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British University Student Championships 2011 at Moelfre, Wales
15th March 2011

The University Champs. The race I've come so close to winning the last two years but have thrown the victory away in some way or other. In 2009 I concussed myself at the end of practise and somehow saved the situation to finish 2nd, and in 2010 I crashed in the final corner to again finish 2nd. This year surely I'll have a bit of luck...

drop off
2011 BUCS (British University Championships) organisers decided to take us to Moelfre in Wales to race the only DH track in Britain without a single tree. Slightly silly at this time of year considering a rainy windy day at this venue completely and utterly sucks! In the right conditions the track is very very fast, amazing fun and a pleasure to ride. When the weather isn't on your side, it's just a ball ache!

This is the only race of the year which runs Friday practise and Saturday race, because the lycra clad cross country riders race on the sunday, so I took the day off work and we headed down on Friday morning. For most of the drive over from Manchester we were blessed with clear skies and what looked like calm conditions. However as we got closer and closer to the venue the clouds closed in, typical!

Practise started well. The wind wasn't too strong and there was no rain. However by midday the wind increased and it started raining. Awesome. Luckily at about 4pm it calmed a little and most people had stopped riding so I got a couple of good runs in without people getting in the way or the wind trying to blow me off my Ellsworth.

lift off for big stepdownWe rolled up on Sunday morning and the weather was better. I did 3 practise runs and was feeling awesome on the track. It's a real test of pedaling power, going really fast, braking as little as possible and smashing corners. All that stuff is right up my alley! Thanks to my SIS energy gels and Go bars I was feeling strong and powerful all morning even after a big day practising yesterday and 3 pinned ones in the morning. A nice Rego Rapid recovery shake after practise along with some lunch had me feeling spot on ready for seeding.

After the long wait for the seeding run, during which I spent most of the time making sure my bike was in perfect condition, I headed up. This event was running differently to previous years which were two runs for all and best run counts. We had seeding and then the top 200 riders went on to race the final. On the trailer up to the top we passed right next to the most popular spectating point and the crowd was huge. That's what I love about the BUCS, it's probably the best atmosphere for race runs I experience all season.

When I got to the top I spent most of my time warming up getting excited about blasting through the crowd at the bottom! The weather was holding off so with just a little wind I was looking forward to the run. I was seeded number 1 and feeling very confident on the track. I felt like hot favourite for the win! The seeding run was awesome. Pedaled hard, got the speed right up there and smashed all the turns. Going past the crowd at the bottom was awesome, sooo much noise!! I seeded fastest with a 2.19 which left me feeling confident for the race with more left in the tank.

photo by DuncMy race run wasn't until 5.15pm which at this time of year meant it would be almost dark by the time we got going. It was a good job there aren't any trees at Moelfre otherwise it would have been! After another long wait and lots of time spent cleaning the bike I headed up for the race run. I was well fueled up on science in sport to keep me feeling as sharp as possible at the end of a long two days.

By the time we got to the top which is very exposed it had started to rain. I spent 15 minutes trying to warm up for the race run in the wind and rain which wasn't the most fun. It was a shame first run times didn't count as race runs because the track would definitely be slower now the weather had turned. Typical, last year both race runs counted, I went first in the first runs but the track got drier for second runs and I crashed. This year I went fastest again first runs, but that time didn't count for the race and the track got slower. Obviously this wasn't in my head at the top. All I was thinking about was pinning it as hard as I could and getting that first University Champs title I deserve!

When I set off I got a surprise. The wind wasn't actually as bad as I thought and the rain wasn't really effecting anything up top. I had a really good top section and went blasting into the steep middle switch backs section on an absolute flier! However I then didn't use my head. A tight right hander into an off camber ridge half way down the switch backs would be very slippy now it was raining, but I didn't think to ease off I was having such a pinned run. Next thing I knew I was on my head in the bushes. Great, another BUCS title out the window. My front wheel had washed out as I hit the muddy off camber. When you're after the win you can't afford to fit in a crash half way down and still expect it to magically happen.

Nevertheless, never say die. I got back on and went for it. There was more action for me to have though. Where the big crowd was gathered there was a tight right hander which I knew would be tricky in the wet – I've crashed there before in a race run! I went hammering into the section and threw the right foot out to drift the corner so I wouldn't slide out, like I did up in the switch backs. However, half way through the corner my left foot which was stabilising the drift spontaneously unclipped. The bike went away from me and there followed THE most amazing save I have ever done in my entire riding career, I think... I kept the front end pointing straight, the bike was in a fully sideways drift and I was, no joke, skiing along behind it keeping up. I was then forced to drop to my knees, but still keeping hold of the bars managed to somehow leap back onto my bike as we went off the drop, and in the process threw out the 'superman'. Without SIS keeping my energy levels right up there I don't think I'd have had the strength and power left after the long weekend to pull it off. I'm still not quite sure how I pulled it off, as was everyone else in the crowd, but they bloody loved it none the less!!! Fortunately for all of you struggling to visualize the event from my description, my Dad/Race Manager was on hand with his trusty video camera to capture the whole thing head on! For the video follow this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojd-lgmZ8oA

Unfortunately even though my immense save was the talking point of the race, I obviously failed to win the BUCS again which I am rather irritated about you might say! I did have the fastest time of the day with my seeding run, but that's not the point. Next year will be my final attempt, so I'm confident it will be high time for me to pull it off when it comes around! I've had enough bad luck at that event to last me a lifetime!

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