George Thompson brings us his race report from SDA Round 2 – Innerleithen where he tries to weave in and out the trees. It’s not him that’s too big, it’s his bike.
“We’ve got you a present” Hope’s Matt Rushton has just handed Adam Smith a.k.a. Smithy a parcel wrapped in brown paper.
“You’ve done so well going from Masters to Expert to Elite we thought you deserved a jersey” Adam Brayton adds.
Could this be Smithy joining the Hope team? He looks a bit confused. Well, more so than usual…
The story starts and ends at Innerleithen. Back in December, Smithy invited me on an uplift with some of the Hope crew. The main talking point that day was his new helmet. Custom helmets are generally the preserve of the World’s best, but Smithy had had one sprayed and despite sending it back once already, the bottom half of it still very much looked like Mr Blobby. Over the ensuing weeks it was decided that he needed a jersey to match and that his sponsors should be rebranded slightly; so Fasthouse would be replaced with, well, it’s on the pictures and Hope with NoHope; which even Smithy would probably agree is a pretty accurate reflection of his chances of a win this season in Elite. The jersey arrived weeks ago but with Ae being cancelled before we had chance to present it to him, we’ve had to hold off until now. “You have to wear it” Rushton says, “We’ve all paid for it”. Fair play to Smithy, he did indeed wear it for a couple of runs. He hadn’t brought the helmet with him though, so we still need to see the full Blobby “Factory” outfit.
If it hadn’t been for Smithy’s jersey, I don’t think I would’ve made it up to Innerleithen this weekend. After racing Hamsterley last weekend I then travelled out to France to cover a Hutchinson Press Camp (tough life eh?) for Singletrack from Tuesday through Thursday (more about that here) and when MrsMakingUpTheNumbers asked what time I’d be leaving I simply didn’t have the courage to suggest that I was planning to head North with Binnsy on Friday lunchtime. “She’ll get used to it” my dad told me midweek, but it’s no longer the 1980’s, a decade where he somehow got away with playing darts five nights a week and cricket on a weekend despite having two small children. To quote something more from his era “the times they are a-changin’”. Travelling on Saturday means a 4am alarm and a 200-mile drive, all before 9am and the forecast isn’t great either. However, we’ve got a jersey to present…
I’ve only raced at Innerleithen once before, the 2014 National Champs and it was my worst ever result. Back then the uplift was cattle trucks for the bikes and coaches for the riders. The cattle truck with all the Vets bikes on was full, so mine was the first bike on the next one and subsequently I was the last to get my bike off. By the time I made it up the steep five-minute push up to the start line for my seeding run they were calling me. Through heavy breathing I asked the Commissaire if I could have 30 seconds to compose myself, to which he replied “you’re going in 15 seconds”
“Oh come on, my bike was the first one…”
“You’re going in 10 seconds”
“This could be alright” I told myself; “at least I’m not nervous”. It wasn’t. I crashed three times before the first fire road. The 5 minutes 57 seconds it took me to get down the hill in that seeding run was over double that of Elite winner Josh Bryceland and my race run wasn’t much better either.
So why am I back? Well, every year since then everyone has raved about the tracks the SDA has created. Not this year though; well not for Binnsy and I anyway. It’s tight and twisty through the trees, huge chunks of Gold Run for anyone who knows the trails. There are no jumps, no features, just lots of trees.
“You have to be precise” Ben Cathro says on the course preview. I am not precise, I am cumbersome. I am smash-through-everything-with-a-sledgehammer, but that doesn’t work when “everything” is trees and “a sledgehammer” is your handlebars.
By lunch time there’s a lot of bleeding hands; Binnsy, Pete Walton, and me included. “When you think about it, it’s to be expected really. They plant trees one metre apart so by the time they’re fully grown there probably isn’t 800mm to get your bars through” I hear someone say in the uplift queue.
The uplift’s a bit slow but it’s neither the fault of the SDA nor Adrenalin Uplift; it’s a consequence of riders booking late. At the cut-off date for confirming how many trailers they needed for the event the SDA only had 60 riders booked for the race, there are over 200 here. Adrenalin had committed to an uplift at Ae so there were no more trailers available.
“You haven’t though have you” I hear Marky Neal say. It’s clear by his tone that it’s not a question. Some lads have just been bragging to their mates about how they’ve jumped the uplift queue. Unfortunately for them they’ve pushed in right in front of Marky and one of them has just felt a tap on his shoulder. “You haven’t jumped the queue though have you, ‘cos you’re back there” he adds in his thick Geordie accent, pointing to the back of the queue. I’m quite scared to be honest. If you were eyeing up Marky before a fight you’d put him in the “hard as nails / hasn’t got much to lose” category so I can only imagine how terrified the young lads are. They return to the back of the queue without saying a word. “I had to tell another one last week at Hamsterley” he says, shaking his head.
It’s a run an hour and after four of them I stop to take some photos. Then there’s a track walk. “Are you getting high on the grass?” Weightman asks me at one point.
“I’m not Mark, but it’s not as much of a social taboo as it used to be so I imagine there will be some people here…”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m trying to stay on the track at the minute rather than looking for faster lines off it.” I do love Mark’s single mindedness. We’re here, we’re racing, what else could there possibly be to think about?
“It all looks the same” is the popular opinion and even after the track walk, I can’t remember whereabouts on the middle section the really, really narrow bits are.
It’s another cold night in the van and another grey morning. The uplift doesn’t start until nine but by eight people have started putting their bikes in line; it’s like a holiday resort with people laying out towels on sunbeds. Everyone’s eager to get two practice runs in during the allocated 90 minutes. We manage that. The first is slow and my goggles steam up on the second. I’m not going fast enough for them to clear but once I remove them completely things go much better.
“I’ve got some car wax if you want?” Binnsy offers. I agree and he smothers some on the goggles and then polishes it off. It’s no magic formula though as they steam up again on my first race run and then I crash taking the direct line on the big root at the start of the bottom section. Cathro tells me he’s timed it and it’s a second quicker than going around the two tight corners that traverse it. It’s not when you crash though.
I’m miles back with a 4:34 which puts me 16th out of 17. I’m not too bothered though as I had such a good result last weekend, and this really isn’t my kind of track. Binnsy’s bothered though. He’s currently 15th, just one place ahead of me and he’s moaned all weekend because things aren’t going well. There’s the weather, the track, the fact that other people know where they’re going and he doesn’t, the uplift, how dirty the van is, the list goes on. However, I know that if he has a good second run all those things will disappear and he’ll have had a great weekend. That seems unlikely though; he looks at me in despair “I mean I can find five seconds but I’m a minute back”.
Even multiple Master’s World Champion Alastair Maclennan is struggling. The SDA combine the Grand Vets and the Vets into one category and the oldest rider in the field is back in seventh place. “I was going as fast as I can” he tells me. Chris Whitfield on his first race back after injury at Rheola last summer has smoked everyone. His brother Jed, in his first race as a Vet is in third with Marky Neal splitting the pair.
Pete Walton’s even talking about going home and he’s in first place in Masters. “Have you ever stopped for podiums?” Marky Neal asks.
“Do you want a drink son?”
“What have we got?”
“Fake Lucozade” It’s possibly the most Scottish thing I’ve ever heard but the Juveniles and Youths are heading up for their second runs and dads have to make sure the kids are hydrated.
I’ve ditched the goggles completely now and there are a couple of points on my second run where it feels OK; points where I was static and I could feel the bike was doing all the work beneath me. It’s faster; I know it. By the time I get to the root where I crashed on the first run, I decide not to risk it, opting to take the longer route around the S bends. It’s a struggle to get the big bike around though and I can feel time slipping away, much more than the second Cathro claimed. It’s a much better run, a 4:20, some 14 seconds quicker. It’s not enough to climb the order though. I finish in 16th over a minute back on the Top 3 Vets who remain unchanged from first runs. Binnsy also goes quicker but remains in 15th. The doom and gloom seems to have lifted though “Let’s go and get a coffee and watch” he suggests.
There’s a strong Elite field and we’re tipping either Ruaridh Cunningham or Lewis Buchanan for the win. Both look fast, both are on trail bikes and Ruaridh is even riding to the top as it’s great training for the EWS. It’s fellow Scots Reece Wilson and Greg Williamson who take the one, two though with Ruaridh finishing in third.
Nine of the Elite riders posted a time under three minutes, as did Jamie Edmondson. His 2:58 gave him the win in Junior Men by three seconds from Shaun Sangster with Luke Mumford back in third. The next rider to finish closest to the three-minute mark was Drew Carters. A 3:01 gave him victory in Expert by six seconds from Ryan Middleton with Daniel Murray in third.
In the Juvenile category Andrew Georgeson smashed it, taking the win by 17 seconds from Lewis Duncan with Ethan Mowat in third. In Youth it was Ryan Brannen taking first with team mate William Brodie in second and Charlie Drewell third. Harry Barrett won Seniors by five seconds from Max Rendall with Matthew Scott third. Pete Walton went two seconds faster in his second run, securing the win in Masters. That’s two races and two wins on the new YT Tues 29, maybe they should sign him up; could Pete still be classed as “Young Talent”? Thomas Pollock took second and Lewis Crolla third.
In Open Men there were just three competitors with Callum Russell taking the win by 22 seconds with Lee Thomson second and Keiran Lane third. There were also three competitors in the Men’s Single Crown category with Josh Day coming out victorious from Ashley Little in second and Graeme Stewart in third.
In the Ladies’ categories Jess Stone smashed the other Senior Women, winning by 14 seconds from Louise Ferguson in second and Katie Purvis in third. In Junior Women Tea Jenson claimed the top prize by just 0.4 from Phoebe Gale with Aimi Kenyon third. It’s great to see six riders racing in the Junior Women’s field. In the women’s Single Crown category there were just two riders with Sophie Nuttall taking the win from Claudia Forbes-Walker.
If last weekend’s result was a triumph, this weekend’s was a tragedy and as I travel home, I’ve got Eminem ringing in my ears “Snap back to reality”. On the plus side someone had suggested in the week that if the good results continued we might need to change the name of the blog, so at least there’s no need for any of that.
Best of luck to everyone racing the National this weekend at Rheola, unfortunately work calls and I can’t make it. I’ve got four weeks to try and get this body ready for Fort William. I’m sure it will be fine.
Thank you to all our sponsors this season: Singletrack, Revolution Bike Park, Geometron Bikes, Commencal, Schwalbe and Tyre Yoghurt. Don’t forget to follow @makingupthenumbersracing on Instagram for additional content.