British Downhill Series Round 4 – Llangollen (a.k.a. #MakingUpTheBabyBottles)
It’s been four weeks since National Champs and so much has happened in that time. Mr BDS, Si Paton has announced that he’ll be stepping down from organising the National Series, Manon Carpenter has retired from racing DH and MrsMakingUpTheNumbers has facilitated the use of parent and child parking by popping out the rather gorgeous Ottilie Madeleine Thompson.
Whilst maybe not quite as newsworthy as the other two items, the latter has meant that bikes have had to take a back seat for the past few weeks and by Wednesday evening the chances of me racing at the weekend are looking increasingly slim. Arriving home after a couple of days away with work, MrsMakingUpTheNumbers is really struggling and the prospect of me going away for another couple of days might just send her over the edge. Desperate times call for desperate measures so I take over the night shift nappy changing duties on Wednesday and Thursday and by Friday she’s feeling much better and casually asks “are you going to Llangollen this weekend?” I’m so tired that I could weep at any given moment but the bags are hurriedly packed and I’m thinking I could do a couple of runs on Saturday and then sleep in the van if need be. The only concession is that I’ve got to come home on Saturday evening; anything for a few hours without breastfeeding updates and cooing though.
In truth, if it had been anywhere else I probably wouldn’t have hung on to my entry all week but I bloody love racing Llangollen. Aside from the death woods all the tracks are super fun, and the hill is covered in bracken so if/when you stack it, it’s generally a pretty soft landing. The Ride Portugal line is the latest addition. Steep in places, amazing berms, a challenging gully section (imagine the Hully Gully section at Gisburn Forest on steroids) a double up at the top, some triples and two big step downs. One thing’s for sure, Brian Mundy certainly knows how to build a track and everyone is absolutely buzzing to be racing something new. By Saturday night Tahnée Seagrave’s instagramming “Best national track ever”.
I haven’t ridden the DH bike since Masters Worlds in Andorra some eight weeks ago and during that period the only training I’ve done has been lifting biscuits into the shopping trolley. This is highlighted when I put my body armour on and the zip breaks. The only way I can get it to fasten is by removing the chest protector FFS. Back to counting the calories on MyFitnessPal on Monday. FYI even thinking that you might go down the gym for a bit when you have a newborn is a no-no.
Heavy rain on Friday means the track is a bit greasy on Saturday morning but I blast five runs out with Revolution Bike Park Racing Team mate Richard Binns and Anthony Temple before heading home around 2pm. I haven’t done any of the jumps by this point as I’m just trying to learn the track and get used to riding the bike again.
By the time MrsMakingUpTheNumbers wakes me at 6am on Sunday morning I’ve accrued maybe three 90 minute sleeps. She’s not waking me up to wish me luck though. “I need to get some sleep, you’re going to have to try and get Ottilie to settle”. By 6:45 they’re both asleep and I’ve slipped out of there like a thief in the night. I did leave a note though so I don’t feel too bad, but when there’s no message by 1pm I know I’m in the shit.
Christ I’m tired though, have I mentioned that? It’s been 20 days since I had an unbroken night’s sleep and it’s all mounting up now. On the drive over I can’t help but think “if I completely smash myself today and end up in hospital, at least I’ll get some rest.”
The Vets are already somewhere on the hill when I arrive so I knock a couple of practice runs out on my own. By the time we start seeding I’ve hit everything except the top double which is doable but just a bit awkward. With a 3:05 I seed 9th/15 which is somewhat surprising. Even more surprising is that I’m up on Binnsy, although he’s had an off in the gully; and Dave Ingelby who’s ripped his Sram mech off, also in the gully. I lend him a Shimano shifter and mech to get him riding again.
The good weather and the Strider race has brought a huge number of spectators on to the hill. The concession is that the racing is delayed for a bit and by the time we start lining up I’m fighting falling asleep rather than warming up. As a result I lost some time on the top section, 12th at the split and a second slower than seeding but then I came to life in the second sector, making up 1.5 seconds on a much shorter section of track. I finish with a 3:04, half a second quicker than seeding but others have gone faster and I’ve dropped to 12th. One of them is Dave Ingelby who’s running my spare mech and shifter; talk about a kick in the nuts, cheers Dave. Another is Uncle Albert who isn’t doing any of the jumps but is pedalling everywhere and so I’m cursing cruising the traverses. At the other end of the category Andrew Titley takes the win but only by 0.32 from Stu Hughes with Mark Weightman in third. Massive shout out to Jay Ellis who bagged sixth in his first ever DH race; so much for thinking he’d just be getting in the way of all the fast riders.
The good weather held out for most of the day but the rain came in just before the Elite Men started which meant that three Junior Men had the fastest times of the day; and there was only 0.203 seconds between them. Matt Walker took first with a 2:13.3, Joe Breeden second and Kade Edwards third. Kade’s only a first year junior and with Matt, Joe and at a World’s level Finn Iles all moving up to Elite at the end of the season he looks set to dominate the Junior category next year. He’s also the most exciting rider to watch at the moment, pulling suicide no handers off the step down in the woods this weekend. Jack Reading, Kade and I live in three neighbouring villages on the A62. “There must be something in the water” someone says to me. “Yeah” I agree, hurriedly moving onto another topic before they pick the odd one out from the three.
In the Elite Men, Adam Brayton took first with Al Bond in second and Charlie Hatton in third. Charlie stuck with dry tyres whilst Adam switched to Shortys; was that the difference? A few other stand out performances… Ireland’s Oisin O’Callaghan took the win in Juvenile with a 2:30. That time would’ve taken the win in Seniors and was under five seconds off the win in Masters. Some going when you consider Juvenile is 12-14 years. Luke Williamson and Jamie Edmondson were five seconds clear of anyone else in the Youth category and Tahnée Seagrave smashed the Elite Women, winning by over 25 seconds from Veronique Sandler with Becci Skelton in third. Tahnee’s time was the 23rd fastest time of the day so she’ll have bruised a few egos this weekend for sure. Binnsy managed to keep her upright in his race run and came home in second in the Grand Vets behind Pete Little with Paul Le Maitre in third.
So, that’s it, the last BDS at Llangollen. I have to admit that being an event producer with his own business I feel a bit sorry for Si; he’s on a hiding to nothing really. Everyone wants a great event but no one wants him to make any money doing it. Yes, the entry price is a premium but the level of production matches that. Yes, it’s the same tracks year-on-year but as frustrating as it is, when you go through the tracks there are reasons why. On a global level DH is bigger than it’s ever been thanks to the coverage on Red Bull and it’s a sport that Britain dominates with both current Elite World Champions. Unfortunately, this growth has elevated the World Cups to such a level that the BDS just isn’t anywhere near as significant as it was for the top teams so they’re just not attending in the numbers that they were. The price increase a couple of seasons ago came at the wrong time and once the events stopped selling out months in advance people started opting to “wait and see” before entering and the whole thing has spiralled downwards pretty quickly. As any event organiser will tell you, the greatest challenge is knowing how much money you’ve got coming in and thus how much money you have to spend. You want every event to be amazing but it can only ever be as good as the budget allows. I know there are people out there who would prefer it to be a £70 entry without all the bells and whistles but personally I’d rather pay extra and know that the timing will work perfectly, practice won’t start late due to a lack of marshals etc. Who knows what the future holds? I just hope there’s someone keen to take it on and to carry on developing it. Anyway, that’s my two penn’orth.
Just a quick note to wish Manon the best of luck in all she does in the future. Racing DH at Elite level means full commitment every weekend and that inevitably means there will be crashes and injuries. I can’t imagine trying to do that week-in-week-out if your head and heart aren’t truly in it so fair play for taking the decision to walk away.
We’ll be back racing in a couple of weeks. This time on home turf at Revolution Bike Park for Round 4 of the Borderline Series. It’s the first ever race down Poop Shoot which is an incredibly fun track so if you’ve never raced before or you haven’t raced for ages this would be a great one to have a go at. See ya there!