did a 3 day enduro in the Normandie mud last November. When we were in Normandie I was a complete novice and was struggling to keep up with the other two. But I’ve done a lot of riding since then and now have a faster bike and the roles seem to be reversed with me setting the pace (although I was on home ground.) We did about 90Km of trails around here including a trip to Cahors and back as a warm up.
While the guys were staying with me we talked about the plan for the event. The idea was for Doug and I to navigate using the road book readers and route we had prepared. I had fixed a compass onto my front mudguard which I could see when standing (all the time when off road) and without the needle being affected by the mass of the bike. Doug insisted on using his A3 board with a bigger map to give an overall view of the route. Mark’s job was to carry the check point (CP) book which had detailed information on the precise location of each of the tags and in which he would record the numbers of the tags in order to score points. Doug took us through some 3D fly-throughs on his laptop so that we could get a feel for the terrain, which was very interesting but impossible to remember.
We drove down to Spain in convoy with Doug and Mark in the van (plus 5 bikes and all the gear) and me following with the Land Rover and trailer. We were using Google Maps and Waze to navigate but the guys managed to get lost 3 times on the way – which didn’t bode well for the navigation event we were about to compete in!
Dramatic drive over the Pyrenees and down into Llavorsi – very tight hairpin bends with barely enough room for two cars – very punishing on the brakes on the descent. Arrived and set up base camp – the guys were camping but I (and most other competitors) chose to stay in the comfort of the hotel 200m up the road.
Met some of the other teams – what a load of interesting characters and a huge variety of bikes. These ranged from the sensible to the BIG – but remember it’s not the bike it’s the rider. You can do the VINCE on a big adventure bike but you would really need to know what you were doing.
About 100 people entered the event in 30+ teams. Teams consisted of 2,3 or 4 people. Austin VINCE (the organiser) gave an entertaining briefing including dire warnings about the safety aspects and more dire warnings about respecting the hotel staff and the local environment. Including a threat to castrate anyone who addressed any member of hotel staff in a Jacob Rees-Mogg tone of voice. Everyone chipped in 10 Euros on the final day to provide tips for the staff – maybe they will welcome us back?
The schedule called for an 8am start each day and a cut off finish time of 8pm. Any late arrivals would be disqualified. This doesn’t sound too difficult but when you are 50Km from the hotel up a mountain trail feeling tired it’s not easy to work out if you have enough fuel and time to make it back to the hotel by the curfew.
As a sign of things to come we decided we would be incapable of getting ready for 8am and risk being run over in the rush so went for 8.30am instead. We got back at 8.01pm and narrowly avoided disqualification, but only on the basis that we had to be at least one minute early on the second day.
On the first day we rode for 11.5 hours with two fuel stops and only brief pauses for snacks, water and calls of nature. We covered 150Km off road and 100Km on road. One of the issues was that the routes were planned around a base at La Seu Argell – but the hotels there were full so we were based 50Km away from the epicentre which meant a good bit of road riding. This was the only chance we got to admire the scenery and made me wish I was on a different bike – an opinion that was completely reversed when we hit the trails (at which the bike excels).
The number of trails in this region and and the views were completely mind blowing (no time to look let alone take pictures). Charging along small trails at brisk but hopefully safe speeds means 100% concentration on the trail and no time for sight seeing. I found this worked best when I was leading as the concentration on riding and navigating was 110%. When I was following the other guys the concentration tended to lapse and I found myself making mistakes. The pace was generally slower when I was following so more room for error.
Having got going reasonably early, done the 50Km road ride we started the hunt in earnest – only to miss the first two check points (CPs) – Doh! We just weren’t working properly as a team and it took a while for us to gel – the 3rd CP was OK! Mark was in charge of the CP book and calling out what to look for with Doug and I navigating and taking turns to lead.
The trails were reasonably easy going until I was leading, rounded one corner and was faced with a steep rocky hillclimb that came out of nowhere. I got part way up before losing traction and coming to a halt. Mark was second and was also taken by surpise but was less fortunate – he got about as far as me but lost balance when he stopped and dropped the bike on the hill. Doug sensibly waited to one side. Both Mark and Doug were carrying recent injuries and sensibly reluctant to take any risks. Mark’s bike was awkwardly placed and he wasn’t going to lift it on his own. I felt I couldn’t roll down the hill backwards although in hindsight that might have been a better approach. Instead I manhandled the bike round on the hill – nearly knocking Dougie off in the process – and took it back down to the bottom. Then came back up to help Mark pick his bike up and between the three of us wrestle it up the hill. Then we did the same with Doug’s bike. I managed to ride mine up, but slowly and paddling most of the way. Needless to say we were all knackered and we had hardly started…
CP301 was at 2600m. Unfortunately Mark suffers from vertigo and had felt very uncomfortable on the drive over the Pyrenees and on some of the trails we had encountered. There were a lot of sheer drops on the trail up to CP301 so we left Mark at the previous check point and pressed on (against the rules but never mind). Most of the CPs are metal tags nailed to a post with some numbers and letters you have to record. At CP301 there was an old VW hippie van and we had to record the name of the city painted on the roof (Barcelona). It was very high up and the views were spectacular. Doug and I stopped to take some pictures and were congratulating ourselves on conquering this height on our bikes – when some clown in a Range Rover nonchalantly drove past! He was going a lot slower than us and being very careful but we did feel a bit deflated. This CP was worth 5 points, all the others were worth 1,2 or 3 so it paid off.
On the descent from CP301 I was using my brakes a lot as my bike is a (smelly) two stroke and has no engine braking. Just as I got near the bottom where Mark was waiting I lost the front brake altogether – it had got so hot it had boiled the brake fluid! Very good job that didn’t happen further up the hill. It recovered after a bit of a break if somewhat spongy.
We had originally planned a route covering 250Km off road but it was already clear that we would never make that in the time so started planning the best route for maximum points to get us back to the hotel – after another fuel stop.
I felt quite prepared for the event in terms of fitness (running, cycling) and in the preparation of the bike. But my clothing strategy was crap – very cold in the mornings, and on exposed windy mountains with a Force 3 from the North – but too hot when working hard on the trails and in the sun. the correct strategy is to use layers and strip them off when not required. I don’t like to carry anything on the bike, just my rucksack with tools and provisions – fortunately Doug kindly lent me a stuffy bag and bungee to allow me to strip off and carry my excess layers.
Doug and Mark – questionable fitness levels and very limited time on the bikes in the last year, but they are old hands at this game and came with all the right gear and luggage systems on the bike – even carrying spare fuel in Doug’s case as the Freeride has a small tank..
At the end Day 1 it was abundantly clear we were not in the running for the prizes – we were in a middle ranking position but the leaders were massively ahead.
Very tired after the first day and not in a position to win, we decided to take a more relaxed approach to Day 2 and didn’t set off until 9.30. But like an enthusiastic puppy I was down to see the guys earlier than agreed – but they were still in bed…
Having planned a more relaxing day we made the monumental error of starting with CP355 – having completely forgotten or ignored the briefing from Austin that said this CP is for legends only!
Do not attempt this check point with big bikes.
Only attempt it with small bikes if every member of your team is an enduro legend.
I was leading and got part way up the ridiculous hill before losing traction. The others took one look and decided that attempting to ride up would be too risky. Going back at this point was possible but would waste a lot of time so as a team we decided we would get up the hill. Fortunately Dougie had brought a rope… We then manhandled each bike up the hill as a three man team. It was exhasuting and felt like a great achievement – but 1.5 hours to get 3 points….
We carried on (we certainly weren’t going back down that hill) – by now we had a good routine and made reasonable progress.
Later in the day, having covered less than half the planned route for Day 2 we had to make a decision. Press on and go for two more CPs worth 3 each and get back inside the 8pm deadline or call it a day and head home early. One of us was feeling tired and voted to head home so we did – these trails are high risk in places and riding them when tired makes an accident much more likely. And as Austin goes to great lengths to point out – there is no safety, there is no backup, you are on your own.
Overall we had no breakdowns, no injuries and only one off (a few put downs but they don’t count). A great team effort especially on CP 355.
Prize giving in the evening. Of 30+ teams some were disqualified but of the 26 scoring teams we were 20th – we had dropped back from the first day. With the extra 6 points from the last two check points we would have advanced a few places but still nowhere near contention.
We have to be happy with the result as we didn’t agree an objective at the start – so maybe that is lesson number 1 – are we trying to do well or just enjoy the trails and working together as a team?
Make full use of the 12 hours – need better fitness/endurance levels.
Don’t waste too much time with breaks.
Slicker team working on who does what.
However, we realised that the biggest single factor was preparation. We (especially Doug) put a huge amount of effort into creating the maps and choosing the routes. But we did overlook one key factor – CPs have different points allocated to them and some high scoring CPs are not too difficult where others are impossible (like CP355) – which we should never have attempted, and we were warned!
What Does It Take To Win ?
To do really well you would have to beat people like our campsite neighbours – Gary and Ade from Sportax Racing. They were riding for full 12 hour days with slick teamwork, excellent navigation and riding at close to Enduro race speeds. We saw them twice out on the trails and they were flying. They admitted to a couple of navigation errors early on which cost them a bit of time but there can’t be many people that can ride as hard and fast as they did for so long. They fitted brand new Michelin Enduro tyres at the start and after two days the rears were worn out (or shagged to use the technical term). Those guys were machines…
And they finished 5th !!
£200 to enter
£300 for 3 nights in the hotel full board
Here is a compilation video of some of the trails we rode to give you a feel for the variety (and difficulty)..