Ard Moors 2018 – epic big-country racing

Ard Events is rapidly building a reputation for delivering excellent racing on exclusive trails combined with camping and a festival atmosphere. Growing in popularity like it’s big sister, Ard Rock, Ard Moors is the early autumn race to be seen at. At Biketart we love a road trip and a chance to race a selection of North Yorkshire’s finest private land trails was too much to resist. Biketart team members Ryan and Vicky were joined by Tom, a good friend of ours and passionate Santa Cruz owner.

Camping opened on Friday evening and we arrived just as the sun set, pitched the tent in the middle of a crowded field, met the neighbours and headed over to the race village to find food. Stage maps and descriptions in the race HQ whet our appetite. Phrases like ‘steep and exposed singletrack’, ‘soon gets steep and rowdy’ and ‘resurrection of an old school classic’ had us desperate to get to bed so that the morning came more quickly!

Saturday morning revealed that we had correctly pitched the tent in the dark and we headed out for practice. Heading up the transition to Stage 1, we soon remembered that the flatlands of Kent were not the greatest training ground for Yorkshire hill climbs. Stage 1 was reminiscent of the black runs at Antur Stiniog, with a narrow chute launching you over the edge of the cliff and onto a steep, loose and rocky descent that zig-zagged down the side of the hill before a lung busting flat section that led onto the next set of switchbacks and into the woods. Flying over jumps on the lower sections, the pain in your thighs was quickly forgotten, replaced by the buzz of adrenaline. As you flew out the bottom of the stage into a field of thick grass you found yourself surrounded by riders in stunned silence. Ard Moors was good and this was just the first Stage!

After catching our breath, we headed back round to the race village via a gruesome road climb, before starting the transition up to Stages 4 and 5. The riding at Ard Moors is big and the transitions are a necessary evil because you can’t come down if you’ve not gone up! Passing the top of Stage 5, we headed across the ridgeline and over to Stage 4. The latter part of the transition was so fast and flowing that it was hard to believe it had been left out of the Stage itself. However, it was only an appetiser. Stage 4 dropped you straight into steep singletrack littered with large rocks and slabs before coming onto loam-filled woodland trail. With the first indicators of how the carnage of the now legendary Ard Moors 2017 occurred, we found still boggy sections hidden in the trees. A quick 4x style slalom across a field and you were into the final section of singletrack through the woods. Once again, we were left speechless at the end of the run. The Ard Moors rules mean that you could only ride the practice Stages in chronological order else we’d have been playing on Stage 4 for a few hours! A final climb up the hillside and we were on Stage 5.

By this time we’d collected another couple of riders and the five of us headed straight onto the final practice stage. Haring down this bikepark-style track in a long train with other assorted riders, we could not believe how sweet the race was lining up to be. All we needed was for the rain to hold off. Little did we know that rain was likely to be the least of our worries! After a total washout at Ard Moors 2017 we had checked the forecast for rain but not wind! Saturday night at Ard Moors featured a live band followed by a night under canvas with hurricane force winds! Sub-optimal preparation for racing but still better than the mudbath last year!

We were in one of the first waves of riders starting on Sunday morning and after registering at 8.15am we didn’t have long to wait before it was time to head off. The beauty of enduro racing is that you usually have a transition to warm up and get your eye in before the first timed Stage. As we pedalled we met our fellow riders and got a feel for the weather conditions.

Still blustery, we were relieved to find that we would be pushed onto the hillside for Stage 1 rather than having to fight it. Stage 1 was as fun as we’d remembered but we all agreed we would rather have done a second run on it on Saturday. It was all soon forgotten as we dug in to the road climb and headed for Stage 2.

Crossing exposed moorland, it felt like we would never get there, but eventually the trig point at the top of the Stage came into view. This was our first blind Stage and it was beyond words! The first section was rutted singletrack that begged to be pumped and ridden flat out before it dropped down into deep sided gullies, with rocks and holes to be negotiated. Steep sided switchbacks offered a range of line choices and delivered a Stage that was as fast as it was furious.

A further road pedal and farm transition brought you to the top of Stage 3, the rocky one ;-)! The nemesis of many riders this stage ate chains like the riders were eating energy bars. Another long road pedal dragged us back over towards Stages 4 and 5. Access to these Stages was guarded by a sheer vertical ascent up a set of rock steps. Bikes mounted on our backs, there was no option but to grit our teeth and trudge our way to the top. The numerous walkers heading down the staircase had bemused expressions as they saw the endless stream of riders climbing before them.

We’d taken the opportunity to try out some of the energy bars that we stock at Biketart and I am not ashamed to say that it was entirely down to a Veloforte Ciocco bar that I was able to ride this Stage. Energy levels were at rock bottom, though the stoke was sky high. Stage 4 was showing the wear from 100s of riders over 24hrs but it still delivered the goods. All three of us found ourselves sucked off the trail by a loamy gutter that appeared after a sharp left-hander.

Before we knew it, we were at that point that I dread every time I race, the transition to the final Stage. The sense of a race coming to an end is only bearable if the remaining Stage is as mint as this one! Once again, we jumped, dropped and skidded our way down the track giving it everything we had left in the tank.

Before we could enjoy the customary post race burger we had to face the transition from hell out of the fern-covered valley. It did come to an end eventually and it was time to eat, chill, pack up the tent and head home. All we can say is Ard Moors we will be back!