For me it’s one of the highlights of the year, set in my hometown, at the same time as my birthday, running as part of a week-long cycling festival, what more could you want? The atmosphere is always incredible, the views across the town are stunning, and this year I also had Mark from MTB Instruction and Flow MTB coming to visit. He turned up the evening before, so we made the most of the local facilities and enjoyed a quick drink and evening meal catch up. The next day I grabbed my bike, rolled out my front door, met Mark at a café for a quick coffee and pedalled across town to the event registration.
There were plenty of familiar faces and we were soon nattering to people left, right and centre. We were with a couple of the Aberystwyth Uni MTB club crew for our first practice run and as the track was fairly similar to previous years I lead everyone out to show them the best lines. It was loose as a goose and dusty as heck, we all knew it’d be about finding that limit between grip and speed.
I did a few more practice runs and then decided to have a break before racing. I was feeling good on track and I wanted to save my legs for racing (it’s always tough on a hardtail), I also managed to puncture on my last practice run… With Mark we headed off to the local bike shop – Summit cycles in search of a new inner tube to replace the spare I’d used and to grab some lunch at a local café. We were soon headed back to the prom ready for racing.
From the old days of DH racing a knew to get a safe run in for the first run and then to push the limits on run 2. But once in the gate my enduro brain took over and it was all guns blazing for my first run, obviously assisted by mates heckling me all over the track on my way down… I was buzzing as I came through the gate to hear the whoops of Mark and also Coops on commentary giving me kudos on the time I’d just set. Usually I’m embarrassed to tell people my time (the guys are so rapid in comparison) but this time I was in breathing distance, I was stoked! I also took the lead by a whopping 5 seconds!!! I couldn’t believe it!
I’ve been trying to win Conquer the Cliff since I moved to Aber 4 years ago so I knew not to get too excited until the 2nd runs were done.
We went back up top and I treated myself to cake whilst we waited for the 2 nd runs. It was soon time to get back in the gate, I knew I had to go faster, I knew the other ladies would be pushing to find those seconds, I knew it was a fine line between grip and speed… Off I went, trying to push the boundary to go faster, my mech slipped and I ended up dropping into an easier gear, every time I cranked I knew I was loosing a little bit of power but I just kept pushing. I pulled through the finish line and had taken off almost a second, now to wait for the other ladies…
The finish area was a blur, mates from Uni chatting to me, listening to the times of the other ladies, realising I’d beaten Mark by a whisker, my mate George coming in 2nd place in Senior, drinking a cool bottle of cider, grinning ear to ear. I’d done it!Heather Kay
Win an MTB skills session with our race team sponsors MTB Instruction
We’re giving you the chance to WIN a 1-2-1 skill session with our race team sponsor MTB Instruction and their new coach Suzanne Lacey
Are you new to mountain biking and want to learn the core skills to get you riding off road with confidence? Have you been riding for a while but feel your skills have plateaued? Do you stall when you come across a drop on the trails? Have you been eyeing up a jump at your local bike park that you’d love to nail? Are you a racer who wants help with line choice, speed and flow? This competition is for all of you!
For your chance to WIN simply enter your email address below.
- Competition closes Friday 28th June, 2019.
- Winner will be contacted on Monday 1st July, 2019.
- Prize is for a half day 1-2-1 MTB skills session with Suzanne Lacey of MTB Instruction
- Course to be taken in August 2019, a selection of dates will be offered.
- Course to be taken within a 30 mile radius of Milton Keynes and will be chosen based on the type of course you require.
- Prize does not include your travel to or from the course.
- Winner will be chosen at random.
- Winner must be over 12 years of age.
- Entrants email addresses will be added to our database and shared with MTB Instruction.
- You can unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time.
The Cornish Mafia at Ladies Do Downhill
Where to start with this??! I really don’t know how to put this weekend at the Ladies Do Downhill race at the Forest of Dean into words.
I’d heard good things about this after last years premier but nothing could prepare me for the giggles and camaraderie that came with 80 odd women of every ability gathering together to race Sheepskull. Until Easter I had never ridden the downhill tracks at FOD and even then I only did maybe two runs of Sheepskull before tackling “that drop” on GBU!
Since entering in March, I had planned a family camping weekend, forcing the little mites into coming to support Mummy whilst I sessioned the track on Saturday and raced on Sunday. Alongside the Flow team, my friend, Andrea was heading up to race, as was Evie but I knew of no-one else from this neck of the woods that would be going. That all changed mid week when Hannah and Mollie started showing an interest on our ladies Messenger group.
Torrential downpours at home on Friday and a poor forecast for the weekend saw my husband decide that staying home with the kids was preferable to a wet camping weekend! It also saw Hannah’s work on Saturday being cancelled last minute. And so, at 8pm on Friday night it was decided that we were gonna pack all our stuff into Hannah’s dad’s camper van, Glen, and ROADTRIP!!
Now I’ve done a couple of these with the lads but I’m not sure they quite compare! The giggles started from the minute Hannah and Mollie collected me from Trailmunki in Bodmin. The lash up of bungees, calving ropes and a shoe lace to hold my bike onto the rack was something to be believed.
With a coffee stop in Sedgemoor, we made good time and got to FOD at lunchtime. Already, there were women here, there and everywhere! It was great to catch up with Tara the mad Vet Nurse after meeting her at Southern Enduro two weekends ago, and great to see Ella, who we’ve met at Gawton a number of times, absolutely smashing it down the hill (right up my bum).
I was really glad that we’d taken the time to walk and session each section of the track. Despite a slip out on the root section in what should’ve been my last run of the day, leading to an aggravation of my hamstring injury (sorry for whinging!!!), the day was really productive and saw us heading off to the campsite buzzing, still giggling and ready for the next day.
After a comfortable (if flatulent – Mollie, not me) night in Glen, some fortifying fruit laden porridge and numerous trips to the toilet (common pre-race problem) we ambled over to Pedal-a-bike-away to sign on. Poor Andrea had left home at 5.30am and ended up waiting ages for the three of us to sort our bikes, numbers and fit in another toilet trip!
Practice saw a bit of a wait at the top resulting in most of us training the track with pretty much everyone else there. It was a good sighter, and the roots seemed to ride fine even without speed and so, a very worthwhile run and a great chance to catch up with faces old and new on the climb back up.
We managed two more full runs and a sneaky session of the bottom few berms into the final tabletops before a quick lunch stop. Rumor had got around that we all needed to be at the top of the hill to start at 12 and we hadn’t left much time to eat. I was concerned that as number 7, I’d be one of the first off but it turned out that the Pro-am category was running last, giving me plenty of time to heckle/shout encouragement to my fellow competitors. (Yay!!)
My first run left many an area for improvement. The top section is a series of corners with one quite nasty root that will stop you dead if you run into it. As much as I’d visualised the run in previously, I still managed to hit it on my race run. That and some ragged cornering in the lead up made me a bit unsettled at the start. However, finding the straight line prior to the root garden and surviving the roots themselves, my confidence improved for the second section.
A steep drop in from the fireroad saw me always over braking on the lead in, but using the right hand edge, you could then pump through the roots before pedaling a smooth traverse to the drop. On my first run, I missed the high line off it and sent myself through the braking bumps. I’m not sure how much time I would have lost here but this is why downhill can be so frustrating. All the practice you do, you aim to hit every chosen line. Any deviation from that can cost you time and it can get in your head. However, my favorite section awaited!
Two bermed corners led you out of the pedally traverse and into the “bum holes” as Andrea called them. A straight line through here was the chosen way although two steep S berms were also available. Pedaling out of this, a comfortable double led you into a kicker if you so wish (I didn’t) or a quick flick of the hips to use each side of the bermed “s” and above a root to take the highest line of the right hand berm. The next double was impossible for me to clear and held a patch of slick sludge on landing and so pumping them to the far right was preferable to send you into the high side of the left hand berm and down over two small drops to a rock garden. Keeping left here smoothed out the drops and the rocks.
A small pop over a ditch and a mental note not to brake into the next two berms before “PEDAL” ing out of the last and into the two tabletops for the finish. The first jump had a nasty habit of bucking your back end up and your nose down. It was my intention to manual this but I never quite managed it. I think my attempt to keep the bike low to the ground did make me faster into the second one and subsequently over the finish line.
To my surprise, I was in the lead after my first run, but only by a second in front of Evie. Becca, my Flow teammate was in third and Caroline in fourth. None of my friends were particularly happy with their runs, especially Hannah who had caught the rider in front.
A quick break and a coffee outside the cafe before meeting at the top for 2pm. For some reason, I didn’t feel that nervous. Usually, whether I need to hold off competitors or gain a few seconds on my second run, I go into the race run still bricking it. I think the atmosphere of all those girls together helped assuage some of that nervous energy and dare I say it, turn it positive! Perhaps because we were all having so much fun it didn’t matter so much?
My second race run felt good. I hit every line I intended to and felt it couldn’t have gone much better. We were seeded within our categories for the second run and as a result, I was first in our group to get to the bottom. A running commentary was given and so as I passed over the line to be greeted by Tara and my other friends, I heard that I’d gone a second quicker. Evie passed over next and I heard that she was still in second. Becca came through, still in third and finally Caroline still in fourth. I’d kept it!! I was over the moon! And all my mates were there to hug me!
Mollie had made up time and put herself into 2nd in Vets, just 0.4s behind the leader… should’ve straight lines the roots! Andrea had found twelve seconds (!!) to put her in third in Grand Vets, and although Hannah hadn’t been held up this time, her run felt like her first and she was wishing she’d asked for another. Poor Ella had been leading seniors after run one but, after a crash on her second run, having thought she was in third, she was knocked off of the podium by someone who had been racing in the wrong category. To do that well in your first race though is absolutely epic and I honestly believe she’s one to watch in the very near future!
Thank you so much to Kali protectives for my brand new, extremely pretty, full face helmet! What an amazing prize! Although it did cause many an argument on the way home as it spot on matches Mollie. But I’m sorry Mols, it’s all mine!! Big thanks to Muc Off for the cleaning products too. They gave a prize for every podium which is pretty generous!
As I said, no words can describe the atmosphere at this race. Everyone is looking out for each other and egging each other on! The support from the spectators is amazing! Whether you were a seasoned racer or it was your first time, you were all in this together. I’m not sure I’ve had that feeling at a race before!
Amanda Tanfield has created something amazing here and it would be great to get as many women as we can to Pippingford for the 10th August to repeat the buzz! So thanks Amanda for dreaming this up and making it a reality, hopefully there are many more to come!
Thanks as well to all the marshals and timing guys, particularly the commentator. It really added something to have your results called out over the microphone instead of searching for your name on a scrolling screen. It definitely added to the atmosphere at the bottom of the run for me!
If you’re a lady and you’re tempted by racing, give this a go! Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s downhill. You’d be amazed what you can achieve with a look first and the incentive of someone doing it with you and cheering you on. We all start somewhere and this is definitely the place to start!Amy Jones
As I sit here, waiting for Holby City to start (I know! But it’s a guilty pleasure!), about to tuck into a Wispa and waiting for my coffee to cool, I’m feeling guilty.
Guilty because it’s Tuesday night and I should be doing a sprint session on the turbo as that’s part of my routine, guilty because a Wispa really isn’t part of a healthy diet (nor is it a well deserved treat – I have eaten quite a few biscuits, a piece of cake and now said Wispa alongside my 5 a day and three staple, carb filled meals), and guilty because my ride last night undid all the good I did in the gym at lunchtime because yet again, I over did it and tweaked my hamstring for a second time, hence why I’m not punishing myself tonight on the turbo.
I’m no expert at this, because evidently, I’m not doing everything or anything right but I can vent my thoughts about mountain bike training.
Last year was a brilliant year for my racing. I podiumed in most local events and exceeded my expectations in the two National level races that I entered; Ard Rock and the Whyte British National Enduro Championships at Tweedlove. But how do you top that? By doing well it gives you further to fall and expectations (your own and those you perceive of other people) to at least do as well next year.
I felt last summer that I’d completely lost my nerve and come winter I felt fat and extremely unfit. After a period of regular sports massage with Chris at CC Professional Fitness for two separate injuries, I was coerced into signing up for weekly PT sessions through the offer of a free t shirt! I needed to do something to shift the weight and so it was either PT or Slimming World. I’m convinced I made the right choice for me.
It’s amazing how paying someone to gruel you in the gym makes you commit yourself to other activities. For 6 weeks I did eat a very healthy, chocolate and cake free diet and started myself on a five day exercise / two day rest routine. However, six weeks in, it was apparent that as the weight was falling off me, I was now lacking energy and needed to up my calorie intake to fuel the exercise.
Once I’d broken the chocolate seal, despite my best intentions, I couldn’t leave the stuff alone. And here lies my current state! I think it’s probably the story of my life; I try to eat well but I am often tempted by bad things. And despite my current feeling of guilt, I am starting to believe that as long as it’s not every day, it’s ok. Whether My Fitness Pal agrees, I wouldn’t know, but it was a good way to get me thinking about what I ate.
As for the exercise, it all seemed to be going so well! I was training in the gym with Chris on a Monday lunchtime, then riding with my Monday Night XC group in the evening. I spent Tuesdays in front of Holby on the Halfords £99 turbo trainer using a GCN video off YouTube (none of these fancy smart trainers). Wednesday lunchtimes I was running 4 miles or so with the dogs and Thursday nights I met up with my “enduro” mates for a fairly relaxed tour of Grogley. Latterly I added in a lunchtime run on a Friday, work permitting and I tried to get at least one ride in on the weekend.
However, the racing season started and I may have underestimated how much even the shortest race takes out of you. I convinced Chris that I could still train and… snap… a tweak to my left hip flexor. Two weeks of recovery in the gym and then snap… something in my left bum cheek went ping! Then an off last Wednesday… snap… something funny happened to my hamstring as I left my leg behind.
So for the last 6 weeks or so, my gym sessions have been based on recovery, mainly because pretty much every weekend has seen me racing or at least riding. It doesn’t feel proactive at all but I guess I’ve got to listen to my body. I’ve added in 20 minutes of yoga off an app that I try to do 4 times a week just before bed (not ideal but I cannot sacrifice a night of ride time to go to a class) to try to loosen my body up. Having said that, we were treated to an evening of yoga and mountain biking last Friday at Woodys Bike Park, hosted by Jay Williamson and Casey Gemma. An awesome mix of both that ticked all the boxes and was a proper laugh as well! I’m just hoping that this becomes a regular occurrence, although it does rely on my parents having the kids.
So back to the guilt. It’s hard work balancing work, family life and bikes without adding in extra hours of training, even if it is in my “spare time”; lunch breaks and when the kids are in bed. I worry that by adding in that extra thing I’m permanently a little bit knackered and as a result, just a little bit more irritable. So then I question whether it’s helping my mental well-being or not?
Training is helping my strength and fitness on the bike and so it is, in turn, making it more fun. I gave Chris the task of improving my jumping as a joke but I honestly believe that, although he’s targeting my gym work to every aspect of mountain biking, it is having a positive effect on my jumping too. After two years of trying, it’s so satisfying to finally get it! That feeling whilst your in the air is just amazing!
Attention to technique is so important in the gym and not something that I’d ever been good at consistently on the bike but it does seem to be having a positive effect. That and some on bike training from my mates and Jay.
So, even though I’m slightly knackered, a little bit irritable and battling with sore bits for most of the time, I do feel the best I’ve ever felt. For once in my life I’m happy in my shell although I will forever suffer with guilt. Time on my bike is time away from my family but as it’s my drug, I’m not sure they’d want to be around me if I didn’t get my fix!
Here come the girls!
It was Mollie’s wish that as her 40th birthday weekend clashed with the double whammy Southern Enduro Champs and Round three of the BEMBA National Enduro Series on Exmoor, that we all took part to celebrate. Well, no hardship for me, I was going anyway! But our other friends; the two Hannahs (aka Mase and Cock) hadn’t raced Enduro before and Fran, who had decided that she didn’t like the pressure of racing, put their entries in and a weekend of racing was on the cards.
My husband, Whippet and our two friends Richard and Andrea were also up for the weekend, as well as a whole load of others from the Cornish / Devon contingent. As with last year, this event is hugely popular with us South West folk, as although we have had more races this way in the last twelve months, the trails in Minehead are well worth the 2 – 3 hour drive.
Saturday, for Mollie, the Hannah’s and I, was for practice but for those doing the Southern Enduro Lite, it was race day. From 11 until 3.30, Whippet, Andrea, Richard, Fran and Adie were racing a mashup of what would be our stages 4-7. This meant that we could practice those stages from 9.30 until 11 and again from 3.30 until 5. Whilst they were racing, us full enduro folk were off over the hill to get our practice in on stages 1-3. Confused? We all were!
Although I didn’t think it possible, we managed to get all 4 Lite stages practiced within the morning slot, seeing us back at the race village to catch a coffee, take a bite and watch our friends start!
And whilst we tackled those tricky stages over the hill, it seems our friends were smashing up the pack! Fran managed to bag second place in Female Seniors, Andrea a second in Female Vets (sandwiched by two other Devonians; Vanessa May and Jane Gilham) and Richard got 10th in Male Vets! Whippet had a pb, coming 24th in the vets category too!
As for race day, it has been noted that I seemed awfully jolly. Normally I’m introverted, focused and my resting bitch face takes hold. However, after a photo of the massive female field, we left the race village as a five-some (joined by Mase’s mate Gill), amongst smiles and whoops to head straight… to the toilet!
Up and over the hill, we laughed, chatted and forgot that we were racing entirely. So as we approached stage 1, I didn’t really feel that prepared. However, as the Enduro ‘go’ clock ticked down the thirty second gap from the rider infront I tried to find my focus. Coach Rob’s words were in my head; “Pump Jones, f-ing pump!” as all I could remember from stage one was roots and short cuts through corners! (Well, one, and I missed it!) There was a horrible fire road crossing mid way through this stage that extended it from last years finish point to send you over a wall and along an off camber, rooty section to finish. I came in puffing (always a good sign) feeling I’d ridden it ok but not to the best of my ability.
Stage 2 is infamous in this event as it has a very tricky ‘A’ line and is the steepest, most technical of all the stages here. Approaching the gate, there was no queue but as we faffed about with goggles and caught our breathes, a few others approached. We weren’t hurrying at all and let those riders ride on in front of us. They had asked for a minute after them and we obliged but as I set off down in front of our group, I approached a girl on the trail. Calling “rider” she pulled over and let me pass but I couldn’t help but feel terrible for wrecking her run. As I came into the A, B split, I could see another rider heading down the B line. In an attempt to get through the A in front of her, I rushed through the first high corner and messed up my line on the second vital left hander, sending my bike into the loam and me over the bars down the trail. The helpful marshall picked up my bike as I ran back up the hill to it. I came into the next steep section, just behind the girl in front and bless her, she threw herself off the side of the steepest part to let me through, completely ruining her own run. I felt terrible and so annoyed at myself for not giving them more time. I apologised at the bottom but couldn’t help but feel that I’d not only ruined their races but my own as well for not heading into the trail when it was clear.
All the way up climb three I fretted about this, whilst I really should’ve been worrying about Mase who had come off and potentially caused her newly healed shoulder some trauma. I gave myself a firm talking to after Mollie tried to talk me out of my slump. It was her birthday and I really didn’t want to be the one to ruin it.
Up to stage three and my mind was once again a blur (and still a bit of an angry one if I’m honest!) In my head I couldn’t remember what bits were on stage 1 (even though I’d just ridden it) and stage 3 as they were so similar, but I did remember a very sharp uphill pedal and some high lines that needed to be hit. This stage was ok but I did have a scooting moment after sliding out on a root, midway up said pedal.
Back to the top of the hill, we stopped midway up on a bench to admire the view. It was time to put stage 2 behind me and enjoy the trails on the other side of the hill. I’d walked three of them this morning whilst searching for my errant dog and felt that here was where I could make up time, if that was at all possible given the competition!
All of these stages were tight through the trees with varying amounts of flow. I’d walked stage 4 three times and during my morning walk had worked out some line choices. I think this actually set me back for although my run felt fantastic, with a really fun, pumpy fireroad finish, it turned out to be my worst placed run of the day and I think that was from overthinking and not just riding.
Although stage 5 had felt a bit pokey and lacking flow during practice, it was the one that had us all grinning from ear to ear at the end! There was a road gap midway through the run that I had hit nicely during practice but no one else had chanced it. I knew they were all capable and told them exactly what to expect. Every single one of us tried it and the whoops of elation at the end was amazing!!
Stage 6 had been everyone’s favourite in practice and it didn’t fail to disappoint for most of us. Gill, unfortunately took a tumble just before the end and hit the fireroad in the same frame of mind as I had been at the end of stage 2; mad!!
Up the climb and into stage 7, the last of the day. We were all chatting and enjoying each other’s company so much that we were at the top before we realised. Whippet had been watching the live timing at the bottom and was trying to tell me where I was in the pack. I did NOT want to know!
Fran and Adie had been supporting us all the way around (they must have walked miles!) and were in the middle of the stage to cheer us all on. It went without incident and I hit the finish field feeling elated. I knew I’d made mistakes, I knew my result wasn’t going to be great but I didn’t care; I had had the best day with my friends (this is twice this has happened now!) I heard my kids shouting as I thrust my knees out left and right, trying to hold the high line as the tape flowed through the steep field. That feeling is amazing!!!
I ran out of the gate and up towards my kids. Whip was desperate to tell me that I was in eighth after stage 6. I was secretly hoping for top five but having seen the field this morning, knew that I had to be happy with top ten. I still couldn’t help but be disappointed. I then met Sam Bosher on my way to hand in my chip, who said I was sitting in third. Eh?! That couldn’t be right. But it was. The screen was flashing third but as I handed in my chip, the printout told me that I was in fourth. I was still so unbelievably happy with that – but obviously it could all change depending on who was left out on the field.
A coffee and a lot of chat later, it looked like everyone was in and I was still in fourth! At a National!! What?!!!!! I know I should strive for third or higher but I have to say that I was even more elated to see that the ex DH racer, Ellie Maxfield had beaten me by a minute. Even with my crash on stage 2, I had not lost a minute and so there was nothing to regret. Obviously I could go faster in future, but….! They reckon that this was the largest field of female riders next to Ard Rock so to come fourth feels flipping ace!
Mollie finished 12th in our class. Mase finished 15th and Cock in 18th in Seniors. Considering Mase has only been back on the bike for a few weeks after breaking her shoulder in January, and this was both her and Cock’s first enduro, I think we all did ourselves extremely proud.
I was worried that I wasn’t taking race day seriously enough but what does it matter? I had a brilliant time and met some truely amazing women whilst we were out there! I actually believe that being relaxed helped my riding and perhaps I should do this sociable thing more often!!
Thanks to Caroline and Will Hoddinott (the parents) for giving up their weekend (and their sanity) to camp with us and our kids! Even in their absence, my brother and my Thursday night ride group were lending their support so thanks boys! And thanks once again to Trailmunki, Flow MTB and The Fitness Factory, Lostwithiel for their supportAmy Jones
Fort William came with snow, rocks and more rocks, took out a quarter of the field and then added more rocks!
Last year I raced Fort William for the first time and found it really hard. The track was unlike anything I had tried to race before and I didn’t feel ready for it. I’d never been there before and having only seen the track on TV with my heroes racing it I wasn’t sure I would be good enough. I’d been back on my bike for 7 or 8 months following a big crash, I wasn’t pain free and although I had regained some strength from gym work I was lacking time on the bike. I found the huge jumps at the end difficult to ride and was on the brakes constantly to roll them. I struggled to get my head in the game and I left pleased to have made it down but with unfinished business.On the run up to Fort William this year I started thinking about being ready mentally. I hadn’t had a perfect off season with various injuries and wasn’t sure I had done enough riding but I had worked hard in the gym and focused on nutrition. I was feeling strong and healthy and recognised that physically I was in the best shape I had been for years. That seemed like a good start.Mentally I was a lot less sure. I knew I could ride the track and I knew I would still find the track hard, it is hard and even the pros find it hard! I had a great result at round one and although my finishing position was worse than last year, the competition was stronger. I had improved my time by 19 seconds which gave me some confidence in my riding and 2 podiums over the 2 weekends prior to Fort William made me think that I stood a good chance of improving my time from last year. I wanted under 7 mins 30 seconds but against a time of 8:06 last year that was a big ask. Looking at the field I knew a podium was unlikely so was focusing on improving my time and comparing me to me and not everyone else.
Logistically it was a nightmare, I needed to get from Bristol to Fort William for Friday to Sunday and that in itself didn’t seem a problem. The issue was that I needed to be in Brighton for 9am Monday morning to chair sessions at a conference I was also later presenting at! Balancing a busy job and racing is hard but thankfully with the help of an amazing PA and friends I managed to work out how to get myself and kit from one end of the country to the other, phew!
I arrived in Fort William Thursday evening feeling quietly confident and excited to ride. I got some bad news from my family and as I stood crying at the biscuit aisle in supermarket I felt bereft and very far from home. I ate my body weight in said biscuits and distracted myself by wrestling with my tyres, trying to get old ones off and get new ones to seal without getting sealant all over the B&B car park!Friday morning was overcast but soon warmed up as we got on track. It was unofficial practice and the track wasn’t taped yet so there was much discussion about possible lines as we set off. I frantically tried to remember lines from last year having not managed to do a track walk the day before and nervously committed to horizon lines hoping it was still the same and I remembered which side to plunge off! I got it mostly right with only one hairy moment where I went off the wrong side and found myself faced with a bigger drop than expected into boulders, mainly I was impressed with my recollection skills!I had a fab day of practice tagging on to Katy and Aston. Obviously they are much faster than me so I mainly chatted in the lift and at the stops we had on track but it was good to try and keep up and join in with line options that I might not have spotted myself. I still wasn’t sending the jumps at the end but I was jumping them (casing them as they’re huge!) which was a huge improvement over last year. We rattled through runs and the track became more familiar then we got out of the lift on our 4th run to a different world. Everything was white and the snow was hammering down on the wind, lashing into bare skin and stinging faces. I am terrified of board walk so the prospect of boardwalk covered in snow almost had me retreating to the lift but with a deep breath and strong words to myself I set off after Katy. I couldn’t feel my hands within seconds and couldn’t wait to get down into the woods out of the wind and where the snowline became rain. I got my best line yet through the rock garden before realising that the tape was up and the track actually now turned left half way down it!
I pushed back up and went to set off blindly into it following Katy but then I saw a friend go down hard in the first 20m and decided I might walk it first! The roots were slippery in the wet but the rock drop to flat fire road which was getting covered in wet mud was more than a little intimidating. I watched a few riders slide off it sideways and considered leaving it until the following day when the forecast said it would be dry. Then I remembered that I was riding well and could ride it regardless of mud and committed to it anyway. It was totally fine and I was relieved not to have to worry about it all night!A relaxing evening with dinner for one in the pub with my book in front of a cosy fire was exactly what I needed. I woke up Saturday looking forward to official practice. I got on track early and somehow got 3 runs done before lunch. I quickly realised it would be easy to do too many runs and when I asked myself what I would gain from another run I didn’t have a good answer. I decided to spend the rest of the day watching and eating cake. It turned out to be a good decision as the track got red flagged repeatedly leading to people being stuck on track for long periods of time and others struggling to get in more than 2 runs. Wahoo for early starts and decisions led by cake.
Sunday morning was frosty but the endless blue sky hinted at a scorcher of a day ahead. I drove to the venue feeling settled and happy. I got on track for a warm up run and discovered my arms were tired! I got pumped almost immediately and was struggling to hold on. My arms buckled at the bottom of a rocky step and suddenly I was humping my handlebars balancing on my front wheel facing the floor. Somehow I rolled out of it and around the corner where, still out of shape, I failed to unclip and toppled over in slow motion on top of Aston. Obviously we were right under the gondola so lots of people saw me go down and could ask me about it later, haha how embarrassing.
A rest and some recovery left my arms feeling much better and I got ready for my qualifying run. It soon became clear that the track was closed after another big crash and time ticked on. After a really long time the organisers announced there would be no qualifying so we were straight into race runs! It was hard not to be sad about only having to do one full run but at the same time I wasn’t really up to speed yet. Oh well we were all in the same boat.The number of ladies in my category had gone from 12 to 9 as injuries took their toll. Lining up at the start hut I was feeling calm and confident. I knew the track and I had really enjoyed practice. The wind was blasting across the hill blowing riders off a small jump near the top so I made plans to go round it for the first time all weekend, it didn’t make sense to crash at the start if it could be avoided.
I set off and blimey the wind was unbelievable! I struggled to hold lines as my bike was being blown sideways. Getting blown off the board walk became a real possibility so I tucked down as low as I could and relied on a speed tuck to see my through it! I wrestled with my bike against the wind and by the time I reached the woods I was really feeling it in my legs and arms! A quick talk to myself and I nailed it through the rock garden. I entered the new woods section and everything was blown out, I couldn’t see my line at all and ended up off track in the tape. I restarted and then got off line again, I tried to steer back on line but stalled. In too low a gear to pedal I ended up scooting along like a 3 year old, hitting the sketchy drop on to the fire road with only 1 foot clipped before dropping into the steep corner the other side with a deep sigh of relief.
I made it round to the motorway jumps at the end straight on into a head wind! My legs felt like lead and my lungs were heaving but I knuckled down and sprinted like a mad woman between each of those jumps. I’d been working hard in the gym and it showed, this year I could sprint between the jumps, yeah it wasn’t pretty and I was blowing hard but I could do it. I came over the line surprised to hear I was in 4th. We had started fastest to slowest and 4 people started ahead of me. I watched the others cross the lone anxiously watching results. The track took another victim and of the original start list only 8 finished. I could hardly believe I’d made it on to the podium, wahoo! Making me even happier I had made it under the 7min 30sec I wanted and taken a whopping 40 seconds off with 7 min 26 sec.
Without a doubt my training and nutrition helped me achieve results this race but the support of my coaches and learning to believe in myself helped as well. Despite running off track in the woods I never gave up and I chased that time the whole way down.With a huge grin I finished my logistical nightmare with a trip to Brighton, chaired a successful session, gave a well received presentation and rounded off the week with a gin. A week later having reclaimed my kit from the friend who ferried it I’m left with a stinking bag of clothes to sort but I’m still grinning!Rebecca Smith, Flow MTB rider
New to the race calendar, my friends and I all signed up to the Ashcombe Mini DH race back in the winter when we were all excited about the monthly Woodland Riders races at Gawton Gravity Hub.
After many an Enduro to start the season, it seemed odd to be getting back into the DH mentality.
In enduro, you may get a sighter of each of the stages on the morning of the race or you may well race it blind, either way, you can’t get too hung up on line choice, you’ve just got to ride each stage as best as you can with little or no knowledge of how each corner or feature will ride. In downhill racing, you may find out about the course weeks in advance, allowing for intricate knowledge of line choice and plenty of opportunities to practice, especially if you’re local. To top that you get a full morning of practice to perfect each line on every part of the course.
Ashcombe was slightly different as it was raced on a private estate, the course being only available to practice from 9am on race day, unless you’d helped to build it. This evened the field a little bit! The course was, as a result, freshly cut and with a small amount of rain over the past few days we were all a little unsure of how the track would hold. On track walk, the lines looked simple enough to hit but in practice, I was struggling throughout, getting very frustrated with myself and yes, moaning considerably as a result. If you read my blog regularly, you may realise that this is fairly standard on race day!! I’m surprised I have any friends at all!
Part of the key to dh racing is visualising the course between each run, memorising every corner and knowing which line you’re going to take and when. I found this really hard to do in this case as several parts of the track looked similar. It wasn’t until race run 2 that I was focussed enough to talk myself through it.
From the start gate there was a short but flat out pedal to the first corner, sweeping wide and right to creep left, around a gully, over a fire road and then a tight left hander that shot me out wide every time, using every part of my sidewall to keep from sliding out. Every single run I lost traction through these corners and momentarily upset myself because of it. If only I could ride flat corners!
A short right traverse led to a small kicker into a berm. Throughout practice, I kept losing my back end just as I went off the kicker, making my landing very snaky every time. It became evident as practice came to a close that a sniper root lay hidden under the loam and should be avoided at all costs. As I was reassessing the course between runs one and two, and after a tactical line discussions with my unofficial coaches, Rob Drake and Rhys Parry, it was decided that wide around the root and low into the berm to avoid the roots on the other side was the line of choice.
From the berm, a long rooty, off camber traverse proved very difficult to get right. I knew that I had to stay high to stay straight but the roots kept kicking me sideways. In my attempt to stay high I seemed to pinball off each side of the trail, not keeping my momentum at all.
After my track walk, I was convinced that the trail bike was the bike of choice but this root section had me so frustrated that mid way through practice, I decided to switch to the downhill bike to see if I could hold this line better. Two runs on that and I was smiling at the bottom. For what I lost in pedal speed on the first straight, I more than made up for by holding my lines further down. However, this section was a true sticking point throughout the race and definitely where I lost time.
Phil Mathar off the jump and into the berm From here, a chute onto the fire road and another one into a right hand berm was where I breathed a slight sigh of relief (why?!) I knew the wide line between the stumps was the answer but I failed to hit it on both race runs, almost stopping dead by taking the inside line and slamming my bike into the berm at the bottom.
The next corner had many a line choice but after quizzing the marshal, I elected to keep it tight through the tree stumps to thread the needle round the corner and into the bombhole. Even on the dh bike this corner felt ok so I went with it. The other option was a very long way round in comparison, to widen up the corner.
Another chute onto the fire road and into the next tricky section; the bog. The most frustrating bit of the day. I knew what I needed to do but I only hit the line twice; once in practice and once on my second race run.
Coming out of the berm you had to head as close to the stump on the right as possible, then straight line it above the boggy, rooty, rocky section. Midway along the line there was a root that if hit, would send you right and into the tape. Getting above this root was the absolute key to making it out of this section without having to pedal or pull yourself out of the tape.
From here a right turn then led you into “the gully”; a steep chute into 3 bermed wall rides (a bit like a half pipe). The plan was to cut the chute off close to the tape, and head in a straight line through the gully, ignore two of the berms before hitting the third to send you up and over the wall to the sprint finish. I’m not sure I ever hit the berm properly but I pedalled like mad to the finish, spraying the timing guy (my mate, Chris Lamley) a beaut on my first race run!
After run one, I was 1.3 seconds down on Evie Hidderley, my fellow Trailmunki rider and another second ahead of Hot Pursuits rider, Rachel Manning. My run had felt ok but the guys were adamant that I could improve across the first rooty traverse and I knew that there was time to be made in the bog as I had veered right at the root and had to steer out of the tape.
I had to go into old Amy mode and not talk to anyone. I took a walk down the side of the track again and talked myself through each corner and traverse. Rob, Rhys and I drew diagrams on the dusty van to try to help me make up some time.
Climbing up to the start ramp for my second run, I was a complete mess. Apparently I always pull it out of the bag on my second run. I did it throughout the Woodlands series but only because I had crashed on my first run every time! I tried to find my “blue” zone (Listen to the Downtime Podcast from Josh Bryceland) but it was evident from the first few corners that I was totally seeing red. The whole descent was scrappy with me sliding round corners and braking way to sharply. The only thing that felt good throughout the whole run was the bog but it really didn’t feel fast enough and I was convinced that Evie, or someone else would have got it.
Chatting to Evie on the way up, I was trying to be the supportive teammate but I have to admit I was disappointed. I didnt expect to win coming in to the day but the pressure of a race makes you hope for good things.
Almost at the top of the climb, I met Rob and Rhys coming down. They were yet to do their second run and had come to find me. I was pretty sure they’d have looked at my time but they were giving nothing away. As we drew level, they pulled sad faces at me and I accepted the inevitable. However, Rhys’s face was breaking down a bit…..had I? Eventually they both caved and dealt both Evie and I, our times. Both of us had gone faster, Evie getting a 1.08 and myself a 1.07; 3 seconds quicker than my first run. How? I’ll never know, but I did get the bog right!
I’m sorry Evie, that I stole it off you. You are getting very rapid, very quickly and I know my time infront of you is limited.
I have to thank Rob and Rhys for supporting me through my day of torment! I’m not sure why you put up with me but I’m grateful! Thanks to Phil and Conrad also, although they were too busy practicing with the pros to hear me moan all morning!! Phil’s words of wisdom on the start ramp were helpful, although I’m not sure me shouting “Panic brake” at him during his race run was entirely in keeping with his support!
Massive thanks to Jay Williamson for providing a voucher for a days coaching as a spot prize for coming 75th overall. Much to my mates disgust that was me! (out of 157!). It’s thanks to Jay’s coaching sessions (with back up from before mentioned friends) that I have learnt to pump roots and I’m pretty sure it’s making me faster!
Once again, thanks to Trailmunki for sorting the bikes again! I managed to shatter my headset bearing on the Kona into a million pieces last weekend and it no longer sounds like a filing cabinet rolling down a hill!!Amy Jones
The GT Bicycles Malverns Classic Mountain Bike Festival. 14-16th of June 2019.
We’re giving you the chance to WIN two weekend tickets plus parking to the biggest party in British mountain biking. We’ll also give you £25 to spend on our stall so make sure your come and say hello!
The Malverns Classisc is a fun packed weekend of exciting events including racing, mountain bike demos and trade/expo (including yours truly), live entertainment with bands and DJ’s, licenced bar, free fun fair rides, pumptrack and stunt shows. All in a chilled out friendly, fun and safe environment for all the family.
For your chance to WIN simply enter your email address below.
- Competition closes Friday 31st May, 2019.
- Winner will be contacted on Monday 3rd June, 2019.
- Prize is for two weekend tickets plus parking and £25 to spend on the Flow MTB stall at the event.
- Prize does not include your travel to or from the event or race entry.
- Event takes place 14-16th June, 2019 at
- Eastnor Deer Park, Ledbury, Herefordshire. HR8 1EN
- Full details of the event can be found at https://www.malvernsclassic.com/
- Winner will be chosen at random.
- Winner must be over 16.
- Entrants email addresses will be added to our database which you can unsubscribe to at any time.
- Your email will not be shared with any third parties.
I returned from my northern road trip ready to start my second semester in Bergen. I was starting to reach the point where I’d had enough of van life: the damp, the constant search for a spot to call home for the night, having to think about how much drinking water you have, how full your toilet is, how much charge your leisure battery has. The rubber washer on my toilet was starting to wear out and I couldn’t find a replacement, I had to line the toilet area with sawdust and lavender in case of a slight spillage. Every evening I would get back to the van and all the water would be frozen, I would have to defrost it bit by bit by the fire in order to cook, drink, wash up etc. It had reached a point where it was physically and emotionally draining. Then the release catch on my bonnet broke and I couldn’t get it open, that was fine when I was only missing screen wash but eventually the oil light came on and I knew I had to fix it.
Lacking motivation I had parked up in town near the University, I stayed in the same spot for weeks, on weekends I went to a nice study area in the University where I could take my dog, there were comfy seats and a supply of hot water. But I knew I’d have to move at some point, especially after the evening the fire brigade came and knocked on my door: A local resident had spotted the smoke coming out of my chimney and for some reason thought the van was on fire, I got a knock on the door and was surprised to see a fireman. I showed him the installation and he was happy with what I’d done. I then had a visit from the police (customary after a visit from the fire brigade), they checked my details and shook my hand! It was time to fix the van though. Turns out this is a design flaw on my van and I ended up having to saw through the grill in order to feed my arm up behind it and release the catch… I was soon headed out of town to find a nice spot in nature where I could re-energise myself and pray for spring.
Eventually the days started getting longer, but the rain kept coming and I started dreaming of Easter: I was heading back to the UK in order to get my van MOT’d. I left Bergen on a typical rainy day and drove straight onto the ferry that would take me to Denmark. The next day I drove off the ferry into glorious sunshine, as I drove south I beamed a smile at the sun beating down on my face, the heat on my arms, the breeze coming in through the window. Heaven.
It was great to catch up with family and friends and get all the mechanics done, but I was soon back on the long road to Bergen, ready for Spring.
Spring in Bergen is a glorious thing, the rain eases, the days are as long as summer days in the UK, and as soon as it gets warm enough the plants go crazy, making the most of their short growing season. I had a visit from Little Miss Hannah Escott and took her to all my favourite places. Suddenly life felt good.
All too soon my time in Norway came to an end, exams were over and I had a wedding to get to back in the UK. On the journey home the van started playing up: the engine would just cut out, luckily it would start up again but it became a nerve-wracking drive. I had to get to the UK so that my AA cover could save me. As I approached The Hook of Holland, I could see the ferry in the distance, and the van quit on me. I would start it up, pull on to the road and it would cut out again. I somehow made it to the ferry and parked up, relief flooded over me. To cut a long story short, the van died before I got to the wedding, so I turned up at the venue on the back of an AA truck. Luckily the venue was only a couple of miles from my trusty mechanic friend and we fixed what turned out to be a hole in the tubing between the fuel tank and the diesel filter: the air being sucked in caused the engine to cut out…
Summer is a fantastic time to be living in a van. I spent it in Devon working for my brother, camping in stunning locations, recuperating from my Scandinavian experience and preparing myself for my final year of Undergrad. Little did I know that I was about to tackle the toughest year of vanlife yet.
Have you got a story to share?
Attended a skills course and want to let others about the new skills you learnt? Entered a race and want to shout how well you and all the other ladies did? Taken part in an MTB event, holiday, social ride and think others would enjoy reading about your experience too? Maybe you’re organising an event and want to publicise it to more female riders or maybe you just want to share all the benefits mountain biking brings to you. We’re looking for guest bloggers to write interesting stories for our website. Whether you’re new to mountain biking or a seasoned rider, if you’ve got something you’d like to share that may help promote and encourage more women into mountain biking we want to hear from you. Any blog chosen to be published on our website and we’ll send you a voucher for future use at Flow MTB, find our more here.
May the fourth be with you!
After trashing their trails 18 months ago in persistent October rain, the Dept 26 Enduro in Bude was back on for the fourth year and May the Fourth be with you! Unfortunately with it being a bank holiday weekend and the second round of the PMBA National Enduro series, entry numbers were down to only 35 out of the proposed 50. I think it came as a shock to all of us to get tickets; the event having sold out in minutes last time around.
I was supposed to be on call all weekend but knew that all of my local mountain bike friends would be at this event; a race not to be missed. My amazing colleague, Serena offered to cover me for the day so game on!
With a road trip across the moor just for pre-race banter with all of our Thursday night ride group, we’d pushed it tight for a track walk, only really getting to look at the two technical sections (stage 3 and 5) in Canada Woods, walking down one and up the other. A quick look at the jump line that we all remembered from previous events and the new tabletop was about all we managed before riders briefing.
3rd off the line and just behind Rob, it wasn’t long before the four of us were reunited and riding together with odd sightings of friends here and there.
The first two stages were in Tiscott woods; the first being the most painful pedal that I think I’ve ever done in my life. I honestly thought that I’d prolapsed my right lung into my trachea on the long climb through the gully and thought I’d be sick before I stopped coughing at the bottom! The rest of the fun, flowy, rooty goodness was forgotten because of “that climb!”
Stage two was the jump line. I managed to case the first step up; a jump that I’m sure is well within me, but it meant that I then cased every subsequent jump until hitting the catch berm at the end. The gully that followed found me tank slapping majorly until I ended up sprawled across my top tube with the bike sideways off the trail. It wasn’t a full “off” but it was a full stop that I had to shimmy out of. I found it hard to get going again but managed to just about get to the top of the sharp climb without pedalling against hard gears. A corner then led to a drop into the finish line.
Stage three was in Canada and featured a lot of rooty, off camber, steep corners with a left hand fireroad sprint that came up on me a lot sooner than I anticipated! It was fun but a lot tighter than I remember it from the past three events.
Back to Tiscott for Stage four and there are only three things I remember from this trail. The very daunting tabletop that saw me completely over jump it and land pretty much in the berm the other side (I’m pretty sure there was a bar twist but it was definitely not intentional!), a drop into a loose fire road crossing where I heard my son rattling his cow bell like there was no tomorrow (thanks Ruan!) and two trees painted red that made me panic brake only to find that I sailed through them no problem! But all in all, I remember this being fun!!
However, stage 5, back in Canada was my favourite trail of the day. More off camber roots with techy, steep corners and a nasty tree that caught my finger on the last corner. The only trouble for me was that it was over too soon, unlike Rob who had a full on OTB and had to run uphill to collect his bike.
The final stage was in Tiscott and I remember it from old. There is a very steep pedal midway through the stage that pretty much stops you dead. There were a few roots to contend with there as well but the long trail to the finish is fun and flowy and had me smiling for the finish (mainly because I was knackered!)
Last time we raced this, I was so nervous about the result, and if I’m honest, I still am at most all other enduros. Given my nerves mid week, the feeling of almost serenity at the end of stage 6 was very novel to me. I actually didn’t care where I’d come, I’d had a brilliant day on my bike, riding with my friends and having my husband and kids there to support me (even if Teän, my daughter, wouldn’t watch any of it!) was the icing on the cake. I’d forgotten how much fun the Bude Enduro is and how good that feeling of community we have in the South West is.
Caja is an amazing young rider who has been smoking it for the last two years on the National scene. 18 months ago I was a little quicker on the descents and managed to beat her by a very small margin. Since then she has got mega quick downhill and I never expected to beat her again, ever! Equally, the rest of the female field; Mollie Leverton, Fran Dawson and Evie Hidderley have been getting faster and faster all winter and I really didn’t know how it would end. If I’m honest, I was hoping for second but would not have been surprised if any one of them (or all of them) had beaten me. Mollie had had a very unfortunate incident on Stage one where the tape had been split and not replaced, sending her down onto the fire road and completely off the stage. Judging by her times, she lost three minutes for this mistake, and probably should’ve asked for a rerun.
The top three from each category are called for the podium before the remainder of the results are published online so no-one knows where they’ve come until the very end. Calling the women’s podium last, Evie was called up for third place. To my massive surprise, Caja came in second. Did this mean I’d won it?? I was shaking as milliseconds felt like minutes and still didn’t want to believe that it was me, until…..they called my name! Top spot, the big log and the best trophy I have ever won! Not to mention a huge bag of goodies from Men Makers & Ride It Cycles, Bude. I almost cried, I was that shocked.
As for the rest of the Thursday night lot, Rob got fourth (damn that crash on stage 5), Phil came fifth and Rhys got ninth. I came thirteenth overall! We aced it!
Thank you so much Dept 26 for putting on yet another amazing event; it’s family friendly and epitomises everything that I love about mountain biking in the South West. Please don’t let lower numbers this year put you off doing it again, there’s a lot of us that would give up anything else to come ride your trails and we really appreciate you giving up your time to let us.
Thanks again to Trailmunki for sorting the bike (she is now sweet after much love over the last few weeks!), Flow MTB for my awesome kit and team support and Chris Chew for sorting my fitness out! I think you may have had a lot to do with that success so thanks for all the pain! And lastly I ought to thank my husband. Although I have a reputation to uphold, it really did mean the world to me to have my family there to support me. Whippet pretty much always lets me ride or race when I want to and doesn’t (always) moan when he’s left with the kids, (again!). Sometimes I take his eye rolling as negativity but today I realised that he actually believes I can do this, far more than I could believe it myself. Soppy bit over, I flipping love riding my bike!!Amy Jones