George Thompson has sent this picture-heavy epic report from the other weekend’s National DH champs up at Glencoe… Sit back and enjoy!
“Oh, so you’re still going to Glencoe then?”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”
If you’re feeling the pressure, answering a question with a question can buy you a bit of time. With me being in Andorra for a week, a rather teary Mrs Making Up The Numbers is struggling. There’s the tiredness of coping with our almost one-year-old on her own, combined with the impending doom of a return to work after over a year on maternity. She can’t give me a solid reason for not going to Glencoe though so after giving her a break for a few hours on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning I’m pretty sure I’ve done all I can.
After a 20-hour door-to-door drive through the night to get back from Andorra the five hours up to Glencoe seem like a breeze. “You must be knackered” someone says to new World Champion Mark Weightman, “we’ve had a couple of rest days” he responds. I’m not sure being awake for the best part of 36 hours constitutes as rest but it’s Mark so…
With his daughter’s 21st birthday party to attend Binnsy can’t make National Champs so it’s just Neil and I representing team Making Up The Numbers. With the due date of his second child imminent Neil’s also had to pacify his wife Naomi, reassuring her that he’ll have his phone with him at all times. “I don’t usually ride with my phone in my pocket” he says, rather aggrieved. There’s limited signal in Glencoe so it was a pretty pointless exercise but as promised he does carry the phone with him at all times.
Numbers for National Champs are traditionally a bit lower than a National race but there are even fewer entrants this year, just circa 160 riders. Notably, there are quite a few Elites missing. A busy season with a couple of weeks break between World Cups means they’re resting up; recuperating from injuries or out in the Alps having fun. Of the established pros there’s no Gee Atherton, Brendan Fairclough, Bernard Kerr, Phil Atwill or Joe Smith; and young guns missing include Reece Wilson, Charlie Hatton and Mike Jones. There’s so much talent in Britain though that it’s still a strong field. Danny Hart, Matt Walker, Greg Williamson, Taylor Vernon, Laurie Greenland, Adam Brayton, Joe Breeden, Jack Reading and George Gannicott are all here. In the Women’s category rather surprisingly there’s no Rachel Atherton or Tahnee Seagrave leaving it wide open for a new Champion.
With National Champs being a one-off event, unless you’re challenging for a medal there isn’t really much to play for. All the Senior Men (under 30), Elite Men and most of the Experts are grouped together in one big category which makes it even less appealing for them, but beyond that the other categories are divided up into 5-year age brackets. It’s a similar format to the one the UCI use for Worlds/Masters Worlds. In explaining this to Mrs Making Up The Numbers I mention that only the best riders in each category are generally interested in racing National Champs; “the best riders and you” she retorts. With Jason Holland messaging to say he’s not coming and subsequently putting his bike up for sale I can’t disagree. So, why am I here?
Well, there’s a lot of points on offer. The British Cycling rankings don’t really mean very much to very many as they’re calculated on your best eight results of the season. Some very good riders don’t race eight times, so other riders like myself finish ahead of them. It’s a marker though and I’ve improved every year: 33rd, 27th, 20th, 17th and it would be nice to finish in the Top 10 at some point. I haven’t done National Champs for the last two seasons and with double points on offer it’s very hard to finish in a good position on BC rankings without doing it. With the Vets separated into two categories there’s only six of us in my category so if I finish I’m guaranteed 160 points, more than riders get for winning a National. It’s unashamed points bagging but everyone can do it, so that makes it alright, right?
Then there’s the fact that I bloody love the track! When you drive past Glencoe Mountain Resort on your way to Fort William you see the Black snaking its way down the middle of the mountain. It’s so steep that most of the corners are held in place with wooden structures. When you make a lot of mistakes like I do, the hardest part is getting back up to speed quickly. On a flatter course you have to sprint but on steeper tracks like Glencoe all you have to do is let off your brakes and you’re flying again. There’s a new top section though with old school flat turns (think Mammoth Mountain) before it drops into the old track. Then there’s a new step down that roughly 50% of the riders are doing. “I bet he doesn’t have to shift 16 ton of concrete on Monday morning” Graeme “Cocky” Cochrane says as we watch one of the youngsters press send. We continue going around it.
“We came here earlier in the year and only did one run and then we went back to Fort William” John Lonsdale tells me, and I get that; it’s not a fun track to ride because it’s so gnarly, but it’s a great track to race when you know there are marshals and first aid in place. Vaughan Evans takes advantage of the medical provision with one of the shortest race weekends in history. He’s been riding for under two minutes when he goes over the top of one of the wooden berms leaving him struggling to stand up straight.
By Saturday afternoon Danny Hart’s done a 2:15 and I’ve done a 3:50 with a crash. A sub 3:30 would be good. When you stand at the top of Fort William and think about it, five minutes seems like a decent amount of time for an Elite rider to get down to the bottom. Getting down the side of Glencoe in 135 seconds seems unreal though. “Yes but it’s his job, he doesn’t pay the mortgage the same way you and I do” the SDA’s Dave Munro says as we marvel at Danny’s time.
After six runs I’m spent. The racing, the driving, the babysitting (Jesus Christ George it’s not babysitting, she’s your daughter FFS – Mrs Making Up The Numbers) it’s all caught up with me. Grabbing the camera, I have some fun watching Pete Walton battle with himself over the step down. He comes at it several times, pulling out at the last minute before finally committing and hitting it. “Did that look alright, did I land in the right place?” he asks, I nod fervently not wanting to seem disparaging but I actually have no idea as I was trying to line up the photo and I missed the whole thing.
“Jack’s just done his first poo without a nappy.” Some people are talking about tyre pressures in the pits, Neil’s updating us on his son’s toilet activity. It also turns out that back in 2009 World Cup rider Elliot Jackson came to live with him for a bit in Whistler and having assured his mum that he’d look after him in, Neil promptly lost him on New Year’s Eve with Elliot returning at 5am in just his boxer shorts. The things you learn…
In the Juvenile category Jordan Williams is unstoppable; he’s won every race he’s entered so far in 2018, claiming victory here by 2.9 seconds from William Brodie with Dominic Platt taking the Bronze.
Luke Williamson takes Gold in the Youth category. “He’s the fastest rider on the track today” one of the marshals says to me as I’m taking photographs on Saturday afternoon. Luke’s time of 2:22 would’ve won the Junior category and placed him seventh in Elite; some going for a 16-year-old. James Elliott takes Silver four seconds back with Ethan Craik taking Bronze. The winner in that Junior category was Kade Edwards who edged out Jamie Edmondson with Henry Kerr recovering from a crash to take Bronze.
After his crash in seeding Hart is down early, setting the pace with a 2:18. He knows it’s a solid time but he doesn’t seem convinced it will be enough though, and he’s right. He holds them off until the end though, with last man down, Hart’s team mate Matt Walker going three seconds quicker. Whichever way you look at it it’s a fantastic weekend for Madison Saracen. 2016 and 2017 National Champion Greg Williamson takes Bronze.
We wake up on Sunday to a damp track that’s super slippery in places. Touch your brakes on the big slab that Danny Hart was insiding all day on Saturday and you’ll slide. The granite in Fort William remains grippy in the wet and you’d think it would be the same here but it isn’t. Subsequently, there are a lot of red flags in practice. Michael Vickers has a big one on the step down, cartwheeling down the hill. Having (very) briefly contemplated doing it I’m now definitely not.
The track dries out throughout practice though and I put a safe seeding run in with a 3:33. I’m 6th/6 but I’m only two seconds behind local gent Vincent Mackintosh although as Mrs Making Up The Numbers points out, “last is still last George”. Cocky’s 3rd/3 but he’s only three seconds off Shaun Stowell in second and Neil’s seeded fifth in a strong category. He was National Champ in 2016 so he can definitely turn it on when the chips are down.
The big news is that Hart’s crashed in seeding, trying to inside the slab. Matt Walker has posted an insane time of 2:12, nearly five seconds ahead of second place Brayton.
By the time we go up for race runs the weather has come in. With the wind and rain lashing your face that chair lift is a pretty miserable place. Cocky’s chasing a Silver medal though so he’s hanging in there but it’s so bad at one point we think they might have to cancel. Steve Felstead hasn’t been feeling great ever since he learned of Pete Little’s late entry in the Grand Vets category and he calls it a day, disappearing down the fire road while we’re waiting for the racing to start.
Looking at the times the Vets had the worst of it. It’s slick just like it was first thing on Sunday morning and vision is poor with the rain covering your goggles by the time you’re half way down the flatter top section. Will Longden crashes, Marky Neal crashes, I crash and nearly do a Vaughan Evans; shoulder slamming the wooden berm after the big slab to stop myself from going over it. “I think that’s how all race runs should be” Mark Weightman says “50:50 whether you’re gonna make it down”. I’m not sure too many of us agree. Mark’s won the 45-49 Vets category though by 44 seconds with Shaun Stowell taking Silver and Cocky just 0.4 seconds back. It’s a medal though at National Champs so Cocky’s pretty chuffed. Mark’s time is four seconds slower than Will Longden though who wins the 40-44 Vets so he gets the jersey. John Young takes Silver with Marky Neal taking the Bronze.
In the Grand Vets Pete Little retains the Grand Vets jersey by 12 seconds from Paul Le Maitre with Matthew Patrickson taking Bronze.
In Masters Neil holds it together in the rain and gets our first ever #makingupthenumbers podium, taking Bronze in the 35-39 category! He’s only 0.3 seconds behind Jason Shill who takes Silver but five seconds back on Alan Blyth who takes Gold. It’s Nick Platt, the winner of the 30-34 Masters who takes the jersey though, going three seconds quicker than Alan. Ben “Oi Oi” Deakin takes Silver with a ‘partially-lame-post-crash’ Michael Vickers taking Bronze.
“I’m sure Katy would rather have won it against Rachel and Tahnee” someone says as they’re doing podiums. I’m sure she would but you can only beat what’s in front of you. Curd seeded 17 seconds ahead of Meg Whyte, although Whyte cut that down to eight seconds in race runs with Abbie Sloan taking Bronze. The Junior Women’s category was closer with Rosy Monaghan taking Gold by three seconds from Maya Atkinson with Tea Jenson taking Bronze. And finally in the Women’s Masters category there were just two riders with Rebecca Smith taking the win from Lynette Deacon.
So that’s National Champs done. 160 points bagged and currently ranked fifth on a chart that doesn’t really matter. I’d rather be a true racer like Mark Weightman, Stu Hughes, Chris Whitfield et al, putting it all on the line every time they race, chasing the win but I just don’t seem to be able to do that. Sometimes I just can’t get my head out of riding at 80%, safe in the knowledge that I’ll finish, make it home safely and be on the start list at the next race. After five races in seven weeks though I think I’ve run out of steam. I’m a bit tired of being scared and probably need a few quiet weekends without the nervous energy that racing generates. As much as I hate to say it I’m actually quite looking forward to doing something else for a bit*.
After a few weeks off we’ll be back at Bala for the fourth round of the National DH Series on the 11th and 12th August. In the meantime, 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.
*After one weekend doing “something else” I can confirm I’m already ready to go racing again!