I'm still on a high after riding the first ever Dukes Weekender. Earlier this year, two Aberfoyle residents had an idea for a cycling festival to promote where they live, and showcase the bike riding, scenery and general awesome-ness found in the Trossachs. Fast forward months of hard work from Stu and Amber Thomson, Rob and Caroline Friel and the awesome No Fuss Events team, the idea had come to life!
The Dukes Weekender consisted of a closed road hill climb, kids race, film night and a gravel enduro. Gravel riding is both new and old... To be honest it's how a lot of people started mountain biking 'back in the day' - simply riding gravel roads and footpaths. The latest trend is to take cyclocross or even specific gravel bikes out grind some miles on them - hence gravel grinding.
Aberfoyle and the Trossachs has gravel roads in abundance. Last year Rob and Stu went back to their roots and started to explore the roads, hills, lochs and trails on their doorstep. It turns out that getting lost and going fast is awesome fun - and was equally as beautiful as it is fun. Like road riding but without traffic to worry about and loose gravel turns to drift on too!
Seeing a new event on the calendar got me stoked to race again. I love mountain biking and cyclocross, and I was keen to see how much fun a gravel enduro would be! However, first up was a closed road hill climb assault on the iconic Dukes Pass...
The Dukes Pass Hill Climb
To be riding a hill climb on a totally closed road was damn special. The team pulled out all the stops to make it happen. The local community as well as riders friends and families turned out to make some noise and decorate the road with encouragement!
I've ridden the Dukes Pass many times before. I try not to get too serious about Strava, but having the KOM up 'The Dukes' was something I was stoked about. Unfortunately that record has tumbled since I set it back in 2013... I was a little apprehensive about a hill climb race up the hill, seeing as I'm far from what I'd consider peak fitness or race weight. Thankfully my new partners Santa Cruz Bikes, Hope Technology and Endura had my back with some super fast, trick kit to help me limit my losses!
Lee Cragie and I were hosting the hill climb and a certain former World Champion and World Record Holder (Mr Graeme Obree!) was the starter. 40 minutes before my start time I snuck off to change into my bling Endura D2Z Road Suit and go through an intense 25 minute roller warm up. Before I knew it, Lee was interviewing me on the start line! I gave it my all through the crowds of people, through 'school corner', passing Geoff Waugh on the drums, the bar on course and all the way to the summit to stop the clock in 6 minutes 28 seconds. I was 28 seconds behind the fastest 'Full Dukes' rider, and 6th in my category, so I was pretty chuffed to take that into the following days Gravel Enduro. You can check out my race file on Strava.
The Dukes Gathering presented by Endura
As soon as I finished my hill climb effort it was time to head back down the hill to The Forth Inn where Lee and I were hosting The Dukes Gathering presented by Endura. Amber and Caroline had organised a charity film night with some awesome guests to add to the festival atmosphere. All of the proceeds for the film night were going towards the chosen charities of Stoked On MS, a project set up by Go Where Scotland founder/guide and MS sufferer Andy McKenna. Andy was our first guest of the evening, showing his film This Way Up. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend you get to a showing soon. It's a beautiful and inspiring film which raises awareness of the disease, and the ways of coping with the menace. Andy has chosen to tackle his MS without disease altering drugs, and is instead tackling it though diet and alternative treatment.
The sold out night was brilliant, and the guests included photography legend Geoff Waugh and his journey from 'Lads Mag To Loam', Lee Craigie and her account of the Silk Road Mountain Race in Kyrgyzstan and finally Graeme Obree and his latest film with Endura, 'Athlete Or Genius'. Each of the guests had incredible stories and the audience were either paying silent attention or making noise in appreciation. It was a privilege to be able to help the team and host the evening. Thanks to everybody for the kind words after the night, although Andy McKenna possibly summed it up best by telling me I was 'surprisingly good'... I'm not quite sure how to take this!
The Full Dukes Gravel Enduro
Arguably, the main event of the weekend was the Sunday morning Gravel Enduro. A 60km+ route was set, two loops in an odd figure of 8 which started, passed through and finished in Aberfoyle. Hundreds of riders set off in waves to tackle the route which included 5 special timed enduro stages - the times of which would make up the results. I was set off in the final wave of riders and together we set off up the Dukes Pass and into the forest.
The stages were a varied from singletrack footpaths, steep ups and downs and flat-out, wide-open gravel roads. I had such an awesome day riding with old friends, making new ones and even riding in solitude at my own pace and enjoying my own company and the scenery. I was pleased with how I was riding the stages, giving my own personal best efforts and going flat out. I was looking forward to the final stage most, a tight singletrack path on the banks of Loch Ard. I went into this stage with a slight advantage as I had ridden it before. Needless to say I was buzzing to take the stage win!
I arrived back from the big loop feeling tired, weather beaten and happy. I was delighted to see I had set the 2nd fastest overall time for the Gravel Enduro and finished 4th overall in the Full Dukes. Remember, you can check out my race file on Strava.
I'm really happy with how I'm progressing, getting back to what I consider race fitness. I'm motivated and happy to be riding and training with the most consistency I've had since retiring from professional competition in 2014. I've got my ambition back and I'm really enjoying riding bikes and getting outside! Funny that...