“Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more”
It’s not often that you hear a bit of Shakespeare in the Land Rover on the way up for race runs but it’s just summed up the mood pretty perfectly. In four years of racing I’ve never known anything like this. Mark Weightman has been racing for over 20 years and he hasn’t seen anything like it since the Dragon Races back in the day. It’s dry, dusty, fast and Rheola is taking no prisoners. Riders having been going down hard since early doors on Saturday. Sure, there’s crashes at every race but this is different; it’s the good riders, the very good riders who are spannering themselves. Will Soffe’s been carried out on a board; Will Weston’s clipped his bar on a tree and doesn’t know where he is; Dave List’s broken his ankle; Chris Whitfield’s separated his shoulder, Dickie Hayward’s broken his collarbone; the course has just been closed for nearly two hours after Lindsay Hanley left the track with a compound fracture of the Femur; and these are just the people I know. Actually, forget Shakespeare, this is the Wild West of Downhill.
Welcome to Rheola for Round 3 of the National DH Series. With Binnsy off on a European tour, Neil and myself arrive late Friday; too late for a track walk but perfectly timed for a battle with a colony of midges as we put the gazebo up.
I’m not a hundred percent sure if Neil realised I was joking in the last episode re; his place on the team being partly due to him supplying us with cheap kitchens, but he spends the entire time we’re in the sign on queue on Saturday morning telling me how expensive kitchens are. Dave List turns up at eight but he’s ready to ride before either of us.
The track is quite similar to the one we raced at Bala just one week earlier. It starts with a wide, flat out bit down to the first fire road; then it gets tight through the tree stumps down to the next fire road; then it’s back into the trees before ending with a few jumps towards the finish line. Somewhere in those trees three-quarters of the way down is the infamous ‘Star Wars’ section which is hard work (read: absolutely treacherous) in the wet.
Second run and Listy has a big one on the top section. His weekend’s done, possibly his season. He later messages with pictures of his ankle in a cast. After his win last weekend, he was taunting Neil with “not just making up the numbers eh?”, “he’s not even making up the numbers this week” we quip but it’s a bit too soon to write it in a text; that’s his dreams of a medal at Masters Worlds in Andorra down the swanny.
By the middle of the afternoon we’ve chalked up seven runs and I’m starting to feel it a bit. I ‘um and ah’ about an eighth and eventually go up for it but as we reach the top there’s a big course hold so I make my way back down in the Land Rover. After a 90-minute wait I’m in position to take some photos by the time the course is cleared. With nearly the entire field sat at the top cooling down and losing their rhythm there are more crashes as soon as it reopens. Chris Whitfield’s annoyed with himself after separating his shoulder; he’d been riding with the fast Hope boys all day and then one cruisy run where he stops paying attention ends his Andorra dreams as well. Rosy Monaghan has a big one right in front of me and Snowy Taylor nearly ends himself as well.
The pros have a bit of time at the end of practice to ride on their own. Adam Brayton comes past as I’m waiting by the table top. “I’ll push back up and do a trick” he says. At the last race The Trailhead’s Sandy Plenty asked me what type of camera I was using to which I replied “the wife’s”. Judging by how quickly that conversation ended I think he was expecting some kind of specific model number but I don’t even know what make it is. I tell you what though, it’s quite pressured having to get a photo when you only have one go at it and a pro’s doing a trick.
“There’s a tenth here” Mark Weightman says as we walk the track on Saturday evening. “Let’s start with the bits where I can find three or four seconds first” I think to myself. One of those places is the new drop just before the fire road which I haven’t been doing. On closer inspection it’s actually pretty straightforward and I know I’ll be OK with it.
By half seven on Sunday morning Neil’s ready to ride. The uplift doesn’t even open for another 45 mins but apparently this is what he’s like when he comes racing on his own. “I don’t know how Naomi’s going to cope next season when we have two kids” he says.
Second run in and having already hit the drop I try one of the lines Mark pointed out on the track walk. It basically involves holding an off camber on the opposite side of the track to the line everyone else is taking; the logic being that it sets you up perfectly for the corner that follows. I don’t make it to the corner. The look of terror on the marshal’s face as I hurtle towards him will be etched on my mind forever. As I’m lying in the undergrowth No 58 comes down and holds the line perfectly. Salt in the wounds or what? As it turns out though rider 58 is South Africa’s Christopher Philogene who finishes second in Elite Men; so, in hindsight I don’t feel too badly about it.
I tell Chris Whitfield that I’m only riding at about 80% because I’ve got a family holiday next week and then Andorra. He gives me a bit of a talking to along the lines of “you shouldn’t be racing if you’re thinking like that”. I can’t help but find the irony in a man in a sling telling me I need to commit more. He’s right though.
By the time we go up for seeding “Spirit of Listy” has done two runs on Sunday as Neil forgot that he had Dave’s timing chip in his pocket. Once again it looks like they’ve created the seeding list from the current standings in the Series which doesn’t really work because not everyone has raced both rounds. Listy would’ve been due to go off in front of me (he won by 12 seconds last weekend, I was 18th) and then behind me it’s Whitfield, Weightman, Ponting and Neal. Basically four of the best Vets in the UK. With Whitfield out Weightman has the honours of following me down. I was on the best run of my season so far when he caught me coming into Star Wars. I pulled over to let him through and wished I hadn’t when I saw the time. With the Elite Men trying desperately to get under three minutes I was trying to get under four. 4:16 with a stop and an uphill push to get going again. “It would’ve been close” Mark agrees.
There were 17 Vets on the start list. By the time we get to race runs there’s only nine left. I’ve seeded eighth but if I hadn’t stopped I would’ve been seventh. James Davies seeded fourth but he’s in the ambulance on the way to hospital with Lindsay and her broken leg and won’t race so I’m potentially sixth. Christ, all I need is to repeat that and someone have a crash or a mechanical and I’m on the bloody box. At a National. This can’t be happening! We see Steve Jones who’s seeded fifth chatting to his family. His baby daughter’s crying; the course closure whilst they get Lindsay off the hill means they’re going home and she’s not going to get to see daddy race. I spend ages trying to convince him that he should go with them “it’s the right thing to do”. But he doesn’t and none of the others leave or crash either. We race in what feels like the only rain shower of the summer which makes the track super slippy. After nearly ending myself on the top section I make it down steadily and finish in seventh. Big congrats to Marky Neal who held it together and took the win in Vets with Tim Ponting in second and Weightman third.
Neil seeds fifth in Masters and ends up sixth. He’s absolutely buzzing being so close to the podium in his second race back after seven months off the bike. So buzzing that by Monday lunch time he’s entered National Champs just a few days before their second baby is due. Max Hembroke takes the win in Masters with Nick Platt in second and Snowy Taylor in third.
In the Grand Vets Pete Little continued his great run of form on the Commencal 29er winning by over 15 seconds. Shout outs also to Jordan Williams who won Juvenile again, James Elliott who won Youth, Lewis Bateman who won Senior Men by seven seconds and Kyle Hall who won Expert. Chloe Taylor absolutely smashed it, winning the combined Seniors/Masters Women’s category by 31 seconds, Katie Purvis claimed victory in the Junior Women and Henry Kerr took the win in Junior Men with our old team mate Riley Scott bringing it home in second and Henry’s brother George in third. Great weekend for the Kerrs! In Elite Men Brayton took the win and the Fastest Time of the Day with a 2:52 on a drying track. The aforementioned Christopher Philogene came in second with Jay Williamson in third. Katy Curd took the win in Elite Women with Aston Tutt in Second and future Ninja Warrior contestant Becci Skelton claiming third.
So that’s that. Congratulations to all those who made it out alive. Heal quick to all those who didn’t. I made it to our family holiday some 30 minutes from Rheola, via Manchester.
Having raced three out of four weekends and with Masters Worlds in Andorra next week and National Champs in Glencoe the weekend after, I didn’t dare suggest taking half a day out of our first family holiday as a three to pull the blog together so apologies for it being a bit later than usual. She has her limits MrsMakingUpTheNumbers and I was left in no doubt that this would’ve exceeded them.
As we sit in our holiday chalet on Tuesday evening though a message comes through from Marky Neal. It’s a .pdf of the current standings in the Vets category for the National Series. I’m only bloody fourth! I’ll tell you what never gets tiresome… Asking questions like “How does it feel to be married to / have lunch with / be sitting with the current fourth ranked Vet in the National Downhill Series?” I’m sure MrsMakingUpTheNumbers loved every minute.
What the delay does mean is that we’re already packing for the two biggest races of the season: Masters Worlds in Andorra from Sunday 15th to Wednesday 18th July and then National Champs in Glencoe on the weekend of the 21st and 22nd. Brimming with confidence, let’s see how we do…
Don’t forget to follow @makingupthenumbersracing on Instagram for additional content. We’re heading out to Andorra a few days early to watch the World Cup so we’ll get some stories up from that. Thanks again to all our sponsors: Singletrack Magazine, Revolution Bike Park, Geometron Bikes, Sick Bicycles and WeRide for helping us out this season.