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Race Report – Round 1 Pearce Cycles, Kinsham – Rebecca Smith

flow mtb rider rebecca smith entered the first round of the pearce cycles dowhill series

Flow MTB riders Corinna and Rebecca took park in the first round of the Pearce Cycles downhill series at Kinsham

Now in its 22nd year, the Pearce series is renowned for its slick organisation, good courses, and finely tuned uplift service. A lot of hard graft goes into putting on this race series which is accessible to all riders from your beginner juvenile to elite riders. Kicking off on 8-9 April the first race was held at Kinsham, here’s Rebecca’s race report.

The run up to the first Pearce race of the year was sunny and dry, surely it wouldn’t last through to the end of the weekend? The forecast indicated that not only would it stay dry and sunny but that it would be hotter than the Canary Islands. Feeling hopeful I packed my sunscreen and sunglasses. I also added my waterproofs. As we’d still be in the UK it wouldn’t do to blindly believe the weather forecast!

I was excited and nervous about this race; it was the first big race of the year but also a different format to other years. Ladies were split into Elite, under 19 and over 19 rather than the usual 10 year age categories. There were 18 ladies in the over 19 category which would be the biggest field I’ve ever raced in with plenty of tough competition. Lots of my friends were entered and I was looking forward to meeting all the new ladies too. There were 26 ladies in total; finally the ladies field outnumbered some of the male categories!

A slight mistake in work planning meant I couldn’t make it to Kinsham until Saturday morning. I drove over through thick fog while the glimpses of blue sky above gave the promise of a hot sunny day. I arrived to the familiar buzz of riders prepping kit ready for practise. Soon enough the air was filled with whistles signalling riders on track and the tunes were pumping out of the race arena. I pulled on my race kit feeling grateful the jersey was light and slathered on the factor 50 since the sun was out and the forecast seemed correct.

I’ve never felt more welcome and at home at a race venue before. There were so many familiar faces and it was great to catch up with all the riders, drivers and marshals from the previous year. I heard numerous people commenting about the number of ladies at the race and everyone seemed excited for the 2017 season to get going.

My first practice run felt like I’d completely forgotten how to ride a bike! I’d forgotten how steep the final corners were and although I had promised myself I would ride them properly this weekend and not brake all the way round them like I normally do I found myself slamming on those brake levers at every available opportunity! Things could only get better from here!

Saturday practice was full of red flags as the fast, slidey and dusty track claimed victims all of over the place. Rider trains turned in to pile ups as the front riders went down in huge clouds of dust and the marshals started mandating larger gaps between riders. I went to look at a section I was determined to ride if I could spot it on the way in and to decide if the dicey line between 2 trees was worth the risk to save time. I’d decided it wasn’t if you couldn’t gap it and since I couldn’t jump that line I would go round it. The sickening bone snapping thump of a rider in to the trees and the floor convinced me of my choice! A final few runs to ingrain new line choices and practice was over for the day.

The traditional Saturday evening track walk was filled with banter and laughter as people slid around in the dust trying to get up the track wearing flip flops, sunnies and shorts. Summer was definitely here and people even hoped for a little rain to damp the dust down…..that’s right folks it was too dry!

Sunday morning dawned dry with the promise of another hot sunny day once the sun cleared the hillside and poured in to the valley. I felt stiff and even a dog walk didn’t loosen my limbs off. Once on the bike I warmed up quickly, lamented my sore unfit legs and concentrated on line choice for my last few practice runs. The track was steep and the holes were brutal as the track got more blown out with each run but I’d worked hard at practice and the track was coming together nicely.

Lounging around in the sun with the other ladies and HABS (like WAGS but the opposite!) it didn’t feel like a race. At the top of the track it still didn’t feel like a race until I could hear the familiar beeps which had my stomach dropping through the floor at top speed! As is typical with the ladies field we abandoned the start list and lined ourselves up in rough speed order with polite and unhurried confidence. Lots of people knew roughly where they should be in the line and those that didn’t picked a place and chatted to more experienced racers about the beeps, when to go, rules etc. I’m always impressed at the camaraderie and helpfulness at the ladies start line. We may be competing with each other but everyone also wants everyone else to do well. Obviously we each want to win but we wouldn’t be there if we didn’t!

I felt calm and composed going into run one. I managed to convince myself not to brake round every corner and quickly found my flow through the top section, railing round the corners. I laughed when I realised I was braking and pedaling at the same time as my mind said faster but my brain said no! I had laughed at a friend for doing this the day before, karma is a bitch! I hit my lines mostly and rode smoothly coming over the line to the commentator saying “screaming over the line with a great time and only 10 seconds back” and couldn’t believe that was me! I checked the screen while my legs screamed and my lungs labored and realised that yes it was me and somehow I was sitting in 6th place after a fantastic run. Grinning I cheered friends across the line and helped those that had crashed wipe off the dust.

We had a long wait for run 2 as the track was closed a few times due to big crashes. Finally it was our turn and my nerves were definitely getting the better of me. I was now further up the line than I was for the first run and was rapidly losing my composure. I pedaled off the line and felt the front wheel washing in the first corner. I tried and failed to reign in my nerves and clipped a tree in the next section. A deep breath and a bit of focus got me through the top with no more dramas until I dropped off the fire road into the next section and the track was gone…..

A handful of brakes and evasive action kept me on track away from the off camber edge but heading at the corner sideways. I somehow kept it together and grabbed a quick breather on the straight. I came round a corner and was surprised to see the next rider ahead of me. It totally threw me and I rode off the edge of a tree before stalling into the corner. A bit more pinball riding and I was over the last jump sideways which would have been cool if it was intentional, which it wasn’t, instead I breathed a sigh of relief as I crossed the line. I had gone slower which wasn’t a surprise but what did surprise me was that lots of other riders also went slower. I had dropped to 7th and couldn’t believe my final result. I had beaten people I didn’t expect to and hadn’t crashed all weekend. Ok I clipped many trees but I’d stayed rubber side down which was a first. I finished 3rd out of the Master ladies and was so happy with 7th overall out of a tough line up.

I might not have managed to ride all the corners without my brakes on but I did at least manage to ride some and in others I let off the brakes after the first half of the corners which was a great improvement! I rode the stumpy fast line and attacked the track even where I wanted to back off. I was happy with my time and couldn’t quite believe when I checked and realised I’d taken 12 seconds off from last year! Anything can happen on race day and my winter practice had clearly been working. My movement training had made me think about body position and stability in a way I’d never considered it before. All in all a promising start and I can’t wait for the rest of the season. Maybe by the end I’ll be able to ride corners with more finesse?! Maybe I will hit less trees and maybe pigs will fly. Either way it’ll be a lot of fun and I love a challenge!

@flowmtbapparel / @becca_itd / Photos Kat Bartlett, Steve Baxter, Sarah Barrett, Muddy Shots