“Is it impolite to hurry the pharmacist along?” I message Mrs MakingUpTheNumbers. The response comes quickly “Can you check if the missing box from my online order has arrived?” If we all had a special superpower, I have no doubt Mrs MakingUpTheNumbers’ would be making time disappear. We came out for ‘a quick bite’ at 12 and it’s now nearly 3 on Friday afternoon. My planned departure time has already passed but I’m stood in Boots and I haven’t even started loading the van yet. Our daughter Ottilie started nursery this week and we’ve all got colds but she in particular is pretty poorly and has been prescribed some antibiotics which are taking forever to appear.
I’ve got high hopes for this weekend. I bloody love Bala (or Rhyd-Y-Felin to give it it’s proper name) and of the two tracks the venue offers, the Pearce track is my favourite. Starting with a sprint, the top section is super-fast with a series of chutes down to fire road crossings; the middle section through the stumps is tight and twisty and then the bottom section, consisting of the lower woods and the field, is just flat out. Aside from one 15-foot section at the top and a few twists and turns at the bottom it’s basically the same track I raced at the Pearce Round a few weeks ago. Binnsy didn’t make that race so I have something of an advantage, and having smashed a new PB on my local descent in the week I actually believe that I might do well.
After battling the Friday traffic I do eventually make it to Bala, just in time for a track walk on Friday evening. There’s been a bit of rain so it’s not quite the dust bowl it was for the Pearce Round. “It’s prime” Joe Breeden tells us. For the first time I can ever remember, a National is taking place on the same weekend as a World Cup; with the vast majority of the Elite riders out in Mont Sainte Anne, Joe’s here to win. It’s a UCI event as well so there are points on offer for the Elites and Juniors which will be handy for anyone wanting to jump on the big show next season.
“I was at Kinsham 48 hours after Jack was born” our team mate Neil White messages the Group Chat earlier in the week, but he hasn’t made it to Bala following the birth of his second child on Tuesday morning. Thus, it’s just Binnsy and I flying the MakingUpTheNumbers flag this weekend. Massive congratulations to Neil, Naomi and Jack though on the arrival of Olivia Sarah White. In unrelated news Neil’s treated himself to a new bike. Unsurprisingly he’s gone for the current ‘bike du jour’, a Commencal Supreme DH 29. “It’s been a constant worry” he says in the message that follows the picture of baby Olivia wrapped in a swaddling cloth, but he’s talking about getting the right headset for the Commie, not the birth.
Having rushed loading the van it soon becomes evident that it was a mistake not bringing the sleeping bag. It’s a bit nippy on Friday night but that does mean no cloud cover and sunshine on Saturday morning. By half two I’ve knocked out seven runs with a couple around the 3:45 mark. Marky Neal is leading the Vets in Timed Training with a 3:09 so I’m not too far back and I reckon I can get down to around 3:30 with a good run on race day. Binnsy doesn’t like the top section as he’s crashed there before and although he hasn’t done a full run he’s not pulling away from me in practice and I’m up at the first split. “You could beat me here” he says, which means I definitely won’t. There’ll be some kind of divine intervention and he’ll win, again. Like he always does.
About half an hour later it starts to rain and Binnsy’s rubbing his hands. He loves riding in the mud and he knows how much I struggle with it. I’ve been at Bala before when it’s rained on Saturday night so I know exactly what’s coming. The top section should, if anything, get a bit grippier; the middle section will just turn into a sticky mess that will clog up everything it touches; and the field at the bottom will be absolute carnage, imagine people trying to ice skate home from the boozer at kicking out time – like that.
Hoping for the best but fearing the worst, Saturday night is spent drinking Estrella in “The 5 Stripes”. “The 5 Stripes” is the name we’ve christened Mark Weightman’s gazebo with following his World Champs win. He’s not keen on wearing the jersey but there has been a trip to Toolstation to buy 5 rolls of insulation tape so he could display the World Champion’s moniker on his bike. Despite this recent success his family don’t seem too bothered “They were more proud of my Christmas Ham than my World Champs win”.
Another night in the van but this time it wasn’t as cold due to the heavy cloud cover and the several Estrellas. I was awoken at 2am though by the rain pelting the van roof and then again at 4am.
“18psi in the front, 20 in the back” Weightman’s not messing about. He’s switched to cut spikes and dropped his tyre pressures before we’ve even set foot on track. Binnsy’s gone to a Shorty on the front and he’s lent me an uncut Dirty Dan for the front. “I don’t fancy your chances on the rocks at the top” he says, but I’ll take losing a bit of time up there for some extra grip in the stumps and the field.
“Remember, stay light, stay nimble.” Kris Lord says as we’re about to get out of the Land Rover. “I’m 6ft 6 and 17 stone Kris, if there’s two things I’m not it’s light and nimble”.
As predicted, practice is absolute carnage, there are bodies everywhere. As I come sliding down into the field FS Funn Factory Rider Veronika Widmann stops right in the middle of the track and I have to choose whether to ride into her or take a fall so I obviously choose the latter. There are trees that wouldn’t like me running into them so I’m pretty sure a petite Italian wouldn’t be too keen. With a bit of a delay in getting things going some people are told they can only do one practice run but we never receive that message and sneak a second one in. The consequence is that Binnsy has to head straight back up for seeding whilst I hurriedly peel mud off the bike with a screwdriver.
“I think I’ve just put my foot in my quiche!” Weightman shouts from the van next door but there’s no time to go and have a look.
Seeding doesn’t go very well. Several mistakes in the stumps mean Mark’s already caught me by the time I’m halfway down and so I’ve stopped to let him past. As we’re coming through the field though I’m holding off Tim Ponting but a Dirty Dan and a shiny rock don’t make a particularly good combination and I’m down just after the drop. “3 out of 10 for technical difficulty, 11 out of 10 for grace and panache” Phil Gray awards me later. As I’m diving forward I catch a glimpse of Tim jumping over me. I still don’t quite know how he did it, but in a glittering career spanning 20-plus years, he’s probably bunnyhopped numerous tail enders like me.
We just want it to either bucket it down and thin the mud out or stay dry so a few ruts form, but it rains intermittently between seeding and race runs and if anything the conditions are even worse by the time we go racing.
“Are you OK?” the marshal asks. He must wonder what’s going on. A rider (me) has just pulled over alongside him mid race run. “I just want to clip in!” comes the frustrated response before I realise that trying to remove any mud from the pedals is futile; if I can clip in from here on down it’ll just be a bonus. I’ve already crashed once but I somehow navigate the field without incident and cross the line a smidgen over five minutes after I set off putting me 11th/13. Tim Ponting takes the win with an absolutely ecstatic Matt Dean in second and Marky Neal in third. Weightman has a big over the bars in the lower woods putting him fourth and after seeding first Stu Hughes appears without a saddle but still holds on to take fifth.
Biggest winning margin in the Men’s field this weekend went to Pete Little in the Grand Vets, taking the win by 22 seconds from Rich Simpson with Binnsy grabbing third; his first podium of the season and our team’s second in succession! On reflection Pete’s time is an absolute belter, faster than any of the Vets at the first split, he would’ve finished second behind Ponting.
By the time the Elite Men come down the sun’s shining and the track’s dried out a bit. Joe Breeden absolutely smashes it, taking his first National win by over five seconds with a 2:57, the only sub three-minute time of the day. Shaun Richards takes second with Emyr Davies in third making it three Welshmen on the podium at a National in Wales. In Expert our old Revolution Bike Park Racing team mate Louis Meade was riding brilliantly all weekend and seeded first but two crashes in his race run put him down to fourth. Like Binnsy, Smithy also loves the mud and he grabs third with Kyle Hall taking second four seconds behind Josh Gleave. Another of our old team mates, Riley Scott, turned 18 this weekend and celebrated by taking the win in Junior Men; Happy Birthday Riley! Returning from injury Morgan Tyrrell took second with Jordan Beighton grabbing third.
After winning every race he’d entered so far in 2018 Jordan Williams has finally been defeated! William Brodie took the spoils in Juvenile with Dominic Platt in third. In Youth a lot of the top riders crashed, including pre-race favourite Luke Williamson. Up at the first split, he finished in 22nd, some 45 seconds behind Harry Barrett with Ireland’s Oisin O’Callaghan in second and Ryan Brannen in third. Jamie Brown took the win in Senior Men with Chris Cockrill in second and Pete Robinson in third. The Masters field was stacked but neither Rowan Sorrell, Ben “Oi Oi’ Deakin, 2017 National Champ “Snowy” Taylor, Ajay Jones nor Jason Shill made the Top 3. 2018 National Champ Nick Platt took the win with Max Hembroke in second and Oliver Mckenna in third.
In the Elite Women Katy Curd claimed victory by 16 seconds from Veronika Widmann with Meg Whyte taking third. The biggest winning margin of the day came in the Senior Women’s category with Mikayla Parton taking the win by 38 seconds from Monica Mixova with Brittany Littlewood in third and in the Junior Women Emily Walker took first with Maya Atkinson in second and Katie Purvis grabbing third.
“You’ve done alright” Binnsy says as we’re packing up. It wasn’t the result I’d hoped for but he’s right. He knows that muddy conditions are my absolute nemesis. I don’t know if it’s the high centre of gravity, an inability to be either “light” or “nimble” or a general lack of bike handling skills but in the past I’ve gone to pieces; at the 2015 BDS race here in similar conditions it took me just shy of seven and a half minutes to get down. This year, in the dry Mark Weightman and Mark Neal would’ve both beaten me by 30 seconds so to only be just over a minute back in the mud is OK. In his own race report Emyr Davies a 10-year Elite level racer described it as “… the hardest conditions you could imagine!” so…
Just two races left this season. You know how every so often you hear something on the radio like “The new FIFA rankings have been released today and Scotland are now ranked ahead of Brazil” and everyone knows it’s a load of BS? Well I’m currently ranked 5th by British Cycling; make of that what you will.
Thank you once again to all our sponsors: Singletrack, Revolution Bike Park, Geometron Bikes, Sick Bicycles and WeRide for helping us out this season. Don’t forget to follow @makingupthenumbersracing on Instagram for additional content. We’ll be back in early September…