Race Report: Calum Johnson, Whyte Vallelujah 2018April 5, 2018
Calum Johnson is the latest signing to the TweedLove race team in 2018. Joining Callum Thornley and Ben Balfour (currently out with an injury), Calum is bringing a wealth of local knowledge and a huge appetite to win. He’s just completed his first TweedLove enduro event at Vallelujah 2018 and has documented his experience of the race below. We can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings for Calum and the rest of the team!
Pulling on my fresh, new Tweedlove Race Team jersey, I could barely keep my excitement at bay and as I cycled down Peebles high street to the race village I could feel the atmosphere building. The Park Hotel grounds were packed full of brightly coloured race kits and bling bikes. Meeting up with Callum Thornley, my fellow Tweedlove teammate made me even more excited. We were going to have a blast.
The days racing started up Cademuir with ‘The Beast is deid’, an old school techy DH track made twice as hard by a slick of mud coating the trail from top to bottom. I was feeling confident as I sat at the start gate pulling my goggles on. The trail started with a couple of skittery gravel corners before diving into the forest. I took the first stage easy trying to stay smooth and minimise the likelihood of sliding out on a particularly awkward root or sneaky flat corner. I was the first Junior to drop in and took 6th place for the stage in my category.
After attempting to rid my tyres of the remnants of the stage 1 it was time to take on the steepest stage of the day; ‘Dangermouse’. This was and still is one of my favourite trails in the Tweed Valley, so it was fair to say I was buzzing to sink my teeth into it! The stage traverses a rooty banking before, with no warning it dives almost straight down the near vertical hillside. I pushed hard all the way down just teetering on the edge of control, I knew I could make some good time on this stage. I finished this stage in just over 52 seconds putting close to 4 seconds into my nearest competitor, keeping me right in the mix of a very closely contested overall battle.
Stage 3 was ‘Squeeze Me Please Me’… a mantra myself and, I’d imagine most of the field were probably saying to themselves whilst attempting to get down the stage. This would be the final descent of the largely downhill orientated Cademuir stages and one I was definitely dreading. The game plan was simple; stay on the trail and hope I don’t end up wrapped around a tree. After spending just over 2 minutes squeezing my bars through the narrowest of gaps I was glad to be out of the trees. I ended up 2nd on this stage only 6 hundredths of a second behind Tom Wilson who had been right behind me on the last two stages.
After a quick refuel of hot cross buns it was time to head up to Glentress for some physical and fast racing. Stage 4 ‘Fish Supper’, a.k.a. the lung buster was two superb natural trails connected by a flat out, minute long sprint. Coming from a cross-country background I felt that this stage played to my strengths and I was determined to ‘gie it laldy!’. I narrowly took the stage win but by no more than a second or so.
A short climb later and it was time for stage 5 ‘Lowdown Pondlife’, possibly the fastest stage of the day, made up of 4 gnarly black trails finishing down by the ponds. ‘Off the brakes’ was key to this stage as carrying speed through the rough was critical. I was focussed, ready to push hard through the smoother, more flowy top sections before dropping into the steep dark forest for ‘ponduro’; the final section of the stage. By the time I was splashing through the stream at the bottom my arms and legs were burning from the effort. Tom was fast on this stage beating me by nearly 5 seconds. It was going to be tight going into the final stage as I led the junior category by less than a second.
It was a longer transition in comparison to the others as we ascended to ‘Snow Chi Min’ which was easily the longest stage of the day, just in case anybody wasn’t aching already. I started the stage well with conserving energy and staying smooth being at the forefront of my mind, so by the time it came to the long fire road I still had enough left in the tank to get me round. But it wasn’t to be. Just after peeling off the fire road to enter the final descent of the day I hit the deck. Not a big crash but definitely not one I needed when the racing was so tight. To make matters worse a lost chain meant I had to freewheel from then on. Gutted! I Placed 4th on the stage whilst Tom had finished strong and taken first by almost 40 seconds. But fortunately, I had done well enough in the earlier stages of the day to be able to hold onto 2nd place in the junior category. It had been my first ever Tweedlove Enduro and it had been a ball. Some brilliantly close racing between myself and Tom all day, as well as finishing 21st in the days overall timings after 6 brilliant stages.
Huge thanks to all the Tweedlove Events team for putting on an excellent event to kick off the season as well as all marshals and volunteers which help the event run so smoothly.