George Thompson reports from the English Championships Gravity Events Round 1 – Hamsterley
As I arrive at Danny Hart’s Descend Bike Park in Hamsterley Forest, I’m three-quarters of the way through a podcast with ex-World Cup racer Eliot Jackson. He still hasn’t mentioned Making Up The Numbers teammate Neil White, despite Neil insisting that they used to be best mates. I’ve had stories of the American’s mum ringing Neil to ensure he’d look after Eliot on his first trip to Whistler, stories of Neil lending him money after he lost everything on a night out including his clothes; you’d think such a pivotal figure in someone’s life must get a mention? Nothing as yet though.
Earlier this week Facebook reminded me that it was 10 years ago that I went on my first ever uplift, also at Hamsterley. So, it’s rather fitting that we should be back here racing this weekend. After last year’s race was cancelled due to the Beast from the East (read all about that here) we’re delighted with the Saturday sunshine and the promise of even more on Sunday.
I actually feel that I might do OK this weekend. It’s a strange feeling but one I quite like. We came up last weekend for a birthday uplift and a sneaky peak at what we might be racing. “I’m not going, you’ll beat me” Binnsy had declared on the way home, and he’s stuck to his word. With our other team riders sticking to the Pearce races and the National Series, that means I’m flying solo this weekend, but Geordie Shore a.k.a. Marky Neal and Pete Walton are here, and Pete’s got a new bike, a YT Tues 29. “He reached the point with the Canyon where he was going to have clean it, so he’s bought a new bike instead” someone jokes. Mark Weightman’s also here. There’s a DH race on, where else would he be? “I’ve lost a leg for the awning somewhere on the A75 on the way home from Ae. It might’ve gone through someone’s windscreen for all I know”. Aside from the missing awning leg the van’s as good as new; a new alternator was required after the journey of shame back to Matlock on the Car Transporter, not long after the awning leg loss.
By the standards of other UK tracks Hamsterley is short, but they certainly know how to make the most of what they’ve got. We’re racing the Mainline down to the cabin and then a mixture of old and new sections, finishing on The Shoot; and it’s bloody brilliant. There’s no let up from start to finish and it all flows together beautifully.
By half 10 we’ve already knocked out three runs. On the fourth I set off in front of Weightman. I arrive at the bottom feeling proud that I’ve made it down without him shouting to come past but he’s nowhere to be seen. Turns out he’d pulled over because he’d “picked up some traffic” which can only mean me. I’ve noticed that on the rooty sections it feels like the back end of the bike is getting sucked down in the roots and it’s causing me to lose speed. Maybe I need to take some rebound damping off so it pings back faster? Is that right? This is technical stuff. I want to imitate Loris Vergier in those Fox / Santa Cruz videos and say “It feels like ba-ba-ba and I want it to go bo-bo-bo” but I think better of it. Mark has a feel and he agrees it’s a bit slow. Blimey. 10 years into this DH journey and I’m finally starting to understand how all the kit works.
Marky Neal is flitting between the trail bike and the DH bike. “If you only bring one bike you don’t have this issue” Pete Walton tells me whilst rolling his eyes. Out of the 140 riders I’m surprised there aren’t more on trail bikes as it really is a 50:50 call.
After 7 runs I stop to take some photos and it was there that I saw it. Masters World Champion Mark Weightman doubling the triple. There’s even photographic proof. I wouldn’t normally give anyone stick for not hitting a feature as I’ve pushed down more times than anyone else but when it’s Mark and he’s not doing something half the field are doing and you know it’s well within his ability I think it’s OK. “I did it on the next run” he assures me. No photographers seem to have captured it though…
The track is running so fast that people are clearing the huge tabletop and landing to flat. Finn Cooper tries a one hander but doesn’t manage to get his hand back on and ploughs straight into a tree behind me. It’s a horrible sound; the first cries of a winded rider but luckily that’s the only damage. Similarly, the bike has only received some superficial wounding.
I’ve stolen the leftover lamb keema from the fridge for tea, I’m sure MrsMakingUpTheNumbers won’t mind. Karma seems to have played its part though as I’ve forgotten my stove; thanks to Adrian Scott for bailing me out. There’s nothing really in the vicinity of the Bike Park and so the choices were eating dry rice or going hungry, neither of which seemed too appealing.
By the time morning comes around I’m unsure if I’ve been to sleep or cryogenically frozen but we soon warm up with three practice runs. The first is awful. The only bit of training I’ve done this offseason is a bit of strength work; all the anaerobic stuff that I promised Rick at The Fitbox I was doing, I actually wasn’t. I think he’s realised but in case he hasn’t: Sorry Rick. I can’t recall actually being out of breath at any point in the last six months and it’s starting to become evident as I have to stop for a rest after 45 seconds of riding. 45 seconds. Christ. The second run is better but then the third one is “the one”. If I can just replicate that in a race run, I’ll be happy.
Racing is delayed though as there’s an issue with the timing. During the delay we have a couple of heavy showers and Mark’s got his brolly out and he’s off to inspect the roots on the top section. Is it enough rain to wet the track and turn the rooty sections from tame to treacherous? “It’s enough” he declares upon his return.
By the time we do set off we’re a couple of hours behind and they’re using stopwatches. I like it. Human error is a great leveller for someone like me. The commissaires are saying it might only be one run so there’s no strategy other than to go for it. They’re counting us down: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go! Except it’s a race and so people are setting off anywhere between 2 and Go.
My run isn’t great. I feel the bike sliding as it turns on the roots before the big tabletop, so I brake and then I’m tentative at the top of the rooty section and again on the rock slab going into the shoot. I watch as the rider behind me, Steven Smith sprints for the line but I didn’t do that either. Bugger. I’m seventh with a 1:54. We’re getting another go though. Due to the inaccuracies with the timing, first runs are now being classed as seeding runs and we’ll all have one final race run.
I’m 15 seconds behind Mark, 32 behind Danny Hart. The aim is to try and shave a few seconds off and see if I can get within 30 seconds of Danny. To be honest it’s just nice when someone says, “I’ve done a 22” to be able to say, “I’m on a 54” and for it to be within the same minute. Now I’m warmed up I shift down a gear on the cassette, starting in fourth rather than third. I get out of the berm before the roots early, just like Mark told me to. That means I’m crossing the roots straight and I don’t slide. From there on there’s no hesitation, it’s as fast as I can go; I even sprint for the line despite the fact you drop into the finish at warp speed. I think it’s faster than the seeding run. It has to be faster, but you never know; I’ve been sure before and ended up disappointed. Malc hands me the printout of the Vets times. Three eager faces look at me from the bridge. “In 3rd place, from the North East…
Zac Hubery. Our winner and 2019 English Champ is Mark…
Neal. Marky’s smashed it, winning by five seconds leaving Weightman in second.
I’ve bloody done it. I’ve gone six seconds quicker with a 1:48 which puts me in sixth. Even more pleasing though, I’m only 10 seconds back on Weightman and *only* (as it turns out) 27 back on Danny on his home track.
Danny took the win in Elite with an amazing 1:21. South Africa’s Christopher Philogene kept him honest though, just 1.7 seconds back with our old Revolution Bike Park team mate, Riley Scott taking third in his first Elite race.
Numbers in Elite and Expert were much lower than usual with only nine riders across both categories. In Expert Matthew Atkinson won by 3 seconds with the next four riders all on the same second, Calum Ross grabbed second and Ryan Dunn third.
In Juvenile, Morgan Williams was crowned English Champion with Billy Anderson in second and Owen Rick recovering from a nasty crash in practice on Sunday morning to take third. In Youth Connor Smith took the win with Logan Wilcox in second and Alvaro Boswell-Hidalgo in third.
Luke Mumford took the Junior Men’s title with a 1:25, the third fastest time of the day. Dan Slack took second with Luke’s brother Joe taking third. Closest winning margin of the day was in Seniors where Simon Thurlow edged out Ant Hale by 0.1 with Ian Forsyth just another 0.1 back in third.
In Masters Pete Walton has ensured a full house of National titles for Geordie Shore, with Chris Ashworth in second and Lee Rayton in third and in Grand Vets Matthew Patrickson took it from Paul Le Maitre with Dave Wood in third.
In the Open Women the Czech Republic’s Monika Mixova edged out Sophia Paull by 0.1 but Sophia grabbed the English Champs title, with Katie Purvis in third.
It was a tough weekend for Malc and the Gravity Events team. At a DH race there are two things you have to get right, the uplift and the timing. If one of those doesn’t work there’s a lot of complaining, and fair enough; racing isn’t cheap, people spend a lot of money not just on entry fees but travel and accommodation as well. I don’t know how much more Malc can do though. He’s purchased a Tissot timing system, he’s run a test event for free and aside from one dodgy connection it was a perfect event so I just hope everyone gets behind him and supports the next round at Berwyn on 18th and 19th May.
From a personal point of view this was my best ever result. I’m so chuffed. DH racing takes a lot of effort and it’s weekends like this one that make it all worthwhile. It’s a shame Binnsy isn’t here as I think I would’ve finally beaten him.
Right, let’s see if Eliot mentions Neil in the final bit of this podcast. We’ll be back next week after the SDA Round 2 from Innerleithen. I’m sure MrsMakingUpTheNumbers is delighted that I’m away for two weekends in a row…
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.