I’ve been a sucker for Shredly, after meeting them at Sea Otter in California, last year, and trying on far too many pairs of shorts in a coffee break (sorry Grant, didn’t mean to be so long, it was the queue for the loo, honest!). However, since the sun came out and lockdown came in, I’ve become a seriously frequent visitor to their pages and the Shredly section of Flow MTB’s website, the place that I get my Shredly fix in the UK.
Is it the bold colours, fun prints or great cuts that I love or simply the representations of women I can relate to, making the most of the trails? Normally it is all of the above, but right now when I can’t ride with my own MTB sisterhood, it’s the women that is doing it for me. They remind me of us riding together – only far less mud!
So what’s so special about the MTB sisterhood? Is it only a small clique of women who share my passion for certain trails? No, over the years I’ve discovered that it’s far more than that. Whether I’m guiding a ride with women who’ve barely ridden off-road before; or racing a new and challenging venue, like Graythwaite ‘The Epic’ Enduro last year; or hitting progressively bigger drops and gaps at the local trails and bike parks, the sisterhood is a vital part of the whole.
It’s the mentality that we bring to each other – the acceptance that we are all there for friendship, a love of riding, a desire to overcome fears and accomplish new things be it fitness, skill, speed or simply getting out when your ‘to do’ list challenges Shakespeare for wordcount. Above all it is the knowledge that regardless of how you ride that day there is huge mutual respect and support. It takes the same courage and determination for a new rider to ride over a rooty section that distracted their eye and sucked them in to a tree stump last time, as getting yourself over the next biggest gap or drop, and women get that. Every female rider knows that and celebrates each other’s achievements accordingly.
Rather than feeling embarrassed, we know that the sisterhood will understand that at certain times of the month our hormones wreak havoc on our confidence, sense of perspective and depth perception – all of which can be sub-optimal for negotiating two wheels over obstacles in the woods. The sisters are quick to remind you to have a go but, if it’s not working that day they’ll be the first to tell you to go easy on yourself, to not let one feature, one trail or one ride define you. That today just isn’t your day and you’ll come back brighter and stronger next time.
An older female rider might spot the insecurities in a younger one and remind her that she is fantastic and not to worry about the opinions of others. Whilst that same younger rider can inspire the older one with her fitness and skill. Across the age groups there are friendships being forged that share wisdom, experience, fun and laughter, in the time-honoured way, just on the trails instead of village halls.
As women we know that what we wear has a massive impact on how we feel and that’s where Shredly comes in. It’s no surprise to me that a shot of me riding during isolation, in my Shredly flamingos got some of the most likes and comments in recent weeks – who cannot be cheered by shorts with big pink flamingos all over them?
To me they are pretty much the best fitting bike shorts I’ve ever worn and Shredly delivers a range of styles and cuts so that every woman can find a pair that makes them feel awesome. Next, they come in the most vibrant prints and colours ever. Granted you may not feel like wearing them in the depths of winter but slipping them under your waterproof trousers can do a pretty good job of reminding you that summer will return. Finally, riding in dinosaurs, flamingos, unicorns or now jade leopard faces with piercing gold eyes (amongst a host of other prints) reminds you not to take your riding too seriously. The whole point of getting out on bikes is to have fun, push your boundaries big or small, laugh, chatter, encourage and reassure. All of this is made easier with the accompaniment of a well-cut pair of shorts or tee.
So, until I can get out and ride with all the amazing women I’m lucky enough to have in my Tribe and those I’ve yet to meet, I shall be a regular visitor to Shredly via Flow MTB and Instagram. I will take comfort in the images there and continue thinking of my MTB sisters; dreaming of the good times to come, hopefully while there is still a warm sun in the sky and dust on the trails.
Every adventure is unique. So is every body. That’s why at SHREDLY, they offer a women’s-specific fit in multiple styles, a broad range of sizes and an array of enticing patterns. Find the best fit for your body AND your style.
The MTB LONG: The quintessential women’s mountain bike short with some added length. It boasts a waist adjuster system and invisible thighs vents while offering a longer length for more coverage on those chilly mornings, late night adventures, while wearing knee pads, or for those who have legs that never seem to end. A flattering and stylish look that makes the fact that these shorts are engineered to perform even more undercover.
The MTB CURVY: If you typically find shorts to be too slim fitting in the hips and thighs or always have issues with waist gap, THIS SHORT WAS DESIGNED FOR YOU! The MTB CURVY has a curve-friendly fit through the hips and thighs (thank you magically shaped back panel) and a legging-style, stretchy waistband with a higher rise and an internal draw cord (say goodbye to gapping at the waist). This style also boasts the same technical features found in the MTB LONG which includes: invisible zipper thigh vents, a handy side pocket, and two (deep) hand pockets.
Race Report – South West Kenda Enduro, Haldon – Amy Jones
Down But Not Out – my comeback at SW Kenda Enduro
As the world goes into lockdown, you’d think I’d have had more time to sit and write my race report for the first, and probably last enduro of 2020; the South West Kenda Enduro held at Haldon last weekend. However, home schooling and sick cows have kept me from my laptop for anything but work – oh, and Joe Wick’s PE lessons – you can’t miss that!
Lockdown seems pretty much normal for me this year. It feels like I have just emerged into the sun from a winter of unknowns as to whether I’d be able to ride my bike how I wanted to again or whether I’d be fit enough or fast enough to race this coming season. The plan was to race the National Enduro Series this year, especially as it’ll be my last year in Masters (for normal enduros anyway) but that slipped away very rapidly when I lay in a drainage ditch at Dyfi Bike Park, having nailed myself on a root (of all things); fracturing and dislocating my right ankle.
So this race was the test as to whether I was fit enough or fast enough, or able to ride my bike how I wanted to again…..
My morning started abruptly as I took a phone call at 5.45am to visit a sick cow on a farm miles away from any route towards Haldon! I thought I was organised the night before when I had “dressed myself into my bucket” in an attempt not to forget my shoes or my helmet… again! However, as I ran around the house that morning with an arm full of clothes, and, thankfully my waterproof jacket, I was not as quick out the door as perhaps the cow would’ve liked me to be!
Having treated the cow, I then set off on an epic mission across the ****ing moor, to go and pick up Rob; my brutally honest, unofficial coach who always calms my nerves through a mixture of coffee, sarcasm and poor humor – oh, and a really dirty McDonald’s breakfast!
Meeting Rhys and Sarah at McDonalds and changing into my riding kit in the disabled toilet, meant that we weren’t as swift getting up to Haldon as perhaps we should’ve been. Matt, my tight to schedule brother had been on the phone countless times asking for an ETA and even parked like a… pillock in order to save us a space in the car park (that we missed anyway). I do apologise to all those people who stood in a very wet queue for about an hour, just to have Rob, Rhys and I jump in with Matt to collect our transponders so that we could all ride practice together. Not cool. Soz!
Practice was a slop fest. It did not stop raining the whole time we were out and everything we were wearing was wet through. In my rush to get out the door that morning, it did not enter my head to pack a change of riding kit, not even a spare pair of gloves! Its not as if I’m short of stuff – I’ve just received my epic new DHaRCO kit from Flow!
Stage one was the most horrendous stage I think I have ever raced in my life. Memories of my previous fitness made it even more painful than it actually was in real life! The top section of twisty corners and humps was a crank smacking grind over bumps and roots that made it feel like you were going nowhere, despite trying really very hard! Then to top that grunt, there was a horrible uphill nip that I got the wrong gear for both in practice and in the race, only to descend straight onto a very long, very painful and for me, very noisy uphill “sprint” along the fire road! Goodness knows what the spectators thought to the elephant like grunt that I was producing with every pedal stroke! The final part was the original stage one from last years enduro. You know, I really wouldn’t have minded if that was all of stage one again this year as we enjoyed some fairly fast flowy berms with nippy little high lines and cool little gullies. I reached the bottom and collapsed over my bars, joining Ella and Andrea who both looked much the same (although perhaps for not as long!)
A very sociable transition led us up the fire road to the start of stage 2. Roots, turns, a horrible left hander that if you took too wide would leave you in the tape, a nice hump over a wall that I’m sure I had the speed to jump last year, but could hardly get over thanks to all the mud this year and then the (lorel) chute – I do love that most of my friends are foresters and seem to have time whilst they speed down the hill, way faster than me, to not only admire the trees we’re riding through, but also name them. I remember one particular ride where someone shouted “watch the hazel” only for me to get slapped off my bike by a branch seconds later. Who shouts that for pity’s sake?!
I digress – there was a horrible corner after the chute that if you took too wide sent your front wheel sliding out on the fireroad. Thankfully I narrowly missed this happening in my race run only to hear that a lot of other people had not been so fortunate as the conditions worsened with the more riders through. I quite enjoyed stage two. Mainly because most of it was downhill and there was no fireroad sprint…!
After a short pit stop at race HQ for Mollie (well, the mechanic on site) to re-index her gears and me to get a drink, we then headed over to Cafe Side. All of us much preferred these stages in practice as they both were fast and flowy with a fair bit of tech mixed in.
Stage three had a horrible sniper root after the first couple of corners that threw me over the bars in practice. Unfortunately then, I was unaware what had caught me, but when I felt my bike slide out in the exact same place in my race run I spotted the little blighter. Foot out to right myself (slightly scary as that’s how I broke my ankle), I carried on through the rock garden and into the fun little corners. This stage was fast and flowy with the only tricky bit being the newly cut in final corner that came up a little bit too quick for my liking!
Stage four was everything an enduro stage should be and probably the main reason we’ll all fight to race again next year. It had everything you could ask for; jumps, drops, swooping berms, drops onto chutes that if you weren’t too careful, sent you over the edge of the fire road instead of around the sharp left hand bend. However, it also had a few tricky corners at the end, especially the last one that had me off my bike and running for the line as I slid down the off camber exit and into the tape!
I couldn’t say that was my best race ever raced, and stage one proved to me that my fitness is way off where it was prior to injury but I had a great time with Rob, Rhys & Matt in practice and then Ella, Mollie and Andrea throughout the race, even if I could’ve wet myself and not noticed! I was hoping for a top 50% finish which would’ve put me in 3rd if I was lucky but more likely 4th. I was amazed to see, when I handed my transponder in that I’d come in first out of all the finishers so far, but Ellie Wharton (World Masters DH Champion) and Katie Wakely (UK National Enduro Champion and basically undefeated EVER) had yet to hand in their chips. When all were in, I’d managed to bag 2nd behind Katie, with Ellie in third and I couldn’t have been happier! Results wise, I was where I would’ve hoped to be throughout the season last year although there’s definitely more speed to be had once I get fitter and less susceptible to the sight of scary roots!
There are so many people to thank for getting me back here racing; Trailmunki for their ongoing support and a last minute gear index before race day, Flow for taking a punt on me again this year despite injury, the NHS for upping my percentage of titanium body parts, Ged at Sandy Hill Physio for wobbling my foot until it moved again but most of all Chris Chew at CC Professional Fitness for putting up with my strops and tantrums as he rehabbed me back to cycling. I also have to thank him for pulling me off the trail (alongside the Atherton family) when I nailed myself. Ollie, Ella, Phil, Conrad, Matt, Rhys and Rob have also played a massive part both on the day it happened and in my recovery; restoring my confidence quicker than I ever could’ve hoped and keeping up my moral when I was properly down. Thanks must also go to Whippet, the husband, for picking me up from Aberystwyth and putting up with a very demanding version of a usually demanding me for 3 months whilst unable to ride my bike! And a final thank you to Sarah for the most epic flapjacks I have ever tasted (and my lunch substitute as I’d left that in the fridge!)
Thanks dudes! Lets hope we all meet on the trails again soon!
Thanks to our 2020 team sponsors DHaRCO, MTB Instruction, Corley Cycles.
2020 team kit:
Race Report – No Fuss Intro (en)duro, Nevis Range – Nina Cameron
A couple of weeks ago, one of the girls I regularly race against got in touch to see if I was racing at the No Fuss Intro Enduro at Nevis Range. After a bit of chat, I got my entry in.
It sounded like it would be a good day where I could get back in the race spirit, ready for the downhill races coming up in the season.
The format of the race was 3 stages that could be covered 3 times each within the time allowed for the day. The stages were Blue Voodoo, Blue Adder and WIld Goat, all straight forward trails so all set for a good day racing with the girls.
The conditions were very wet and muddy and I got covered in mud and absolutely soaked through. Typical Lochaber weather! So as the day went on, the trails became muddier and muddier… Hopefully, we’ll get some sunny days for the rest of the races this year.
I was really pleased with my results for the day, in my age group I was 2nd on stage 1, 2nd on stage 2 and 1st on stage 3 giving me the final position of 2nd in the category.
I really enjoyed racing this enduro as the whole race was just a great atmosphere. I had so much fun racing with my friends and having fun. I was really happy to come second in the race. All the times were really close and everyone had big smiles at the end of the day!
Thanks to our 2020 team sponsors DHaRCO, MTB Instruction, Corley Cycles.
So the start of my 2020 race season had finally arrived. Northern Downhill’s Hamsterley Enduro. I’ve wanted to race this race for years after watching my mum and dad do it and as this year is the year of my 14th Birthday I could finally do it! I was so excited leading up to the race and it definitely didn’t disappoint.
Even though Hamsterley is my local forest I didn’t have much practice on the trails used in the race leading up to the event as from experience we have learned that sneaky practice wasn’t going to help as Carl Davison who runs Northern Downhill has a habit of taping the tracks in weird and wonderful ways to make sure it’s a level playing field for everyone, making sure us locals don’t have an unfair advantage. It makes for awesome racing that’s for sure!
The week leading up to the race the weather was pretty dry. I had my fingers crossed it would stay that way but on Saturday it rained. Bring on the slop fest!
Luckily by Sunday the rain had stopped but the trails were nice and slick. After arriving in the forest at half 8 we signed on and set off up the hill for practice.
Stage one was The Edge. Probably my favorite stage out of all of them. It was rocky and rooty and steep with a section of scary north shore but the way Carl had taped the course out made it even better, it was really tight in places. I was feeling awesome after our first practice run and couldn’t wait to ride the rest of the stages.
We then practiced the second stage and the third. The second stage went off the side of the 4x track into a wooded section with lots of mud and roots. The third stage was going to kill me, I knew this because it was from section 13 on the red trail down a really long fire road sprint and then cut back in down the downhill course and into the NPS line – more steep mud and roots. It made a really interesting stage.
When we came to race, I raced with my mum, Emilia and Amber. You could decide which stage you raced first. We decided to do stage 2 as it was the shortest and finished so far up the hill meaning we only had to climb the hill 2 and a half times. We then raced stage 3 and then stage 1 last.
When I was stood up at the top of the 4x waiting to start I was really nervous. This stage went well but I couldn’t help but feel like I could have gone a bit faster in places. I completed it in a time of 1:23.25
Stage 3 was an absolute killer. I started off really badly by losing my footing as soon as I got through the timing chip. When I got to the killer fire road sprint I struggled to find the right gear and then when I turned into the downhill I left my seat up! I was happy to get to the bottom in one piece although it took a good five minutes to get my breath back at the bottom. I did it in 4:54.16
The final time up the hill I felt like I was about to die. This was my favourite stage though so I was going to give it my all. Keeping in mind that I needed to stay on my bike to get a good result. I felt really good and managed to remember most of my lines from the mornings practice. I even ended up passing two people. My time was 2:30.94.
Putting my timing chip in I was really nervous. I was so happy when all the results were finally in and I found out I got fastest women of the day with a time of 8:48.39. I was absolutely buzzing. I really need to practice my podium pose. I can’t help looking so awkward!
Huge thanks to Jerry Tatton @jwdtphotography for the photos.
Next up Northern Downhills Chopwell Funduro on 15th March! Bring it on!
Flow MTB 2020 Race Team
Following on from a successful 2019 race season we’re pleased to introduce our 2020 MTB race team. The team will be competing in downhill and enduro events across the UK.
Going into 2020 we decided to support an under 18 rider and put a call out via social media and the response we received was amazing. There’s so many talented girls out there riding and selecting one was really hard, so hard that in the end we selected two; one who’s main focus is downhill and the other enduro.
As well as her love of mountain biking and going fast down steep technical trails we choose Nina because it was clear from her application that she is committed to encouraging and inspiring other young riders, she has a clear set of personal goals for the future and we hope we can help her achieve those.
Based in Fort William Nina plans to race the Highland Hardline Series, the Scottish Downhill Association races and the UK National DH series races.
At only 13 we choose Hollie because of her enthusiasm for mountain biking and racing, she’s already entered into Northern Downhill Enduro, PMBA enduros and the Naughty Northumbrian and if she has her own way the Borders Downhill events.
Back on the team for another year is Amy Jones. During 2019 Amy moved up to the Elite category for the Southern Enduro series and competed in 12 races with 11 podiums.
Currently recovering from an ankle injury Amy’s 2020 season will be starting a little later with entries to Ard Rock, Southern Enduro Champs in Triscombe and the BNES round in Minehead.
3rd Nov 2019
2019/20 Woodland Riders winter #2
1 / 14
8th Sep 2019
2019 South West Kenda Enduro #3
Grogley Woods, Bodmin
2 / 5
1st Sep 2019
Carrick Riders – Falmouth University Urban DH
1 / 6
28th Jul 2019
2019 Transition Bikes Southern Enduro Series #2
2 / 2
7th Jul 2019
2019 South West Kenda Enduro #2
2 / 3
9th Jun 2019
Ladies do DH – Ladies do DH
Forest of Dean
1 / 4
26th May 2019
2019 BEMBA National Enduro Series #3
4 / 24
19th May 2019
Ashcombe Mini DH – Ashcombe Mini Downhill
1 / 8
7th Apr 2019
2019 Transition Bikes Southern Enduro Series #1
Queen Elizabeth Country Park
3 / 3
24th Mar 2019
Edge Cycles – Kernow Enduro
2 / 3
17th Mar 2019
2019 South West Kenda Enduro #1
1 / 6
20th Jan 2019
2018/19 Woodland Riders winter #4
2 / 4
2019 was another great year for Rebecca representing Flow MTB competing in 13 races she made 8 podiums and 3 series podiums.
For 2020 you’ll see Rebecca racing at Pearce Downhill Series, UK National Downhill Series, National Champs and Ard Rock.
22nd Sep 2019
2019 HSBC UK National Downhill Series #5
3 / 8
8th Sep 2019
2019 Pearce Cycles #4
4 / 14
18th Aug 2019
2019 HSBC UK National Downhill Series #4
5 / 8
21st Jul 2019
Borderline Events – UK DH National Champs ’19
Revolution Bike Park, Llangynog
4 / 6
14th Jul 2019
2019 Pearce Cycles #3
5 / 13
30th Jun 2019
2019 Racers Guild Summer #2
3 / 6
23rd Jun 2019
2019 HSBC UK National Downhill Series #3
Rhyd y Felin
6 / 13
9th Jun 2019
Ladies do DH – Ladies do DH
Forest of Dean
3 / 4
12th May 2019
2019 SDA #3 photo_library
13 / 22
12th May 2019
2019 HSBC UK National Downhill Series #2
4 / 13
5th May 2019
2019 Racers Guild Summer #1
1 / 1
28th Apr 2019
2019 Pearce Cycles #2
3 / 11
14th Apr 2019
2019 HSBC UK National Downhill Series #1
9 / 13
24th Mar 2019
2019 Pearce Cycles #1
10 / 13
We’d like to wish all our team riders the best of luck for the race season ahead. You can follow all our riders progress in their race reports on our blog and follow them on their social media accounts
The Season that Never Was, and the End of an Era – Heather Kay
Last weekend I was supposed to go to my last race of 2019,
my last ever(ish) race (yes I’m done with racing, except maybe once in a blue
moon for shits and giggles), I had vehicle problems on the way and unfortunately
had no other option than to turn back. A month ago, I was supposed to be at
round 4 of the Welsh Enduro Series but I woke with muscle ache and fatigue,
barely able to crawl out of bed. 2 months ago, I was supposed to be racing ‘Ard
Rock Enduro and we all know the incredibly unfortunate events that led to the
cancellation of that event.
So, my last race of 2019 was the WES at Llandegla, the one
where I crashed so hard in practice I could barely race (and still have an
elbow that hasn’t healed) and then punctured on the top section of the first
stage of racing and DNF’d. I guess this year just wasn’t meant to be. I had
thought of retiring at the end of last season, maybe I should have. It’s so
easy to wish things had been different.
Rather than make this a terribly morose blog post to
accompany a season I didn’t enjoy I am going to look back at what mountain
biking has given to me over my ‘career’ (can you call it that?).
You have to start with the friendships, right? Those long
enduro transitions riding along with your competitors chatting about everything
and nothing, sharing a podium with 2 of your mates with not even a second
separating the 3 of you, travelling with the 4X family across Europe, one of
your 4X mates jumping on a plane to come and visit you in the middle of Norway,
or just the fist bumps and high fives that come at the end of every 4X race.
More than that it has brought me friends outside of racing;
the absolutely fantastic community that is the Aber Uni MTB Club (you guys
rock); being converted to road and gravel by the Ship & Castle 100 mile
challenge and the people I met through that (or should I say in the pub); being
persuaded to try my hand at criterium racing by Ystwyth CC. On top of that I
can’t begin to mention all the amazing people who put so much time and effort
into Gawton Gravity Hub, Woodland Riders and Carrick Riders, my time on the
committees of those clubs, out at dig days, and organising events taught me so
much, the awe inspiring people dedicating hours of their free time to enable
people to get out on their bikes and enjoy life.
Through the years I have been racing I have also had the
amazing opportunity to see the rise of the female MTB community, when I was 15
I was told that ‘girls don’t do that’, but I went on the North Wales MTB
residential anyway, now look at us! Hundreds of women participating in events
across the UK and the World, showing the younger generation that girls CAN do
that (and so can women, no matter your age!). I have had the immense privilege
of encouraging women down the renowned Super Tavi (black run) at Gawton on the
Girls at Gawton weekend and also, due to my job in Halfords, the opportunity to
teach women basic bicycle mechanics.
Of course, there have also been the great moments, travelling across the UK and Europe visiting locations I may never have been to otherwise; the terrifying track at JBC Revelations, surviving ‘Death Woods’ in Llangollen in the pouring rain, snatching the win in the last couple of meters before the finish line of a 4X race, standing in my GB jersey watching Katy Curd becoming 4X World Champion, winning the overall British Enduro Series Open Women, and taking the 4X Masters National Champion title are all highlights from the time I have spent racing, all stemming from that first South West DH Championships title at my first ever race (thanks again Tony for convincing me I should try racing).
But alongside those highlights there have also been the
tough times and hardship, the crashes and injuries. Once, I crashed right in
front of the finish line at Bala and had to grab my handle bars with one hand
and wave the other hand to ‘break the beam’, I remember Monday mornings at work
after a race weekend at the opposite end of the country: the fatigue from the
driving, the sore muscles from racing, the realisation that life just goes on despite
all the intensity and excitement of the weekend. Making those tough decisions
that come with racing, accepting the mistakes you made on your race run, the
wrong lines, the wrong decisions, those few seconds where you could have dug
that tiny bit deeper, the decision to continue chainless rather than stopping
to put it back on. The crashes, the rain, the wet, the mud, the cold.
Yes, there have been highs and lows, but I wouldn’t have
changed it for the world and none of it would have been possible without the
support of my sponsors throughout the years. I know you are supposed to say
that, but I could never have afforded to race without Stanton Bikes or Flow
MTB, between them they have helped me with bikes, equipment, spares, kit and
race entry. They have been there to support me through the highs and lows,
through the emotions of race day, through the disappointment and success. I
cannot thank you enough. I also have to thank all those race organisers, commissaires,
marshals, trail builders and countless other volunteers that make this sport
what it is. No matter how much the mtbers whinge, you are amazing.
So that’s it. It feels a bit weird to finish this blog post,
as a kind of final commitment, but I know that I will still be out on my bike,
I will still bump into riding buddies all over the country, and knowing me I
will still show my face and my battered hardtail at a few select events over
the next few years (I will, after all be a Vet next year…). Maybe I should
finish with a photo from this year, taking the win in my hometown of
Aberystwyth, reminding myself that although it didn’t work out how I had hoped
it was still pretty awesome too.
Race Report – National Champs, Ae Forest- Emily Turner
The season finale
So that’s it, another season over and with downhill racing not on the agenda for me next year, I feel a little sad that it marks the end of what has been a huge part of my life for the last few years.
It’s been a roller-coaster year for me, injuring myself at the first race of the year, then I got married mid season, then finally getting back on track to finish 3rd at national champs, then crashing again at Hopton. The missed races meant I didn’t stand a chance of getting a result in the overall series, but I wanted to race the last round of the national series at Ae forest.
I was pretty excited for a road trip and a fun weekend of racing with my friends, the last time I’d checked the forecast it looked like it was going to be dry, so it looked like it was going to be a good way to end the season.
After a 6 and a half hour drive on Friday, me and teamate Becca arrived at Ae forest just about in time for a track walk before the sun set. This was our first glimpse of the infamous “Elevator” at the end of the track, a ridiculously steep grass bank, easily mistaken for a mini “cheese rolling hill” from back home in Gloucestershire.
The rest of the track was a nice mix of rocky sections, tight wooded sections and an open “bike park” section with a big step down, huge berms and a double. So aside from the terror of the elevator we were pumped for practice.
On Saturday morning, I tried not to let it put me off that one of the first riders down crashed on the Elevator as I was walking past ready to head up for my first run. It was a glorious sunny day Saturday so at least it was dry!
We queued an hour and a half for the uplift, which was rubbish. Without taking more than a 20 minute break to eat, we only managed 5 runs of a 3 minute track in 7 and a half hours. According to the locals, this is just what you should expect when racing Ae Forest.
I enjoyed the riding and the time queuing meant plenty of time to chat to other riders. After a few minutes of contemplation on the first run I managed to convince myself to ride down the terrifying “Elevator” and of course as these things always go, it wasn’t as bad as it looked.
Unfortunately the forecast changed and the rain arrived about 2am and there was another downpour as practice started on Sunday, which continued through practice and conditions on track got pretty sketchy in places, particularly the Elevator, which was now basically a mud slide.
We were told to anticipate race runs being cancelled due to the weather so seeding run might count as our race run. So I put Saturdays drier kit back on and switched back to flat pedals for dry shoes and the ability to put a foot out instead of crashing. It felt like I rode half of my seeding run with either one or both of my feet off the pedals which made it incredibly messy. My back wheel drifted sideways as I went in to the Elevator but it straightened up and I crossed the finish line in 4th just 0.04 seconds off teamate Becca in 3rd.
There were groans from all the girls as they announced we would actually have to do race runs, so it was back to the tent to figure out what to do about kit as we were now completely out of clean or dry kit.
Race run went pretty similarly to seeding run and I just wanted to survive. Another slow messy run left me in 4th. I knew my riding had been well below my ability but I hadn’t crashed and it was nice to finish the season with a podium. And finally a podium with teamate Becca!
I feel a little emotional saying I will not be racing downhill again. I love racing because of all the people you meet from all over the UK with the same passion and drive, but unfortunately my life plans for next year do not allow for racing and the commitment it requires.
I am extremely grateful to Flow MTB who have supported me for the past 2 years. I feel very lucky to have had their support and friendship and wonderful teamates too.
Race Report – National Champs, Ae Forest- Rebecca Smith
Ae Forest; queues, queues, the dreaded elevator and more queues but what a belter of a track for the final round of the 2019 National series. Oh and I collected a bit of trophy bling despite some awesome squid moves wahoooo!
The final round of the national series was at Ae forest in bonnie Scotland. I hadn’t been to Ae before but team mate Emily had been a few weeks previously and the track sounded amazing. The forecast also looked amazing and I was excited to see if I could put down a good result and finish on a high. I packed my kit for a dry race but since we were going to Scotland I added my wet weather gear just in case.
The drive up went on forever as the traffic got worse and worse. The blue skies and sunshine outside taunted us as we sat in queue after queue and the satnav time went the wrong way with every mile. The traffic swallowed my plans for a leisurely track walk, afternoon nap and lazing in the sunshine. Still as we finally drove into the finishing field the evening was a stunner and track walk beckoned. Until…hang on a minute, Emily what the hell is that?! We were both stunned at the sight of what looked like the finish to the track. It was taped and riders were standing at the top looking at lines so we must be riding down it but blimey it looked like a vertical wall of tussocky grass. Emily had not ridden it the other week and we established that the track normally finished to the side but this was “The Elevator” and apparently the standard finish for races at Ae.
With the elevator looming above us we found space for our tent in a field that wasn’t anywhere near big enough for a national series round and set off up the track. Standing at the top of the elevator it looked even worse than from below as we realised the top actually overhung a little and the compression at the bottom looked hideous. Whilst it would be intimidating in the dry it should be fun and everyone was clear it was fine in the dry.
Then we heard it was not going to be dry on Sunday. Whaaaaaat?! How had I missed the changing forecast?! Ok so now the elevator looked bloody terrifying and I had no idea how you were supposed to get down it and through the compression in a swamp? Trying hard to ignore it we walked the rest of the track.
Emily had explained about a huge step down that I had already guessed I wouldn’t want to ride. Standing at the top of it I absolutely wasn’t riding it which left me with a slow flat turn across the take off before weaving around the drop and tentatively heading back on to the landing hoping not to get squashed as riders came in blindly. I knew that was not going to be the fastest option but having never hit anything as big as the stepdown before I figured I had little choice. The rest of the track looked amazing with rocky corners, greasy chutes, roots galore and even a bit of off camber grass thrown in for good measure. I just had to hope I could ride the track fast enough to make up for the chicken line on the step down….
Saturday dawned the most perfect blue sky day as the sunshine burnt off the mist and we nervously got ready to get on track. We had thought that avoiding the elevator in the wet morning grass was a sensible idea so planned on starting a little after the first uplift. I watched people ride the elevator from my tent and it didn’t look too bad until a girl crashed and knocked herself out. The track had been open for 15 minutes. Great, I could hardly wait!
But wait we did! For bloody hours and hours on the fire road all day! The uplift had a long way to go with few passing places and the queue was unbelievable! Alongside the nerves of needing to get that first run out of the way we were now faced with the reality that we would struggle to get many runs in on a track we didn’t know. Apparently this was standard for Ae and locals were explaining how it was fine because they always raced the same track so everyone knew it. In a quiet voice I explained I hadn’t been before….ah yes they could see how that would be problematic but at least the track was fun! Great, the day was getting better and better!
Finally we were at the start tent waiting to set off. We rolled into the first tight rocky corner and I hit the highline confidently starting as I meant to go on before slamming on the brakes to avoid running into Emily trying to avoid a fallen rider. The rest of the track was surprisingly greasy but less slippery overall than I expected. The line around the step down was terrifying as I crossed back on to the track watching over my shoulder for incoming riders. Perhaps it would be easier to hit it but I wasn’t brave enough to try. I felt quite a lot of pressure to do it knowing it was so much faster but I bravely swallowed it down and stuck with the chicken line.
I rolled into the elevator and just went for it. I knew that if I stopped and looked I would never do it and trying to get clipped back in just above it was enough to discourage me from stopping. I crept over the edge at snails pace and accelerated into the compression. It was a rough old ride but not as bad as I thought and I was so happy to be safely down it. One down, many more to go!
We joined the back of the ever growing queue for the uplift and waited in the baking sunshine chatting to other riders which was hard to complain about. Run 2 was better than run one with a bit more pace. The top of the track was starting to come together but I was still didn’t know the track and found myself casing jumps, missing lines and lacking flow. Hopefully we’d manage another 2 or 3 runs if we were willing to queue for them and some of that would settle down.
After 4 runs I was feeling pretty good on track. My lines were settled, I was still terrified of the elevator but riding it cleanly and overall I was feeling happy but very tired. The long drive, standing round for hours in the sunshine (literally 1-2h per uplift) and a physical track, which I was never warmed up for given the wait at the bottom, were taking their toll. We managed to squeeze in a 5th run before calling it a day. A track walk late evening got a little hairy as we nearly got mown down by a pack of elite riders. The track was shut, the marshals and commissaires walking down, but lack of organisation meant a last uplift had dropped them a group off at the top and they didn’t know the track was closed!
I woke up early to the sound of heavy rain but by the time my alarm went off the morning had dawned and was really quite pleasant. We got ready to get on track hoping to avoid some queues and make the first uplift. As we left the tents the heavens opened and the rain was torrential. We joined the back of a soggy queue and stood around for 40 mins waiting as the rain dripped steadily down our necks whenever we moved. I hadn’t changed to flat pedals and was a little nervous of riding a steep wet track in my clips but I wasn’t going to the back of the queue so there was no choice. Besides, when I thought about it, I rarely put my foot down on track anyway so it was no different to normal.
The water was running down the track and yesterdays greasy chutes were now rivers and less slippery. The dusty corners and roots however were a different matter and the off camber grassy section was rapidly turning into a bog. I had a great run down the track, finding grip where it was unexpected and generally nailing my lines but approaching the elevator I was feeling extremely unsure! I rolled over the top opening up a view of muddy ruts where there had been dusty grass yesterday. Repeating the mantra no brakes, no brakes, no brakes I rolled down the slope, held my bike as it bucked out over the compression and slid to a stop at the railings with a deep sigh of relief before lining up in the uplift queue to do it all over again! The second run was even wilder as the track grew ruts and holes amongst the bogs. I narrowly missed the barriers on the way down the elevator as I slid sideways and hoped for the best. I went back to my tent, washed my bike off, stripped my muddy kit off, dumped it outside in the rain and tried to get some food in before qualifying.
A message went out that a storm was expected at 1pm so qualifying might be our race run. Normally I would be a bit sad about that but the thought of only needing 1 good run was appealing and I settled myself at the top ready for a race run glad it meant we could get home earlier. The rain had eased off a little as we stood at the top waiting for qualifying. My googles were safely stowed in my pocket inside a dog poo bag (clean obviously!) to stay dry and I whipped them out at the last moment before getting on the start ramp.
The beeps sounded and I realised that although nervous I hadn’t called them dreaded beeps so I guess that’s progress! I convinced myself there was loads of grip and committed to the track right out of the start gate. I zipped over roots, railed the off camber swamp, sent the little stream gap beautifully into the berm, hit the step ups with no brake checking, took the chicken line round the step down and generally loved every second. I took a deep breath and practically stopped at the top of the elevator which had the crowd shouting “come on love you can do it!” as I rolled in to the steepest mud slide ever. My reflexes corrected the bike as it bucked and slewed across the line and with shaky hands I removed my googles to see I had put down a pretty good time.
I realised just how good my time was as others came in behind me and I was sat in 3rd place! Emily and I had ridden together all weekend and it showed with less than 0.1 seconds between us! I was so pleased until I heard the organiser announce that second runs were going ahead. I swore loudly much to the surprise and laughter of the crowd. I did not want to ride that elevator again, it was so unpredictable that I really couldn’t tell if I would make it or not. Line choice seemed irrelevant and the track was getting worse as the rain stayed light and things turned claggy. Oh well we had 2 hours and the storm might arrive.
I spent 2h sat in my underwear and knee pads hoping for rain to keep the mud wet rather than claggy. Emily and I laughed hard as one of Astons team mates popped his head into the tent looking for Aston only to be met by us sporting socks, knee pads, wet muddy undershorts and sports bras haha we were so classy! Watching the elevator from the door of our tent we could see deep ruts forming that would be impossible to see on the run in as riders slid out in the mud and had to run over the finish line. It’s the first race I have done where the commentator could repeatedly be heard saying “rider Joe Bloggs has made it safely over the line”. Great, it looked like we’d get claggy race runs and be lucky to cross the line upright.
The rain was barely there as we lined up again at the top for what would actually be race runs this time. I slid my goggles out of my dog poo bag at the last minute for the second time and sat waiting for the beeps. I again committed straight out of the gate and had another awesome run that felt even faster than the first until I came in a bit hot to a set of very tight very muddy corners in the bottom third of the track. I somehow made it round the first one but went wide on the second, clipping a tree stump which fired me back across the track into a tree (I always love a good tree hug) and I went down into the bank next to the track. Feeling pleased I was mostly upright I stood up only to have my bike slide over the drop I was perched above with me sat on the saddle, feet flailing. Through some exceptional squid moves I stayed upright and frantically tried to clip on the way into the next boggy steep corner coming to pretty much a standstill as I finally pushed through the mud in my cleats and got my right foot in. I rode the rest of the track, took another deep breath on the way into the elevator and slid across the line grateful to be in one piece.
I looked up at my time and was pleased to see I was only 3 seconds slower than qualifying despite my crash which confirmed my feeling that I had been flying for the rest of the track. I had only been 0.1 seconds ahead of Emily in qualifying so I figured that was my 3rd place gone. Emily crossed the line safely and somehow I had managed to hang on to 3rd place and I stayed there as the other riders crossed the line. I was bouncing! Not only would 3rd be my best result at a national but team mate Emily and I would finally get on a podium together!
We frantically washed bikes, threw muddy kit in bags, took down the tent and tried to wipe mud off our faces so we were ready for our podiums and the long drive home. It was my third podium out of 5 rounds at nationals which meant I got to climb on a second podium for a huge trophy and 4th overall in the series! I had done it! I met my goals of a series podium at nationals wahoooo! The drive home went on forever and my eyelids were dropping as I finally pulled up on my drive at 1.20am with a full day at work ahead of me. I was met by 2 very excited springers who bounced around on my head as I crawled in to bed still coated in mud and not caring in the slightest.
I’ve got a couple of local races still to go but that is the last of the long drives to nationals for another year. I might have done the riding but I can’t thank my sponsors enough for their support and help to get me here. Flow MTB provided another year of support with the best set of race kit on the circuit for the second year running. It is a great team to be part of and I feel lucky to have their support and belief not to mention all the other sponsors that support the team providing kit and training to help us look smart and cosy both on and off track. Matt at the Physio Clinic delivered another amazing training programme with personalised strength and conditioning coaching to keep me interested and strong enough to take hit after hit over the whole season and stay in one piece. Matt and the team also provided sports massage and rehab keeping me in tip top condition. Ash helped me sort out my diet and mental resilience keeping me strong and healthy over a tiring season and also helping me have less fat to lug down those tracks. My race pants look nicer too haha!
I’m looking forward to a bit of a rest before off season training starts but first I’ve got a few more muddy tracks to slide down and then a season of nice dry indoor netball! No rest for the wicked.
Final round of Pearce was a crazy dusty blast for final overall trophies
The weather was a little wet in the week running up to the 4th and final Pearce race of the series so I was surprised and delighted to find a dry field for camping. A quick walk up the track before it became fully dark revealed a bone dry track with inches of a weird chalky dust! I could hardly believe my eyes but the little puffs my feet kicked up confirmed it was indeed dust! I last raced at Bucknell two years ago and the team have made some great improvements to the track including a lot of work to smooth out and remove the braking bumps in the corner after the big ski jump. I was excited to get on my bike the next day.
Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny and I headed up for a first leisurely run down the track. I’ve always struggled to find flow on this track and run 1 showed me that today wasn’t going to be any different. I straight lined into corners, overshot key turning points, stalled here there and everywhere and generally made a bit of a hash of it.
Run 2 was done with different people but otherwise went exactly the same as run 1. Normally by this point I’d be feeling frustrated but because I had expected this I was as cool as a cucumber. Previous frustrating races here had left me disappointed and having a fairly rubbish weekend and I was determined that it would be different this time. I was not bothered if I didn’t get a great result as long as I had fun. This attitude coupled with the knowledge that I had all day to try and learn the track meant I had an absolute blast all day long!
I had a great day riding with friends and making new ones. Everyone was finding the dust slippery but awesome fun and oddly it turned out that everyone found the track a little like I did. If you went slow it was cruisy flowy fun but as you turned up the pace it was hard to find flow, easy to stall and the track punished every mistake. Hmmm maybe I had been a bit hard on myself at previous races here.
As practise finished most people took advantage of a lift to the top and spent the glorious sunny evening walking down the track exclaiming at the dust and huge holes that had appeared on track. Well sort of appeared as most were hidden behind inches of dust so weren’t that obvious until you pitched into them! My track walk didn’t reveal any new lines but it did confirm that although it felt awkward in places I was on the right line.
As it was the end of season Pearce had their big hog roast and we all settled in after a great day riding with soft floury baps filled with goodness. The locals had been really friendly and invited people to pop down to their village fete. They had also extended the offer of using their sports field showers so anticipating a nice hot shower I set off into the village with Katie. Katie turned on the first shower muttering that she hoped it wasn’t cold… the water ran hot and we both gladly stripped off and dove in. Then we dove out again pretty damn fast as the water continued heating up until it was scalding! With no options for temperature control, I tried the boys showers but they were just as hot. We took advantage of the water by using various items of clothing as flannels so we could get clean without melting our skin off. Not perfect but it felt good to be clean after all the dust. A laughter filled evening with friends over cider finished off a pretty perfect day.
Sunday dawned clear and sunny with heavy dew on the grass after a cold autumnal night. The track was short so I didn’t rush to get on track as I figured it would be easy to get 2 practise runs in. I walked up to the uplift and was surprised to find a pretty big queue but it had moved fast on Saturday so I didn’t worry too much. After we’d stood in the queue for quite a while and it hadn’t moved it was clear there was a problem. Apparently one of the vehicles had gone off the side of the track and all the others were needed to haul it back up. So we stood in the sun watching riders slide out on the wet grassy turns as the sun gradually dried off the field. Eventually we got on track for a pretty good run and figured we could squeeze in another run before practise closed. At the bottom we were greeted by a closed sign 20 minutes earlier than the uplift should have closed. Normally that would have been fine but with such huge delays many riders, including us, had only done 1 run.
The uplift had closed early to make sure they got through the queue before the end of practise so we joined a group of maybes hoping to fill any gaps in the last uplift trailer. We got lucky and rushed to fill those last few spaces and get a second practise run in. Katie and I were the last to set off from the top so we could have a clean run without faster riders catching us up. This all worked really well until part way down the track when people started dropping in behind us and wanting us to pull over. I’m always happy to pull over for a faster rider but when they drop in right behind me, having seen that I’m slower than them, I am not so obliging. We continued with our uninterrupted run and were pleased to see the field had dried out completely when we got to the bottom.
I went to the top for my first race run feeling calm and excited. My aim was to get a better time than my last race here without worrying about positions. My run was a bit ragged and far from perfect but for bits of the track I actually had some flow! I was surprised to get to the bottom and find myself in 4th place not too far behind some very fast girls. I figured if I tidied up my run a little I could take a couple of seconds off so I set off my for my second race run with that in mind. Despite riding more smoothly I went slower than my first run but managed to hang on to 4th place. It turned out that not caring and just enjoying myself was faster!
My goal for the season was to get a series podium in the national series and stay out of fracture clinic. With one national race left I’ve managed a series podium at Pearce with a surprise 2nd place and am on track for the national series podium too. I just need to get through that last race on my bike to meet my other goal hahaha.