We kicked off the 2023 race season with a visit to Portugal for the first round of the Portugal Cup at Tarouca. This venue always promises exciting racing, with a fast rough track, which tests riders from the moment they leave the start gate, all the way to the finish. Added to this, the weather forecast for the weekend was mixed, with snow forecast for Saturday, and brighter conditions for Sunday, which would make track conditions more challenging than usual. Check out our team video from the weekend of racing.
The weather forecast didn’t lie, and we were greeted with a snow storm right before practice was due to start on Saturday morning. For an hour or so it was unclear as to whether the organisers would be able to get practice started, with track conditions being dangerous for riders, and the snow and extremely cold temperatures being dangerous for marshals and other event staff. Thankfully, at around 10am the weather improved slightly, and practice started. Initial conditions were pretty treacherous, with snow and frozen ground, but the riders tyres helped things to improve, and by 11am the track was running much better. A further snow storm at lunch had everyone worried about what was in-store for the afternoon session, but it didn’t last, and by the end of afternoon practice, the track was running great and even showing signs of drying up ahead of racing on Sunday.
Sunday delivered much better weather, and riders were greeted by the sun at the start of the practice session and it stayed out all day. The temperatures were still low, and the track was actually frozen solid for first practice runs, but by the afternoon seeding and race runs, it was much more like the Portugal we are used to. Our team had a solid race day, with strong results across our categories to start the season. Rueben Taylor, our expert rider, improved on his 2022 time on this track by 6 seconds with a 2:52 and finished 30th place in the elite class. Rueben was nervous going into his first elite race, and felt like he didn’t have the race run he is capable of, but this is a great starting point for the season and the team is pleased with his performance.
Owen Rick, the team’s junior rider, really enjoyed his weekend at Tarouca, and is loving his new Santa Cruz V10. After only one week on his new bike, he only just missed out on a podium finish in the junior category with 4th place, clocking an impressive time of 2:47, which placed him 21st overall. This is a great start to the season for Owen, and we are excited to see him build pace over the next few months at the Portugal Cup events, in preparation for his World Cup season.
Dan Slack is back to form after his troubles in 2022, and this was evident from the start of practice, with him being visibly one of the fastest and more aggressive riders on the track. Also loving his V10 with the SR Suntour Rux fork, Dan was excited to start his season on a high, and went out for his seeding run swinging. Unfortunately there was a bit too much aggression there, and after getting off line in the top rock garden, he then crashed in one of the now dusty, final corners. This left Dan knowing he needed to change his mentality sightly for his race run, if he wanted to get to the bike over the finish line without more issues. He had a better race run, but reported making one big mistake in an important corner leading onto a flat straight, costing him some valuable time. Dan finished 10th place with a 2:42 and is looking great going into this new season.
Jack came into the race weekend after a long drive to Portugal and then a busy week coaching six of his Gravity School riders at his new Portuguese coaching venue, Ventoso Gravity Park by Trail Tools. So he was pretty tired heading into practice. Here we have to give a shout out to our team mechanic Sam Jones, who spent the week helping Jack and the team, running an eight rider pit on his own, working himself into the ground for everyone, whilst doing a fantastic job! Jack had to spend most of Saturday practice working on the setup of his new bike, as front end grip and bike stability was an issue with the settings he started on. However, once he and Sam narrowed it down to handlebar height being too high, Jack finished Saturday practice feeling good and ready to race. Seeding 11th with a 2:44 and backing this up in finals with 11th and 2:42, was a solid start to the season for Jack and a great place to keep working from.
We also want to give a massive shout out to our Gravity School riders who joined us for the week of coaching and racing. Oscar Hakes improved massively throughout the week, and finished 9th junior with a time of 2:55. Fin Sykes wasn’t far behind him with a 2:57 despite some mistakes in his race run, putting him 14th in junior. Dan Nadin was extremely impressive during the coaching days at Ventoso Gravity Park, and has great pace, but had some issues in his race run finishing with a 2:59 and 15th place junior – head up Dan. Finally Monika Mixova had a crash in practice and broke her collarbone – healing vibes to Monika!
The team has just over a week to recover and train at home, before heading back to Portugal for another Gravity School coaching camp, and the next Portugal cup Rd at Seia on the 19th March. Thanks as ever to our amazing program sponsors: SR Suntour, ONeal, Schwalbe Tyres, Halo Wheels, Gusset Components, Kingud Products, Trail Tools, Works Components, Stif Mountain Bikes, TY Bike products and Freelap.”