Comments like "it's the Glastonbury of mountain biking", and "It's the best ride ever to the best social ever", fill message boards while an army of photographers upload over 70,000 glory snaps and a good few gory ones as well.
Sitting in the stunning Yorkshire Dales amphitheater of Swaledale, with steep rocky hillsides rising all around, Ard Rock is legendary for its multi line, totally natural, take no prisoners, only rideable on the weekend baseline, but each racing stage has its unique character.
The suck you in, spit you out transition from friendly flat grass to savage loose rock verticals and evil wooded rock garden of Stage 1 sets the uncompromising go hard or go home tone. The steep switchbacks, tyre trashing geology and relentless arm exploding stepped steeps of Stage 2 then leave you no doubt that this is going to be a day to remember.
The epic transfer to the 'top of the world' moonscape of the Stage 3 start is a real test of resolve for many and we still can't decide whether the tiny pub at the halfway point in Booze (yes really) is a help or a hindrance. The two old dears behind the pumps certainly do a roaring trade on the first weekend August of every year though.
The Mega Avalanche style scree and quarry block top of three spits you out onto flat out spin and tuck trail down to the end of stage food stop. Another long grind or push climb took riders to a remodelled faster, more flowing Stage 4, before a killer carry out and transition across to Stage 5 that had a lot of Ard Rock veterans cursing. Any thoughts that adding another stage (and inevitable crawling climb) was a mistake were replaced with wild whoops and hollers as they blasted the berms, banks and multiple air time sections of the new full gas run, with riders on the push up adding their own critical input and encouragement.
For once Joe Rafferty and his track team had taken the forgiving option and it was just a few minutes push and pedal to the top of Stage 6, so riders hit the final descent still buzzing from the previous one. Side knob ripping off camber corners, bigger than ever rock slab launch ramps, tight singletrack and an evil slanted dry stone wall drop finish mixed in with 45km of savagely steep terrain fatigue for an elated but exhausted finish for most riders.
Great news then that the expo area had a top quality food court to complement the full menu of Stu and Brenda from the awesome Dales Bike Centre. With bellies filled and beer in hand, charity auctions, swag hand outs, as well as live bands and DJ's kept the levels of stoke topped out each night, with a proper crowd surfing mosh pit to a Rage against the machine cover finishing Saturday night in fine style.
Emergency repairs courtesy of SRAM's massive World Cup support truck plus Shimano and Hope service centres took care of mechanical trauma. Demos from 16 different bike brands including headline supporters Santa Cruz sat alongside booths showcasing nearly 50 brands of clothing, componentry and media brands. Add kids try out laps to reinforce the totally family friendly feel and head to head racing on the Maxxis pumptrack (won by Jono Jones from DMR) and even those not fast enough on the keyboard to get an event entry this year still had plenty of reason to rock up to Ard Rock.
Above all though, it's the atmosphere of the Ard Rock that makes it such a genuine must-do event. The meet-ups with old mates, the beers with new friends you've shared the shred with on the trail, the inevitable near miss or 'where I did this' tales that grow into the months of banter as riders get ready to go even 'Arder next year. All underlined with super slick organisation that manages to negotiate truly stunning, one-time access private land courses, with exceptional safety cover, high energy entertainment all weekend and still puts your times in your hand literally as you cross the finish line.
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