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BDS Round 4, Llangollen, Wales - 29th/30th June 2013

Round 4 of the British Downhill Series was to be at Llangollen in North Wales, a venue famous for its steep, technically challenging tracks. I was lying 6th in the series overall before this round, and as I’m unable to attend the final race in August, this would my last BDS of 2013. The series standing goes off your best 4 out of 5 results, so it was important for me to have a good one here so that I have four solid results in the bag for my overall standing.

After the frustrating way my race run unfolded at the Italian world cup I’ve looked at a few aspects of my racing before going into this event and now feel better than ever. I won’t bore you with the details, but a few tweaks were needed and now my approach feels solid. Therefore I was really keen to get back racing at the national and put myself to the test. I’d also switch to the new 2014 Fox 40 air forks on the Friday before the race, and after some quick testing they felt unreal!

We had an excellent weather forecast for the weekend, but following rain on Friday, the track was initially very greasy and slippery making riding fairly tricky. I took the morning practice session easy, just getting into things and warming up. There was no point heading out there like a bear with a sore head and losing control on the greasy rocks and crashing. Instead I waited for the drier and more predictable conditions as it would be on Sunday afternoon, before really attacking the track.

For the first time in the history of racing Llangollen the uplift system worked really well and queuing was kept to a minimum. Therefore, by the end of the day I’d done 8 practice runs, as well as spending a decent amount of time at the pits. That’s exactly how these events should be, and a big shout out has to go to Martin Sands the landowner and main trail builder at Llangollen, who put a lot of time and thought into making sure the uplift would run well. I was feeling awesome by the end of the day and had all my lines dialed in.

Sunday morning practice was good for me. I got an amazing 4 runs in before the end of practice thanks to the impressive uplift system! I was feeling fast and confident with good focus on the racing to come. I’d had some excitement in the morning, picking up a wasp from a nearby wasp nest half way down my fourth practice run. I was doing a full run then suddenly felt a pain on my neck. At first I thought it was something on my helmet which had moved and was digging in, but then I heard a buzzing and it stung me again, so I realised I wasn’t alone on this run! Let me tell you it’s very unpleasant having something sting your neck repeatedly while you rip down one of the steepest tracks in Britain.

I decided it was time for some fresh pedals before seeding. However this turned out to be a mistake and one I wont make again. New pedals can be very on/off, or should I say likely to unexpectedly release a foot. I thought I had them at the correct tightness for seeding, but it turned out I didn’t. Half way down my run, I was going well and attacking the track when my back end stepped out on an off-camber. This meant my body position shifted to counter the rear end slide, putting pressure on the float in the pedals and before I new it both feet flew out. This had the bike coming right underneath me and being sideways in front of me, and me now running behind. There was no way I was letting go of the handlebars, so I slowed it down, angled her into the immediate steep left hander which followed straight after the off-camber, and jumped! Half way round the corner I found my feet back on the pedals and I’d avoided a more serious crash. I spent the net two corners getting my feet clipped back in and my composure back, but then I was back on it! I’d lost a few seconds with the incident, but seeded 9th and less than 5 seconds off first. The win may have been out of reach, but a podium was definitely there for the taking.

I tightened my pedals and my mechanic Alex Bennett gave my bike a full check over before race run. I was excited to race and feeling up for it. I set out on the run feeling strong, even though the wind had gotten up, and was straight into us, I powered along the first straight and into the first turns. Unfortunately my pedals struck again though. I aggressively leaned the bike left into a tight left before and immediate right and my left foot flew out of the pedal. Because of my momentum this meant my leg flew out behind me like a tail as I went round the corner. There was no way I was letting go of the handlebars, so I went off the little drop and into the immediate right hander in this awkward position. As I exited the right I managed to drag my leg back into position and throw my foot back where it should be. I’d had to slow down while this unfolded and it did cost me a second or so, however I’d somehow avoided another crash. All the strength training I’m doing is definitely paying off!

The rest of my run went smoothly and I finished in 7th place. Racing was that close that I was only 0.6 off 4th place and only 2 seconds off 2nd. Lesson learnt, never use untested pedals before racing! I feel that I’ve made excellent progress with my mental approach to race runs and can’t wait for the next event. I’m getting stronger and stronger as the season is developing and I know some big results are on the way, I’ve just got to keep working at it.

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