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BDS UK National Race 1, Combe Sydenham, Somerset - 13/14 April 2013

After a full on off-season doing as much training as I possibly could and gaining lots of muscle weight as well as general fitness, I feel ready to get going with 2013’s big races! Good job because it was go-time at the weekend with the first round of the British Downhill Series and a stacked field of world-class elite racers to compete against. Unfortunately the venue was Combe Sydenham down in Somerset, which doesn’t have the reputation of being a ‘National’ venue, and to add to that the weather forecast was horrendous.

I made the long journey down on Friday in the race van with enough time to get our pits set up and do a track walk before it got dark. I’d not been to this venue before and when I walked the track I understood why people don’t speak very highly of it. Firstly it looked very easy, as well as having a number of flat sections. Secondly it looked like rain would cause the track to turn into a bog, and because of the lack of gradient the race would simply become all about fitness in the mud. To say I wasn’t tremendously excited was an understatement.

We woke up Saturday morning to fine drizzle. I got organised and onto the first uplift. I was keen to have a run down the track first thing before the weather got really bad and the track became destroyed by all of the riders. I ended up being first rider down and did a full run to get a feel for the track. It actually flowed surprisingly well as it was still fairly dry, especially in the trees. However I knew it would be a very different story in an hour or so.

By the end of the morning practice session the track started to look like a war zone. Deep tyre width ruts were forming in the trees and huge breaking bumps and holes were forming all over the place. For the most part it was still fun to ride and you could keep your flow, but in places it was a real struggle to get through smoothly. I stopped between 12 and 2.30 to have some lunch and let the new lines be ridden into the track before heading out for an afternoon practice session.

I did two runs that afternoon and things hadn’t really changed much. I was feeling strong and fast on the track and I knew I was riding well, but I couldn’t help thinking that I’d rather be at a different and better venue, which would have been more capable of holding up to the bad weather. Even Glencoe holds up better to the rain because it’s steep so you can keep your flow without having to pedal through bog the whole way down. After 5 runs that was it for the first day and it was time to give the bike a proper clean and put some fresh Schwalbe Dirty Dans on my Kore race wheels for the Sunday and racing.

We were camping and the wind was so strong that night it actually ripped the pegs holding our neighbour’s gazebo out out of the ground and threw it on top of our sleeping tent. Luckily it didn’t quite make it to my Dad’s Transporter to cause any damage, which would have been a complete disaster!

We woke on Sunday to gusting wind and cloudy skies, but initially no rain. It was forecast to be mainly cloudy with some patches of rain throughout the morning, so hopefully it would dry up for racing and the track would improve. In the morning the track was very similar to the day before. The ruts had improved slightly from people walking the track the evening before, but all things considered riding conditions were still pretty poor. To add to the frustration, the uplift system was so poor that riders were lucky to get a single practice run done on Sunday morning, and unless you were on that first uplift two runs were completely out of the question. Some of the Chain Reaction team didn’t get a single run done in the practice session including Sam Hill who’d travelled from Australia and the event was part of his trip. I got the one run done and was feeling pretty good and ready for seeding.

I walked up the track before seeding as it hadn’t rained for a couple of hours and I wanted to see what the conditions were. It would either be worse due to sticky mud, or better having dried out. It turned out to be a combination of the two. The ruts had improved as they had got wider and shallower being more predictable, but all the flat sections were covered in sticky mud and would be very hard to pedal. I was glad I’d been up and seen it though as I now knew I could be more aggressive with the track than originally planned.

My seeding run went well and I placed 8th. A top 10 would be a great result considering how many top riders were in attendance, so that was what I was aiming for come race runs. My race run was even better than my seeding run. I was fast, smooth and aggressive in the ruts. I was making my way down with a smile on my face because of how well I was riding. Unfortunately this didn’t last all the way to the finish line, it ended with about 50 yards to go.

The most technical section was just before the finish and I rode it the best I had all weekend. It was a rock roll into a right hand berm with a big root in the middle of it leading into an uphill. I nailed the berm manualing over the root and pedaled hard up the little hill keeping good flow and this distracted me slightly. Instead of focusing on what was coming next, a deep rutted compression which turned left before the sprint to the finish, I was thinking about how well I’d just riden that section. I hit the compression, got thrown off balance as I came out of it and headed too far left straight towards a tree. I had to slam on the breaks in an attempt to avoid a head on collision with the tree. This worked and I just bumped it with my shoulder. Unfortunately I’d all but stopped in the process of preventing the crash and lost all of the speed I should have carried along the finish straight. So frustrating!

As a result of this I’d thrown away that top 10 spot I was after. I’d been 8th at the first split time interval, but was down by over two seconds in the second section, which was the difference between the 12th place where I finished, and the 7th place which I all but had in my grasp. However I’m not too disappointed. I’ve learnt an important lesson, to always stay focused in the moment and forget about what just happened, even if it was a good piece of riding. My main aim for the weekend was leave feeling like I’d ridden well in my race run, and I’d certainly done that. I’m riding really well and feel fast, so I’m excited to keep at it in preparation for the world cups, which kick off at the start of June!

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