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23rd September 2012 - British National Series #6 - Llangollen, Wales

The final round of the British Downhill Series was to be held at the popular location in the Welsh hills called Llangollen, where landowner Martin has four amazing race tracks on the steep slopes. This race was down the most recent addition which I've spent some days training on throughout the season. It twists its way down the right hand side of the hill through a mixture of small and large trees, and is very steep in places. At the bottom it gets flatter as you make your way over to the finish drops and your fitness plays a part. All in all a good mix of terrain and would make for a great race track. I was looking forward to it!

After my disappointment in Norway the week before, crashing in my race run after qualifying 24th, I was keen to get racing again. However I had started to doubt the size of my bike. Since June I've been racing a Carbon Trek Session 9.9, size extra large. I love the bike but can't decide if its just that bit too big, and is too hard to ride fast through tight sections of track. It also becomes more of a handful as the race weekend progresses and I get more tired. Therefore I'd arranged to borrow a large Session 9.9 for a run or two over the course of this weekend to directly compare the two sizes.

I started on my own bike and the track was wet and very sketchy, especially considering I'd started the day on dry tyres! Alex Bennett, friend and mechanic over at www.tickybikes.com, was with me so he changed out my tyres to Schwalbe Dirty Dans so I'd have a bit more grip and I headed up again. Unfortunately the event organisers hadn't put enough effort and money into the uplift system, so the queuing time to get up the track each time was about an hour, which sucked! Especially when you've brought your girlfriend, your family, your friends and your mechanic with you and there isn't any time to spend in the pits with them. After every run you have to go straight back to the queue and line up again. It's really not what you want when you spend £70 on a race entry!

I had much more grip on the Dirty Dans which are a great wet weather tyre and I started to really enjoy the track and get into it. I decided to stay on my own bike until the track dried out a bit because the large I was borrowing had Schwalbe Muddy Mary's on, which are a wicked dry tyre, but were what I'd started the day on and weren't very good on the slick Llangollen mud. After 3 runs I hopped on the large and headed up to see how it compared. The run completely confirmed 100% that I'm riding the right size with the XL, and I just need to get as strong as possible so I can handle it for a full weekend. The large was just too twitchy and unstable. Then when I got back on my own bike for the 5th run it was crazy how much more aggressive I could be because of the larger size. Dilemma over!

I headed home on Saturday night with it only being just over an hour away and the weather being so cold. I got up and in the van at 6.15 on Sunday morning and blasted down the motorway pulling up at the event at 7.30. This was in an attempt to get three practice runs in during the morning session. I thought if I was first in line, went straight back to the lift for my second run, had a look at the lines I wanted to look at, then went straight back to the lift again, I would hopefully get a third run done. It turned out it was planned to perfection as I was the last rider on the last uplift of the morning practice session! Crazy that the uplift was that poor I had to work that hard to get three runs done.

My seeding run went well. I knew the track was one that you couldn't be too aggressive with otherwise you'd end up getting scrappy and making errors, so I kept it very smooth and tidy and placed 6th, only 3 seconds off first. Main aim for the race was to keep it smooth and push a bit harder in a few places to push myself into the top 5 and get my third national podium in a row.

It started raining about an hour before our race runs which was really going to spice things up! I had a really great run right until the end of the steep stuff, then bottomed out in a berm and flipped over the bars. I was taking an inside line down the last chute into a tight right hand berm which was more like a pile of dirt, and smashing into it. However come race run this pile had a big hole in the middle and there was no way I was coming out of it. When I came across the line I was only 6 seconds back, so its nice to know the pace was there if that hole hadn't got the better of me! `

Next in line is a trip to the Cycle Show in Birmingham in an attempt to gather some new sponsorship for the 2013 season, then up to Hamsterley at the weekend for the Help For Heroes DH race.

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