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Race Report – British Downhill Series, Hopton – Rebecca Smith

Flow MTB rider Rebecca took part in the final round of the British Downhill Series at Hopton

After a summer off the bike due to injury what do you choose as your first race back? The final round of the British Downhill Series at Hopton, and the last EVER race under Si Paton’s regime, of course! Here’s Rebecca’s race report…

At the beginning of this year I set out my goals. I wanted to place top 8 in open women across the Pearce downhill series and I wanted to race a national race, either one of the British Downhill Series (BDS) rounds or national champs, maybe even both. I entered the last round of BDS in the middle of September. It was something to work towards and I hoped that after a full season of racing I’d be fit, fast, strong and ready for it. Then real life kicked in and it started raining lemons!

A massive crash at the start of the season changed everything and suddenly I was wondering if I’d race at all this year. I was not fit, not fast and not strong. In fact I was 1 stone heavier and the least fit I had ever been. A reasonable goal seemed the last round of the Pearce series in October. If not then Redbull Foxhunt would hopefully be an option. As the months passed even those goals seemed a little optimistic but I kept my entries and decided to see how I felt nearer the time.

I got back on my trail bike towards the start of August and started working on my fitness. I was so excited to be out riding and feeling the mud fly past under my wheels. I wasn’t doing anything crazy just some xc and trail riding but it felt great. My shoulder was getting stronger and my fitness was starting to get less embarrassing but I was still a long way off racing which weirdly felt ok. I was a tiny bit apprehensive on my bike, occasionally I’d be unsure about a feature while another time I’d be fine, but generally I was loving it. Who cared about racing when there were trails to ride, new things to see, biking friends to catch up with and my trail dog to share it all with (obviously my husband came out occasionally but he was decidedly less enthusiastic haha!).

4 weeks later at the start of September my new brakes for Sybil Sender turned up and after a few hours swearing (whoever invented internal routing should be thanked and simultaneously beaten!) she was ready to take out. Barely able to contain my excitement I dragged my poor husband and super keen trail dog out to the darkening woods to get some pics. The rain started, dusk came early but I did a few short runs through the bombhole and over a gap jump. The husband delivered the requisite pics. Awesome.

There was 1 week to go until the British Downhill Series round that I had entered. So far I had done absolutely zero downhill riding, 2 small sessions on the little jumps in my woods and some trail riding. The pain after those jump sessions had me feeling unsure if I was ready to try DH yet. Also I was fine on jumps but drops, which have always been a head game for me, felt a bit scary. I recognised I was not ready to try an over the bars on to my shoulder and that was stopping me from committing. A session with my NHS physio where he started going on about increased risks and not doing some of the sports I had gone back to, contrary to the advice I had from the consultant, made me feel even less sure.

The following day I saw Pete at the Physio Clinic and had a very sensible conversation about when I might go back to racing. Chatting about Pearce I realised that although I knew I wasn’t fit I suddenly felt ready to get out and have a go. I dismissed the BDS round as too hard…

Later that day I started to wonder about BDS. There were no refunds so I had an entry whether I wanted it or not. The more I considered it the more I started wondering about going. I enquired if my friends were going and identified a good friend to ride with. I knew the support I needed at the race would be there. I changed my mind about 100 times per day. I was super keen and going…. I was too unfit and I would get in the way…’d be dry and it was a really fun track….it might be wet and slidey… I love wet and techy riding… I didn’t think my shoulder could even manage a full DH run… On and on it went, I barely slept, I rarely thought of anything else and in the end I decided to take Sybil to the woods and see if I could commit to the bigger drops and jumps. If I could I was racing, if not I was going to do something else.

I went home from work early to ride in the sunshine. I got Sybil out of the garage, cut down the bars, fitted my favourite grips and set off with a mate and the faithful trail dog. I lined up for my first warm up run and blasted down it grinning hard enough to make my cheeks hurt. I decided I could do everything so I did everything! I didn’t back off, never questioned my ability to do it and was having a ball. I cased a particular gap jump for the first time ever and realised my bike rode differently. I gave it more welly the next time and landed flat further down the track. Ok, so Sybil was amazing but I needed a bit of time to get used to her.

Friday morning came and I was definitely going racing. I went to pilates, felt like I’d been hit by a truck and had second thoughts about racing. At this point my brain kicked in and I realised it didn’t matter if I only did one run on the Saturday and then spent the weekend heckling. If I managed a few runs great. If I managed to race that would be amazing. Realising there were no expectations, not even from myself, lifted all the pressure and for the first time all week I couldn’t wait to get on track. The forecast was good, the track preview video looked great and my husband kindly lent me the van to sleep in so my faithful trail dog could come racing.

It rained all night Friday and was still raining on Saturday morning. I thought the lemons had stopped falling from the sky but a track walk showed me an abundance of slippery roots and boggy holes mixed with weirdly dry and dusty corners. The amazing Jake from Sprung Suspension had a play with Sybil and set her up for me. I got on track and went for a slow first run. I remembered that I loved roots, my bike stepped out sideways and I was whooping and grinning like an idiot the whole way down. I was slow but I didn’t care, whooohoooo I was riding DH.

The camaraderie of the other ladies is what really makes the British race scene. Everyone was so happy to see me back, people were supporting and catching up with each other, laughing about the track and generally having a great time. I couldn’t be happier to be back.

Sunday morning was hideous. I felt like I’d been run over by a coach. My whole body hurt and my shoulder was sore enough that I wasn’t sure if I would actually race or spend the day cheering on everyone else. I did a practise run, it felt ok until I hit a hole in a blown out corner that had me gritting my teeth. I decided one practise was enough and I’d have a go at seeding a few hours later if I felt ok.

The usual nerves kicked in and despite having no expectations and being very happy to come last when I heard the starting beeps my stomach tried to jump out of my mouth. I repeated my normal pre-race mantra of “smooth is fast, just keep it smooth” and lined up for my run. It was great, the track was dry and flowy, I crossed the line with the biggest grin. I seeded last but I was so happy just to be there. I could barely believe I was racing BDS having not even ridden downhill in the last 5 months. Haha my first DH ride in 5 months was a national race on a new bike, mental!

Having seeded last I was first down the hill for my race run. Unlike smaller races BDS doesn’t have 2 race runs with the fastest counting. It has a seeding run and 1 race run so it all comes down to that one run. I was 3 seconds back from the next lady and despite having no expectations my competitive side kicked in and told me I could find those 3 seconds if I actually pedalled. My legs could barely hold me up (remember that lack of fitness? Well I was paying for it big time!) but I only had to get down the hill one more time so why not.

I set off, the corners felt smoother, I hucked off the step down in the middle, rattled across the roots and actually pedalled through the flat in the middle. Okay so I had to sit down to pedal prompting the spectators to yell at me “stand up lazy”, “pedal” and then making them laugh when I squeaked back “I can’t my legs don’t work”. I crossed the line 5 seconds faster and was laughing, pumped up on adrenaline. I could barely believe it when I realised I wasn’t last and then when my riding partner Franki smashed it into 2nd place I was jumping on the spot! The girls were all beaming and congratulating each other and the last 5 months vanished in a haze of adrenalin and joy.

I took all those sour lemons that life chucked at me and made the sunny yellow orbs in to the most amazing lemon meringue pie you’ve ever seen! I smashed my goal for the year and placed 7th at my first ever national race. My time might have been slower than I’d have liked at the start of the year but given the year I’ve had it was nothing short of incredible.

I wouldn’t be back on my bike if it weren’t for the awesome team at The Physio Clinic in Bristol. I can’t thank them enough for the support they’ve given me this year. Flow MTB have kept me stylish on track and offered support through one of the toughest years I’ve had. Sprung Suspension got Sybil up and running silky smooth, she just ate up those bumps and Corley Cycles provided the stopping power. Thanks guys, here’s to the rest of the year!

@flowmtbapparel / @becca_itd / @corleycycles /@the_physio_clinic_bristol