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23/24 March 2012 - The British University Championships (BUCS)

BUCS Rheola March 2012The University Championships. For the last three years this event has been my nemesis. I started Uni in 2008 feeling that this was a race that I would win at least once. Did I jinx myself with that very thought?? Did I heck, you make your own luck. Going into my last year at Uni I'd come 2nd twice and 16th in 2011 when I crashed twice and threw it away after qualifying first. This year I went to the event with a calmer head on my shoulders. Focusing on riding well and not trying to be the hero and run away with the race, like I've tried to do in previous years.

Rheola was the venue for 2012 and a track that I know well and really enjoy riding. It's fast, technical, rough and challenging with some fun little jumps and rooty sections. Its a good length as well, coming in at 3 minutes 20 when I raced it in the wet at the end of last year. As well as the race I was teaming up with Red Bull to film for their next video in the 'High Flyer' series. This features athletes competing at the BUCS. This video was to follow a male and a female from both Downhill Mountain Biking and Rugby, and I was lucky enough to be asked to represent downhill.

BUCS Rheola March 2012My Dad travelled to South Africa with me for the recent World Cup, so with the BUCS being only 3 days after our return I decided to give the guy a weekend off and travel to the BUCS on my own. This meant a 4 hour drive on the Friday morning to get down to South Wales from Manchester. Thanks for all the support Dad, its much harder when you're not there helping out with everything! I then spent Friday sectioning the track during practice so we could get as much footage as possible for the video. It helped that Sim and John, from Red Bull, both had cameras so each section we filmed was captured from two different angles at once, saving me pushing up and riding it twice. Jess Stone was the female chosen for the video, so we worked as a team of four getting all the footage and had a really successful but tiring day. I did one full run at the end of the day and although I was tired, felt the benefit of all sectioning as I had some awesome lines worked out.

I drove to Hereford on Friday night and stayed with my buddy Will Jones and his girlfriend Annie – thanks for the bed guys and good to see you as ever.

Saturday started really well for me with three practice runs in the morning and I was feeling good on the new bike. The Ellsworth prototype really showed me its strengths this weekend. I raced this track at the back end of last year on the original Dare and the difference in performance on the new bike was insane. I was able to take lines that I'd never even considered before. Where the old bike would be throwing me about and I'd be hanging on for my life, this thing tells me to get off the brakes and jump off stuff. The ride is that much smoother. Its crazy what I've been missing out on for the last few years and I'm learning so quickly now I've got this new improved machine.

BUCS Rheola March 2012I've forgotten to mention that the weather was unbelievably kind to us and the sun was out all weekend with the temperatures in the 20s. It really was awesome. I did however get the chance to try out my new front mudguard from Mojo. There is a section on the track at Rheola that is simply always wet. It worked amazingly well and kept my goggles perfectly clean, on runs without it they were getting covered.

My qualifying run was ok for the most part, but when I got close to the bottom of the track I started making a series of mistakes which cost me lots of time. I think I'd just got a bit tired and not focused enough which threw me off line a few lines. I did a 3.08 and was in second place 0.4 of a second behind Emyr Davies, fellow World Cup racer, who had also had a few problems by all accounts. It sure was going to make for exciting racing with us being that close in qualifying.

One thing the BUCS is know for is the amazing atmosphere when you're coming down in your race run, and this year really didn't disappoint. Credit to everyone who was watching on the hill because the noise was incredible – we could hear you on the start line at the top of the mountain! I had an awesome race run and came home with a 3.05. Perhaps I backed off a little bit at the very bottom because I was conscious of throwing it away with a silly last minute crash when I was getting tired, but I came across the line really thinking I'd done enough to take it. When I saw my time and went into first place I slumped over my handlebars and waited. Because this was my last chance to win the BUCS I really did want it. I couldn't watch as Ems came across the line, but I knew it was close.

BUCS Rheloa March 2012According to what I was told at the podium, because I haven't yet seen the official result, we were separated by less than a 10th of a second (0.0something), and I was unfortunately on the wrong side of whatever small measure, that was. 2nd place, again. Silly really to think I left the event gutted that I'd not managed to win the BUCS in four years of trying, and Ems left a very happy man, but we were practically front wheel to front wheel as we crossed the finish line. You may be wondering why I'm taking the BUCS so seriously, but I'm a racer, and if I want to win I want to win. However I'm really pleased with the way I'm riding, it only means good things for the rest of my racing calendar. Credit to Ems because I know my run was awesome, so he must have hung it right out there as well, I'm sure we'll both have wicked seasons if we keep it pinned.

The racing could have been 0.0something better for me, but the chance to work with Red Bull was really cool and will no doubt bring great exposure for me and my sponsors. And the way the new bike is feeling is very exciting. Halfway through last year I felt like I was better than the bike, but now I feel like I'm learning to ride again, pushing my own boundaries back further with the support of this new Ellsworth. Exciting stuff!

I'm now getting my head down for a few weeks catching up with some long overdue Uni work, but I'm hoping to squeeze in a trip to the first round of the Northern Downhill Series at Alwinton on the 7/8th of April which will be a great event – the track is awesome. Unfortunately I can't make the first round of the British Downhill Series the weekend after because it clashes with my final Uni practical exams which start on the Monday, but I'll be at the rest of the series rounds.

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