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BDS National Series Round 2 @ Fort William, Scotland - 11/12 May 2013

The weekend before the Fort William BDS I beat Danny Hart on a tight, steep and technical track that was theoretically far better suited to him than me. This left me feeling very confident in my riding heading to Fort William. The real test however was going to be whether I’ve done enough work on my fitness over the winter months to compete. I don’t think I could have worked much harder on this aspect of my racing, so I was feeling pretty confident all round.

I was keen to get as much out of the weekend as possible, in terms of time on the track, in preparation for the world cup. Therefore we travelled up on Thursday so that I could treat the weekend very much like a world cup schedule and get Friday on the track. The weather forecast was pretty grim for the entire weekend, and there were even question marks over whether the race would run its full course all the way to Sunday afternoon.

On Friday morning I headed up the track for my first run and instantly felt like a different rider to previous years. I felt so much stronger on the bike! Previously Fort William has always been a battle for me to ride fast. I’ve felt like I’ve had to fight the track, and my bike, all the way down to ride as fast as I wanted too. Not this time. After the first run I turned the compression on some more on my front Fox 40 forks to stop them diving as much, and by my second run I felt like I was floating down the track. I was left feeling very excited to race.

The schedule had to be changed because of the weather, so seeding, or qualifying, was shifted to Saturday afternoon. All riders were briefed that they should make this run count, because if the weather was bad on Sunday and racing was cancelled then this would be our race result. Me and Dad had been having a laugh on the Friday about how many top riders were in attendance. It was practically a world cup turn out and I could easily name 25+ team riders that were racing. I didn’t really have a specific aim of where I wanted to qualify, but we’d arrived at the conclusion that a top 20 would be a very good result.

My qualifying run was good. I didn’t make any mistakes, was really smooth and put in a solid time getting under 5 minutes with a 4.57 and went into 1st place when I got to the bottom. I looked on, with a smile on my face, as top rider after top rider came down and failed to beat my time. I placed 6th! Was I happy with that!! In between Greg Minnaar in 5th who frequently wins the Fort William World Cup, and Joe Smith in 7th who got a top 10 at the world cup event here last year. Reflecting on the result I realised that I’ve put myself into an even stronger position than I’d imagined. I’d been hoping to come out of the winter with top 20 pace after a good run and build from there, but it turns out that on a flyer I’m capable of mixing it with the top 10!

However, I now had to go up and perform again the day after and try to replicate the run, and hopefully go even faster. At this stage in my career, a result like this, even though it’s qualifying, is such a massive milestone and gives me such a sense of achievement that it’s hard to then get back in the zone ready for the race the next day. My Dad was keen for the weather to turn and the race to get cancelled so we could head home with the 6th, however I felt differently. I wanted to go up and race after this great qualifying result, because I’ve been in this position twice before and crashed my brains out in the race runs. Once in Italy at the end of 2011 and once in Norway at the end of last year. The reasons back then were to do with fitness, but that was no longer a problem so I was feeling confident.

I had two good practice runs on Sunday morning and was feeling confident for racing. After cleaning the bike following the morning practice session we noticed that I’d snapped my bash guard in half and bent the back plate of my chain device. I only had an hour to fix it before we had to head to the top, and I also had to eat and get my race kit sorted and on. While all the team riders who I’m trying to compete against were relaxing and doing whatever they do and their mechanics took care of their bikes, I was madly rushing around trying to get my gears running again. Eventually I got it done and we headed off to the top running 10 minutes behind schedule. A stressful hour that I could have really done without!

When I got out of the gondola at the top I’d forgotten about all the drama I’d just been through, but I’m sure it didn’t help with the overall mindset and preparation. I did a good warm up and was fired up ready for the run when the time came around. I headed out of the start gate ready to smash it, but ran wide in the second corner, then my gears skipped in the first rock garden, and I didn’t feel like I had in practice in the first tight burms. That race pressure following the good qualifying was definitely still there, and I didn’t feel right. However, I did my best to control it and didn’t crash on the way down, which I feel is good progress, and next time it’ll be a great run after getting over this mental hurdle. However this run wasn’t great. I made a number of errors and didn’t have the same flow I’d been riding with all weekend. I placed 18th, 9 seconds off the win, and the day before I’d only been 3 seconds back. However not bad to get the top 20 I’d said on the Friday would be a good result, with what was a very poor race run!

So all things considered a very successful weekend with lots of lessons learnt. The 6th place qualifying result puts me on pace with the top 10 on a good run, and the 18th place final result WITHOUT crashing is a big hurdle jumped for me, and I feel confident moving forward. Most importantly I’m having fun riding and racing my bike and can’t wait to get back to Fort William for the World Cup in 4 weeks time. Now it’s back to training!!

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