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12th May 2012 - British National Series #2 - Fort William, Scotland

Since the South African World Cup my time on the bike and in the gym has been somewhat limited due to the urgent need to turn my attention to completing my Masters Optometry degree. With my final practical exams completed and passed, dissertation handed in and revision for exams coming along nicely, I could just about justify taking the weekend off and heading up to Fort William for the second round of the British Downhill Series.

Unfortunately the weather forecast for the weekend was terrible, especially for Sunday, and before we even arrived at the event race organisers were advising of the likelihood of seeding being on Saturday afternoon, and this would become the race result if Sunday was to be cancelled. The problem with Fort William and bad weather is that it is a very exposed mountainside, and the chair lift can't operate in winds over a certain speed, not to mention how dangerous it is for riders. It seemed that most of the elite field had got wind of this news and headed up early to make the most of some practise runs on the Friday. Unfortunately I did not have this luxury available to me, being stuck at my desk at home studying, so it seemed I was arriving at the event at an immediate disadvantage.

Saturday morning started well for me. The fast rough nature of the Fort William race track really brought out the best of the prototype Ellsworth Dare. With its 63 degree head angle making the ride smooth, and the longer wheelbase making the bike more stable at high speed, the ride quality really was improved from what I remember on the old Dare last year. I have come to realise in recent weeks that for the rough fast World Cup tracks this new Dare will be perfect, but for the regional race tracks which aren't so aggressive, the Ellsworth Method will probably be a more appropriate choice. I'm learning so much while working with Tony Ellsworth on the project of re-designing the Dare and as a result I can feel my riding improving, so I am very grateful for the opportunity.

I had a great first run and was feeling well warmed up and fast. Then I got a front puncture near top during my second run and had to walk down, and a rear puncture even closer to the top on my third run and had to ride down with a flat rear tyre. As you can imagine this was pretty annoying, especially when I knew that getting practise runs in was important because the seeding run we were going to do in the afternoon may actually be the race run if the weather forecast results in cancelation of Sunday's race. Thankfully I had a better fourth run and the air stayed in my Schwalbe Wicked Will's which were feeling awesome in the dry loose conditions. I would have liked to only do 4 or 5 practise runs before the seeding run, but because I lost 2 runs to the punctures I ended up doing 6, which was pretty hard on my arms with it being Fort William. There was a 3 and a half hour wait from the end of practise to my run though, so hopefully enough time for my arms to recover.

We got the news at about 5pm that the race was going to be cancelled from the end of the day, so this was in fact a race run I was going to head up and do, then we'd be going home. The weather had been windy but dry all morning throughout practise, but as the afternoon progressed the clouds rolled through the valley bringing heavy showers and strong gusts of wind. I changed my tyres to the Schwalbe Muddy Mary's right before going up for the race run, and put on my Fox 40 specific Mojo mudguard because a very heavy rain storm had blown through and I was sure the track would be a bit too wet and chewed up for the Wicked Will.

When I got to the top the wind was insane. I knew it would be a lottery of whether I got hit with any strong gusts or not on the way down. It was going to be pretty bad for everyone, but some would be luckier than others because of the gusts. My run went well. I had a couple of 'nearly' moments because of my tired arms from all the practise, but the nice slack head angle of the Ellsworth Dare saved me from actually crashing. I did get hit with one especially bad gust of wind which literally almost brought me to a stop through a section which is usually really fast, but other than that I worked hard and had a pretty good run.

I finished in 28th place in a stacked elite field with a time of 5.11.08, only 10 seconds off the top 10. Looking at the results, pretty much everyone who was in front of me is doing this full time, and I've been playing Optometrist for the last 2 months. Therefore I'm really happy with the way I rode and pleased with the result. Also I'm home for Sunday so I've got a day back to prepare for my exams this week.

My next report will be from the Val Di Sole World Cup which I'm very excited about. I qualified 12th there last year and am feeling confident for the race, especially with the bonus that I will have finished my degree the week before the race. Getting that weight off my shoulders will make a big difference to my riding I'm sure. I'll also have the next generation of this Ellsworth prototype that I've been riding, which will only be better, so watch out for that (if the colours I'm expecting arrive you'll have a job missing it!). From then its all about racing and riding mountain bikes for the rest of the season!

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