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Calling all enduro bikers

To some, 2016 isn't over yet, not until this weekend when the final round of the Thailand Enduro Series is completed.

The upcoming event is set to take place in the woodland around the upper reservoir of Lamtakong Jolabha Vadhana pump-storage hydroelectric power plant on Khao Yai Thiang, Nakhon Ratchasima. It will see scores of hardy mountain bikers competing to decide who will be the overall winner in each category (grouped by age and skill level) of the current four-round series which began in June last year.

For those not familiar with this kind of competition, here's enduro mountain bike racing in a nutshell. Like in a DH event, winners in an enduro race are decided by their time riding downhill. The fastest rider wins. But unlike in a DH race, enduro riders do not have the luxury of a shuttle to the trailhead; they need to get to the start point up the hill by themselves. Also unlike DH racers, enduro riders compete on not just one track in a day but several. Winners are those with the best accumulated time at the end of the day.

In this weekend's event, riders will have to race on five tracks that are called stages. Registration and the seeding run will be done on Saturday, while the actual competition on five stages will break out on Sunday.

Having heard that all of the stages, except one, are brand new trails, a friend and I recently went to check them out. It had been over two years since my previous visit to Khao Yai Thiang. This time I found construction going on near the hilltop reservoir of the Lamtakong power-plant to prepare sites for more wind turbines. Yes, apart from hydroelectricity, the plant also uses wind power to generate electricity. A new road has been built to provide access to the new turbines that will soon be installed. Without traffic, the well-paved road looked very nice for cycling.

But we weren't there for road riding. The enduro racecourses we were looking for were hidden in the woods. With the race still a week away, the organiser had not yet put up any signs or trail markers. However, phone conversations with a core member of the trail building team who was in Bangkok that afternoon made it not so difficult for us to locate the new tracks. We began on what is now set as Stage 2 of the Sunday event because the trailhead was close to old bike tracks that we used to ride on previous visits.

Measuring 3.2km, Stage 2 is the longest of the five Enduro courses. It twists its way through the wilderness that covers a slightly rolling terrain, which means you need to pedal in certain sections to maintain speed. Except for a thigh-high drop off, it's a smooth ride on a full-suspension bike. However, what seems like an easy trail can turn into an untameable beast on race day when everybody tries to go the fastest they can. To get to the other end of the trail with good time requires good line judgement (for example, some S-curves can be passed through on a straight line), proper timing for pedalling and precise use of gear. Too much speed at a sharp turn can shoot you off the track and cost you several precious seconds.

Surprisingly, soon after we finished riding and taking photos of Stage 2 there was unseasonal rain. That was good news for the racers this weekend because the surface of the newly built tracks would be harder after the ground dries up. For my buddy and I that late afternoon, it meant our bike wheels would be covered with mud.

But our real concern was the lowering Sun. By the time we finished Stage 1, it was almost dark so trying the other trails was out of question. Stage 3 is part of an old DH track I came to race on two years ago, while Stage 5 is an extension of it. Stage 4 runs in parallel with 3 and 5 but on the other side of the road.

To sum it up, from my first-hand experience and what I was told by the trail builder, the final round of the Thailand Enduro Series won't be as rugged as the previous three. Still, if you want to win, it won't be easy. I wish all racers have a great time and good result this weekend.

Well, see you here again next Thursday. Until then, if you have questions, news or biking insights you wish to share, please feel free to send an email to pongpetm@bangkokpost.co.th or go to Freewheel Bangkok community page on Facebook.

Pongpet Mekloy is the Bangkok Post's travel editor and a mountain bike freak.

Thailand Enduro Series tracks at LamTakong Power Plant, Khao Yai Thiang, Nakhon Ratchasima

GPS co-ordinates (hilltop reservoir): 14º48'01.56 N 101º33'31.00 E

Trail condition: Purpose-built single- and double-tracks.

Distance: The race tracks range from 1.1km-3.2km but Khao Yai Thiang also has other trails you can explore, not to mention the virtually traffic-free roads.

Getting there: From Bangkok, take Highway 2 (Mitraphap) past Pak Chong and soon you'll see the man-made lake behind Lam Takhong Dam on the left-hand side. Khao Yai Thiang is the mountain on the other side of the highway. Continue until you find the gate of the Electricity Generating Authority's Lamtakong Power Plant. The road up Khao Yai Thiang is on the other side of the highway.

Parking: There's a big parking lot near the hilltop reservoir.

Food & drinks: A number of restaurants are available in communities on the mountain.

What your family can enjoy while waiting: They can watch the racers in action.

Accommodation: On Khao Yai Thiang, there are loads of resorts, some of which boast rooms with scenic view.

Local contact: For the race this weekend, visit www.thailandenduroseries.com or its namesake Facebook page. After the event, call local rider Mat on 084-552-9005.

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