“It’s an honour to ride this track in these conditions!” It’s 11am on Monday morning and Mark Weightman is eulogising. Mark’s one of a kind, like a Graeme Obree of DH; not building bikes out of washing machines but just thinking about things differently. The pros have raced the World Cup here at the weekend and basically spent three days beating the track up for us; there’s holes everywhere and masses of exposed roots and now it’s been raining for 12 hours straight. And by raining I mean thunderstorms – there are rivers running down the track. Everyone else is cursing our bad fortune; our one day of practice has been pretty much written off. After crashing three times on the steep section near the bottom I’ve completely lost my rag, hurling the bike down the hill and instantly regretting it as I watch it land mech side down. Fortunately, no damage is done but after two runs in torrential rain I’ve had enough and I’m heading back to my prison cell (sorry I mean hotel room, it’s just when your only natural light is a window at the foot of a chimney breast…) to clean up. All that confidence I’d built up at Bala and Rheola has been destroyed in under an hour. Bugger.
“Welcome to Andorra” the text message says as we climb up out of France. We’ve not even crossed the border yet but it’s promptly followed by four other messages which cumulatively mean I’ve already blitzed £60 on mobile data and been locked out of my phone. After battling with a Vodafone app for several minutes it soon becomes apparent that I should’ve set up international roaming before we set off.
We’ve been here before, obviously not with this mobile though but for those that aren’t aware of Masters Worlds here’s a brief intro…
As well as the Elite World Champion in each cycling discipline, the UCI also has a World Champion in every 5-year age bracket from 30 onwards. There are some rules and restrictions on competing such as, you can’t have held UCI points in the last two years (so no Steve Peat for example this year, but possibly next) but anyone can enter so long as you’re a (in the UK) British Cycling member. The Elite World Championships will take place in Lenzerheide in September but there’d be too many riders to run everything on the same weekend, so Masters Worlds are taking place in July this year and Lenzerheide must not have wanted us, so we’re back in Andorra for the second year in a row. They’re also doing the XC Masters Worlds out here at the same time with Hope’s Paul Oldham notably taking 4th in his category.
A number of the Brits who would’ve normally made the trip to race the DH are injured at the minute but 20 or so have still made it. It’s a bit too close to the due date of his second child for team rider Neil White to risk it but Binnsy’s here, having already been out in the Alps for two weeks. He’s smashed it at the Megavalanche, qualifying for the Pro race and finishing in 1 hour 4 minutes; not bad for a 53-year-old. I’ve travelled out with the aforementioned Mark Weightman. Making Up The Numbers regulars Adam Smith, Marky Neal and Pete Walton are here with their mate James who’s too young to race, Phil Gray, Tim Ponting, Ellie Dewdney, Alastair Maclennan, Pete Little, John Young, Chris Sinden… the list goes on…
With the World Cup seeding taking place on Friday and then racing Saturday the vast majority of us arrive in time for that. I’ve never been to a World Cup before. Well, that’s not strictly true. Back in 2012 we didn’t have enough cash to fund a wedding and a honeymoon in the same year so, having spent several days ‘post-wedding’ sitting around the house, I managed to convince Mrs MakingUpTheNumbers that we should go and watch the Fort William World Cup. It rained though and the midges were out and I don’t think we stayed very long. It was long enough to get a photo of Mrs MakingUpTheNumbers looking like a Ninja with only her eyes visible; a photograph which has been forever captioned “Best Honeymoon Ever” but not as long as I’d have liked. I’m not even sure if we stayed for the racing, but I do remember that we stayed in a really expensive hotel on the banks of Loch Ness and her commenting “for the money we’ve spent we might just as well have gone abroad”. Anyway, the raw speed and commitment is just phenomenal. Imagine the speed you or I might go flat out down a road or a blue run, well they’re going that fast on a root infested goat path no more than a few inches wide and if it goes wrong, well, it’s not always going to end well is it?
What is great about the World Cup being here is the level of support they bring. Before the pros have even started racing Fox has “repaired” the rebound on Binnsy’s shock (I use the term “repaired” loosely as you’ll see later on), Mark’s had a new fork stanchion and I’ve had a new Saint caliper, with only Mark parting with any cash.
Vergier takes the win in the World Cup on Bastille Day; we sink some ice-cold Estrellas in the same bar as Amaury Pierron who has taken second on the day and extended his lead in the Series. He gets down to his boxer shorts for a dip in the fountain and I go topless with him for a photo. Beer eh?
Sunday was a bit of a wasted day. They wouldn’t let us ride in the bike park so we hung around, worked on bikes, signed on and track walked. Binnsy and I changed a couple of tyres and polished a few things, Mark conducted what I would class as well beyond an annual fork service in a car park. Installing the new fork stanchion meant he had the air spring and damper all in bits, circlips everywhere. If I’d been in charge of the project I wouldn’t have let anyone ride the fork around the car park, never mind down a DH World Cup track, but he doesn’t seem phased.
The Vallnord track is the longest on the World Cup circuit and, like last year, our track is about 25 seconds longer than the one the pros race as they route us around the bridge where Thomas Estaque nearly ended himself on Saturday. The consensus amongst the Brits is that we’d much rather just ride the same track as the pros but there’s such a mixture of ages and skill sets you have to acknowledge that it’s probably a bit much for some.
The rain on Monday kills it for Binnsy, Phil Gray and me. I’m already not feeling great, some kind of bug that’s left me feeling listless and always making sure I know where the nearest toilet is. With sunny conditions predicted for Tuesday and Wednesday it’s a bit pointless riding in the rain as it’ll be a completely different track when it dries up; better to save my energy. The rains stop in time for the second practice session from 3pm-6pm though and I get another three runs in but everyone else has the same idea and the track’s absolutely jammed.
By the end of the day Binnsy’s blown the rebound cartridge on the spare Bos shock he’s been running since the Fox X2 packed in. He replaces it with the Fox one but it turns out the Fox guys haven’t really fixed it, they’ve just fitted a new rebound adjuster so he’s left with no option but to run an old RC4 coil shock that he’s never gotten around to selling. The key factor for Binnsy buying a Commencal was that at the Fort William National earlier in the season “they were just so quiet” and he really likes a quiet bike. The collar that holds the spring in place on the RC4 is the wrong size though and consequently his bike sounds like a shopping trolley descending a rather large flight of stairs. Still, better than riding a pogo stick.
It’s a track that requires full commitment and as Gee Atherton says in his track preview “precision”. For us to do well here all the stars have to align: health, fitness, weather, at least one solid day of practice giving us the confidence to hit the jumps, all of which are really awkward, but it’s just not happening. Two years ago in Val Si Sole when I was struggling a bit Alastair Maclennan grabbed me by the shoulders and screamed at me “IT’S THE WORLD-****ING-CHAMPIONSHIPS” and I keep telling myself that, but I’m really struggling to get up for it. Even Alastair doesn’t seem that pumped this year. There are brief glimmers but by the time we get to seeding I’ve only done six runs and I don’t really know where I’m going so it’s hard to commit, but at least the sun’s shining now.
It’s no surprise that seeding doesn’t go very well. Ex-World Cup racer and current leader in the Masters category at the Enduro World Series Karim Amour catches me on the open section and I manage to stay with him long enough to catch the rider who set off in front of me but then disaster strikes. In a bid to alleviate arm pump I’ve been winding the reach adjust further and further in on the brake levers so the bite point is pretty close to the bars. It’s been fine all morning but I haven’t done a full run and when I do the brakes boil. By that point I’m only two thirds of the way down and I have to ride the super steep bottom third of the track with just the front brake; which, without wanting to overegg it, was ****ing terrifying. Exactly the same thing happens to John Young and we’re both over a minute down on where we think we should be, I’m on an 8:24, him a 6:42. Why didn’t I stop and wind the lever back out? It’s not the kind of track where you think about anything other than where you’re going, never mind weighing up all the options of things that could be wrong with the back brake.
In Val Di Sole in 2016 I finished in 35th; in Andorra last year I finished in 35th and this year I seed in 35th so I think I’ve found my position. Marky Neal is fifth in my category though and thinks he can go faster, and although he’s a bit back John Young has recorded a 5:05 down Fort William in the last 12 months so he’s a real dark horse for a podium.
Weightman’s seeded first in 45-49 Men with Ponting in second and fellow Brit Guy Theron in fifth so we’ve got a bloody good chance of a win! In 50-54 Men we’ve got Pete Little in third and Alastair in fifth with Binnsy in tenth. Our ladies are also doing mighty fine! Ellie Dewdney has a badly bruised leg but seeds second and Sue Mahony does the same.
I don’t know if it’s coincidental but by Wednesday the Imodium has started to work its magic and in the last practice run before we start racing I ride a couple of sections really well. The confidence returns a little bit and I catch the rider who started 30 seconds in front of me, passing him before I getting offline and smashing into a tree at the start of the steep section. As I drag the bike back onto the track the rider who started behind me barges past, but then he crashes a bit further down and I have no option but to ride over his back wheel. I do love a bit of karma.
It was a pretty eventful run and as I’m trying to explain what happened to Binnsy he stops me in my tracks. Weightman’s done it! He’s the World bloody Champion!
“No one deserves it more” is the general consensus. A few days later, we’re up at Glencoe for National Champs and Danny Hart tells our team rider Neil White “I’ve been racing for 15 years and Mark’s been at every race I can think of”. Mark has in fact been racing for 25 years. He’s been European Champion before but this is the one he’s always wanted. I lend him my phone to call home. “You can retire now” his wife Michelle says. “Retire? Why would I want to do that?” Mark retorts. “Well you can get rid of all that other crap from the kitchen then”. “All that other crap” refers to all his other trophies. Like Jason Kenny turning up to the Olympics with his kit in a ‘bag for life’ it’s a conversation that highlights that British trait of not really making a big deal about stuff.
We had another winner as well! In the Women’s 55-59 category Shona Mckinnon came back from a DNF in her seeding run to take gold! Both Ellie and Sue took silver, as did Pete Little and Tim Ponting. Shout outs to Brett Wheeler and Guy Theron who both finished just off the box in fourth, Marky Neal in fifth and Smithy who set the fastest time of all the Brits with a 5:06 and finished 7th in the 30-34 category.
“I thought I was a reasonably fit lad until I came out here” Scott Edgworth says to me on the finish line. Scott won the Masters category at the first National of the season so he’s a good rider but the Vallnord track has broken him. A big crash in his race run has destroyed a helmet and left him looking for answers. It’s fair to say Worlds is another step up.
I finished with a 7:27 which put me in 31st/43 place. Binnsy ended up 11th, Phil Gray 13th. None of us are delighted with our performance but we’re all happy to leave uninjured. It’s such a long, gruelling track and things didn’t quite go our way this time around. None of it matters though because Mark’s won and Vergier is presenting his medal.
“One of us is coming home a World Champion!” I post on Facebook. “Great news, how did Mark get on?” someone asks. I like this very much.
So that’s Andorra done and dusted. Onwards to Glencoe for National Champs…
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.