‘I’ve got to go (sigh), I’ve promised Singletrack a race report.’ It sounds plausible. She’ll probably see right through the sigh but she’ll recognise that it’s factually accurate. If it doesn’t work I’ll counter with ‘It’s the only race at Revolution this year, home soil, I’m on the team etc.’ Also factually accurate but the Singletrack line sounds a bit more like work; I’ll definitely lead with that.
Rather unusually I’m treading on eggshells a bit at the minute. This will be my second weekend away racing since Ottilie’s birth, just 4
very long weeks Christ has it only been 4 weeks, it feels like a lifetime? ago. Add in a massive boo-boo on the purchase of some body armour (keen readers will remember that the zip snapped on my armour at Llangollen, but I forgot that we agreed to get the zip replaced and so I ordered a new set and it arrived when I wasn’t there and it was really expensive and I had to hurriedly back track and make a case for the foam going hard after 2 years of crashes) and even I know I’m pushing my luck a bit. And if I know it, MrsMakingUpTheNumbers certainly does too.
So, here we are, early September and pushing on towards the end of the season. Basically, the situation is that I’ve given up on fitness for this year. Getting to the races on a weekend is as close to the edge as I dare go. With just two races remaining it’s become apparent that the best I’ve ridden all season was at the first race of the season out in Portugal back in February. Coincidentally, this was when I was in the best physical condition I’ve been in all year. I mean, you could probably make some kind of case for the two going hand in hand, but we are where we are so…
And this weekend we’re in Wales for the fourth round of Mike Marsden’s Borderline Series. The Borderline is a regional series, like the SDA’s and the Pearce races but quite cleverly Mike often ties his events in with “Championships” and this weekend is no different; it’s the Welsh Champs which means that there are double points on offer and that will certainly pull in those riders who are on the hunt. As well as chasing the win at the race, at the end of the season the top few riders in Junior, Senior, Master and Veteran get the chance to move up to Expert or Elite (there are other nuances as well that I won’t go into here) and those at the bottom of those categories can slip down. In some categories it’s pretty tight right now.
Saturday is one of those days that get you through the winter months. The sun’s shining, the uplift is running beautifully and the track is bloody amazing. There’s an initial tight, twisty section down to the first fire road, then there’s a steep twisty section down to the next fire road followed by the Main Line down to the bottom. Obviously we know the track pretty well being on the Revolution team, although as Binnsy points out ‘we’ve only managed 2 uplifts this year’. By the middle of the afternoon we’re finding new lines and really starting to push; by the end of the day though the rocks are starting to shine and it’s getting a bit slippy on the steeper middle section.
Despite being on the team I’ve never done very well racing at Revs. 17th/22 and 10th/14 in my two previous attempts. I’m not exactly what you’d call nimble and so steep and twisty isn’t really my thing; I generally do much better at Llangollen where it’s much more straight berm straight berm. Binnsy on the other hand excels on tight and twisty tracks. His three races here have resulted in two firsts and a second. Team mate Jack Mills also doesn’t seem to mind it but then he rides the tracks that much he knows every root, rock and line that there is to know.
As we’re heading to the pub for a couple of swift post-riding pints, I bump into Jason Shill who’s gunning for the win in Masters. A win here and a win in both seeding and the race at the final BDS might see him overtake Mark Neal for the No.1 spot on British Cycling at the end of the season. With none of the other contenders here it’s a great opportunity for him to grab a handful of points.
The rain that had been forecast for Sunday arrives with the morning light and it’s in for the day. ‘It’s fat rain’ Kris Lord declares ‘the stuff that gets you really wet’. Given that he runs a landscaping business he should probably know. As well as the rain there’s been another arrival overnight. Mark Neal’s turned up. Given the weather, I suggest that this might have something to do with not letting Shilly steal a march rather than an actual desire to go racing and he knows he’s been sussed.
The first run down in the wet is bloody brilliant fun. A bit of water and grit on those polished rocks and it’s grippier than it was in the dry. ‘This is a proper Welsh track, so much fun’ I hear one lad giggle. It doesn’t last though. By the time practice comes to an end the track’s a bit of a mess and it’s getting harder to push. Those fancy lines we were taking on Saturday have gone right out of the window and we’re back to following the track all the way down.
There’s a bit of a gap between practice and our first race runs and the weather really starts to come in. ‘You look a bit sad’ Kris Lord says to Steve Felstead. Truth be told none of us are really feeling it. ‘It’s brightening up a bit’ Binnsy says at one point, but there’s little conviction in his voice and I don’t think even he believes it.
With the two-race run format I decide to go with our tried and trusted plan of sticking a safe one in first and then going for it on the second run. Binnsy opts to go for it on the first run. He’s off first in the Grand Vets but unbeknown to him the Open Women’s category whom they’re following have reversed the seeding, sending the slowest rider off last. Binnsy’s on an absolute flyer but he catches two of the ladies and there aren’t many places to pass. He’s not best pleased with his time of four minutes dead and as he lobs his goggles into van he’s muttering things under his breath. Aside from an incident with a Tramadol and an ice cream on the side of Alp D’Huez a couple of years ago I think this is the most frustrated I’ve ever seen him. I’m off in the middle of the Vets and when I hear the whistles getting closer I start preparing to get out of the way. To my delight though, the whistles aren’t coming from behind, they’re coming from in front and I’ve caught one of the riders who set off in front of me. I get past him and roll home with a 4:06 which puts me in tenth.
Steve Felstead has made the fatal error of getting changed into some clean dry clothes after his first run. Currently sitting in second he’s decided not to go up for another run. Binnsy’s sitting one place behind him but he’s third out of three. This has never happened before so he’s a bit on edge. I tell him I’m getting cold and starting to shake a bit. ‘Just imagine it’s an uplift day and pretend you’re enjoying it’ he says.
Trying to channel my inner Gwin after his amazing run in the wet at Mont Sainte Anne I wanted to try and find six seconds in my final run. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Clipping a pedal on a root or a rock or something (very hard to tell when everything is covered in six inches of mud) the bike stopped but I didn’t. Catapulted forward, I went headfirst into a berm. It all happened that fast I didn’t even manage to get my hands out and my visor is toast. Binnsy also crashed on his run but he’s gone four seconds quicker. It isn’t enough though. Steve held on to second place and in his clean clobber, mercilessly adds “I’m glad I didn’t go up for my second run now”. Safe to say the mood’s a bit sombre as we load up the vans. Paul Le Maitre has smoked them both though, taking the win in the Grand Vets by six seconds.
Emyr Davies took the win in Elite Men with a 2:53 and he’s the new Welsh Champ. Daniel Tay was second and Robert Smith third. Will Hart took the win in Expert by over six seconds; Joe Graham did the same in Senior by over five seconds and Morgan Tyrrell took the jersey in Youth in his first race back after injury. Our old teammate Riley Scott managed to hold off current teammate Jack Mills in the Junior Men category, Shilly managed to pip Mark Neal by one second in Masters and Becci Skelton took the win by over 20 seconds in the Open Women.
‘Not the best race weekend’ Binnsy puts in a message to me on Monday morning, but we both agree it was fun, which is the most important thing. I’ve gone to pieces when steep, twisty tracks have turned to slop before and I didn’t this weekend; I was racing rather than taking part so I’m OK with 10th.
A big thank you to everyone involved in putting on the event and in particular to all the marshals. It’s one thing standing on the hill waving flags in the sunshine; it’s another when it’s bucketing down and you know it’s in for the day.
Unfortunately, I’m ending this time with some sad news. The biking community is made up of some real characters and unfortunately we lost one of those characters a few weeks ago. Steve Gregory or “Chainsaw” as I always knew him was tragically killed in a road traffic accident on the way home from Tweedlove. Back when I first started riding Downhill, Chainsaw was one of the people I rode with regularly and if he was on the uplift you knew it would be fun. I haven’t seen him as much in recent times as he’d switched to enduro but I’ll miss that distinctive laugh of his. R.I.P. Steve, you were one of a kind.
We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a report from the final ever BDS at Hopton.