From zero (riding) to hero – Ben Balfour

July 20, 2018

Our third TweedLove Race Team member, Ben Balfour, has spent the best part of the last year off the bike through injury but, with the prospect of taking on the UK’s best at the British Champ’s he managed to get back on the bike and enter the British Champs. With the Whyte King and Queen of the Hill race fast approaching we can’t wait to see if he can back up his success. Now over to Ben for his tale of going from zero time on the bike to smashing the British Champs…

After the best part of a year off my bike due a prolonged wrist injury that had dragged on I was super excited to get back to riding. I wanted to channel this frustration that had built up over this time into my efforts at racing and training. I really had no idea how I was going to do but I wanted to give it my best shot. I first got back on my bike properly three weeks before the race, spending a lot of my spare time riding the Golfie trails. I felt excited to come back to racing but had last minute doubts to whether I was up to it. Had I overdone it and would a long weekend racing put me right back to where I was a year ago?

Practice on Friday and Saturday was amazing fun. The stages were running super quick, and I felt loose on the bike. There was an excited atmosphere and I was looking forward to racing on the trails the next day.

Race day came too quickly with my 6am start and the usual last-minute rush to get all my bike and kit ready. Anticipation built as I cycled along the cycle path early Sunday morning wondering how the day would go.

As I started off down Morning Glory, twenty seconds ahead of team mate Callum, the reality hit. I was RACING! The top few corners felt rusty as I warmed up, and I made a stupid line mistake causing me to hit the next corner very hard and tight almost bottoming out. Losing valuable seconds and feeling my wrists buckle I thought that might have been the end my day. But as I rode out of the corner I felt no lasting pain. There was a small fire road sprint that took it out of me.  The rest of the stage felt good. Someone in front of me had a pretty bad crash causing him to have to unfortunately pull out. As I sped out the bottom of the stage one I was already looking forward to getting up to the second stage; Fools Gold.

Stage two and three both felt super good and my wrists were feeling strong but already I could start to feel arm pump at the bottom of stage three. I hadn’t done many full out laps in an age… it was catching up with me! Stage four was down Water World which was the most technical stage of the day. All I wanted to do was stay on my bike because I knew I couldn’t make much time on the steep terrain; but of course, that didn’t happen! I managed to hit a tree with my brake lever crushing my finger between it and the bars. I was all good apart from my finger feeling like it had punched a tree. On the fifth stage I had a shocker and managed to come off the banking of a corner because I came into it too hot. At the bottom of that stage I was sure I had no chance of a podium position. But my goal had only really been to get through a long day. I put that behind me on stage six which was by far my favourite stage of the day! With the tight corners at the bottom running so quickly. Such a good stage to finish on!

When I got my times back I was completely shocked to find out I had won! This reality only really kicked in after I had gone home for a nap and came back for prize giving.  Junior British Enduro Champion 2018.It was too good to be true after the disappointment of a full year off my bike.

My prolonged injury downtime forced me to discover new activities. Hill running proved the best substitute for fitness. It took me into new place and, although the adrenalin fix wasn’t there, the bonus was nothing more than trainers for kit, no bike to wash and maintain and a much-reduced laundry load! I now appreciate being able to ride my bike so much more, but I also appreciate the value of cross training. Over doing any one thing makes you more prone to injury. For me I shall keep mixing it up and every bit of hard on your body riding will be quality time.

I really want to thank Neil for believing in me and keeping me on the team, and also Alpine bikes for race support!

Photos: Ian Linton Photography