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British National Series Round 5 - Caersws
9th October 2011

caersws1The 2011 race season is coming to an end. During the build up to the final round of the British Downhill Series (BDS) I was reviewing 2011 and moving my thoughts towards 2012. One of my aims this year has been to podium at a national event so this would be my final opportunity. This is something I really wanted to achieve while still a student with a full time job as an Optometrist and from next year the chance will be gone.

I'd been training very hard in preparation for this event because although the race was at Caersws in Wales which is a short track, the competition would be very tough to beat in order to get that podium finish. I arrived at the event feeling strong and glad to be away from work with the excitement of riding bikes and racing filling the plan for the weekend. The weather forecast was very variable which was bound to make for interesting racing.

Saturday magically remained dry even though clouds kept rolling through the Welsh valleys and looked more and more threatening as the day went on. Riding was real fun as the track was bone dry and very fast. I spent the day gradually building the speed with racing buddy and ONeal team mate Pete Williams, and Will Jones who is jumping up to the elite category for 2012 from expert. By the end of the day we were all feeling good on the track but I was calling for rain. In the dry the track was very simple, just stay on the main line and don't make any mistakes. I knew if it rained it would become more about technical ability and commitment, instead of just making that tiny mistake in the dry which would lose you 5 places or so.

caersws2The weather on Saturday night was horrendous. Rain and wind tried to rip our camp apart and my Dad was out of bed at 12am taking the Science in Sport Ezup down due to the high winds. I managed to sleep through the whole thing as a head cold had hit me the night before and knocked me out for the count. I woke up in the morning to a greasy wet track and after one run on the dry tyres decided to see what the cut spikes would be like. I knew that if it didn't rain dry tyres would the ones, but I already knew how these rode. If I didn't try the wet tyres and the heavens then opened before seeding or race run I would be kicking myself. It did just that as well! I was just gearing up ready to leave for qualifying and the sky quite literally opened.

I had gambled and left the spikes on and it was a great move. This was some of the heaviest rain I've experienced and there were only three of us elites with wet tyres on. My run went very well until I got over-excited in the bottom woods and lost the front wheel in a corner. I slid out and came to a stop in the mud. The crash cost me a good five seconds or so and when seeding was over I was in 9th, only four seconds off 1st. So I knew I had the run in me to get the podium finish I so wanted and was willing to really go for it come the race run. I wasn't going to ride crazy and throw away even the chance of getting down without a crash, but at the same time I would have preferred to fail trying rather not try at all!

It didn't rain again before the race runs but the track was a state. It got really churned up and stayed very wet. I decided to bump up to full spikes so that I would have maximum grip in the bottom woods and for the long field finish which would be very sketchy on anything else. I set off on the run and very early on hit trouble. The wind was wild and coming in gusts so when I came out the second corner and over a rise it hit me hard and blew me right off line almost 90 degrees in the wrong direction towards a cliff. I had to hit the brakes and tentatively force the bike back in the right direction while the wind fort me then get going again. I didn't lose too much time but I knew that because I was going for a podium I now really had my work cut out. I pinned it!

Caersws podiumWhen I came threw the finish and stopped pedaling I didn't think for a minute I'd done enough to achieve my aim. However I span round to see I'd gone into 1st, on the same time that Matt Simmonds had won qualifying with. Maybe there was a chance. But with riders such as Steve Peat, Josh Bryceland and Joe Smith still on the hill and now with wet tyres on I didn't believe it would come off, the wind had stolen it from me. However I must have really hammered it the rest of the way down because I held on to 4th place, narrowly missing out on 3rd by only half a second. I was really really chuffed with it as you can imagine. I'd managed to beat so many big names including Peaty who was in 6th while still in full time work. It's experiences like this along with qualifying 12th at the Val Di Sole world cup which fill me with confidence for when I start giving this sport my full undivided attention.

So that's it for 2011. I can only look forward to 2012 when so many things will be different. I'll be riding a different bike because the Ellsworth Dare is getting discontinued and remodeled, I wont have to combine study/work with racing and I'll be doing a full world cup season. Very exciting times ahead for me and I'd like to thank everyone – sponsors, friends, and family who have helped me get to where I am today, especially my old man who without I'd be nowhere! Bring it on.

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