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.
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.
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.
It’s been way over a week since we raced the last round of the SW Kenda Enduro series at my home woods in Grogley and I’m still buzzing from the excitement. So much so that I’m a bit scared to put pen to paper as I’m worried I’ll do it an injustice.
We generally ride Grogley on a Thursday evening; Rob, Mark, Phil, Rhys and I, but for the weeks preceding the race, we all seemed to have stuff on and struggled to get there for some pre-race training. My brother, Matt was making this the first race of the year having succumbed to parenthood this time last year. He’s an hour away so in the last few weeks before the race, it was Matt and I who, along with various other mates, tried to work out what tracks would be used. It was evident on my track walk the day before the race that where we thought we’d had comfortable lines thought out for most eventualities, they’d been mismashed to take away the home advantage. Well, most of it.
Pulling into the field on Sunday morning, it was so great to see a sea of local riders and more distant friends made throughout the series. But most of all, I was so chuffed to see Mollie and Hannah. Unfortunately in waiting for Rob, however, we missed the chance to practice together. Bloody boys and their faffing!
I always feel an unwanted pressure going into a race but today seemed worse than most. I wanted to do well in my local event, and as I ride here near enough every week, I should do well, shouldn’t I?!
Strangely, stage 1 was the track we all know as “Quarry Tipper” or to some it’s the “Enduro Line”. Invariably this is usually our first start track when we’re playing as it’s the furthest track from the main start area. It’s got lots of rooty, flat corners at the start before diving you down a series of tight, steep switchbacks. Usually I love this track but in practice, I just couldn’t get it together. I asked every local that I came across how they were riding, and everyone agreed; “not as good as I normally do!” Race pressure does a lot for my looseness on a bike, particularly in practice!
Stage 2 is a popular favourite; “Middle line” into “gulley chute”, including a double, lovingly named “The Flash”. This summer saw me jump this for the first time having tried to pluck up the courage for two years. It was great, therefore, to see that my friend, marshal and primed photographer, Alan Rabjohns was stationed right here to get the best possible shot of me…
His wife, Cath was the next Marshall point down at the fire road crossing. It was awesome on my race run to have Cath and so many people shouting me on!
Stage 3 was mostly freshly cut in a section of woods that we very rarely ride. With mostly flat corners, some of them taped to a rightangle off the worn line; I found this stage both frustrating and hard to navigate. Everything about it felt alien and wrong. I practiced it twice, raced it once and my language got more fruitful with every attempt! (Sorry)
Stage 4 was upon us way too soon. We all know this trail as “stage 5” as it was in the 2014 X Fusion Enduro race. This is the longest trail in Grogley and again, one we don’t usually ride from the top as it’s usually overgrown, particularly the Christmas tree section midway down!
It starts with flat, rooty corners one of which was an absolute pain to get right. An uphill, rooty pedal spiced up my language again, before trying to go fast through the freshly cut areas midway through the stage left me a little bit heavy on the brakes in places! However, this trail carried a lot more flow than stage three and I was having a great time coming into the steep fourth section. I may have hit “Champery Corner” slightly too fast for my liking though and managed to stay on despite accidentally endo-ing the corner out of it. The altered bottom section rode so well despite ending in freshly cut loam so that at the bottom I was grinning from ear to ear.
My race runs were definitely better than practice and I was happy to come away with second in Masters to Haby-Blu Mullane who is awesome to say the least! It was enough to secure the series win though which certainly made my day!
It was great to race with Hannah and Mollie. Their abuse always makes racing more relaxed and fun, even if Hannah did end up battered and bruised yet again! It was great to catch up with Ellie Dewdney as well, although her decision to train me down stage 3 was probably an error as I completely misnavigated the taped corners!
The racing was epic, as always with anything involving Ed and the Southern Enduro team. But what really made this race special was the amazing atmosphere generated by 30-40 people crowded round the toughest corner of the day; “Champery Corner”; heckling and shouting “encouragement” to anyone who didn’t quite make it! I’m so sorry Whip for telling them that you were on your way. (chant “whip, whip, whip” as he entered the section!) You coped so much better than I would have under that pressure! Bracefield Films really captured the atmosphere and their video is worth a watch!
I think it’s a great testament to the mountain bike community in Cornwall just how awesome this race was. Having so many friends in one area; racers, marshalls and onlookers was just ace! It was also great to have my brother back on the scene, (even if it did result in sea fareing bath toys hidden in random places in my van).
Well done to everyone who raced, I think we all did ourselves proud but huge congratulations to Rob for coming second in hardtail against some very tough competition and for also getting second in the series. Podiums are definitely becoming your thing!
Torrential rain, a new puppy and gallons of mud; the perfect recipe for camping!
The week leading up to round 4 of the national series was not the most ideal race preparation. I made a long drive to the other end of the country to pick up Toby, my 9 month old rescue springer spaniel, getting home very late and feeling very tired. I then spent the next 2 days getting to know my new puppy, realising he liked to get up early (which I knew because he jumped repeatedly on my face and tried to eat my ears) before packing him and my existing spaniel into the car to go racing.
The weather had been wet that week and the Friday was no exception. I arrived to a water logged field in a torrential rain storm and got soaked setting up my tent. Emily, my team mate, was an absolute legend and left the dry, warmth of her tent to get soaked helping me put my tent up. With that sorted I rushed around moving stuff from the car to the tent and tried to arrange it so my hungry, previously underfed and therefore starving, springer couldn’t get in to it. I decided to track walk regardless of the rain since I was already wet and the dogs needed a walk whatever the weather. The track was sloppy with a stream running down it and a huge pond in one corner. Thankfully it was quite hard pack and rocky for much of its length so I figured it would dry up over the weekend which was forecast to be sunny. There was a new freshly taped section at the top which was wide with lots of line choice but largely flat, very soft and completely untouched leaving lots of conversation about line choice, what ruts might appear over the weekend and whether it would be rideable. My puppy discovered that mud was awesome and he and Charlie gallivanted around the hillside nose deep in it. I also took a trip down part of the hill on backside so we returned to the tent looking like we’d been to a wet Glastonbury. A jet wash shower of everyone soon sorted the mud out and then there was the small task of 3 adults and 2 dogs trying to eat dinner in the confines of a tent while the puppy made leaping flybys at any scrap of food he saw.
We agreed a late start Saturday so the track could dry out but as predicted I was up quite early with the dogs so had a leisurely morning in the sunshine strolling around in my PJs. When we finally got on track I was surprised at how greasy it was. The pools of water, river and even most of the slop had dried off but the rocky sections were unexpectedly slippery. The top section was littered with riders on the floor. The soft loam had already become huge ruts and holes which resulted in crowds of riders standing watching trying to decide on lines and laughing at the carnage of those who tried the lines. On the first run down I had just started to get to grips with the sketchy greasy conditions and started trusting some grip when I slid my front wheel in to a tree stump and fired myself over the bars into a big tree. I stood up in the bushes figuring I had lost everyone I was riding with when I spied Emily in the bushes just round the corner. We had apparently tried our hand at synchronised crashing, going down almost simultaneously. I reckon it was worth a 7 from the judges!
As the day went on the track dried out more and more. It became less greasy and more fun to ride, which lead to some sketchy lines over tree stumps, sideways take offs and squirrely landings as the pace picked up. The top section remained a nightmare. It was different on pretty much every run and it was impossible to get through quickly. Elite and amateur riders alike were being taken down by sniper roots, boggy holes and left scratching their heads about how to do it consistently. I was having a lot of fun, sure it wasn’t the best track, in fact the top was flatter than many xc tracks but I was riding in the sun with friends having a blast.
We went for an evening track walk with friends and discovered a whole variety of sneaky lines that they pointed out to us.A BBQ and my first ever smores (not as good as plain toasted marshmallows) made for a fun evening especially when Steve decided after 3 marshmallows he should probably call it until I sheepishly pointed out I had already had 9!
Normally on a race day I only do 2 warm up runs but with new lines to hit, entry points to find and some pace to pick up I managed to squeeze in 4! Thankfully it was a short track and the Pearce Cycles uplift was as efficient as ever.
Going into qualifying I hadn’t managed a perfectly clean run all weekend. The track was greasy and inconsistent; I never quite knew where I would slide out but sliding out and missing a line seemed fairly guaranteed on each run making it consistently inconsistent! Qualifying was fun and I had a great run. It wasn’t perfectly clean but I largely hit my lines, I stayed on my bike and I was pleased to be sitting just off the podium in 6th a second back from 5th place. I really wanted a second national podium this season and hoped I might be able to pull off a faster race run and join team mate Emily up in the top 5.
As we approached the time for our race runs I bumped into some friends who bemoaned the fact that rain was due. My previous weather report had suggested less than 0.2mm of rain so I wasn’t unduly bothered until they showed me the rain radar and it was clear it would be considerably more than that. We hoped that it might come in after our race runs like Bala but sadly that was not to be. The rain arrived and it poured and poured, stopping only about 10 minutes before our race runs. Although the sun came back out as we waited at the top it was clear the track would be wet. I theorised it wouldn’t be that wet under the trees so wasn’t too concerned.
I set off with the intention of riding it like it was dry. I hit the rooty boggy top section and although it didn’t feel too slippery I immediately found myself way off line in new territory! I rode what I found in front of me until I exited onto familiar ground at the end of the section. The next section of track felt terrifying! It was wetter than expected and super greasy! After a few near misses, a couple of spectacular saves and some slower more cautious riding I was relieved to make it out into the rest of the track without a crash. I knew I had a bit of time to make up after those 2 sections so concentrated on keeping it smooth for the last section. I came over the line sitting in 1st with 5 riders still to come. The next rider came over the line and although I had closed the gap they were still ahead of me by just under half a second. Next was Emily and the time ticked by but still she hadn’t appeared. I was relieved when she came into sight but the layer of mud on her indicated a lie down and I watched as I happily realised I would make the podium but sadly realised it wasn’t likely to have Emily on it.
Sure enough the remaining riders put in great runs and I held on to 5th place and my second podium at nationals this year. Not only was I really chuffed but my season goal has been a series podium and with another strong result this was starting to feel like it might be possible despite my poor result at the first race. Looking back at the split times was a surprise; my magical mystery tour through split 1 was the second fastest in our category! I had been right about my cautious middle split, those few slides and extra brakes made me second slowest (doh get off those brakes!!) and then I averaged that out with a nice mid pack last split to put me mid pack overall!
So as the season starts to draw to a close and everything is feeling distinctly autumnal it has been a great year so far. Two races left, one at Pearce and then off to Scotland for the last round of nationals before a nice break over winter, well netball season so not exactly a break but a break from racing! Now for some blackberry picking before heading off for the last Pearce and some hopefully drier camping.
Rob rocking Amy’s podium. Photo credit: Pete & Anj’s Photography (Peter Marland)
Ever since I’ve known him, Rob has been trying to convince me to race the Falmouth Urban Downhill. As I’m scared of descending on the road, I wasn’t convinced that it was the race for me! I breathed a sigh of relief last year when the event didn’t run but this year, I thought I’d give it a go, if only to shut him up!
My morning started badly with a flashy red oil light coming on on the van, getting lost in Penryn, crying down the phone at Rob and finally arriving half an hour after the agreed time (after bullying Rob to get there early for a track walk). He took it well but warned me as we set off down the hill that I was going to “freak out” when I saw the course but that it would be ok!
He was right. I freaked out! But we met Mollie at the bottom who had yet to enter and just talking her into doing the race made me feel a whole lot better. At least we were in it together! And everything with Mollie is always more fun!
The course started with a pedal out, then three flat corners around buildings and staircases. Corner after tight corner led you down over loose gravel, up and over curbs and finally through a very rocky wall that changed on every run. The aim here was to stay tight to the wall and avoid going off the curb but it was touch and go whether I could do it smoothly or not.
The first real feature followed the gravel and this was where I really freaked on our track walk. A wooden kicker with no transition sat about a foot in front of a giant slab of rock that bore the sign to “Penryn Campus”. The rock was slightly higher than the end of the kicker and the landing the other side was essentially flat grass with the downslope a very long way away. There was no way on earth I was going to attempt this and it made me feel like I was wasting my time coming. The B line was tight and flowy though with the exit sweeping nicely around to widen out the next corner. The jump was undoubtedly quicker but the sharp left hander as it rejoined the track meant that it was awkward and not as flowy as the B. Midway through practice, I actually considered this jump but on chatting it through with Rob, a chainring case was a very real possibility if I didn’t get enough height from the kicker. I decided the risk wasn’t worth it. But it pained me, a lot!
Following the kicker was a stairway of three sets of steps down between two buildings. Hay bales protected metal entranceways on the left of each flat section. I always ended up a bit squivvy at the top but managed to sort it out by the time I got to Will, the marshall at the bottom! Keeping tight to the wall at the bottom (Will texted me the tip between practice and race runs!) meant that I could just about get around the 90 degree gravelly corner and pedal to the step. Thanks for you constant cheering and guidance Top Marshall Will!
Outside the Manor House, there were two line options; a tight, gravelly 90 degree left off the step and a step down onto the concrete, or straight on drop to concrete and a flat out pedal to the wooden double. I tried the 90 once but felt the other option better for me, particularly as you could jump the kicker to flat if you stayed left. It took multiple practice runs to hit the gap itself but eventually I managed it, but I only actually made it nicely to downslope once and that was in my final practice run! My fastest timed run actually saw me chainring case it and still survive!
A flat pedal was interspersed with hay bales and metal hurdles to create chicanes. The high line over the grass to avoid them entirely felt right for me though. A set of steps followed before another flat section led to the bale gap. I couldn’t commit to clearing the bales on the grassy slope and so opted to cut inside them but stay on the grass, rather than risking Whip’s wheels (I borrowed the husband’s bike) on more steps.
Following the path down, another line split either sent you over a wooden ski jump or around a lightly longer concrete option. I didn’t actually investigate this as the ski jump was the one feature on my track walk that I actually thought I could do! As practice progressed I was actually making the downslope as well, instead of sending it to flat every time! After this, a tight right hander then led you down a series of turning steps that felt absolutely awesome if you hit them right!
I was absolutely amazed at how much fun I had on this course. I was, as predicted, freaking out on my track walk but once I’d ridden that track once, all thought of my fear of concrete had disappeared. The track was so much fun for competitors and spectators alike and it was great to see so many of my friends at one venue; some riding, some marshalling but most just there to spectate and soak up the amazing atmosphere! So thanks everyone for being there, but also thanks to Chris and Chaz Lamley who timed the event and chilled my nerves by hurling abuse (and the odd compliment) my way!
Huge thanks must go to Whippet, my husband who lent me his bike. Given the reason I didn’t have mine was because I cracked my carbon rear wheel last week, I think he was pretty brave to entrust me with his Dune, especially given the harsh nature of an urban downhill!
I can’t end this though without bigging Rob up yet again. I had to leave straight after my second race run to get to my niece’s first birthday party in Ivybridge. He struck me a deal; if I topped the podium, he’d stand in for me. Rob hates public attention and especially hates social media, but true to his word (he didn’t actually believe I’d win!) he took one for the team, donned my very fitted, very sweaty Flow team jersey and rocked the podium, just before having to stand up on his own for his third place in Masters, on a hardtail! Thanks again for talking me into it (and through it), Rob. I had so much fun! When do we sign up for next year!
I didn’t get to race national champs last year because I couldn’t get the time off work for another Scotland trip, so when I heard it was going to be at Revolution Bikepark in 2019 I was mega excited and it was my biggest motivation for racing this year.
I absolutely love Revs, the race track was the top of Ffar side which has a couple of fast jumps, then in to the steeper more technical ginger bobcat with its tight switchbacks and drops, then back on to the bottom of mainline, flat out straight through a few stumps and rocks section then back out in to the open to finish off on a few free ride style wide open jumps and in to the finish. Riding the track a few weeks before the race I loved it and I was buzzing for race weekend.
On the journey up on Friday night it looked like the weather might make things pretty interesting. I arrived too late to track walk Friday night, but catching up with teammate Becca when I arrived made me wonder what I’d let myself in for. I got up early Saturday morning and headed up for track walk. It was wet and muddy… really muddy. Let’s just say it was a challenge to stay on your feet and there were a few bits on the track that looked like they were going to get a bit wild after a few hundred riders came down. The drop in to the steep shoot and tight right hander one of the sketchiest looking bits of the track.
We headed up for practice and we weren’t wrong, it was wild. Most riders having to put feet down and red flag after red flag as riders slid their way down. Somehow I made it down without crashing, apparently I wasn’t the only one surprised at that, as me and teammate Becca got on the uplift for our second run, Jack Reading said he was surprised to see us again so soon because he thought we would still be stuck somewhere half way down the track (cheers pal!). I guess you’ve got to take those backhanded compliments when you get them.
I actually really enjoyed practice and felt like I was getting in to the flow of things and managing to stay “relaxed” and let the bike do the work, I normally panic in muddy conditions so this was a big achievement for me. The track dried up over the day but we called it pretty early while we were still injury free.
Saturday night was the 50to01 “bowl jam” at the bike park and a viewing of Veronique Sandler’s Vision Movie. I love a big jump line and a trick or two, so for me this movie ticks a lot of boxes. And sure, the fact it features a tonne of bad ass ladies just makes it even better. Now I’m super pumped to start getting a bit more daring in the air, eeek!
Sunday morning practice, I didn’t get on quite so well as I had on Saturday, I probably got a bit carried away trying to hit pace on the first run and struggled to keep it clean. Second practice run was better so I figured seeding would be good. Unfortunately, seeding was all round a bit of a disaster, I could see the rider in front almost as soon as I dropped in to ginger bobcat, just over a minute into my run. I had been dreading this happening, I had learned from practice that you can’t hit your breaks on that slippy clay mud and you can’t really safely stop, and you definitely can’t over take. What do you do? I figured it was only seeding, so I just held back and waited until the end of gingerbob cat to yell rider, the rider pulled over but I’d lost my flow and a few seconds later I crashed, cleats full of mud, couldn’t clip back in for the whole of main line and finished in 5th after seeding.
The commissionaires assured me that the girls should have been running fastest to slowest and it was a printing error that this wasn’t the case on the sheet and advised me to correct the order at the top for race runs, but an objection from one of the other girls meant that we ran slowest to fastest again on race runs, so I set off in the same place as I had for seeding. I tried to get an extra gap so I wasn’t setting off as close, but that wasn’t allowed.
So I went into my race run in a pretty rubbish mental state, frustrated and worrying about catching up with the rider in front. Luckily the girl in front had a much better run than seeding and I didn’t catch her until I came in to main line and followed her to the finish.
I finished in 3rd, my first podium of the season and super happy to share it with Ami our well-deserved masters national champ! I hope we see some more races at Revolution bike park soon because I love the tracks and it was an all round good weekend!
Swampageddon and bog snorkeling at the 2019 National Downhill Championships
As National Champs approached I was feeling increasingly nervous. There were a lot of people wishing me luck and hoping I retained my title which was lovely but also led to a feeling of pressure I was not used to. I roughly knew who had entered and knew that the chances of retaining the title were very slim! Now don’t get me wrong I always go to a race wanting to win but I also set my goals realistically. So if there are 4 people there who are normally faster than me I might set a goal to beat one of them, improve my time from last year by 10% or hit a particular line/feature that I’ve previously not done. Heading in to national champs I wanted to win but my goal was to place 4th or higher. That would mean beating at least 1 person who is normally faster than me so a pretty tall order but a good goal.
The forecast for the weekend was terrible and at the 2 week mark looked like rain for the 4 days beforehand and all day Saturday and Sunday. By the time Thursday came around the forecast had changed; there had been some rain in the week with heavy rain predicted for Friday but Saturday changed to showers and Sunday to dry with sunny spells… in my experience it’s always wet in the Nog! Many others tell me that the tracks can be dry but I’ve yet to see it myself!!
Driving there on Friday I was pleasantly surprised at how dry the weather was until I was about 10 miles away and the rain started. When I got to 3 miles away the road turned into a river and the rain was so hard I couldn’t see out of my windscreen. Pulling over in a layby until I could see again I was worried about getting my car stuck in the camping field and how wet I was going to get as I put up my tent and walked the track. Oh well I had my waterproofs with me and it looked like I was going to get some use out of them.
The rain magically stopped and I put my tent up in the dry, I caught up with friends and then went to sign on. There were 6 girls racing in the category which was double the number of previous years, awesome!!! As I started up the track I was not surprised to see a large number of people coming down covered in mud where they had done sections of the track on the floor! It looked like Revs was running true to form and I expected a sloppy track walk. I wasn’t disappointed and the track was covered in slop or slippery slate but I made a huge effort to stay off the floor and keep myself clean so that I could at least start the weekend without a coating of mud haha!
There were a few sections of track that I was pretty sure I couldn’t ride. I had only ridden the track once before on a last minute visit a few weeks ago and it had been wet but not this wet. That one run saw me hit a tree and fall off twice and I was fairly certain that in the current conditions it was going to be much worse than that! Team mate Emily arrived and was also feeling a bit wary of the track but after doing her track walk Saturday morning she assured me the track wasn’t as bad as she expected and it looked pretty good. We figured the rain all night had washed some of the mud away…
We had agreed on a late start to let the track dry off a little and let other riders wear some of the mud away so we set off at about 10.45 feeling like we were running a little too late. As we got to the bottom of the track I started to realise we were perhaps a little too early still! Riders were looking very brown and we bumped into one of our friends who exclaimed she couldn’t stay on the bike or even upright off it and was done for the day! I had already accepted that I’d fall off but sitting in the uplift my sense of trepidation increased as more riders discussed how awful the track was. People were changing tyres for mud spikes but although I could see the advantage for the muddy sections the rocky sections would be a nightmare on spikes so I figured my Magic Marys were staying on.
We pulled on to the track for run number 1 expecting carnage. I got to the end of the first section of Ffar side and dreaded dropping into Ginger Bobcat where the mud started. A red flag meant we had to wait and then just as the first 2 riders set off the track got red flagged again leaving me on my own. I finally dropped in and it was every bit as slippery as I expected! I was almost immediately out of control, unable to brake or steer just holding on hoping for the best. I’d sneak the brakes on to slow down and fish tail out of control before letting them off hoping I’d slowed down just enough to make the next corner. One silly off line followed by attempting to brake saw me go down for my first coating of mud.
I came into the section I was most worried about, a very wet, very steep chute made of clay with a drop at the top (on a 90 degree bend) and a sharp right hander at the bottom that my previous experience had taught me fired you off another drop and up into a tree shortly afterwards. Emily was stopped at the top watching but I knew I wouldn’t ride it if I looked so I donned my brave/stupid pants and just went for it. I rolled the drop at zero speed hoping for a slow entry to keep the speed down for the corner at the bottom and hurtled off towards the trees. I made the corner, landed the next drop, fishtailed into the tree and somehow rolled out still upright. Messy but effective!
A few corners later a marshal waved his red flag on a slop filled section that I was sliding through and a look of terror crossed my face accompanied by me shaking my head saying no no no no no… he made it clear I needed to stop so I dutifully applied my brakes and hit the deck. Braking was just not an option in those conditions but at least I avoided the pile up round the corner and the landing was soft.
Run 2 was fairly similar but slightly more tacky in places and run 3 was almost unrecognisable! People were exclaiming how dry the track was but a close up encounter showed me that really the volume of riders had just dragged the slop off the top leaving behind more solid mud. They were right though it was less slippery and the pace on track increased. As the pace increased the crashes decreased but were harder when they did come. Sniper roots crept up out of nowhere and the mud wore away to reveal slate with a nice top coating of clay which was especially terrifying when it appeared the length of that steep tricky chute! Grip came and went, huge holes appeared as did new lines and the track became a whole lot more fun as I got those lines dialled in. I was still out of control for big chunks of the track but there were now more sections where I at least knew the lines well enough to know that I would slide into them most of the time!
As the day drew to a close I had a nice collection of bruises and was feeling a bit battered but overall I had had a great day. The track was tough but I could ride it as long as I didn’t mind the odd crash. I hadn’t managed a single clean run and oddly my best runs were earlier in the day when conditions were the worst but I was feeling happy going into day 2. After a quick track walk we headed for the quarry for the 50:01 jump jam with a bar, food stalls and showing of the new Vision movie. It was packed and the atmosphere was great.
Sunday dawned damp and overcast but we got on track early so we could get 2 practise runs in before racing started. I had a great morning with 1 clean run and 1 less clean run where I misjudged my speed at the bottom and shot off through the tape scattering spectators for the second weekend in a row! Overall I was feeling good going into qualifying. The dreaded beeps signalled the start of qualifying and I set off. I was feeling fast, I cleared the jumps at the start and came flying into a rocky corner out of the woods then bang! Out of nowhere I flew over the bars, commando rolled and bounced before rattling face first down the rocks, owwww. I picked myself up, ran back up for my bike then pedalled round the corner whilst trying to put my googles back in place and pull my sleeve down from where it was currently tucked under my armpit! The crowd all gasped as they realised I had already been on the floor a mere 200m out of the start gate!
I sucked it up and entered ginger bobcat wondering if I’d stay on. I had a wild run but despite a few out of control slides I had a really clean run down the rest of the track. I couldn’t believe how many spectators there were lining the entire track, it was really amazing! I crossed the line shaking my head, sporting beautiful two tone kit where I had remodelled one side with mud. I looked at the screen and was surprised to find I had qualified in 4th and was only 10 seconds off 3rd which I could easily recover if I could stay on my bike! The same was true for lots of other riders and it was going to be a game of risk; push it hard and risk a crash for a fast time or slow it down and potentially go faster without a crash, hmmmmm.
The nerves really kicked in for my race run. I had taped my wrist up after my crash but could feel it and had no idea if I could hold on for my race run. The top 2 riders were well clear of the pack and the battle was on for the other places. I set off into my race run feeling confident about the track but scared of the corner I crashed in. I didn’t know what I had done wrong so other than taking it more slowly I didn’t have a game plan for avoiding the floor. I braked hard into the corner and made it round in one piece. The spectators had largely vanished and the woods were eerily quiet as I made my way down. I reigned in the wildness from qualifying for a smoother and more controlled ride. I had no idea if I had done enough but I had done all I could.
The times flashed up and despite some people moving around I had managed to finish in 4th. I was sad to lose the stripes but really chuffed for Amy who put in an incredible run to take the championship. 4th in the country didn’t sound as good as first but actually it was another really good top 5 result and it’s difficult to not be pleased with it. I had hoped to finish in 4th or higher and managed to do so. I handled the pressure of going into a race as reigning champ knowing I was unlikely to win, I hit all my lines and rode confidently despite the tricky conditions. There were a lot of positives to take from the weekend and sitting nursing my battered body I am really happy with how the weekend went and my result. I’m closing the gap on some of the others and after another rough off season I’m chuffed to be back on pace again.
Women’s racing is going from strength to strength. My times over the last few years have come down at almost every venue and when I look at the field as a whole the pace is so much faster now than it was 4 years ago. The times from half way down the current field would have been winning times a few years ago and the hard work people are putting in is really starting to show. The sport is becoming more professional with almost every rider training, working hard in the gym and working hard to improve. It is still friendly and hasn’t lost the supportive vibe that I’ve always loved, everyone wants to win but everyone is always chuffed for those that do take the win when they don’t manage it themselves. As the competition increases more women are joining in, I can’t wait to see what the field looks like over the next few years!
Hopton has always been one of my favourite venues, it’s great fun come rain or shine and there’s always a good crowd. Round 3 at Hopton looked like it would be no exception; there was a whopping 13 ladies entered in the 19+ category and I didn’t know half of them. As the weekend approached I was looking forward to meeting new people, making new friends and racing bikes in the sun.
The forecast was excellent, the track was going to be drier than I had ever seen it and I was feeling excited. I set up my tent, track walked with friends and left my phone in a portaloo… thankfully Pearce races are like a big family and some kind soul handed it in and we were reunited. After a lazy start chilling in the sun in my pjs we went up to get that first run done. I had forgotten that the woods were full of huge wood ant nests and spent a few minutes admiring their hard work at the uplift drop off point. They were all marching around with purpose and several riders got warned after putting their helmets down next to the nest haha! No one wants ants in their hair! The downside was watching them carry the bodies of their comrades back to the nest as they got trampled by riders and uplift trucks. The organisers had cordoned off the immediate area but the ants roamed quite far and it was impossible to protect them all.
The dust was incredible and it was running so fast that we were soon drifting and hollering through corners despite this being the chilled first roll down. The race wasn’t on my favourite right hand track and was on the smooth jumpy middle line which I always had fun on but never went very fast on. I have always found it hard to commit to the jumps on this line so I had set myself a target of hitting a couple that I previously avoided. I planned on building up to them over the Saturday… I ended up hitting the triple near the end on my first run when I came round the berm too fast and couldn’t avoid it. Wahoo I had already won as far as I was concerned so the weekend could only get better from there.
The corners turned out to be a huge challenge; the normally tacky and grippy corners were full of a lovely fine dust that billowed up as I slid through. The grip was unpredictable and sometimes there was the perfect amount of slide and other times the whole bike cut loose sending up a cloud of dust revealing me lying down shuffling through it like a blackbird in the garden.
The second run down saw me hit the step down I had decided to try so that was both of my objectives ticked off before lunch on day 1. Then on run 3 I got a little full of myself and decided to really send the step down. I got my wheels on the floor just before the tight left hander but after landing a little heavily I bounced up and out of the corner straight at the spectators lining the edge. As they scattered and threw themselves out of my way I squealed loudly and somehow kept my back wheel in the rut. With my front wheel on the bank and back wheel in the rut I slid sideways in a perfect grind which would have looked cool if not for the absolute terror on my face! I held it and with my heart in my mouth slid perfectly into the hairpin to ride off. One spectator shouted “get in lad” to which I replied “I’m a girl”! Obviously correcting my sex was the most important thing my adrenaline flooded brain came up with which was shortly followed by lots of OMGs and sweary disbelief that I didn’t crash. That continued through the rest of the run and for several minutes after until I got my pulse back under control and calmed down.
The rest of the day was awesome and the challenge was trying not to do too many runs and get too tired whilst the track was so good it was difficult to stop. There was one tree in particular that I kept hitting even when I knew I was looking past it and there were a couple of corners I kept stalling in. I needed to slow down into two corners but could never remember which ones they were! The evening was spent discussing lines with the help of a go pro and several people who are much faster than me and Amanda. It saved us another track walk but also provided a couple of new options that we could actually see not just discuss. We also watched the world cup wahoo, technology at its finest.
Sunday morning was another warm one lounging around in pjs before finally getting on track for practice. I did a couple of practice runs trying to hit the new lines I’d seen on the video and keep it smooth through the corners. I was way off the pace of the others and still stalled in a couple of the corners but having hit the jumps I wanted to and sorted my lines I was feeling happy regardless of speed.
I lined up for my first race run and set off for what turned out to be a good cruisy run. I hit my lines, missed the tree for the first time all weekend and was surprised to find myself sitting in 5th place not that far off the pace after all. It was a rowdy run and I knew that if I cleaned it up a little I could go faster so I got back on track for run 2 with that aim. I had also spotted that my speed through the speed trap was not very fast and given it was on a flat pedally section I vowed to pedal harder on my next run.
Run 2 was smoother, I again hit my lines and missed the tree but I also made the corners more smoothly. I went 3 seconds faster to hang on to 5th place. Despite pedaling as hard as I could I only increased my speed through the speed trap by 0.64km/h which was barely worth the effort!
Another great race organised by Pearce with a smooth uplift, good marshals and great track. I surprised myself by performing better on the track than I expected and being bold with the jumps I normally shy away from. It was great to race in the dust and the slippery conditions were great practice for the race the following weekend which was forecast to be a wet swampfest that would be even more slippery!
Sign up to our Newsletter and stay updated with our latest offers