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Race Report – Round 4, 2018 National Downhill Series, Bala – Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith National Downhill Series Round 4 Bala

I had been looking forward to round 4 of the national series for ages. It was at Rhyd y Felin, or Bala not Bala as it is also known, which is one of my favourite tracks. The forecast was wet and I have always done really well racing there in the wet so I was looking forward to pulling on my striped jersey for the first time and getting rowdy in the mud.

The forecast changed every day but one thing was certain and that was that race day was going to be wet! Other than my race run at Glencoe it had been a long time since I’d raced in really wet conditions as the summer had been long and dry. I was feeling a bit out of practise but I generally love sliding around so I was also excited. Bala in the wet is crazy and very crashy with clay like mud, roots and tree stumps galore followed by a steep grassy field that turns into a water flume making even the pros look like squids.

Friday was actually a nice day despite the forecast and the shooting star show that night was incredible. Saturday dawned bright and sunny so we figured we would get on track quickly to make the most of the dry weather. Unfortunately the sign on queue was chaos as the British Cycling (BC) Commissaires were being very vigilant due to the offer of UCI points and a number of people had no race license with them. With no phone signal to log on to the BC website, people argued and the queue got longer. We stood there for over 1 hour wasting away our practise time before finally getting to the front of the queue and signing on with minimal fuss other than trying to explain we had no idea why BC didn’t print pictures on our race licenses and surely that was a question for them not us!

The track was a bit greasier than expected leading to some wild riding on the slick rocks up top and Emily trying to give herself a new throat piercing, thank god for bar ends and commissaires checking them before letting you on track! The rest of the track was dusty and awesome and we had a great day trying new lines and getting brave whilst also keeping an eye on safer wet line options since we figured we were unlikely to be able to ride some of the new lines on race day.

As the afternoon progressed the rain came down and the fun turned up a notch as the track got wilder, grip vanished and we struggled to keep rubber side down. I decided to call it a day before I got too wet and muddy. I also knew from riding here previously that once it is wet all I do is learn more places to crash on track and I figured I could save that for tomorrow when the track would look different after an entire night of rain anyway! It was the right choice as the last few riders doing more runs straggled back in with tales of woe and liberal coatings of mud haha.

It rained and rained and rained some more so that Sunday morning was wet and misty with the track gleaming through the clouds showing huge swathes of mud and puddles. Practise was delayed as a number of marshals and medics didn’t turn up. Thankfully my husband, a diver with lots of first aid qualifications, a race Dad who was a doctor and an off duty paramedic who was unlucky enough to be on holiday just down the valley got roped in and we finally started practise.

Feeling excited but apprehensive I got on track and oh wow what a difference a bit of water made! I found the top fine and even found the open stumpy section ok until the mud turned to clay and I went sprawling! I turned around to see Monica flying towards the same patch of ground haha. I got up and carried on into the bottom woods section which is made of clay and always the worst…..

It was carnage! There were bodies and bikes everywhere, riders were flying over the bars as front wheels jammed with clay and stopped dead, others held their speed to keep their wheels clear only to fly off in the mud anyway. The track was lined with people ripping mud guards off and flinging them down the hillside, scooping mud off their tyres with hands and anything else they could find. Having been here before my mud guard was velcroed on so I took it off, put it in my pocket and set off down the track. I made it to the bottom without any more issues and set about getting changed and removing the kilos of clay from my bike. The portable jet wash my Mum and Nan got me for Christmas was a huge hit and in popular demand in our camp circle haha!

The weather changed every 5 minutes with driving rain, sunshine and mist changing the track conditions so no one knew what to expect on their qualifying runs. Waiting at the top I felt excited, accepting that I would crash in the mud and nervous about the unknown conditions. I set off for a chilled safe run and was soon having a blast and not playing it safe at all! The track was drier than the mornings practise, or maybe more people had churned the mud or maybe it was even wetter? Whatever the difference was I loved it, I found grip where I expected none and after some wild riding, panic dabs and epic slides I crossed the line in 3rd place.

Another bike wash and I was ready to go for my race run. We got to the top and as is turning out to be standard for this season we waited! A red flag and nasty crash meant we sat at the top for over 1h40 waiting for our race run. The weather alternated between driving rain and sunshine but with nowhere to hide it wasn’t the most pleasant wait we’ve had. I have gotten better at switching on to race after a lengthy unexpected wait but I still struggled with that lethargy followed by a huge adrenaline dump that normally sees me charge off the start and crash into the first available tree! This time I used that adrenaline to charge down the open start and really hammered through the top section as I knew I could make time there to make up for the slippery bottom section.

It was raining and as I guessed the lower part of the track was hideous, I slipped and slid my way through the tree stumps somehow staying upright and then just before the last fire road I slipped in a corner and went down hard into a tree stump. A silly crash I jumped up and got back on hoping not to lose too much time. My thumb was sore but I didn’t give it much thought but as I entered the lower woods I could barely hold on and it was wild in there! The clay was wet again and I fell off again in a corner, didn’t have the speed for the drop into the field so rolled down into the field where I struggled to get round the first corner. I made it just about upright but struggling to grip my bars I crashed hard in the rocks where lots of other people went down in sight of the finish line. I dragged myself back up and got over the line, I was surprised to see myself in 4th place. My thumb really hurt so instead of waiting to see the final results I went in search of the medic tent.

The medic kindly explained that I needed to go and get out of my wet muddy kit and into something warm and dry then come back so he could check my thumb. I just wanted the ice pack to try and stop the swelling and minimise the pain. I walked dejectedly back to my tent, cried on my spaniel for a few minutes then sucked it up and got on with it. By the time I had got changed and packed my kit it was time for podiums and I missed the ice pack. A can of cold cider from a friends cool box was a great makeshift ice pack!

I put on nice clean kit for the podium only to find out minutes before I was up that I should be wearing my stripes. The BC staff were pretty rude about fining me if I didn’t have it on. I have no idea where you’re supposed to find these rules since I’ve looked on their website, googled and tried reading the race rules but can’t find a thing. The rude attitude of that person and the commissaires at sign on was not giving me positive feelings towards BC at all. I’m very happy to stick to the rules but I wish they would make it easy to know what they are. Keeping my mouth shut so I didn’t say something I would regret I rushed off to get my muddy stripes out of the bottom of my kit bag.

Rebecca Smith National Downhill Series Round 4 Bala podiumI stood on my first national series podium covered in mud, unable to hold the cheque in my gammy thumb and feeling less chuffed than I should have due to BC rudeness. Still I got a big cheque which was pretty cool and my smile came back in time for pictures haha.

I started the long drive home with a promise to myself that I could have a nice dirty Starbucks as a treat for my podium. I got to it to find out it had just shut and I sat and cried in my car. I was supposed to be a tough mountain biker but I was exhausted, in pain and emotional, I figured I was allowed to behave like a girl sometimes. I set off again and when I got to the next services I got my dirty Starbucks and some food, thankfully the sugar kicked in, my mood improved and I drove home singing badly at the top of my voice.

My friend met me at home to help unload my dirty bike from the roof rack since I couldn’t do it myself. I decided I would leave everything in the car and deal with it tomorrow, I knew I’d regret it but I didn’t have the energy to do it then. I walked into my porch, shrieked and ran back out chased by a massive hornet! I crept back towards my house and bravely looked in at the huge evil hornet buzzing angrily around my lights. I turned my lights off and waited outside in the dark hoping it would leave. My neighbour pulled up with some of our girlfriends who asked me why I was standing outside in the dark peering at my house. I explained about the hornet, they only laughed at me a little and for the second time that evening my tough character was taking a battering in the face of my girlishness!

One of them bravely went in to find it and came running out after seeing how big it was. Another bravely went in armed with Tupperware to capture it, this looked like it might work until it started flying at people and everyone legged it back outside, I was feeling a bit less silly now! My neighbour had the bright idea of using her led light in my porch to tempt it out. She turned it on, I turned out my lights and it flew straight at us causing us all to squeal and run. I hadn’t seen it come past but the others thought it had and it was nowhere in sight so I thanked them and bravely crept into my house shut all the doors and went to bed.

The next morning it was sat looking at me on my porch door. Inside! I figured it could stay there and bravely left via my backdoor hoping that it would let itself out while I was at work. I drove my dirty stinking race kit filled car to work and then went and sorted out getting an xray of my thumb. I was certain it was bruised and sprained and congratulated myself on being sensible and getting it xrayed as a precaution. I could hardly believe it when I saw the xray and heard the words fractured thumb.

So I am now the owner of a bright pink cast and have finished my season one race early. I’ve learnt that 8 races in 10 weeks is too much, I am exhausted and even without my injury I needed a good few weeks off. I’m frustrated and disappointed that I’m missing the last race especially as my season was going so well. Having another fracture after last years big injury feels difficult to accept but I came back from that stronger and will come back from this even stronger and ready to risk it all again next year for medals and cake!

Kit: DHaRCO Hibiscus gravity shorts, DHaRCO flamingo leaves jerseyDHaRCO gloves, 100% Chapter 11 goggles

2018 team sponsors: DHaRCO, Corley Cycles, MTB Instruction, Decade Europe, Glower Clothing, Dexshell UK

@flowmtbapparel / @becca_itd