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British Downhill Series Round 1 at Nant Gwrtheym, North Wales
22nd March 2011

Before I start talking about the race it's worth mentioning something. After a hard 3 days racing and filming last weekend I woke up on Monday to a sore wrist/forearm. I didn't think much of it but by Tuesday it had become something to worry about. I suspected it was tendonitis and prescribed myself a cource of anti-inflammatory drugs and took the week off riding – ideal preparation for the first National race of the season wouldn't you agree?!

Jack, Christian and PeterOn a more joyous note, my 2011 race bike arrived on the Tuesday and my good friend/mechanic Alex Bennett kindly built her up for me ready for the weekend. My nice new shiny Ellsworth Dare was ready to go!

The first round of the BDS was to be at the relatively new venue, on the north Welsh coast, called Nant Gwrtheyrn, or Nant G for those of us who don't speak Welsh! It really was a spectacular venue when we arrived on Saturday morning. The track carved its way down the steep tree covered 'V' shaped valley to the little resort village (as it would probably best be termed) at the bottom, which backed right onto the cliffs over-looking the sea. Awesome! However one down side turned out to be that there wasn't enough space to get everyone parked at the bottom, and if you wanted to get down there you had to do so before the uplift vehicles started to use the road to ferry riders up to the top!

The track looked very 'awkward' as I described it at the time when I first walked it and I wasn't convinced it would ride very well. There was about one and a half minutes of steep, technical, rocky, tight and rooty stuff before you had about a minute of flatter sprinty stuff to get you to the finish. I wasn't convinced it would do as a venue to hold a national event.

However, and not for the first time I was wrong. After we found somewhere to set up I went for a rip on the track and it proved to be amazing. The first two corners were a bit too tight, but lets not speak about that because the rest of the track was absolutely amazing. Unlike most people who whinged about the lower pedally section, I thought it was pretty good and forced riders to bring their fitness into the equation. The top section was just wicked. Fast, technical, loose rocks, wet, roots, tight trees, the list could continue – it was immense!

Time to mention my wrist again. It had just about calmed down by Saturday morning, but did feel a bit tweaky if I used it with too much vigor. After one practice run I knew I was in trouble. It really did feel sore after such a small amount of riding! However I was feeling really good on the track because its style was right up my alley. After my second practice run I thought it might be a case of just doing 2 more and calling it a day to try and save any strength I had left in my wrist for race day. But after some pain killers and another run I started to get used to the feeling and learnt that when I was riding, as long as I kept things smooth and didn't get wild, which would involve using more arm strength to hold it together, I would be OK to do more practice. I did a total of 6 runs on Saturday and felt confident on the track by the end of the day. But my arm hurt like hell!

Jack and ChristianThroughout the evening my wrist stiffened up and became more and more immobile. I had to come to the decision of whether to ride the next day. I have a training weekend coming up in Spain, and then the next National race in only 3 weeks time. Did I want to risk riding on the injury for another day and possibly turn it into something chronic. Then there was the other outlook – I'd already done 6 runs, what difference would another 3 runs on the Sunday make providing I could still hang onto my handlebars...

Sunday morning came about and a combination of influencing factors precipitated my decision. The main being that I have sponsors to represent, who give me great support, so I didn't want to let them down by not representing at the race runs of the first BDS of the season – especially on the new Ellsworth. I knew I could ride and just hoped 3 more runs wouldn't make too much difference.

Saturday had been a dry day and the track had got progressively less wet as the day had gone on. I'd stuck with the cut spikes because the forecast for Sunday was rain, and it was right. It proceeded to drizzle all day, as well as being cold and windy... great day to be at the seaside :-) … The tree cover did a surprisingly good job of keeping the rain off the track though. Because I only wanted to put my wrist through one practice run in the morning, when under normal circumstances I would do 2 or 3, I decided to walk the track in the morning before practice, to really try get those lines hammered into my brain so my practice run could be as beneficial as possible.

I waited until the end of practice to do a run, and to be quite frank it sucked. I didn't warm up for it and I just rode a bit rubbish to put it plainly. I was stiff, tight, making mistakes, missing lines, my wrist hurt and just riding like a tool. An SIS energy gel would have helped but I'd forgotten to take one. I put the run somewhere into the back of my mind and started to focus on seeding, which I was also looking on at as another practice run for the race.

Halfway through seeding one of the junior riders had a nasty crash and it caused a big delay. I'm not sure who it was or what exactly happened but I hope he's OK because it sounded like a big deal! This resulted in the rest of the seeding runs being cancelled, which my wrist was quite happy about to be honest! However it did mean I had a 7 hour wait between my practice run and my race run...

It was a real challenge to keep focused on what I was there for with all the hanging around! It was even harder keeping my wrist moving. By the time it came to the elite category it was almost 5 o'clock and starting to get really quite dark in the trees! My Dad came to the top with me to help keep my gloves, googles and helmet dry and then carry my waterproof coat down to the bottom for me. And not to mention sprint down the road to cheer me on along the pedally section! Cheers Dad!!

I managed to get myself really fired up – surprising considering how long I'd waited for the run and how my wrist felt! Then again I had just drunk a liter of SIS GO isotonic and taken 2 smart energy gels – probably something to do with how I'd miraculously become so much more lively! I was planning a smooth run. I knew my lines and the plan was to not get too wild and stay on them to give my wrist the best chance I could at keeping me attached to the handlebars! My plan worked a treat and I had a wicked run! The adrenaline flowing through me killed a bit of the pain which must have helped. I had a bit of bad luck at the bottom, smashing a pedal on the floor at the start of the flat section and coming unclipped which lost me a load of speed but that's racing! Not everything is predictable.

When I came across the line I was shocked the hear I when into 2nd place, with half the elite field already down, and only about 1.5 seconds off the pace! I thought my run would just be a rescue mission, to try salvage something/show my face – not actually produce a good result. My time managed to hold onto 16th place in a stacked elite field of 40 riders, most of whom race World Cups. I was only beaten by riders and who are pretty full time at DH racing, and only 1.5 seconds back from the top 10, if I hadn't smashed that pedal on the floor I would have been right in there. Considering I managed this with a pretty bad injury I am a very happy man! I'm currently sitting here typing this on Monday evening with a very sore swelling on my wrist, so I am wondering if in 10 days time when I'm supposed to be going to Spain I'll wonder if it was worth it...

Marc Beaumont won, and I've got to mention Al Bond taking 2nd, evidently after a very hard winter training – well done buddy! I was 11 seconds off the pace, and am feeling very positive about turning pro in a couple of seasons. To be getting in and amongst it as an injured amateur, I'm very excited to see how far I can get when I completely throw myself into it! But for now it's back to a 9-5 as an Optician, and to try get this wrist better for Spain in 10 day!!! Lets hope!

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