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4th August 2012 - British National Series #4 - Caersws, Wales

Helmet cam run with Jack

With the trip to Whistler for Crankworx only a few days away, and after the disappointment at the French World Cup, I was keen to go to Caersws for the fourth round of the British Downhill Series and get my season back on track. As I spend more and more time on the Trek 9.9 I am continuing to progress with my riding and feel that I improve every time I get on it. I'm gradually starting to get stronger after finishing Uni at the end of May, and have been focused on riding, training and racing since then. I am confident for a strong end to the season which I plan to carry through to a full-on winter training schedule.

So, following on from that, I wasn't surprised to feel great on the bike from the start of Saturday morning at the BDS. I'd driven down that morning and things were going to be a little different to usual this weekend. My Dad had dared to leave the country for a week or so on a French holiday with my Mum, so wasn't on hand as my usual race support. The cheek of it ;-). Instead my good friend and mechanic Alex Bennett of was to accompany me and provide vital race support. My girlfriend Sarah, along with big pal Jamie Hinde were also going to make the trip down on Sunday morning to support me for the race.

The weather made for an interesting day's riding. We started on a dry track which was riding very very fast. Caersws is only a small hill (some argue whether it is a suitable national venue or not – I kind of like it, but I do have fond memories after doing my first ever race there in 2006! So at the speeds we're reaching, by the time you're just getting into the track you're already almost at the bottom. There certainly wasn't much sectioning going on. Then it rained around midday. Only a shower but with Alex on hand I decided to get some spiked tyres on and go to check them out, which for me are Schwalbe's Dirty Dan. Mistake! The very hard clay like ground didn't get any softer with the rain, instead developed a grease on glass like effect, which was lethal! As soon as I leaned the bike into a corner the slide began and was completely uncontrollable. It made for an entertaining run and certainly slowed me down as I nursed myself to the bottom.

I decided to give the Dirty Dan's one more run after a little more rain fell, to be sure they weren't the right choice. They were no better second run, and I had a good old over-the-bars trying to turn a tight corner. Off they came and back on went my trusty Muddy Marys – a truly great all-round tyre which many World Cup riders use in all conditions. I did a couple more runs at the end of the day including a full run with the helmet camera attached, commentating as I went down, which you can watch from within this report. All in all a good day's practise and I was ready for race day!

Heading to bed early on Saturday night (around 10pm) is something most racers do, so we get a good night sleep to prepare for the following day of racing. Unfortunately, this was spoilt by what can only be described as a group of moronic idiots. I was woken by the uproar at exactly 12.04am (I remember because I couldn't believe it when I looked at my phone to check the time) and knew straight away there would be no getting back to sleep with it going on. I threw my jeans on and headed out to tell the idiots to be quiet and ask what the hell they thought they were doing behaving like this in the middle of the camping field at a UK National event at such a ridiculous hour. They were running about, throwing each other about, women screaming and cackling, swearing... Complete disrespect for everyone around them. I asked them to be quiet and even though they did disperse, the noise still continued for a good 30 minutes as the idiots found their way to their tents.

I woke in the morning angry as hell that those selfish individuals had subjected me, and the other racers around us, to their stupid behaviour. I headed out of the tent to find out who it was, as half asleep in the dark the night before I hadn't identified anyone. After 5 minutes of confrontation I finally got a half arsed apology from one person who admitted to being involved and surprise surprise alcohol was to blame, not him. I honestly don't no why these people attend races, we don't want you there, you just spoil it for other people around you who are actually taking it seriously. That was that and I turned my attention back to the job at hand – trying to get another BDS podium.

Practise throughout the morning was good. The track got drier and drier as time went on and by my final run it was bone dry. I was feeling fast and knew a good result was possible. With the support of Alex, and Sarah and Jamie turning up to watch I was fired up and ready to go when qualifying came around.

We'd had a rain shower half way through the qualifying session, but by the time my run came around the track was very dry again. I put together a really smooth consistent run with no mistakes. I sat down on the final stretch to the finish without sprinting as I didn't fancy seeding in the top 5. Ideally I wanted to make sure I was closer to 10th. This way there is slightly less pressure when you're at the top before your race run. I seeded 13th with a 1.51 (short track!) and was about 6 seconds off first. I hoped a top 5 was coming my way in the race.

About 20 minutes before I was to head up for my race run the heavens opened and it absolutely hammered down. At first I wasn't going to change tyres as the Dirty Dans hadn't been as good as the Muddy Marys in the wetter conditions the day before. As the rain was coming down so heavily Alex persuaded me to head up and have look at the bottom of the track to see if I should in fact change tyres. He was right, and we rushed back to put the Dirty Dans on as the track had started to cut up there'd been that much rain. We were now heading up for race runs knowing that the track was going to be completely different to qualifying. We watched the experts when we got to top of the track and they were sliding about everywhere – it was going to be interesting that was for sure!

By the time I set off it wasn't raining anymore but the track was still like an ice rink. I knew the spots which were going to be the worst, and took it reasonably steady through them. Slow can sometimes be fast in conditions like that. I made one mistake in the field at the bottom costing me some valuable pedal strokes, but apart from that I was really happy with my run. I played it tactically and it had worked as I crossed the line into second place only 0.5 seconds behind Joe Smith. My time held on for 5th place and my second national podium this year. It was the first time I'd been on a podium with the legend that is Steve Peat, so shaking his hand in that situation was a cool experience, and hopefully one of more to come. Maybe next time I'll be standing above him when the picture gets taken....

All in all a great weekend's racing and a good recovery after the disappointment of the puncture in qualifying in France last weekend. I'm now travelling to Whistler feeling strong and confident for the races during Crankworx. I was 3rd in the Garbanzo downhill last year and 8th in the Canadian Open, and I'm aiming to improve on both results this year! Wish me luck :-).

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