The Yorkshire Vet Julian Norton faces challenges of a different kind at Reeth's Ard Rock Enduro mountain bike event

The boys and I were in mountain biking action last weekend, at the UK’s biggest mountain biking event, the Ard Rock Enduro race in Reeth.

After self isolating following a change of rules, the mountain bike event gets the Norton household out in the fresh air again

The timing was perfect as we’d recently been honing our skills in Morzine – the Mecca of mountain biking. The three of us had covered hundreds of kilometres of alpine trails, mostly at high speed.

The event in Swaledale was also perfect as it marked the end of our post-travel house arrest, the result of a last-minute and inexplicable rule change, just as we arrived in France.

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It was, at least, inexplicable to anyone with any geographical knowledge. Reportedly, the ‘Beta’ variant was running wild in France and there was concern from some that it might cross the Channel and upset the perfectly implemented plans of virus control in the UK.

In reality, some cases of this version of the virus had been detected on the small French island of La Réunion, which nestles safely and distantly between Madagascar and Mauritius, but the French include their overseas territories in their figures and this was the source of the apparent confusion.

Up in the Alps, surrounded by fresh air and open space, we had a greater chance of meeting Heidi or Goat Peter on the alpine meadows than acquiring a mutant strain of Covid.

Luckily, we had built several layers of flexibility into our holiday, in case of such eventualities, so while the timing of changes was unfortunate, we all felt very lucky to have a holiday at all.

We sat out our house arrest diligently, testing ourselves as required and speaking to the friendly voices from Track and Trace, who phoned us three times a day. My jokes about the Spanish Inquisition were largely met with stony silence.

So, in short, we were all pleased to be out of the house again and heading to the slopes of Swaledale – less huge than the Alpine routes with which we had become acquainted, but no less intimidating.

Friday was registration and practice day, followed by camping on site. Race day was Saturday. For downhill racing, practice is imperative – one mistake over choice of route could be, at best, detrimental to the timing or, at worst, downright dangerous.

Our excitement was rising as we drove over Grinton moor, once made famous by the Tour de France and the tents, cars and bikes became visible in the valley below. It was shaping up to be a festival atmosphere as well as an excellent race.

After registration, we scrutinised the maps and headed out. Enduro racing involves riding a loop with between three and seven specific timed downhill stages. The fastest aggregate downhill time wins. Whilst the whole route needs to be completed, in terms of the race it doesn’t matter how quickly or slowly the uphill bits take.

This didn’t necessarily play into the hands of the fighting fit Norton household, freshly down from altitude, but it does make these events extremely inclusive as enthusiasts with all levels of fitness can participate. There were plenty of people pushing their bikes up the first stiff climb to the top of Fremlington edge.

At the top of stage one, we joined the queue for the first practice stage. It’s impossible not to eye up the other bikes and riders; most of the bikes looked more fancy than ours and the riders – some internationally renowned and others fresh from Redbull Hardline competition – were much more skilful.

We took a deep breath and headed into the abyss.