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7th/8th April 2012 - The Northern Series 1 - Alwinton, Northumberland

AlwintonAfter a really great weekend in February, filming with George Milner at the Northern Downhill venue of Alwinton, I decided to head back up north for the first round of the series. We've had some pretty grim weather over the past week, so the track was well greased up when we arrived on Saturday morning for practice.

I attacked the track aggressively in my first practice run. Alwinton is a really steep and technical track, so I knew with water on it I was really in for a treat. The start of the track is flat and pedally and it was going to be a boggy nightmare as riders would cut up the soft wet dirt and create ruts. To pedal through the ruts would be tough, especially on my prototype Ellsworth which has a very very low bottom bracket (0.5 of an inch lower than the new production model which I will be rolling on soon).

AlwintonI made it to the steepest section pretty much unscathed, then had a lovely over the bars crash and went bog snorkeling in the mud! I had another crash on that run, then one on each of the next two practice runs before I finally started to get things under a bit of control. I'd started out riding the track how I'd been riding it during filming in the dry conditions a few weeks before, and that high speed just wasn't working in the wet. So instead of getting up to speed throughout the day, I gradually slowed things down until I found the speed which was more sensible. I had to be careful to carry the right speed into corners, because braking on the mud, with tyres completely filled with the stuff, didn't work very well.

By the end of practice on Saturday I was feeling good on the track, and although it was crazy tough to ride in the conditions I was having tonnes of fun wrestling my way down it. The whole way down there was a tyre width muddy rut on a very steep hillside in tight trees. If you got off that rutted line you'd venture into deep, thick, churned up dirt, which completely ruined any flow you had, and tried to throw you over the bars. Mountain bike heaven!

AlwintonAlwintonSunday morning brought rain and the track was slick and slippery. I did two practice runs and was feeling that racing was going to be a bit of a lottery. Staying smooth, not crashing and keeping a good flow through the many ruts was going to be a good recipe for the first run, then push mega hard on the second race run and go for gold, with the best time counting. I was a little apprehensive about the pedally top section. It had become really rough, rutted and churned up, and I struggled to put many pedal strokes in because of the extra low bottom bracket height resulting in my feet hitting the floor. I knew the other elites were able to pedal most of the way through it so felt at an immediate disadvantage. I was going to have to be really careful not to get carried away and get untidy which would cost me time.

The first run went reasonably well, trying to keep things smooth and controlled. I didn't crash, but did manage to get thrown off line at the bottom of a steep shoot and smash into a tree which stopped me dead for a second or two, but largely the run was ok. I did a 2.22, but was in second by 8 seconds as Northern Series regular Adam Brayton had gone all out and put a 2.13 on the board. I knew pulling all that time back in the second run was going to be a challenge, especially as knew I was losing time at the top, not being able to pedal as much as the other elites. However I convinced myself it was doable nonetheless and went at it guns blazing.

AlwintonMy second run went really well and I pushed much harder through the steep technical sections. I knew I had gone faster when I reached the bottom. A big part of me wished it was enough for first but I knew I hadn't made that much time back. Unfortunately I simply couldn't push as hard as I wanted along the flat section because I couldn't pedal. I was happy with how aggressively I attacked the rest of the track though and the result was a time over four seconds quicker than my first run, with a 2.18. This wasn't enough to challenge Brayton, but I feel a lot of that time is in not being able to pedal where necessary. When I have a new production Dare in a few weeks, now we've finished with prototyping, the bottom bracket will be higher and the problem will be resolved. However nothing taken away from Adam, 2.13 really was an awesome time and I would have been mega pushed to get it even without the pedaling limitation.

So another good weekend racing, riding well and a podium finish with 2nd place. Thanks to Carl Davidson of the Northern Downhill Series for organising the event so well. I'd really recommend this race series to anyone, even if you have to drive some way to get involved. The tracks are awesome, the uplift is brilliant and they are really well run, with no hanging around waiting for things to happen. Get involved guys!

I'm missing the first National next weekend because of University commitments, but will be down to the Pearce Cycles race at Hopton the weekend after. Then its on to the Fort William national in May, before the World Cup series kicks off again at Val Di Sole in June.

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