British National Series Round 4 - Llangollen
7th July 2011

Round 4 of the British Downhill Series took us back to the steep and technical Llangollen in North Wales. I had recovered from my bang on the head in Austria and been training hard over the past couple of weeks so was feeling strong.

llangollenI've just made the transition to becoming one of those neck brace riders. After having a very sore neck following the crash at the world cup I decided it was time to join the club. I'm running one of the Moveo braces which works really nicely with my ONeal body armour. The main reason why I haven't started wearing one of these sooner is because I've heard so many people say that a neck brace and body armour jacket don't work together. I wouldn't consider losing my spine board to run a neck brace, so I've just never bothered. Even at Llangollen, one of the steepest tracks on the circuit, it didn't give me any problems at all – as the most common complaint is the riders head being tilted too far back and the helmet tapping the back of the brace, if it was going to happen it would happen at steep Llangollen!

Saturday practise started with rain. It threw it down for about an hour then the rest of the day was just a bit cloudy and rubbish. The track was therefore mental to start with, but so much fun! I threw the spikes on and went sliding about in the mud! However, the uplift was so poor that it took me an hour to get my first run done, and I'd pretty much joined the front of the queue. When I got down from the first run the queue had doubled in size and the waiting time for an uplift was approximately an hour and a half.

Llangollen 2011 BDSI had plans for the weekend to team up with videographer buddy Gee Milner to make a race edit, so I decided to push up the bottom steep section of the track to do some sectioning. This meant that I could actually ride my bike and get into the bottom section of track, and Gee could get a load of footage all at once making things easier for him. I also had strength and conditioning coach Nick Jones of DNA Sports Performance hanging out for the morning to check out downhill racing first hand, so we can come up with some very specific training exercises.

After lunch I started joining the long long queue to use the uplift. The track just got drier and drier throughout the day and by the final run I had the dry tyres on which were much more predictable. Elites and experts are supposed to have the last part of practise to themselves to get some clean runs in. However when I got to the top for my final run in general practise the queue to get down was huge due to a red flat and course closure. Me and a buddy were told by the UCI commissaire at the top that if we were at the back of the queue to get down, which we were, we wouldn't make it down for our elite uplift. He also said we couldn't jump to the front to ensure we made it down for it. We therefore decided to walk down the track and have a peek at some lines.

We were down looking at lines when all the elites and experts started piling through, including those who were at the back of the queue with us. Typical UCI commissaire organisation skills, none existent! We rushed back up to the top and grabbed our bikes then made our way to the front of the queue – the other riders don't mind they want us to be able to get to our practise session. However, to top things off my chain decided to give up for the day and snapped as I laid the power down out of the start gate. I rather embarrassingly rode it out on my stem as I got thrown forward, then crashed head first into the 'start of the race track' sign 4 feet from the start tent (unfortunately Gee Milner wasn't around the stunt wasn't captured for his video!). It must have looked very funny and I laughed, however being the only elite left at the top everyone didn't really know what to do, and just stayed quiet... I would have preferred some laughter I think, it must have looked really bloody funny!

So that was Saturday done and not the best day. Not enough practise and some bad luck. The quality of the track and how fun it is to ride does make up for the lack of bike time a little bit, but not enough in my opinion. I work a 9-5 Monday through Friday, so my weekends are too precious to waste standing in long queues for badly organised uplifts!

Llangollen bds 2011Sunday was a scorcher! I was first rider down the track in the morning and managed to get three practise runs done. By the end corners had started to blow out and it was really loose and dusty – FUN! My girlfriend's family and my trail dog turned up to watch the race, so I was feeling the pressure to perform in front of them at their first race – especially the dog!

I seeded well in 14th place with a 1.50.5, knowing that I could go a few seconds quicker in the race. I tried a knew strategy for seeding. I worked myself up into feeling very nervous, like I feel before a world cup qualifying run. At the world cup these nerves come naturally, due to the fear of missing out on the final, but I then have to work to control them and channel them into riding well. However here at a national, its just seeding and everyone makes it threw to the final. So I made myself really nervous, made no effort to control the nerves until I was right in the start gate, then had the opportunity of doing a timed run at an important event trying to ride well while suffering these nerves. It worked pretty well I think so I'll be using the technique again!

I went for it in my race run and took some gambles. Unfortunately although overall throughout the run I rode well, the gambles didn't pay off and the first almost ended my run, but I held onto it and smashed on. The problem was the first left me thinking, 'don't throw it away going too mad' into the top steep section so I didn't hit it as hard as I'd planned. Then I got back into it along the second fast straight and went for it well at the bottom. I made one mistake down there which was a gamble that didn't pay off, then I was pinned it to the bottom. I did a 1.50.1, so good consistency, and also finished 14th like I did in seeding so again, good consistency. I was really happy with the result at the time, but with reflection, if I hadn't made that first mistake I would have been top 10, nearer 8th place, so I am a little disappointed it didn't quite go as planned. But hey, that's racing!

Next up is Crankworx at the the world famous Whistler Mountain. This place is my home away from home and this will be my fourth summer there in a row. Last year I was 7th and 13th in the Garbanzo and Canadian Open DH events respectively and I'm looking to repeat my good performances at this festival with top 10s in both this year.

Here is the link to Gee's (George Milner) video from the Llangollen race weekend! He's got some really sweet shots and the edit is really sweet – nice work Gee, you're getting very very good at this pointy/clicky/shooty/filmy business!