It was the National Downhill Championships at the weekend – how did our team of podium hopefuls (hope springs eternal…) get on?
“Have you seen any older bikes?” Binnsy asks Kris Lord, of his 2014 Saracen Myst.
Kris looks down at his pride and joy and we all sense that he’s hurting a little inside. “No, no I haven’t” he responds.
Amidst the astonished guffaws Binnsy tries to redeem himself “I didn’t mean it like that.. …it’s just quite old isn’t it?”
What a start to National Champs weekend and we haven’t even turned a pedal yet.
It’s been a busy few weeks since the last blog. After taking the wooden spoon at the Bala National, the Alpinestars Trail Attack Race at Antur Stiniog was just what I needed. 7th/21. It’s amazing what happens when you drop down a level or two. Then it was on to Rheola for Round Three of the Gravity Events series. 6th/8 with three massive errors; but I was riding well, trying to keep up with Masters World Champion Mark Weightman and Making Up The Numbers team mate Neil White who took the win in the Vets. No more helmets destroyed either, although one of those errors at Rheola did nearly end our chances of having a second child.
The following weekend, whilst the World Cup was taking place out in Les Gets we headed over to Revolution to spend a day practicing for National Champs on dry, dusty trails.
“I think we’ve got it dialled” Binnsy quipped on the way home.
As we track walk on Friday evening though it’s blatantly obvious that we’re a long way from “dialled”. It’s rained heavily for two days and those dry, dusty trails are now wet and greasy; it’s like an ice rink in places, particularly through the middle “Ginger Bobcat” section. The only thing making me smile is that Binnsy’s renewed his car insurance this week and Saga delivered the cheapest quote.
With limited parking we treated ourselves to some pit space and I’m awoken at 7:01 on Saturday morning by Binnsy opening the van door and asking “Are you up? (I’m clearly not) It’s pissing down and we need to get the gazebo up.” Apparently, it’s rained like billy-o during the night. I haven’t heard a thing; partly because BabyMakingUpTheNumbers has slept in our bed every night for the last month, and partly because of the four pints of Pravda we downed in The New Inn. Not known for his patience I sense Binnsy’s been waiting for 07:00 to come around for a while. This is very unlike him, I’m always the first one up. Anyway, I stumble around for a bit until I realise I haven’t got my glasses on and he gets frustrated enough to take the job on singlehandedly.
Talk in the pub was that Danny Hart’s starting on dry tyres, Minions to be precise (confirmed in the Will Longden podcast here). I have dry tyres on one set of wheels or Magic Mary’s on another but I decide to replace the front dry tyre with a full spike. It’s a tough choice because the top section is hard pack and the bottom is quite rocky which will suit the dry tyre, but without the spike who knows what will happen in that middle section?
“There’s no point going up just yet, let’s leave it till 11, let other riders take the top off it”. It’s a strategy that falls down when everyone else employs it though. By the time we do eventually get going “slop” and “clag” are the words of the day. There’s little grip available and it’s hard work. “I was going to wear tinted lenses so no one could see my tears” Phil Gray says.
With 300 riders and just the odd shower, the wet mud clears throughout the day revealing the bedrock underneath. Just like the “Ffar Side” and “L1” and all the other natural tracks at Revolution it’s greasy slate and there are sections where you speed up even under breaking. There’s a drop after a tight left in the middle section and its carnage trying to get through there by early afternoon.
“Where are you going???” Binnsy shouts as we come through the rocky bottom section. I’m trying to hold a straight line, but the front wheel is pinging off rocks; it’s time to ditch the spike. The track’s drying up and I switch to a Magic Mary for my fifth and final run of the day. There’s lots more grip and as I swap bike kit for camera kit and head back up the hill my head’s in a much better place; that’s until I watch other riders pumping off bits of the trail that I’m trying to avoid.
By the time I get down the hill everyone’s heading over to the quarry for the 50 to 01 Bowl Jam which is an amazing addition to the weekend. It soon becomes apparent that we’re not down with the kids though after we catch ourselves using phrases like “Oooh he’s trying a trick” and “Is he going to do a somersault?”
“That was a lovely bit of cake” Kris Lord says, almost weeping over the lemon sponge he’s just dropped on the floor. Geriatric status confirmed, we decide it’s safest if we just respond “So sick bro” to anything and everything and it seems to get us through.
After the premiere of Veronique Sandler’s fantastic new film “Vision” we retire for the night. I haven’t had a proper meal, but I have had six pints of continental lager and a pork bap and I’m ready to race tomorrow!
It’s an early start on Sunday, mainly because I’m bloody starving. The lady in the Burger Van is clearly annoyed about something and my attempts to lighten the mood fail completely. In hindsight, responding to her “What do you want?” with “What’s the most difficult thing for you to make?” was probably never going to be a success but it does seem to inspire others. “Do I only get one and a half sausages?” the bloke behind me asks. What have I started?
The plan is to get three runs in if we can but on my second I have a pretty big one. That drop after the tight left I mentioned earlier, well, the tight turn went fine as did the drop, but I picked up a huge amount of speed and sailed over the top of the berm at the bottom. My right leg hurts a lot. When I finally dare to have a look at it I see a flash of scarlet right where it hurts. F***ing hell, f***ing hell, f***ing hell. Fortunately, it’s just the lining of the shorts I’ve ripped and there’s no actual blood. Big thanks to rider 300, Matthew Turner for picking me up though.
“Elbows out, look ahead” Jack Reading tells me as we head up for seeding. I try to follow his advice and it goes OK. Just one mistake in the woods, going around the stump gap rather than over it and as I cross the line the commentator says 3:19. Binnsy’s gone white. He’s done a 3:31 and I can tell he’s thinking there must be some mistake. He’s right, when we check the times it’s a 3:39. “That’s more like it” he gleefully comments.
By the time we head up for race runs I’ve sorted out recording the aforementioned podcast with Will Longden on Monday. I’ve seeded 7th/7 and I genuinely don’t think I can go much faster. Maybe I could do a 3.35 but sixth place seeded on a 3.31. As I get to the front of the line I watch the rider who seeded first in the 40-44 category, James Hughes, wheel spin out of the start gate and manual the first jump, never stopping pedalling. On a greasy track I haven’t got that kind of commitment in me, particularly after clipping a pedal out of the start gate at both Fort William and Bala.
Into the woods and I see Andrew Titley on the deck and get a bit distracted. “If Titley’s crashing what chance have I got?” I think before clumsily smashing through a pro line rather than hitting a berm and carving around it. It’s just a mess from start to finish. I’m three seconds slower with a 3:42 and still seventh and it’s all I deserve.
At the other end of the category, Tim Ponting won seeding by eight seconds with Will Longden in second. Will seeded on a trail bike though and asked the person he’d just sold his DH bike to if he could borrow it back for his race run. The new owner obliged and Longden got much closer but it wasn’t enough, and Ponting will retire at the end of the season as National Champion. An honour his distinguished career deserves. Weightman got the sub-three he was craving with a 2:56 and took third.
In the 50 plus category Pete Little was pushed hard by John Cobb with Matthew Patrickson grabbing third. Binnsy finished a very respectable sixth. “I’ve won my category” he later adds. Indeed, we think he might be the oldest competitor and he should be in 55-60 now, or Saga as we’ve termed it.
Unlike a National race, there’s no Elite category at National Champs. The Elites race with Senior Men and Women (anyone aged between 19-29). After setting the fastest time of the day in practice on Saturday, Danny Hart seeded first and then finished first on Sunday with a mindboggling 2:25.7. Charlie Hatton grabbed second, just under a second back with Joe Breeden third. A great result for the two young guns in a field stacked with talent. MUTN team mate Kieran Davies seeded a fantastic 15th before crashing in his race run.
With Tahnee Seagrave, Rachel Atherton and Katy Curd all out the Senior Women’s race was wide open. Racing a Calibre trail bike Chloe Taylor thought she’d won it, but Stacey Fisher was controversially awarded a re-run after a dog was seen on track. That re-run was a 3:04 dead and gave her the win by 0.848. Becci Skelton took third.
In Juvenile Dominic Platt sent a huge message to the rest of the field, winning seeding by 11 seconds. Things were much closer in the race though with Will Savery just two seconds back and Kenzie Nevard grabbing third. In a hugely competitive Male Youth category Dennis Luffman took the title from Jordan Williams and Conor Smith. In the Female Youth category Phoebe Gale grabbed gold with Jenna Fellows taking silver.
In Junior Men Luke Williamson looked back to his devastating best. His 2:31 would’ve been good enough for ninth in Senior Men. James Elliott took silver with Luke Mumford grabbing bronze. Outside of the Open categories, the biggest winning margin came in Junior Women with Rosy Monaghan putting seven seconds into Tea Jenson with Megan Nevard in third.
In the 30-34 Masters John Holbrook edged out Stuart Jones and Michael Vickers and in 35-39 Masters ex-BMXers Scott Edgworth and Mike ‘Jersey T’ Taylor took gold and silver respectively with James Heal taking bronze. In Masters Women Ami Grindley grabbed gold with Brittany Littlewood silver and Emily Beckett bronze.
And finally, James Hughes took the sleeve in the 40-44 Vets with a time that would’ve placed him 20th in Senior Men. He was five seconds clear of Stu Hughes with our team mate Neil White taking an amazing third! Competition in the younger Vet category is fierce this season and a podium at any event is an incredible achievement.
So that’s it, another National Champs in the bag. Thanks to everyone involved for staging such a fantastic event. After racing four out of the last five weekends I’m actually looking forward to a bit of a break before the final three races of the season.
Thanks also to everyone for their compliments on the team launch video we put out ahead of this race. If you’ve not seen it you can check it here #choosedownhill
And finally, 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.