So the second round of the completely unofficial, Hertfordshire TRF Classic Trial Challenge Series took place on February 10th in the distant county of Devon, well it’s a bloody long way from Milton Keynes, let alone Hertfordshire!
We took advantage of the Travelodge Sale that was on and all booked into the hotel at Sourton Cross near Okehampton, only about 15 minutes from the venue and all for the princely sum of £27.
After driving down on Saturday afternoon/evening, we met up and immediately headed out to the nearest pub for dinner and were offered a demonstration of how a pub in a tourist area fails miserably to cope in the off season! In their defence they did have two groups to serve (yes that’s it just the two of us) to say that service was slow was the understatement of the century! Finally fed and watered we retired to the Travelodge to ready ourselves for the next day of competition and of course for me to finally realise my fiendish plan of world domination (but only the world of Classic Trials of course).
Bright and early we were up and headed off to Lewdown Woods, just down the road, this trial being a bit different as all the stages were contained within the same woodland, so no road work involved. As a side note, this involved passing on the way the B&B in Bridestowe that I stayed in two years ago whilst cycling the Devon Coast to Coast route.
The route into the woods to the start was interesting to say the least, almost a trials section in itself! Arriving at the “arena” we parked up, the van now much muddied, offloaded our bikes and headed off for scrutineering (that was even more cursory than at Clee Hill, “Trials tyres? Yes, Number plate? Yes, MOT? Oh it’s too new, oK that’ll do!” Yes it really was that quick. Then we signed on and went off to fit numbers and grab some breakfast from the burger van.
We were all starting together, Dave first, then Gary, me and Russ bringing up the rear, so at the allotted time we headed to the queue for the first section “Zak’s Track” that conveniently started from the arena. A short hill climb with a stop and restart, we watched all the riders in front successfully start, stop and restart again. It still didn’t calm the nerves much as you are of course thinking “I’ll bet I’m the first to fail” In the event nobody did, the hill wasn’t very steep, there was plenty of grip and the section only continued for another ten yards or so after the restart. All looking good then!
Section two “Raddon Rise” was a bit trickier, a longer, steeper climb through trees with plenty of mud and roots. The technique seemed to be to take it nice and steady, Dave and Gary both struggled early on picking up 11 penalty points (out of 12 remember), as did Russ on his run. I managed to get a lot further up until I lost forward progress scoring a respectable 5 points… the challenge was definitely on!
Until it all started to go wrong!
At the next section “The Short 1” Dave set off and lost grip in spectacular fashion, scoring an 8 but in the process bouncing off a tree and then hitting the ground hard! It was clear all was not well and indeed he subsequently discovered he had broken his collar bone. After making sure he was OK we agreed to come and get him back to the start once we had got back to the arena, as we were now well behind the rest of the bikes and the cars were starting to arrive. Gary had a good ride for 2 points and Russ got a 6, I on the other hand only managed a 7.
The observed test came next and Gary and I were well matched at 21.12 and 21.28 seconds respectively, Russ somehow managed to get scored as a “fail”, not sure what happened there?
The fourth section was unmanned, so resulted in a lot of searching around and after riding up to Section 5, where the marshals didn’t know what was happening, I rode back to 4, where the cars were arriving. It seems they had been told that Section 4 was not being used and we should have been told the same!
Back to Section 5 “Up and Back” and Gary managed an impressive 4, whereas Russ and I collected 8 points each. Stage 6 “Fallow Bank” followed. It looked quite innocuous but in the event was extremely tight and slippery, Gary and I got 10’s and Russ an 11, so not so good.
Stage 7 “Eastcott down 1” was a doddle and we all got clean runs, as did Gary and I on the next stage “Eastcott down 2” I was lucky as very near the start I put a foot out for balance and managed to clip the bank with it which could have been counted as a “dab” but either the observer was being generous or he didn’t spot it. I suspect it was the latter as Russ discovered he wasn’t being at all generous when he stalled on the line and was refused a re-start, the observer insisting it counted as a maximum 12 penalty. What was even more galling was that he then cleaned the section with ease!
“Tunnel Run” came next and we managed that easily with 3’s all round, “Rip and Roar 1” followed and Gary and Russ both scored a 7, whereas I surprised myself with only a 3. The following stage 11, “Norman’s Stump” proved a struggle for all of us, Gary and I scoring 11 and Russ 12; definitely not our finest moments.
The final section of the first lap was No 12, “Stumps R Us” here Russ struggled and scored 11, Gary did better with a 5 but once again I surprised myself by cleaning the section for a 0.
Returning to the arena, we found Dave sat in the warmth of his van but complaining bitterly of the humiliation of having to get someone to help him get undressed out of his riding gear and back into normal clothes. His bike had been ridden back by a marshal but he had to walk back. The Medic on site examined him and advised him to go to hospital but needless to say, he was reluctant to do this so far from home. Deciding to wait it out and go back with the others at the end of the day and visit the hospital back home. Russ too was suffering having injured his back and took the decision to pull out at this stage.
So it was just me and Gary who set off on the next “short” lap that was for bikes only, actually not much shorter at all than the first lap but with only three sections to complete:
Section B1 “The Bank” was straightforward and I cleaned it although Gary was unfortunate to get a 1.
Section B2, “Are we nearly There yet” looked straightforward, although very long but was trickier than it looked, Gary picked up 6 and I got 4 penalty points.
There followed a long ride to the far end of the woods and B3 “Only Way is up” this was looking very difficult, with the first part very rutted and slippery. We were informed that we would be allowed to dab without penalty as far as the 11 marker as a result, however it wasn’t a great deal of assistance as Gary managed a 9 and I got an 8. Although the guy in front of us fared a little better than us...
We then headed back to the arena for the lunch break but as the cars hadn’t needed to do the extra “short” lap there was a huge queue at the burger van. So we settled for a drink and snacks we had bought ourselves. Russ had now got changed and they loaded both his and Dave’s bikes in the van so as we set off on our final lap, they walked to some nearby sections to spectate.
The third lap consisted of nine sections and seemed to go quite quickly, most probably because we were now familiar with the route around the woods and conditions had dried out compared to the morning, although the sections themselves were still treacherous in places.
Section 13 was a repeat of Section 2 “Raddon Rise” we both rode this easily this time both getting clear runs with 0 scores. Section 14 was a repeat of B1 “The Bank” and this time we both got clear runs. Section 15 was a re-run of B2 ““Are we nearly There yet”, Gary managed to improve on his previous 6 with a 5 but I failed miserably to better my 4, this time being forced to dab at 10.
A second run of the Observed test saw a reversal of our previous result with Gary getting 18.87 seconds and I got 17.02 seconds.
It was about now that fatigue was really starting to set in, my myasthenia deciding to rear it’s ugly head and it certainly started to show in my results.
That said, the next Section 16 “Eastcott Down 3” was a very straightforward climb that we both easily cleared. Section 17 “Eascott Down 4” was Eascott Down 2” with a variation at the end, a tricky deviation up a slippery bank and round a tree. Once again I managed to clip the bank but the observer definitely saw it this time and I scored an 11, I then failed on the deviation as did Gary but his effort got him a 4.
"Nigel's Nip" saw me get an 8 compared to Gary's clear run, then on "Rip and Roar 2" that contained a stop and restart, we both failed spectacularly to achieve any forward motion on the restart so were equal in gaining a 5.
My decline in performance continued when on "Nearly There" I ran into the bank right from the start, stopping dead for an 11. Gary managed to get a bit further up the very slippery stage for a 7. And finally we got to the last section of the day "Over and Across", I dabbed early for a 10 but Gary managed to clean the section for zero.
So at the end of the day Gary had 90 penalty points to my 115 and we took 10th and 11th places respectfully. So in our unofficial challenge I still lead by a narrow margin on the strength of a first and a second (out of our group) ahead of Gary with a fourth and a first, Dave is third with a Second and a DNF and Russ fourth with a third and a DNF.
Sadly it seems our number will be depleted for the next event, the Golden Valley MCC Match Hare Trial in Gloucestershire on the 3rd March. Dave is out for several weeks with his busted collarbone, Russ has decided to take early retirement from the world of classic trials and Gary has decided not to enter this. So it looks like a sure thing for a win in the Hertfordshire TRF Classic Trial Challenge for me as long as I last the course; maybe World Domination still awaits me?