British Downhill Series – Round 4 Llangollen 

A long awaited trip to the penultimate round of the British Downhill Series EVER meant I was keen to get my act together and put in a great performance on a track I had my best ever BDS result on. However a few things didn’t go to plan…

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This summer has been a busy one. Recent changes in lifestyle mean I’m helping others ride better, more often and watching Evan grow up! It’s getting harder to keep up. Therefore I rarely do any formal ‘training’ and I hadn’t ridden my downhill bike since Easter! Doing this race was as much about getting a chance to ride my DH bike but also proving to myself that even with minimum physical training that a lot of things could be achieved by using my mind and letting go of those brakes!
A few tweaks to the mighty steed thanks to Bikestyle got it all running smooth! So at least the Devinci was ready!

A few weeks before leaving Si Paton announced that instead of using the ‘Death Woods’ track (crazy steep technical track) which I really like, they’d be using the brand new Ride Portugal track. This track had been built to give UK riders a flavour of the speed and skills needed to ride fast, bike park style World Cup tracks. World cup rider I am certainly not. Jumps varying from 15-30 feet in length  whilst riding at high speed aren’t my strong point! I always embrace a challenge so thought I’d go with an open mind. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you!

I’d booked to go on the boat Friday morning to give plenty of time to travel, get some family shopping done and catch up with people on the Friday night after a track walk. At 6:10am, forty minutes before the boat was due to leave I received a text from the Steam Packet explaining my sailing was cancelled! Great! Drove down to the sea terminal to get as close to the front of the queue to the help desk as possible. Unbeknown to me the SeaCat had crashed into the pier late the night before! After briefly being put on standby for the morning heysham sailing it was confirmed that I’d be going on that boat with a lot of people!

4 hours later on a full boat we arrived in Heysham. 4 hours after that I got to Llangollen! Not ideal. Getting the awning set up and walking the track were priority with poor weather forecast over night.

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Thanks to the Squirrel Daddy and the Army DH teams fastest export Chris they helped me get things up and just in time for the wind and rain. We barely managed to walk the track as it was so slippery in places that you had to go outside the tape just to get to see what was up the hill!

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The track was littered with awesome berms and some massive step down jumps and a triple jump! Along with a ridiculous nearly vertical section after some rock steps nicknames the ‘Canyon’!

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Lots to get excited about ready for Saturday practice…

After an early morning tyre change to wet tyres the first few runs were spent working out where the corners were, getting to grips with getting enough speed to clear all the jumps, including a nearly over the bars moment on the triple jump! And finding out just how unfit I was when riding at race pace.

With 5 runs done and the wind increasing at the to on the jump line I decided to focus on getting fast through the ‘Canyon’. After being held up with yellow and red flags I finally got a clean run into this section. Aiming to stay high across all the roots ready to cut down off the bank early to ensure a fast exit speed into the uphill section that followed. Unfortunately with the on and off rain I caught a large wet root that took my front wheel away from me and I hit the only tree full on with my right shoulder. Luckily I missed the 6ft drop to my right! Rolling back down for a break and a change to a dry tyre at the rear I went for another run on a track that was beginning to dry out. Happy with most of the track I got dinner and chilled out with the Army gents.

Sunday Race Day always starts early with the sun making an appearance it wasn’t a chore!

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After avoiding being on the first uplift that cleared the track, it was clear that it was drying out and the main lines were much faster than on Saturday! Dry tyres were on and I was excited to ride this track in the dry! The wind had also dropped so the first double jump, a real do or die gap jump was becoming essential for a decent result. On my last practice run I came up a little short and snapped part of my rear mech! Fortunately the British Downhill Series is supported by Shimano. Heading over I asked if they had the part I needed. They didn’t, however they were happy to replace the mech with a brand new like for like one, FREE OF CHARGE! How’s that for service! A big thank you to the Shimano UK support team for getting my back up and running ready for Seeding and Race runs.

Seeding run was a steady run down with minimal pedalling and no drama. Managed to slot into 30th and take a 10th fastest at the speed trap. Only 1km/h behind the fastest in my category and second fastest on 26 inch wheels haha!

Knowing I could go faster I got ready for my race run two hours later. Arriving at the uplift the usual quietness as everybody becomes serious hoping for the run of their life. As the tractor arrived at the start field, it was clearly beginning to rain. Nobody had really prepared for rain so throwing my goggles under my jersey and trying to stay warm until I got my call up to the line. With 30 seconds before I go the decision on how to ride wandered through my mind. As the final 5 beeps sounded I decided to go for it and ride the track as if it was dry!

Gunning it into the first jump the front wheels felt like they wandered a little. Nothing to worry about as I cleared the first double. Awesome, that’s the hardest part done. With extra enthusiasm I hammered toward the next corner before the uphill bridge jump. As I exited the corner I lost the front on what had become a shiny polished main line as I smashed into ground. Straight back up I had to run uphill until I could get back on the bike. Knowing that any chance of a good result has gone I decided to relax and ride the rest of the track with no mistakes. Crossing the line I didn’t bother checking my time. Gutted I’d had the worst run of the weekend during my race run was an understatement but that is racing. With the rain becoming heavier I watched the Experts and Elites and then packed up in the pouring rain.

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Leaving for the night boat a little earlier than usual I had plenty of time to reflect and bring myself back to reality. As they say, there’s a boat in the morning, and it’s straight back to work after that!

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