Can 14lbs and 8mm make our George any faster? He heads to his next Downhill race to find out.
‘It’s worse than ever’. MrsMakingUpTheNumbers has finally snapped.
My snoring is now unbearable apparently; so, after a visit to the GP I’ve been advised to lose two stones. That was six weeks ago; since then I’ve started running again and this fat fighter is nearly half-way to his goal weight!
‘I don’t care what it costs’ she said at the time and as much as I think she meant it, she’s now looking at a hefty bill. I’ve gone down a spring rate already, then there’s the fact that none of my three sets of race shorts fit me anymore; so combined that’s the best part of five hundred quid to start with. Still, ‘you can’t put a price on a good night’s sleep’; well, it turns out you can. I’m secretly wondering though if maybe losing some weight will make me faster? Let’s see…
Horses for courses
Welcome to Hopton for Round Four of the National Downhill Series. Just like how Leogang has been much maligned by the riders on the World Cup circuit, the addition of Hopton and Bringewood to the National Series over the last three years has been greeted with similar derision. They’re traditionally Pearce tracks and whilst they present their own unique challenges, they’re challenges that can be tackled just as successfully on a decent trail bike and so there’s some question if they’re of suitable quality for a National Downhill race? It’s not like we have a shortage of decent Downhill tracks here in Britain; there’s no National level race at Llangollen or Innerleithen this season for example. Personal opinion? Just like the World Cup it’s a Series and so there should be a variety of tracks and it’s just one round. Safe to say, it will still be the same riders on the podium on Sunday afternoon.
I’ve only been to Hopton once before, for the National in 2017 and we’re on a completely different track this weekend so it’s all new to me. The track preview video only appears to have antagonised people further though. The top section is new and it looks pretty flat so anyone who’s brought two bikes along is leaning towards the trail bike. As I’m heading straight from the race to a family camping trip in Abersoch I can only fit one bike in. The trail bike, a Geometron G15 would probably be the better choice but I’ve got some of the new MORC crowns on the DH bike and I really want to see what they’re like so the G29 it is.
MORC and Windy?
What do the MORC crowns do? Well, since I converted the G19 (650b) to a G29 (29) I’ve had trouble weighting the front end in flat corners. I’ve tried everything, longer stems, less pressure in the forks, adjusting the rebound and compression damping, throwing myself right over the front of the bike but none of it has worked; it’s like an itch that you just can’t scratch. I eventually called Chris Porter and he assured me that it’s the increased fork offset in the Fox 49 lowers that’s the issue. The fact that a number of World Cup riders had rung him with exactly the same issue did inspire a bit of confidence that I know a little bit about bike set up nowadays, even if I didn’t know how to fix it! The MORC crowns reduce the offset from 58mm to 50mm, 2mm shorter than it was on the 650b Fox 40’s and I’m excited to see if it’s fixed the problem and if 8mm really can make that much difference.
Chasing the light on Friday evening I arrive just before dark. It’s probably the only race I’ll win this weekend, but it relieves a bit of stress. Heavy rains throughout the day mean Instagram is jammed with videos of people being towed into the field. I don’t even know if I’ve got a towing hook, I seem to remember someone telling me the body kit on the front of the van had blocked it and I really don’t want to be stuck in a field in the dark, hacking away at some expensive plastic. As it turns out I have one on the back, so I’m towed in backwards and deposited next to one half of Geordie Shore, Marky Neal. He’s on his own this weekend; you won’t catch Pete Walton racing Hopton, but being anywhere near either of them is always good news. Whilst I won’t be able to keep up with Marky on track I will spend the entire weekend thinking I’m with Michael the Geordie Soldier in Alan Partridge.
There’s no Binnsy this weekend. Something about a crap track and racing Glencoe the following weekend instead. Aside from Binnsy we should have a full team out but unfortunately Neil’s having a bit of a rough time of it. There’s a sickness bug in the house and it’s floored his wife and his little boy. ‘They’re not faking it’ he says, ‘I can’t believe how much there was for a little toddler’. As a direct result Neil’s had to perform some military manoeuvres and sneak out at 04:20 on Saturday morning before anyone realises he’s gone. ‘I’ll check later to make sure everyone is still alive’ he says reassuringly. To add insult to injury he’s also spotted two cracks in his Commencal frame down near the Bottom Bracket; as has our other teammate Kieran who’s racing his trail bike. Neil isn’t worried apparently, ‘it’s probably been like that for ages’.
What tyre for…
The track’s relatively straightforward but for the first two runs it’s a bit like riding on glass; conditions are super slick and riders are sliding off everywhere. Dropping tyre pressures from 26psi to 22psi front and rear makes a world of difference though. In fact, I can’t recall such a small change ever having such a dramatic impact; there’s now so much grip that I can feel the tyres dragging on some sections. Alongside bike choice, tyre choice is the next most popular topic. Some riders go from full spikes to dries in the space of a day. Magic Mary’s seemed a solid middle ground throughout.
By 2pm I’ve put six runs in and done a 2:58 which I’m pretty happy with. It’s mid pack in most categories. Not in the Vets though. There are 11 riders and I’m tenth. The only rider behind me is Nathan Cavalier, the winner of Round One so he hasn’t put in a time has he? Damn you Vets!
Whilst taking photographs it soon becomes apparent that everyone’s struggling to get a consistent line through the rooty top section. Everyone that is except our most recent podcast guest Joe Smith (check that here) who comes through on a completely different line to everyone else; hopping two sets of roots and going straight through the middle where everyone else is going around. It’s visibly faster and I’m not surprised to hear Joe Breeden puzzling over how Smith has put four seconds into him with a blistering 2:12. Breeden himself has blown Kris Lord’s mind though “HAVE YOU SEEN HOW FAR HE’S TRAVELLING OFF THAT SKI JUMP?”
An evening track walk highlights that despite it being a simple track there’s a lot of line choice. On one section we spot a straight line with a hop over a foot-high tree stump that eliminates a corner.
‘It’s worth a second that and a second’s a long time’ Pete Little tells me.
‘Danny Hart’s searching for 0.3’ Marky Neal adds, in reference to Hart’s third place at 2018 World Champs and the subsequent Madison Saracen video series.
‘I’m looking for 30 seconds’ I mumble.
I’m a little bit chuffed that Neil is taking my line through one of the rooty sections though. He saw me go wide and pedal all the way around the outside. It might not be the fastest line, but it eliminates a huge amount of risk so it’s the best line for me.
Come Sunday morning we’re on track at half eight. Marky’s been flicking between the DH bike and the trail bike all weekend but he’s finally decided on the DH bike. I manage a 2:57 on my third and final practice run and know I can go a bit, but not a lot quicker. A crash in the roots in seeding means I won’t manage it there though. By the time I’m back on my feet the marshal says ‘there’s another rider coming’ and I know that there’s no point pushing on, so I stop to let them through.
Race day shizzle and drizzle
As we’re heading up for race runs it starts to rain. What we later find out is that whilst we had a bit of light drizzle at the top, it absolutely bucketed it down at the bottom. I’m expecting patchy wet ground, so I’m surprised when I exit the top section to gloopy conditions. I think the Grand Vets and the Vets had it the worst and it screws with my head quite a bit because I have no idea how hard I can push. I cross the line with a disappointing 3:07, 10 seconds slower than my fastest practice run. It made little difference on the overall result though; the rider in front of me, the RAF’s Barry Fenton was 10 seconds quicker than that. So, last place and another wooden spoon for me then. Stu Hughes takes the win in Vets with Nathan Cavalier in second, Tim Ponting in third. Teammate Neil comes home in fourth with Marky hot on his heels in fifth.
Hold on a minute though. What’s this? Neil’s been disqualified for going outside one of the poles in the middle sector. ‘You’re on the podium’ he reluctantly tells Kris Lord. ‘Well that’s a hollow victory’ Kris responds. It’s a mood that sweeps across our pits, well except for me. On reflection singing the Hawaii 5-0 theme tune and doing a dad dance might have been a bit OTT but I’m not last! I repeat I’m not last!
It also opened the flood gates.
‘Spirit of Enduro Neil?’
‘When does a 3:07 come before a 2:25?’
‘Don’t have a crap run Kieran, we don’t want George to be the best placed rider on the team!’
‘No wonder you were fastest Vet on Sector 2 Neil, you’ve only done half the track.’
‘It’s like a drug cheat really isn’t it? It calls all your other results into question.’
The irony? Kieran’s brother was the marshal at the point where Neil went off track and it was he who reported him!
In the Grand Vets it’s another victory for Pete Little with Paul Le Maitre and Rich Simpson battling hard for second place and Paul just edging it.
In Elite men Brayton seeded fastest with a 2:09.5 but Joe Smith was under a second back and cruised up to the line, so it was obvious he had some time in the bag and he took the win from Brayton with a 2:08 with Joe Breeden in third. After an up and down weekend Making Up The Numbers teammate Kieran was 18th, putting down a 2:20 on a trail bike with entry level Rock Shox forks. That’s some going.
In Elite women our friend Sarah Crellin turned up to her first race of the season and smashed it. ‘I’m a bit socially awkward and not used to dealing with media attention’ she said after an interview for British Cycling. Best get used to it Sarah, you’ve got the skills. It was an incredibly tight category though with just 5 seconds separating the top seven. Meg Whyte took second and Austria’s Sarah Gamsjaeger third.
In Junior Men Dan Slack took his first win at National level with a time that would’ve been fourth in Elite Men. Luke Williamson grabbed second and Morgan Tyrrell third. In Junior Women it was Phoebe Gale in first with Tea Jensen second and Karra Laing third.
In Expert Ryan Tunnell took the win with a time that would’ve been good enough for Top 10 in Elite; Harvey Clacherty and Warren Field took second and third respectively. In Juvenile it was Will Savery from Josh Lancett-Edwards with Luca Thurlow in third. In Youth Jordan Williams continued to impress, taking the win by five seconds from Boyd Martin with Ethan Craik in third. In Senior Matt Bayliss edged out Harry Barrett with Tom Dunford ahead of the pack. Masters saw an epic battle between Brad Shields, Michael Vickers, Mike ‘Jersey T’ Taylor and John Holbrook. Shields seeded first but had an issue in the middle sector in his race run. Vickers stepped in and took the win from Jersey T with Holbrook in third. In the women’s Masters category Stacey Fisher claimed the biggest winning margin of the day, putting 25 seconds into Ami Grindley and Brittany Littlewood. Fisher’s 2:39 would’ve been good enough to claim the win in Elite Women.
If you didn’t laugh…
What a weekend. This is my fifth season racing and I don’t recall ever having as much of a laugh as I did this weekend. From taunting Pete Little about his rival John Cobb winning Masters Worlds ‘I just need John to bring home a medal and we should probably do a podcast’ to asking Marky Neal ‘which bike do you think you’ll be slower on’ the craic was on from start to finish and that’s what it’s all about for me. Of course, Neil being DQ’d was just the icing on the cake.
Did the weight loss have any effect? Oh, who knows? At Bringewood last season I was 40.2% slower than the fastest time in my category, this weekend I was 31.1%. I’ll take that as a win. The same with the MORC Crowns. It wasn’t a track I’d ever ridden before so it’s quite hard to judge but I didn’t have any trouble weighting the front this weekend so we’re making progress! Onward to Ae for the final National of 2019. Another year almost done; 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 and podcast news!