I have wondered if we’d ever get to this point; writing the blog on Monday morning from Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. Safe to say it’s been one hell of a weekend in Bala…
Rewind to noon on Friday… I’m still in Menorca, waiting for a flight home from a family holiday that has been…insightful. Having a near 2-year-old in tow means it’s been unlike any other holiday I’ve ever been on; more intense than summers in Ibiza or trips to race the Mega. On the rare occasion that I did actually close my eyes on the sun lounger it was closely followed by “George, she’s on the move. GEORGE!” However, watching her climb to the top of a 30-foot slide and point downwards filled me with joy and made me think that maybe she shares her dad’s love for descending? Either way, she seems to have a similar style; keen, a bit all over the place and very quickly out of her depth.
By the time I arrive in Bala it’s 10pm but it’s the summer solstice and we appear to have brought the weather back with us so it’s still light. Despite the lateness of my arrival I’m keen to talk to anyone who’ll have me because a) they’re unlikely to ask me if their hair looks OK? b) what I think of my daughter’s outfit? Or c) if we should move house?
After a few trials and tribulations with the forks at Fort William (read all about that here) they started knocking soon after, so I sent them off for a service. The cartridge had blown but thanks to Millie from Sprung for hand delivering them to site and for one half of Geordie Shore, Marky Neal for grabbing them from her for me.
The better-looking half of Geordie Shore, Pete Walton has got a new van. Well, new to him anyway. We’re unsure what it’s been used for previously, but inside the back doors there’s a king size double bed and a double-glazed back window that’s possibly two-way glass; also, internally, a full-length mirror. We suggest he might be parked on the wrong type of car park but no one’s quite sure what Pete does on the weekends when he’s not racing anyway.
There’s no Binnsy this week as he’s on holiday so I’ve parked next to Mark Weightman and he’s kindly lent me a bike stand ahead of a six-thirty alarm to put the front end of the bike back together. The midges are out and it’s a wholly unpleasant process. Those who didn’t arrive on Friday do so whilst I’m being bitten to buggery. Team mates Kieran Davies and Neil White, Graeme “Cocky” Cochrane, Dave List, Andrew Titley et al.
Neil’s bought some of those luscious Trickstuff brakes. “Naomi doesn’t know the full extent of it”. With all the spares it’s come in about a hundred quid less than our week in Menorca. “Well she will do next week when the blog’s published” I joke. Neil’s best mate Listy beat him by 0.3seconds at Fort William and he’s trying everything possible to close the gap. I have to say; the brakes feel amazing. His Ohlins forks don’t though. The “black gold” as we refer to them are losing pressure and oil is coming out whenever he releases air. Over the next two hours we all listen to him tell anyone and everyone that he’s only got 176mm of travel this weekend.
Cocky’s got a double hernia but he’s bought a special belt so I’m sure everything will be fine.
“Did you do it lifting up a slab?” Weightman asks.
“No, when Salah scored the second in the Champions League final” Cocky responds. No one is quite sure if he’s joking or not.
Weightman’s got a broken wrist but he’s bought a brace. He can’t wipe his arse properly, but he can race. Given the choice I think this would be his preferred option.
There’s no time for a track walk but we’re racing what’s known as “the Pearce track” and it’s my favourite. The track is split into three sections by fire road crossings. The top starts off on the fire road itself and it’s wide open. The introduction of some bus stops to try and slow things down a bit hasn’t really done so, it’s just “how fast dare you go”. The middle has been recently forested so it’s tight and twisty singletrack through the tree stumps and then the bottom section is a brief stint in the unfelled lower woods followed by the field. It’s lots of fun.
Binnsy has always said that he thinks the top section is one of the most dangerous bits of track in the UK because it’s so fast and so slippy; I’ve never really agreed before, but I do now. Coming off the second bus stop on my second run of the weekend the front wheel washed out catapulting me straight on, head butting a tree trunk with the top of my helmet. I’ve had a lot of crashes over the years, but this was potentially the worst. Direct hits to the top of the head are how broken necks can occur, so I fully appreciate that I got lucky. The adrenaline kicked in so I went straight back up to do another run but by the time I got on track I was struggling to focus on anything, so Neil took me to see the medic.
“When you bang your head your blood pressure goes through the roof and then plummets which is why you feel so groggy an hour afterwards” he explains. I’m instructed to sit it out for an hour, have a rest and some food and then come back and get checked out again but when I return they’ve got a lad in the back of the ambulance covered with a blanket toking on the gas and air so I give it another half an hour. It’s only at this point as I’m cleaning the helmet that I spot there’s a large crack down the middle and a chunk out of the side, so it’s done its job. The medic’s still busy so there’s no blood pressure test but he clears me to ride.
As I jump back in Cocky jumps out. The double hernia is preventing him turning right which is kind of essential unless he’s planning on taking up track cycling. Kris Lord’s dislocated his thumb and can’t hold on, so he has to call it too and Mark’s crashed and smashed his head as well. “It rung my bell that did” he says. He won’t be calling it though.
By this point the top Elite Men are setting times around 2:50 so if I can bring it in under 4.00, I’ll be happy. I manage two more runs and the final one is a 4:14 but it includes a brief stop for a red flag so under four is definitely doable.
As I’m lying in the bushes taking photos, I miss the shot but witness Lewis Bateman have a huge one just after the stump gap. As he emerges from the dust he’s still in one piece which is quite remarkable.
A bit further down the track I wait patiently for a rider come into view. He doesn’t though so he must’ve stopped. “Strange place to stop” I think to myself. As I’m flicking through previous shots seeing if I’ve got any good ones, I hear a Southerner’s voice “Yeah, yeah, they felt great when I got them, but I think it’s the damping, I’m only getting 176mm travel”. It’s Neil, he’s stopped at the side of the track and is now boring the poor marshal about his woes with the “Black Gold”. When I mention it later, he claims that the marshal stopped him to ask him about the forks. Such a likely story.
In the bottom woods I chat to the marshal about the fastest line through two tight corners and he shows me a video. It’s a line only two or three people are doing and it’s incredibly creative and super smooth.
“I burnt 25 litres of engine oil once. It soaked into the ground and the fire lasted for four days, I couldn’t put it out.” A discussion about what to do with old brake fluid has escalated quickly and it turns out Weightman has burned pretty much anything that will ignite. Geordie Shore haven’t had the best day. They’re both looking for the win in their respective categories, but Timed Training has revealed they’re both quite far away. “Well that’s it now, we’ve had the longest day, it’s just getting darker” Pete moans and that’s my cue to get my head down.
The first person I bump into on Sunday morning is Mike Taylor who arrives with the amazing news that his girlfriend has given birth to their second child on Saturday and then said, “you can still make your race now”. It was over two weeks after Ottie’s birth before I was allowed to go racing again and even then, I was “pushing it”. Congratulations to you all, do you think Zoe might be available to come and have a quick chat with MrsMakingUpTheNumbers?
Everything has been brought forward a bit because of the threat of thunder storms on Sunday afternoon so we’re on the uplift at 08:00 and by 08:30 we’re heading back up for another run. Weightman powers out of the gate and I decide to see how long I can stay with him for? I didn’t even make it to the first bus stop. Sprinting, I clipped a pedal and went down hard. Another bang to the head and my hand; the mech’s bent and my whole body hurts.
Joe Killner kindly bends the mech back for me but not before I’ve banged my head twice more on the car boot. “I had to walk away after the second time, I was going to laugh” Stu Hughes tells me later.
I’ve never not raced. I even raced when I had a torn liver (although I didn’t know it at the time) but I’m seriously contemplating it now. The second helmet isn’t looking too pretty so I ask Weightman what he thinks I should do?
“Well what other choice have you got?” he asks
“The other helmet’s cracked so you’re going to have to use that one” he responds. Any other person would probably have told me to sit it out but up to the top we go again.
It’s a terrible seeding run mainly due to the fact I can’t hold on and my hand gets blown off the bars on several occasions. 16th and last with a 4:20, over 40 seconds behind Phil Gray in 15th. The race run’s a bit better, a 4:06 which is 10 seconds away from where I wanted to be but given the trials and tribulations of the weekend it’s fine. I’m just happy to make it out alive.
James Hughes, who raced in Elite last season took the win in Vets with a 3:04, Stu Hughes was second with a 3:08 and Round One winner Nathan Cavalier slotted into third. In the Grand Vets Pete Little couldn’t repeat the 3:16 he put down in seeding which allowed John Cobb to storm in and take the win with Rich Simpson grabbing third.
As we packed up, the rain that had been forecast comes in and plays havoc with the Elite Men and Expert categories. Most of the Elite contenders crash in the field, Brayton multiple times, but even with a little lie down Gee Atherton managed to take the win with Joe Breeden grabbing second and Josh Gleave taking a surprise third place. Our Making Up The Numbers team mate Kieran Davies crashed in qualifying and couldn’t pull up so decided not to race. Billy Matthews managed the conditions best in Expert, taking first on a bike he bought from Pearce Cycles on Saturday afternoon after the shock blew up on his GT and he couldn’t find a replacement – that’s commitment! Harvey Clacherty took second and Ryan Tunnell third.
In Elite Women Becci Skelton claimed her first National level win with Chloe Taylor in second and Meg Whyte third. In the Junior Women Tea Jenson took the top spot from Phoebe Gale with Karra Laing in third and in Senior Women Stacey Fisher posted the biggest winning margin of the day; almost 20 seconds clear of Ami Grindley with Suzanne Lacey in third. Stacey’s 3:29 would also have been good enough to take the win in Elite Women.
Dominic Platt has been first or second at every DH or Enduro race he’s entered so far this season and he continued that form, taking the win in Juvenile by seven seconds from Will Savery with Rudi Eichhorn a further four seconds back in third. It was much tighter in Juvenile with just over two seconds splitting the top five riders. It was only Preston Williams’ third National level race but he claimed his second victory ahead of Ryan Brannen and Conner Smith respectively. The changing weather for the Elite Men meant that fastest time of the day went to Jamie Edmondson who posted a 2:51 to take the win in Junior Men. Luke Williamson was second with James Elliott in third.
In Seniors it was Matt Bayliss ahead of Todd Kearney and Harry Barrett and in Masters there was no perfect weekend for Mike Taylor with Bradley Shields taking the win, Tom Deacon taking second and John Holbrook third. I’ve talked before about the strength of the Veterans category at the moment and that was really highlighted this weekend. MTB legend Tim Ponting finished tenth with a 3:18. Tenth in Masters (30-39) was a 3:21 and Seniors (19-29) a 3:23. There’s no way the 40-49 category should be setting faster times than the younger ones, but they are. There were a few good Vets missing as well, namely Will Longden, the Whitfields and Guy Theron.
“Over a grand to go two seconds slower” Listy shouts to Neil as he’s packing up. He’s beaten Neil again and that 0.3 at Fort William has extended to 2.4. “I only had 176mm travel though” Neil retorts. “You said” we all think.
So, that’s that; another weekend somehow survived. Whilst in the Doctors on Monday morning for a scheduled appointment he saw my hand and sent me straight to X-Ray. Turns out it’s not broken though so I’ll be back between the tape this weekend at Antur Stiniog. Just need to source a new helmet first…
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.
A bit of a note…
George took a couple of big hits to the head at the weekend. You make your own choices, but we’d like to draw your attention to some of the risks of riding with a concussion or following a head injury. Here’s some further reading on what to do if your friends crash, the risks associated with head injury, and the experience of living with the after effects:
- Lorraine Truong
- Dave Mirra
- Downtime Podcast What To Do Concussion Guide PDF
- Downtime Podcast
- Consider doing a trail first aid course
- Concussion protocols