Race Photography: Jerry Tatton
Less than six months ago, every mountain bike trail in the Tweed Valley was closed. On the 26th November, Storm Arwen struck and changed the landscape forever. In the following weeks - as the Tweed Valley community were slowly able to return to the forests - the impact on the trail network became very clear. This wasn’t going to be a quick fix.
Today, to be able to bring news of a sold out Pirelli Vallelujah enduro that saw everything from first-time racers to international factory team pros, needs more than a simple nod to those that made it possible. The efforts from all corners of the community have been beyond extraordinary. Driven by the determination and desire to save whatever could be saved - to once again ride and maybe even see racing on those trails - and be in a position to welcome the extended riding community back again.
The joint forces of the Tweed Valley Trails Association and Forestry & Land Scotland took control, came up with a plan and quickly put it into action. As the days passed (and sometimes undercover of the night) one by one the much loved trails were made safe. Expertly restored - sometimes redesigned and rerouted - the pulsing veins of the Valley were starting to bring life back to the hills and forests. The sometimes stealth nature of the work means the full extent of the individual efforts may never be fully recognised. From what we do know of those efforts… Chapeau. You got us all back racing.
With a reinvigorated hillside and some fresh blood joining the TweedLove team in the shape of Gary Forrest, it was time to put on a show. Limited to 600 riders, the available places for Vallelujah had gone fast, with plenty of world class pro team riders confirming their place at the start gate. The local fast young things were also keen to see how they measured up, going head to head with the very best on their home tracks (spoiler - they were fast).
Credit: Phill Rodham - Digital Downhill
The moment the Innerleithen course was confirmed - alongside the Forestry trail team and the TVTA - work continued right up until race weekend to get the tracks into primo racing condition. By the time practice opened on the Saturday, those big efforts were being recognised and acknowledged by the returning racers. Race day was looking all set to be a classic.
First on course were the seeded riders. From the Grand Vets to the Juniors, there were plenty of well-known names eager to hit the tracks. S1 saw Yeti/FOX Factory team rider Bex Baraona set the pace which she carried through to S2 with another stage win. Hot on her wheels down both stages, current British Champ Jess Stone was never going to let Bex get too far out of sight. A blisteringly quick S3 win from Juliana Bicycles’ Polly Henderson kept the category super tight at the top.
Meanwhile in the men’s race, three riders were setting the early pace. Nukeproof SRAM Factory Racing rider Elliott Heap put a massive 4 seconds on his teammate Corey Watson and Santa Cruz Bicycles Mark Scott. As they hit S2, Mark showed his Tweed Valley pedigree with the stage win and clawed back some of the time. Stage 3 honours were back with Elliott, but only by 9/100ths of a second.
The class of the international pack was on display for all to see. Mark Scott’s Santa Cruz teammate Iago Garay was showing his calibre from the start and - despite his lack of local knowledge - was never too far from the top ten.
The flair and style of Trek Factory Racing’s Pedro Burns may not have put him in podium contention on the steep, tight and twisty Golfie tracks, but he was always a firm favourite amongst the spectators.
As the race moved to Traquair Forest, another favourite adopted son of the Tweed Valley showed his hand. Devinci Global Racing’s Greg Callaghan put down a powerhouse run on S4 to take the win. On what proved to be the Marmite stage, Nukeproof’s Corey Watson lost a little time but another favourite TweedLove regular was putting his name firmly into contention…
After losing S3 to Polly, Bex Baraona reconfirmed her position at the top by taking another stage win on S4. Scott Bikes’ Chloe Taylor and Cannondale’s Ella Connolly continued to put in fast and consistent stage times to keep them near the top, but by the start gate of S5 Bex Baraona had a commanding lead. That dominance continued until the very end as the Yeti rider made it 4 out of 5 stage wins to take the overall win.
S5 had a very different plan for the men. From the leading pack, first down the hill was Mark Scott. He’d been lightning quick all day, never far away from Elliott Heap and holding a small margin on Corey Watson. As he approached the final big lefthander of the day, somebody hit the eject button and - as the crowd gave an almighty OOFT - he hit the deck. Mark’s podium hopes were over.
With Mark out of the equation, 2nd and 3rd place were definitely in the balance. It was Contour Collective’s Christo Gallagher that had steadily been clawing back time and had done enough on S5 to knock Corey Watson into 3rd spot. Two riders that had gone head to head throughout 2021, it will have been a sweet result for Gallagher.
To the roar of the crowd lining the final stage of the race, Elliott Heap steamrollered down S5 to stamp his name on the race with his 3rd stage win of the day. Winning by a margin of 14.59 seconds in a staggering time of 11:57.34 (some riders took longer than that to do S5). With his team mates Corey Watson in 3rd and Kelan Grant in 8th, the newly formed Nukeproof SRAM Factory Racing team will be looking forward to the season ahead.
For over ten years, TweedLove has strived to bring original events to the race calendar and are now setting their sites on the Pirelli ProAM this September. Forming part of the Chain Reaction TweedLove Bike Festival, the Pro race will be one of the biggest and most sought after enduros in the UK calendar. This year it is also Round Six (the final, deciding round) of the British National Enduro Series and the British Enduro Championships 2022.
Based on this weekend just gone, who wouldn’t want to be there…
Join Pinkbike Login