Something’s not quite right. It’s 9pm on Saturday night and I’m sat on my couch at home with Mrs Making Up The Numbers, some 140 miles from Nant Gwrtheyrn (Nant G from now on). Things haven’t gone well. However, if I’d known how badly things were about to go, I probably* wouldn’t have gone back.
Nant G in the sunshine hast to be the most beautiful place I’ve ever raced a bicycle. It’s near Caernarfon right on the Welsh coastline, and to say the track finishes on the beach would only be about 50 yards out. Revolution Bike Park Racing team mate Binnsy and I arrive on Friday night and track walk before dark. The track can loosely be split into 3 sections but the one thing they all have in common is that they’re wet and muddy. The top third is steep and rocky with tight switchbacks; the middle third is a new section that one of the Army team described as “like The Somme” and they should know; and the bottom third is a gut busting pedal along the flat to the finish line.
As we set off for practice on Saturday morning the top of the track is smothered in cloud but the rain is holding off. Second run down I’m chasing Binnsy when I have an innocuous crash in the middle section of the track. Annoyingly, I’ve bent a brake lever but much more worryingly I’ve somehow dented the chain stay and it’s rubbing on the wheel. We consider several possible solutions: dishing the wheel, using a car jack to straighten the frame, anything to get me riding again, but like Homer Simpson chasing a pig that’s been fired out of a cannon shouting “it’s still good”, I know that it’s not.
The long and short of it is that I can either write the whole weekend off or I can head home and get the trail bike. If I’d remembered what state the trail bike was in I probably* wouldn’t have told people to expect my return on Sunday morning but I arrive back at the track just in time for practice. The sun’s out and we get a couple of runs in before seeding and I pin it (loose definition) on the second one but it’s a wild ride on a trail bike. Since I left, the course has been amended slightly to avoid some of the slop that’s become so thick even the Elites are coming to a halt in it, so that’s a positive. There are some big holes developing though.
Leading up to Nant G, Jason Holland declared that if he didn’t finish in the Top 10 he’d be giving up DH and taking up golf. So, in the week I had a quick look at the previous records of the 16 Vets on the start list and by my reckoning if everything went to form, 11th would be the best either one of us could achieve and that would mean beating Uncle Albert who’s flying at the minute. I thought he’d set the bar a bit high so I rang a couple of mates to see if they had any golf clubs that I could borrow for a presentation but I’m quite pleased to announce that none of my close mates play golf.
Whilst I’ve been away though Jason has done a 3:05 and spent a good chunk of Saturday sitting 2nd in timed practice. Come Sunday though he crashed in his seeding run but was then red flagged so he got another run at it. Unfortunately, he crashed twice in that re-run and the next time I saw him he was in jeans and a t-shirt and heading for home. We all have our different reasons for racing. Most of the Vets seem to do it for fun, because as Binnsy says “what else would you be doing on a Sunday afternoon?” but I know Jason really wants to improve and he’s frustrated that he can’t put it together on race day. If he really has packed it in I’ll miss him and our battles, but most importantly I’ll miss the banter. Just FYI though, if anyone is looking for a cheap Santa Cruz V10, you know where to go.
Last year I finished the Series in seventh. I wasn’t the seventh best rider in the category, I just raced more rounds than other people. The knock-on effect is that with Will Longden moving up to Expert and a few other riders not racing, I have the 702 number board and in seeding I’m off 3rd from last. Behind me are Mark Weightman and Andrew Titley, both ex-elite riders, both in a different league to me.
As we roll down for seeding though things continue to conspire against me. The rear tyre has gone soft. The only option is to sprint back to the van, pump it up to 40psi and pray it’ll hold. As we queue up I can feel it losing pressure but it’s only seeding so I just need to get through the start gate to qualify for the main race. With a strong coffee and a Red Bull in me though I’m keen. On reflection, trying to hold Mark Weightman off whilst piloting a trail bike with a deflating rear tyre down a DH track I’ve only ridden 4 times was perhaps the bravest / stupidest (delete as applicable) thing I’ve ever attempted. I nearly did it though. I made it all the way to the last bit of the middle section; the rock chute before the bridge and I still couldn’t hear the marshal’s whistles behind me. The trail bike would give me a big advantage on the long pedal that was to come, but a massive OTB at the top of the chute ended with me trapped between the green tarpaulin and the side of the bridge, legs dangling above the river, bike blocking the trail.
I’ve never been responsible for a course closure before, so that’s a first.
It was shortly after I’d crossed the line that the doubt started to creep in. Maybe I shouldn’t race. Maybe it’s a sign. Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. Graeme Cochrane thinks the same: “I’d just go home” he says.
Things have gone worse for others though. Sarah Crellin has dislocated her knee and lots of people are battered and bruised. The biggest challenge I face is that I’ve run out of race kit but I manage to locate a fresh shirt and shorts so I’m racing.
The crash in seeding means I’m off first. As we line up the Commissaire tells me to go slowly round the first corner because the track’s collapsing. I wonder if she’ll tell Danny Hart the same or if she’s just sensed that I’m struggling and could do with some help?
My head’s not really in it but the shouts of “go on enduro” spur me on until the forks compress just that bit too deep into their travel and I’m going out of the front door again. I’ve had enough now and I’m just focussing on making it out alive rather than racing so I let Uncle Albert and Alex Lawler go through on the final straight.
Results wise, I’m in 13th out of 13 finishers. Andrew Titley took the win in the Vets from Stu Hughes (who we all thought was in Expert) with Mark in third. Jason didn’t race, but the ironic thing is that if he could’ve just repeated that 3:05 he achieved in practice on the shorter track, he’d have ended up 9th and got the top 10 he wanted, but that’s racing.
In the Grand Vets, Binnsy won the Series last year but this year he has a new challenger in the form of Pete Little and what a challenge it’s going to be, with Pete taking the win by 15 seconds from Binnsy with Paul Le Maitre in third.
Pete Walton proved that it isn’t all about the bike, piloting his trail bike to 5th in Masters with a 2:37. Outside of the Elites, you’d have to say it’s the ride of the weekend but he thinks “everything just feels so slow”. Richard Batey took first, Jason Shill second, Mark Neal in third and Craig Taylor in fourth.
If you stop to chat to the marshals when you’re on track they’ll usually tell you the fastest line through a section and they also usually know who’s looking quickest. This weekend, the same name came up every time we asked, and that name was current World Champion, Danny Hart. The marshals weren’t wrong. Danny took the win in Elite Men with a 2:05. Gee Atherton was second with a 2:07 and 0.4 of a second separated Matt Simmonds in third, Mike Jones in fourth and Charlie Hatton in fifth.
In the Elite Women Rachel Atherton ensured that both male and female World Champions started this season where they left off with a 10 second gap back to Manon Carpenter and Veronique Sandler in third. Tahnee Seagrave seeded just 0.2 back from Rachel but crashed in her race run and needed a few stiches in her elbow. Her brother Kaos joined her in A&E with a broken finger after taking 3rd in the Juniors. Joe Breeden took the win with Matt Walker in second. The Junior category is going to really interesting this year with a good mix of first year Juniors such as Kade Edwards, Riley Scott and our team mate Jack Mills who took 12th this weekend and the second-year Juniors who filled the top 3.
It’s been a crazy few weeks racing and I’m kind of thankful that that’s it for a while now. Body needs a rest and the bike needs fixing. We’ll be back in 6 weeks for the second round of the BDS in Fort William. It’s already sold out with a huge Elite field ahead of the World Cup there a few weeks later so it should be a cracker!
*I probably would ☺