I’ve made quite a few mistakes in races over the past few years. Mistakes that have cost me time and effectively places in the overall result; but never like this. It was almost like an out of body experience. One minute I’m stood at the food stand and the next I’m hearing the words come out of my mouth. “Donner meat and cheesy chips please”.
As I walked back to the van I knew I’d done wrong but I was starving. Breakfast was at half seven; I’ve done three practice runs, seeding and then been up on the hill taking photos and it’s gone 2pm. But still, donner meat and cheesy chips 50 minutes before a race run, where did that come from?
Well, it all started with a work email on Friday lunchtime which meant I walked round Aldi preoccupied and basically didn’t buy enough food to withstand the journey to Hopton on Saturday morning, never mind the rest of the weekend. I arrived to bright sunshine on the back of a four-hour rain shower and made the first of several visits to the burger van. “I think you’ll like the track” Binnsy says. He arrived on Friday night and managed to get a track walk in before dark. “It’s not as bad as it looks on the video”. He’s referring to Si’s course preview, which didn’t exactly have us bursting with excitement. It looked pretty flat really, more of an Enduro track than a Downhill course.
“It’s a Downhill track from when Downhill bikes were what we’d now class as an XC bike” Mark Weightman says. “That’s why I stopped racing these Midlands races in 2002 and started doing the SDA’s”. Truth be told he’s right. Hopton isn’t really in the same league as Fort William or Bala or the Ride Portugal track at Llangollen but in the same way that Leogang doesn’t really hold up on the World Cup circuit, it’s a race and the same riders will probably win.
The top section in particular is hard work. Flat and pedally. Tight turns with flat corners. Then there’s the first of 2 rooty sections. It’s taped wide with 4 possible lines but I spend Saturday morning ending up in the bottom one, the worst of the 4. The middle section has a bit more flow but there’s a couple of big pedals before the track really gets going/steeper after the fire road. I like that bit. When you make as many mistakes as I do, gravity is your friend; get off the brakes and you’re back up to speed in no time. To do well here though you need to be super fit, precise and good at carrying speed. I am none of these things.
It’s the end of the season and as you might expect the Vets are a bit of a rag-tag bunch. Uncle Albert has broken his foot so isn’t racing, although a Forces insider tells me they think he just doesn’t fancy it; Cocky’s preparing for a trip to the Himalayas and Dave Ingelby’s spannered himself at the final SDA of the season up at Fort William last weekend.
Greg Kerr’s forgotten his downhill bike but he’s trying to remember the track. “It’s just a pump to the left; and then a jump to the right”.
“Put your hands on your hips, and bend your knees in tiiiiimmmme” the remaining collection of Vets and Grand Vets sing back in unison. Perhaps “The Time Warp” might be an appropriate theme tune for a bunch of over 40’s.
Jason Holland has finally made it back from Andorra and his collarbone is healing well (see Andorra episode for the back story) but it’s not strong enough for him to ride on so he’s marshalling at marshal point two. On one of my Saturday afternoon runs I sprint the hundred or so yards to his position and I’m wheezing by the time I get there. This doesn’t bode well.
I put down eight runs on Saturday though and by the end I’m pretty happy with where I’m at. There’s a lovely line just before Jason’s position where someone appears to have bent the pole back allowing you to straight line an entire section and I’m doing that. I’ve got a good high line through the first set of roots and I’m consistently smashing through the second set without incident; so all good.
“Are you coming to the pub?” Stu Hughes asks.
“No thanks, I’m going to have 10 hours of unbroken sleep in the van”. I think he might’ve forgotten what it’s like having a seven-week old child. How times change though; a couple of years back I’d have been leading the charge.
Sunday didn’t get off to the best start. Someone’s moved the pole back in a bit on the top section meaning you now have to hop a tree stump to keep the straight line. I tried it but it didn’t really work out for me so I’m back to following the track. I’ve ballsed the second set of roots up on all three runs and crashed twice on an innocuous flat corner after the fire road.
I seeded ninth out of ten with a huge mistake on the second set of roots which left me pointing the wrong way; but I’m only seven seconds off sixth so I tell myself I need to go ten seconds quicker in my race run which should be doable if I can keep it clean.
On top of that Donner meat and cheesy chips though I’ve ‘panic drunk’ a litre of water which I can now feel resting nicely on a film of oil that separates the two. I feel pretty queasy on the start line and surprisingly don’t quite manage to claw back ten seconds. I manage to make up five but everyone else has gone quicker too and I’ve dropped to 10th. Last place. What a way to end the season. To be honest, it’s no more than I deserve.
Binnsy is also struggling. Having won the Series last year, he’s dropped off considerably over the past few weeks and he’s third to Paul Le Maitre and Steve Felstead for the second race in a row. “We need to work on our fitness this off season” he declares; as he has done at the end of every previous season but this time I think he means it.
Final standings are calculated on your best 4 rounds from 5 and Pete Little has already taken the Series in the Grand Vets so he isn’t racing this weekend. Paul is in second with Binnsy taking third. Binnsy’s not keen on hanging around for the good few hours it will take until podiums for a couple of thirds but he does. “I’m off now” I tell him, adding “who’s the real winner here?”
Although we’re not having the best of times, there are some amazing rides.
Kris Lord is proving that 26 ain’t dead, sending his old school Saracen into 2nd place in the Vets. It’s his best ever result at a National, beating Series overall winner Intense’s Andrew Titley into third. “Why don’t you take your bike over to the Intense tent and say “imagine what I could do on one of those”” someone suggests but Kris politely declines. Stu Hughes obviously didn’t get too hammered down the pub as he’s smashed the field; winning by over eight seconds and taking second in the overall with Weightman taking third on the day and third in the Series despite not being too keen on the track.
Fresh from winning Gold at the Junior World Championships in Cairns, Madison Saracen’s Matt Walker lays down a 2:19.1, the second fastest time of the day. Quite how he held on to the bike after over jumping the final step down in his seeding run though I will never know. Amazing skills. Junior Silver Medallist at the World Champs Intense’s Joe Breeden is only 1.4s behind him with the fourth fastest time of the day. They’re also one-two in the Series with one of Greg Kerr’s boys Henry in third; a cracking result for a first year Junior.
First year Elite, Intense’s Charlie Hatton set the Fastest Time of the Day, taking the win and the Series with a 2:17.4. The future is certainly bright for British Downhill. Hope’s Adam Brayton was second and second in the Series with Madison Saracen’s Marc Beaumont in third. His team mate Matt Simmonds was sixth on the day but took third in the overall.
In the Masters category it’s gone down to the wire. Series leader Marky Neal crashed in seeding, finishing ninth and then could only manage sixth in his race run. Craig “Snowy” Taylor thinks he might have the Series but after some frantic calculations and a lot of pacing up and down Marky has it by just seven points. Michael Vickers takes third in the Series on exactly the same number of points as Richard Batey but with a faster total time.
Biggest winning margin of the day came in the Elite Women once again but this time it wasn’t Tahnee Seagrave, who was absent despite winning the Series. This time, it was Wideopen’s Veronique Sandler winning by over 13 seconds from Aston Tutt with Becci Skelton in third.
It’s been a bit of a weird season really. When I look back on previous seasons I can see consistent progression but this year I’m not sure if I can. I think my technique has probably improved with a bit more experience but work and family life have taken over and I haven’t managed to train regularly since February so fitness and strength aren’t where I would like them to be. Somehow I’ve ended up in seventh in the final standings for the second year running though and I’ve snuck into the Top 20 on British Cycling. Being consistently shit does seem to pay dividends in the Vets where injuries and other commitments are common.
Jason Holland’s had a cracking end to the season though. He’s won a £1,000 set of carbon wheels in the marshal’s raffle despite only marshalling at the final round. Knowing his luck, they probably won’t fit his V10 though.
So that’s it, the end of an era, the final ever BDS done and dusted. Thanks to Si for organising such a fantastic Series for the last few years. The level of production has always been top notch and his aspiration to make it the best National Series in the world has to be admired. Best of luck with The Malverns. Who knows what the future holds for British Downhill, but I’ve been assured there will be Nationals in some shape or form next season.
There are a couple of races left this season if you’re chasing points. There’s one round of the Pearce Series remaining and the final Borderline race at Caersws in October which Malc Dunn will be running. I’m currently trying to negotiate a pass for that one.
A big thank you to a few people: I best start with MrsMakingUpTheNumbers for consistently holding the fort / baby whilst I go racing. Just to clear things up though, it was just the final ever BDS, not my final ever race; you seem to have got a bit confused. Binnsy and all the Vets, Grand Vets and other riders who I’ve had the craic with this season. All the guys and gals at Revolution Bike Park for having us on the team again. Alex at Ticky Bikes for keeping my wheels turning. Chris and Paul at Mojo for sorting out an early season issue with the G19. Everyone’s nice to you when they’re selling you the bike but you learn what they’re really like when things go wrong and you guys were fantastic. Everyone at Singletrack for publishing this blog and finally you guys for reading. I’ve had loads of comments throughout the season so I hope you’ve enjoyed it and we’ve managed to give the grass roots side of the sport some coverage. Have a great winter everyone. I’ve just signed up for a Cyclocross race in November. That should be an experience ☺