#MakingUpTheNumbers: DH National Champs in Bala

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Words by George Thompson and Rachel Thompson.

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Dry & Dusty by Sunday afternoon (Rider: Gaz Wilson, 6th place, 30-34 Men)

I haven’t raced National Champs since 2015 and I’m not racing again this year. With triple points on offer it’s an absolute killer if you have any ambitions of a top ten finish on British Cycling at the end of the season. Last year, it was a wedding; this year we were due to have our baby five days ago but the little squirt is taking after the female side of the family and running late. Safe to say we won’t ever be having unprotected sex again between September and December as it’s completely wiped out a good couple of months of riding and racing.

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
“I’d kill for a wine” – Mrs MakingUpTheNumbers

When I looked at the forecast on Thursday afternoon I wasn’t all that disappointed. In the dry Bala is amazing, superfast with a bit of everything; but I raced the Pearce round on the same track in really wet conditions in June and it was pretty grim. As the weekend progresses though I can see (through Instagram mainly) that it’s drying out and by Sunday morning the forecast has changed to glorious sunshine for SY10.

Rachel Atherton has come first six years in a row.

So, with the nursery finished last weekend, both bikes not just cleaned but polished and the garage tidier than it’s ever been; I’ve somehow convinced MrsMakingUpTheNumbers that we should head over to Bala on Sunday afternoon to watch the racing. With no real story to tell other than the ongoing woe of counting the days since I last rode the DH bike (30) I thought I’d let MrsMakingUpTheNumbers give you her perspective of how things unfolded. Having been literally seething when Singletrack started publishing these blog posts (“It’s my one dream to be a published author you cretin”) she certainly knows her way around a keyboard…

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Get ready for the g-out in that compression!

Over to her:

Thanks. Some of you may know me from the #MakingUpTheNumbers blog posts that have graced the (online only – I’m not bitter) pages of Singletrackworld for the past few months. I’ve taken a keen interest in George’s mountain biking from almost the very beginning. I remember the specific occasion when I began to really take note of what he was up to: it was when I realised he’d lied to me twice about the cost of his new bike. When I eventually got to the bottom of it, I decided to keep a close eye on this new-found hobby as I could see it was going to have considerable impact on our lives. Back then (2008), George’s riding style could best be described as “enthusiastic”. As he’s gotten older, he’s gotten better but the cost of the bikes seems to have increased along with his ability. In fact, the cost of his hobby is now such that earlier this year, when discussing our pregnancy, he actually said to me that “we need to be careful about what we spend on the baby”, presumably this was so he could still fund his trips to Portugal and Andorra this year.

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Media darling Greg Williamson (you’re *our* media darling George – Ed) – 1st Senior Men for the 2nd consecutive year

Anyway, onto the National Champs…

At some point in the past week, I don’t really remember when, it seems that I agreed to come to Bala for National Champs. It doesn’t sound like something I’d normally agree to so I’m not sure if the temporary idiocy was caused by being pregnant or what, but here I am.

40 weeks and 6 days into it, I feel like I’m carrying around a weighted beach ball. I’ve got an extra 12kg on my 5ft 3” frame so wandering around a hill in Wales after a two-and-a-half-hour car journey isn’t really what I feel like doing but, George wants to come and apparently, keeping active is important (imagine that I’m doing a giant eye roll at this point).

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Manon Carpenter, 3rd Senior Women; Tahnee Seagrave, 2nd Senior Women

Keeping active was the last thing from my mind however when, upon arrival I was faced with using a portaloo. It made me question, not for the first time, what the **** I was doing here. Apparently basic hygiene and manners fly out of the window when a portaloo is involved.

Ben Deakin kicking up dust (1st place, 30-34 Men)

Despite what you might think, I do quite like watching DH. There’s a good atmosphere (more so when the weather is nice) and most people are friendly and chatty. There’s an abundance of dogs to talk to and no phone signal, so you can switch off and enjoy the great British countryside. However, being 2+ hours away from home when your first baby is imminent isn’t the best of ideas; but George, being the organised, trustworthy and capable man that he is assured me that he had it covered. Any confidence I had in him soon evaporated though as he stomped ahead of me up the hill, calling behind him: “I’m just going to take some photos, shout me if you go into labour”. Roger that.

Danny Hart in the hotseat, George Gannicott 10th, Steve Peat 8th, Jay Williamson 9th

We stopped to talk to many, many, MANY people on the way up the hill. Most seemed surprised at my presence. One of the people we talked to was Jason Shill who had apparently torn up his back in a crash at the top of the track (see, I was listening). He said something about being the green flash, so I thought, “great, I’ll spot him coming a mile away”. I never saw him again.

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Laurie Greenland, 12th Senior Men

As riders fly past us towards the finish line, George comments that Mark Neal has caught someone in his race run. I’m not sure if this is a thing, like a foxhunt or something as I’ve never heard George say he’s caught someone before but then he’s not exactly podium material so it could well be. It turns out that it’s both good and bad. If he’s caught the rider in front he’s probably on a good run but now he’s got to get past him.

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Massive result for Kris Lord: 3rd place 40-44 Men

After some of the Male categories there are Female ones as well. I have to tell George off for referring to Junior Women as girls. Apparently, it’s “just what people say” but I’ll be damned if I’m leaving feminism at the door just because it’s a male dominated sport.

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Pinned TV’s Stu Hughes, 2nd place, 40-44 men

We watch the Senior Women hit the bottom section of the track and I’m impressed at how fast and smooth Manon, Tahnee and Rachel are. They pass by in a blur though, so we go to find a better spot at the finish line for the Senior Men. I hear the announcer say something about a hotseat so I look around to see who’s on it. I can’t see a hotseat but I do spot a square stool, resembling a naughty step, stood alone next to the barriers at the bottom. It’s somewhat of an anti-climax compared to the World Cups that I’m forced to watch during the summer. I comment that it wouldn’t really cost much to put a small stage up and make a bit more of a ‘thing’ of it but I’m talking to someone who’s never been in a hotseat, so it falls on deaf ears. (I’m told at this point that he has been in the hotseat before. I imagine it was brief).

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
What’s going on here then? Becci Skelton, 7th Senior Women; Adam Brayton, 5th Senior Men; and the green flash Jason Shill, 3rd place 35-39 Men

Something exciting is happening as people around me cheer and then I see that Danny Hart has come down and has taken first place. I recognise him from the tele and we’re big fans in our house so I watch intently as he sits on the naughty step and… Nothing else really happens. Some kids come over to him with bike helmets to sign and he spends a few minutes chatting with them and I’m reminded again how inclusive DH can be.

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Over 700 races between these three: Senior Men Sam Dale, 23rd; Alex Florian, 49th; and Dan Critchlow, 30th

“Thank goodness; another familiar face” I think as I spot Steve Peat coming over the finish line. Then, Jack Reading, who lives just around the corner from us comes flying past and takes 3rd place. Sadly, there’s no naughty step / hotseat for him.

In the end, Jack takes 4th place, Danny gets 3rd, Charlie Hatton is in 2nd and Greg Williamson comes in in 1st with a 2:50:02. Watching the race next to George’s Revolution Bike Park racing teammate Binnsy, he mutters “that’s a whole minute faster than me”. I don’t want to point out that some of these lads are over 30 years younger than him…

The podium for the Elite Women is a less surprising line up with Rachel Atherton in 1st place (3:11:06), Tahnee Seagrave taking 2nd and Manon Carpenter in 3rd place.

We stand and watch the Podiums with Binnsy and a couple of Geordie’s, Pete Walton and Mark Neal. They’ve all done well in their respective categories and are on the podium. Pete (from Tyneside, not a Geordie apparently) has finished in 2nd place in the 30-34 Men. He isn’t wearing his race kit on the podium though and to be honest, looks like he’s just come from a boat party. All he needs is a tall glass of something with ice and a wooden necklace that he got from Thailand in his 20’s and the look would be complete.

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
West Yorkshire’s finest Kade Edwards came third in 17-18 Men, and James Hurst 33rd in Senior Men.

The vast majority of people stay for the podiums and it’s great to see how positive everyone is. I know by some of the posts George shares on Facebook that a few of the races are struggling for numbers at the minute but judging by the things I’ve seen this weekend and the number of people competing in UK National Championships who’s names I recognise; the sport seems quite strong at the minute.

My review:
Entertainment factor 7/10
Ambience 7/10
Weather 8/10
Facilities 3/10 (wish I could have washed in bleach after using the toilets but the tea was hot and they sold chocolate)

(Back to George)

…And that’s pretty much how things went down. Thanks Rach. Just time for me to mention a few other outstanding performances:

Madison Saracen’s Matt Walker winning 17-18 Men with a time that would’ve placed him 4th in the Senior Men; Craig “Snowy” Taylor winning his first National Champs jersey. There’s only one National Champs jersey for the Masters category so whoever is faster from the winners of the 30-34 and 35-39 categories gets their hands on it. Snowy has won his category twice before but never got the jersey; and Intense UK’s Andrew Titley winning his first National Champs jersey after decades of racing.

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
The fan’s favourite, Danny Hart, 3rd Senior Men

See you all at the BDS at Llangollen in 4 weeks. Already super excited to race the new RidePortugal track for the first time.

Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Men’s 35-39 Podium: 1st, Craig Taylor; 2nd, Mark Neal; 3rd, Jason Shill
Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Men’s 40-44 Podium: 1st, Andrew Titley; 2nd, Stu Hughes; 3rd, Kris Lord
Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Senior Men’s Podium: 1st, Greg Williamson; 2nd, Charlie Hatton; 3rd, Danny Hart
Borderline Events National DHl Championships 2017, Bala
Your 2017 DH National Champions

George Thompson

Singletrack Contributor

After taking a 17 year break from exercise, George rediscovered mountain bikes in 2008. Six years later, at 40 years of age he started racing Downhill and the following season somehow ended up on the Revolution Bike Park Race Team. As the other members of the team fought for podiums and National Series victories, George searched for mid-pack mediocrity. In a bit to add some value #makingupthenumbers was born; a blog about their race weekends and in particular life towards the back of the field.

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