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!