WHERE better for the Scottish Enduro Series (SES) to kick off in 2017 than The Nevis Range, a stones throw from the UK’s highest peak in Ben Nevis. Steeped in racing heritage the venue has become a permanent instalment in the Mountain Bike World Cup calendar and in the SES too, with the diverse trail network the perfect playground for the racers to get their teeth stuck into.
Spread across five stages, there was a mix of fresh and familiar faces at an excited and busy registration on Saturday morning (11/03/17). The weather looked changeable all weekend with sections of trails particularly the bottom of Stage three (Blue Crane / Ridge Run) and the deep ruts of Stage four (Alt a’Mhullin) looking tricky even before adding in extra moisture and the passing of over six hundred wheels.
The competitors would take in a loop around the thirty kilometre mark but with stages that would reveal who’d been putting in the work both technically and physically over the winter.
Series regulars Eilidh Wells, Kirstin Moynihan, Janey Kennedy and Fiona Beattie looked set to pick up from where they left off battling last season, it would be difficult to call the podium positions in the women’s competition! Whilst for the men Trek’s new signing Lewis Buchanan would look to get his season off to winning ways against a strong field, including reigning champ Chris Hutchens, Sam Flockhart, Gary Forrest, Ben Cathro and local ‘baeys’ Liam Moynihan and Lachlan Blair. The stakes were high with a risky 50p three way bet between Cathro, Blair and Moynihan… Who would come out on top?!
Waking up on Sunday morning the puddles on the ground had been topped up and the weather forecast suggested another band of rain was working its way in for noon, perfect time to add a little extra zest for the racers. After a timing mishap on the opening stage the first competitive stage would be the World Champs XC, the longest stage of the day at over six minutes. Times were tight throughout the field on most stages, however, the steep and now very slick ruts of the fourth stage over at Alt a’Mhullin were where racers could find or lose substantial chunks of time to their fellow competitors. That was where the victors in the both the men and women stretched their advantages; eventual winners Lewis Buchanan sneaking two seconds and Eilidh Wells a whopping half minute advantage over their nearest rivals.
Both junior men and women victors Corey Watson and Elena Melton nearly took a clean sweep of stages, only missing the top spot on one stage. Corey was followed by Ben Balfour and Gregor Nixon who were separated by a meagre four seconds at the line. Elena consistently put time into her competitors, ending up with a winning margin just over a minute over local shredder Mikayla Parton and Niamh Doherty. There were some great rides throughout the field, credible mentions go to Roz Newman for holding her own against the guys in the hardtail category and for Nukeproof racer Kelan Grant who made the trip over the Irish Sea to finish sixth.
Lewis Buchanan was followed home, very, very closely by Liam Moynihan just four seconds back (also taking the 50p bet out of Blair and Cathro). In behind him was Lachlan Blair in third with Gary Forrest and Ben Cathro both within touching distance of the podium. Taking back to back Fort William victories was Eilidh Wells a minute ahead of Janey Kennedy and Kirstin Moynihan. With a few others waiting in the wings it will be very interesting to watch how this battle develops throughout the season!
From a now classic SES venue to an all-new location; next up on the six round calendar is Pitfichie, in a months time (15 & 16 April 2017) when the series heads north-east to fresh territory of open hill tops, punchy pedals, and technical downhill sections. There’s nothing quite like an all new venue with racers heading into the unknown, with a blank canvas to draw on. You can be sure the SES organisers will produce yet another classic.
Report and Photos – Ross Bell