They say, ‘if you want to get faster, ride with faster people’ and Lord knows I’m trying. As I sit on the start line for the first of my two race runs I’m not a hundred percent sure what’s going on. Another visor destroyed in my last practice run and I have no idea if I’m a bit wobbly because of the blow to the head or too much sun. Either way I feel a bit like I’m floating; if only I could get down the track that way…
Welcome to Bala for Round 3 of the Pearce Series! I’ve only ridden this track once before – at the Pearce race last season in a monsoon. This year couldn’t be more different. It’s bone dry, dusty and fast. Very fast in fact. With Binnsy preparing for an epic three week road trip that starts with the Megavalanche in Alp D’Huez and ends with the Masters Worlds in Andorra I find myself sat in McDonalds alone, but not for long.
When we created the Making Up The Numbers race team we had one rule to ensure we stuck to the ethos: riders can’t have been on a podium during the season before. We had to make an exception for Binnsy as there’s been times in the Grand Vets when there’s been more podium places than entrants. Not this season though eh Binnsy? I digress. As things have panned out our new rider is actually a bit of a ringer, although there’s more than a hint of obligation on our part. We first met Neil White out in Portugal at the start of last season. At the time, he was the reigning Masters National Champion and had won a further three races plus six podiums in an amazing 2016 season. We all assumed he’d be riding with the Elite riders who were on the same trip, but after the first morning he came and asked if he could ride with us and since then, well, there’s been zero wins and zero podiums but several drunken adventures. After an unsuccessful season in Expert and seven months off the bike renovating his house he’s back in Masters again with high hopes. He’s also a joiner by trade so both Binnsy and I have got cheap kitchens lined up.
Wherever Neil goes you can usually find Dave List close behind (or about eight seconds ahead as things pan out this weekend). Listy has also dropped down from Expert this season but he’s dropped into the Vets, pushing me back yet another place.
Saturday goes by in a flash. Although I’m conscious that I haven’t checked in with MrsMakingUpTheNumbers, I’ve been kept busy (honest!). The new bars I hurriedly put on late Friday haven’t fixed the issue of the front end being out of alignment: thus, it’s either the stem, the top crown or the lowers. Please God please don’t make it be the lowers, they’re only three weeks old. Hope’s Matt Rushton kindly loans me a ‘team green’ stem (perhaps the most bling thing I’ve ever had on my bike) which improves things considerably. It’s still not perfect but it’s good enough to ride without being too off putting. The Pearce uplift runs like clockwork all day and by half four we’ve knocked out seven or eight runs and I’ve grabbed some photos. The early finish has probably saved us from ourselves. There’s even an uplift for a track walk at six; the only thing Dave Pearce (not the ex-Radio One DJ, there’s no Trance Anthems here) hasn’t sorted is some phone signal.
Consequently, by the time I finally do make contact with MrsMakingUpTheNumbers at about half six she’s a bit irate. ‘We’ve not heard from you all day’. My explanation that there’s no signal at the bottom of the hill falls on deaf ears as she points out ‘you could’ve taken your phone up to the top to ring me but you chose not to’. There’s an accompanying Facebook post where she reminds people of the time I went to Spain for three days and didn’t ring because ‘I didn’t have roaming set up on my phone’ which I think might not’ve been completely true (more likely the first thing I thought of when I walked through Arrivals and saw the unimpressed look on her face).
‘You don’t have a hobby, if you did we’d fit it in’ Smithy is recalling a conversation with his Mrs, Kay. ‘Anyway, she’s bought some tickets to go and see Boyzone next Friday night but she didn’t check the calendar and it’s Rheola next weekend so she’s had to sell them. I did offer to drive down on Saturday morning but as she pointed out, that would mean setting off at 3am or something and I’d be knackered’.
Neil’s been on an eight-day family holiday in the caravan with his wife Naomi and his son Jack. Out of the eight days they’ve had one day at Revolution, one day motocrossing, one day travelling to Bala and two days racing. So, three days doing family stuff. ‘I bet you’re having the time of your life aren’t you Naomi?’ Listy jokes.
I try to recount both of these stories to MrsMakingUpTheNumbers but she doesn’t seem to care that it’s not just me. I can’t chat for long though as the track walk’s underway and when I get down I’ve got food to sort and a bike that needs some love.
‘Arrrgghh!’ Fast forward an hour or so and what started as a simple gear cable change has descended into ‘might as well change the shifter as well as that one’s knackered’ into ‘the mech hanger’s bent so you need to change that as well’ but there’s a weird pin that holds the hanger in place and although the spare mech hanger is identical in every other way, the hole for the pin is way too small. Myles James has one, that’s also too small. Balls. A long evening of tinkering whilst drowning in a sea of midges ensues.
If anything, Sunday is hotter still. I was feeling good until that third and final practice run when I tried to stay with Neil. I made it to the first fire road with him still in sight and then everything just started happening very quickly and the next thing I knew I was hitting the deck on one of the fastest sections of the track.
‘I’m seventh after first race runs’ Neil declares ‘but I’m fourth at the first split and fastest through the speed trap’. No bloody wonder I’ve crashed, I’ve tried to follow him on the bit where he’s fastest haven’t I? Why Lord, WHY?
All the track talk is of the stump gap in the middle section. Everyone who’s doing it says ‘it’s much faster’. Everyone who isn’t doing it says ‘there’s not much in it’. I’m not doing it but as I pass through there in my first race run someone in a pink top shouts ‘Go on George!’ which is strange because I’m not aware there’s anyone here I know. I place 18th/25 but I know I can go faster. Listy is winning the Vets by 12 seconds but he gets a bit nervous when an injured Stu Hughes tells him he’s kitting up and having a go at a race run. Someone’s got to keep Dave honest.
I tried to go for it on my second race run. I felt like I was going faster but the clock doesn’t lie and I was only .36 faster through the speed trap and .6 up at the first split. Then my mind started to wander. ‘Who was the girl in the pink top?’, ‘I could really do with a drink’ and the next thing I know I’m in the bottom field and way over to the right on the drops when I should be over to the left and I’m braking because I don’t know where I’m going when I should be flat out. And that was that, one second slower but still 18th.
Listy went two seconds quicker in his second run to take the win in Vets but Guy Theron and David Fairservice closed the gap slightly taking second and third.
Over in the Grand Vets Pete Little is on one of the Commencal 29ers, which is fast becoming the bike to have this season. He takes the win by eight seconds from Trevor Harvey with Matthew Patrickson in third.
Fastest Time of the Day went to Joe Smith with a 2:43. Joe Breeden was pushing him hard but crashed on his second run. Jay Williamson smashed it into third.
Shout out to Jordan Williams who won Juvenile, again. 13 years old, undefeated this season and clocking a time that would’ve placed him eighth in Expert. That’s some going, definitely one to watch for the future. Luke Williamson and Harry Barrett battled for the win in Youth with Luke taking it by 1.7 seconds with a 2:51, the fifth Fastest Time of the Day. Our old team mate Riley Scott won Junior Men, Go Riley! Kyle Hall took the win in Expert, Warren Field in Seniors and Craig ‘Snowy’ Taylor won Masters with Neil slipping to tenth after second runs. Big shout out to Royal Navy / Royal Marines Downhill Team rider and #makingupthenumbers regular Toby Hann who was absolutely buzzing after going 12 seconds quicker in his second race run.
In the Elite Women Pearce Cycles’ very own Abbie Sloan smashed it with a 3:24 with Lucy Drees in second and Becci Skelton in third. Ellie Jones took the win in Junior Women by .1 from Emily Walker and in the Senior Women category Corinna Brisbourne won by nine seconds with Ami Grindley in second and Brittany Littlewood in third.
Right, that’s about it. We’re racing again this weekend with Round 3 of the National Series taking place at Rheola. Then, it’s a family holiday some 20-minute drive from Rheola, or 8 hours if you’ve got to go home and then come back again the following day. I haven’t mentioned a race report to MrsMakingUpTheNumbers just yet but I’m sure she’ll be fine with me taking time out of our first family holiday with our baby daughter to write it…
Don’t forget to follow @makingupthenumbersracing on Instagram for additional content. Thanks again to all our sponsors: Singletrack, Revolution Bike Park, Geometron Bikes, Sick Bicycles and WeRide for helping us out this season.
Oh, and the girl in the pink top was Jo from @_life_in_raw_ in case you were wondering. Thanks for the support Jo!