George Thompson, our regular reporter of mid pack (if he’s doing well) downhill action, is back in action. Well, sort of. He’s got a new team, a new fan club (he’s breeding his own), and he’s got a full race season ahead of him. He’ll be bringing us progress reports from each race. Hopefully the only way is up from here (or speedily down with big air and style). Over to George…
I absolutely, positively, have to be in London on Monday to deliver a project for a new client. It’s Saturday morning though, and I’m only a couple of hours from home so this really shouldn’t be a problem. But it is. The #beastfromtheeast Mk 2 (surely we could give it a better name than Mk 2, how about The Revenge?) has rolled into town and even the canny Geordies are saying (adopt Partridge-esque Geordie accent) “if it proper snows like, you could be here all week”. What to do?
If you can’t quite make it out from the photos, we’re up at Danny Hart’s Descend Bike Park in Hamsterley Forest for the first race of the season. The season preview I’d promised Hannah has disappeared into the ether along with the team launch video I’d also contemplated (it’s a great idea, might still do it). Time is flying by; a blur of work projects intermixed with The Wonder Weeks of a seven-month-old.
After spending the whole of Saturday morning umm-ing and ahh-ing about whether to ride or play it safe and head home, there was a sudden moment of clarity. If I go home I’ll have to install the baby stair gates that have been sat in the hall for a fortnight. If I stay one of our friends has promised to do it when he pops round with his wife on Saturday evening. Best get kitted up then.
After a 2017 season where numbers seemed to be down across the board, I think many of us thought that there might be fewer DH races this year. If anything, there’s more. Much publicised, the five round National Series will be managed by three different organisations, with the SDA taking the Fort William round and National Champs as well as running their own Series. Then there’s the Pearce Series, the Gravity Events (formerly Borderline) Series and the new kid on the block, Brian Mundy’s Proper Downhill Series. If you wanted to, you could race pretty much every weekend between mid-March and mid-September. The King Is Dead, Long Live The King?
After a somewhat tense few hours of negotiation, I’ve secured permission to compete in 11 of those races and the Masters Worlds which will once again take place in Andorra. The training hasn’t gone quite so well though. By mid-January I was rocking a body more akin to the professional darts players I’d spent Christmas watching than an athlete of any description really. In a bid to get back into shape I decided to take some extreme measures including intermittent fasting. How do you know if someone’s intermittent fasting? That’s right, they’ll tell you about it. I’ve tried not to bleat on about it too much but I have really enjoyed saying wanky things to MrsMakingUpTheNumbers like “since I started on my intermittent fasting journey, I feel as though my relationship with food has changed significantly” just to observe her subsequent eye-roll and listing of all my intermittent fasting fails. How does she remember in such detail? I also decided to invest all my available time in getting stronger, so I’ve been doing three weights sessions a week but no regular cardio. I’ve tried running in the past as my main form of training but it seemed to make little difference to my results, so I’m trying something new based on no actual knowledge or hard facts, just general observations of what all the pros post on Instagram. I’m about 50% sure that I’m doing the right thing. I’d love to train a lot more but three sessions a week seems to nicely skirt the line between “you’re pushing it now” and “you have to be f***ing kidding me”.
By mid-afternoon on Saturday the snow’s coming in waves. One minute it’s a blizzard, the next the sun’s out but it remains bitterly cold. As a guide, it’s at that level where you only realise you’ve cut yourself setting the bike up when you see blood on things you’ve touched / the snow. Unless you’re a completely fair weather rider I think we’ve all been there at least once?
The track’s riding great though and I’m doing laps with Mark Weightman on his new Trek Session 29er. By doing laps I mean he’s waiting for me at the bottom and then we’re travelling up in the bus and setting off together. He’s been riding a lot and seems to be in good nick. Uncle Albert has unfortunately had a terrible winter, struck down by illness after illness and he’s cancelled his entire 2018 season in a bid to get well. Heal quick mate. Steve Felstead’s here though and with Binnsy absent he’s eyeing up the win in the Grand Vets. Jason Holland’s here too and he appears to have bought a burger van to sleep in at the races. He keeps describing it as an “exhibition trailer” but everyone else is describing it as a burger van so it’s definitely a burger van.
I’m parked on the top road; Mark and Steve are in the main car park and Jason is down at the bottom. “Well the bottom will be the worst place to be parked, won’t it?” MrsMakingUpTheNumbers declares . If there’s bad luck to be found you can pretty much guarantee Jason will find it (see previous episodes, in particular the Andorra one for further details).
By now there are only two vans left on the road. Mine is 50 yards closer to oblivion than the other one. I’m not ashamed to admit that I checked several times that the van doors were locked before getting my head down. I needn’t have worried about being killed, kidnapped or robbed though; it was that cold overnight that the doors had frozen shut so no one would’ve been able to get in anyway.
By the time I wake up word has already been despatched that the race has been cancelled. With predicted temperatures of minus 11 and strong winds the conditions are just too harsh to ask marshals to stand around in. It’s the right call but I can’t help but feel sorry for Malc and his team who’ve gone above and beyond to get the event running. Having raced against Malc and chatted to him quite a bit over the last few years I know he’s organising races for all the right reasons.
Jason’s already departed on Saturday evening ‘every bone in my body was telling me to go home so I have’ I think was an exact quote. Everyone else is working out exactly how they’re going to get out of the car park.
When told that the race had been cancelled, rumour has it that Mark Weightman asked if they’d still be running the uplift on Sunday so he could get some riding in. The 15 or so runs he knocked out on Saturday obviously weren’t enough for the hardest man in Downhill.
One of Mark’s main competitors at the sharp end of the Vets category will be Marky Neal who won the Masters category in the BDS last season. “I just wanted to be Northern Champ” he messages me on Sunday afternoon. Me too Marky, me too. That’s the beauty of a cancelled race, particularly when it’s the first race of the season. No one’s 100% sure about anything.
So, there we go. A race report about a race that never happened. And not a word about the new bike or the #makingupthenumbers race team… We’ll save that for Round 1 of the National Series in 3 weeks time. Hopefully the jerseys will be ready by then…